Oslo and Multiculturalism

The terrible Oslo killings by Anders Breivik have appropriately prompted discussion of the political implications of his act and his manifesto.  Multiculturalism is an important theme in the discussion around Breivik’s crimes and ideology.  A story in yesterday’s NYTimes links Breivik to the repudiation of multiculturalism by three European political leaders.

“Yet some of the primary motivations cited by the suspect in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, are now mainstream issues.  Mrs. Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain all recently declared an end to multiculturalism.”  The article links Breivik’s actions to a supposed “climate” created by “right-wing” discourse.  “[S]ome experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.”  This remark resembles some things said about Jared Loughner, who shot Congressional Representative Gabriella Giffords: The “climate” promotes violence.  And in the New York Times article, the “climate” is somehow linked to the political status of multiculturism.

Liberals and libertarians need to be forthright in repudiating the sort links drawn in the New York Times article.  They should be just as forthright in rejecting multiculturalism, which is sometimes falsely equated with tolerance and pluralism.  The article “Multiculturalism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that multiculturalists often presume that different cultures are “distinct self-contained wholes.”  It notes that multiculturalism is mostly about group rights, not individual rights, and that in its support of group rights, “multiculturalism is closely allied with nationalism.”

Multiculturalism of this sort is clearly quite distant from the “true individualism” of liberals such as Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek.  Multiculturalism reifies “culture” and reduces living, breathing, thinking, individual human beings to mere avatars of the cultures from which they descent, and perfect cyphers to the avatars of distinct “cultures.”  David Cameron’s speech on multiculturalism got some things wrong, in my view, including a worrisome reference to “our values” and the paradoxical requirement that “to belong here” one must “believe in”  the “[f]reedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, [and] equal rights.”  Apparently, Cameron’s “muscular liberalism” will not tolerate speech that questions the freedom of speech.  But he got one important thing just right: multiculturalism has promoted “segregated communities,” which is a bad thing, unnecessary, and in no wise implied by the values of tolerance, good will to men, and peaceful cooperation.

It hardly seems possible to doubt that multiculturalists wish to be open, tolerant, accepting.  Multiculturalism may nevertheless bolster the view that different cultures are alien, even hostile.  Multiculturists generally miss the role of trade in turning enemies into friends and, generally, promoting peaceful social cooperation.  Breivik might better represent the consequences of multiculturalism than the consequences of rejecting multiculturalism.  Peaceful social cooperation requires tolerance, acceptance, and pluralism, not “multiculturalism” of the sort rightly repudiated by Merkel, Sarkozy, and Cameron.

About Roger Koppl 11 Articles

Affiliation: Fairleigh Dickinson University

Roger Koppl is a Professor of Economics and Finance in the Silberman College of Business and Director of the Institute for Forensic Science Administration (IFSA).

Professor Koppl earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from Auburn and New York Universities, and B.A. in Economics and Mathematics from Cleveland State University.

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