David Brooks' column last Wednesday, The Death of Multiculturalism (Times Select), offers a belated obituary for identity politics. Not so fast. Don’t cue the bagpipes just yet, or perhaps more appropriately the oud, didgeridoo, Native American square drums, and whatever more it takes to complete a cacophonous orchestra arrayed by means of painstaking cultural inclusion.
It matters not if multiculturalism per se is dead; it was never really a self sustaining, living thing anyway. It was merely a corpse falsely animated by age-old resentments, conjured up from the depths of history and vanity. Nothing more than an intellectual zombie, energized by theoretical voodoo, ravenously consuming liberal institutions as if they were human flesh. Perhaps like those hapless zombies in the movies, the body itself was more feeble than ferocious. A good bop to the head and it dropped like a pale sack of potatoes with bad hair and worse skin. Still, the dark forces that animated multiculturalism, transforming sentient beings into mindless, ravenous brain eaters, thrive. Forces like racial hostility, sexual resentment, class envy, and man’s natural tendency to forge distinct social identities in order to gain privilege. These are born of nature’s cruel inequality and fueled by vanity’s inexhaustible byproduct, envy. They will never die, necessitating eternal vigilance in defense of liberal democracy.
To be conservative is to seek the conservation of one’s civilization. It was once a given that this meant preserving morality, language, and customs while placing a high value on citizenship; the antithesis of multiculturalism. Conservatives, long ago grown weary of playing the heavy, have by now so completely absorbed the language of the opposition, trying to out-empathize the left, that they no longer recognize a challenge to civil society when they see it; indeed, in their zeal to prove their anti-racist bona fides they now join in its dismantling. The immigrants are more virtuous than the rest of us argument so gracelessly and naively offered by conservatives of Mr. Brooks' type is no less a refutation of American society than the codified cultural self-loathing of the shrillest leftist. Multiculturalism dead? I’d say it’s arrived.
Indeed, Brooks and a shocking number of his fellow “conservatives” are exhibiting many of the same zombie-like symptoms of the insensate left: imperviousness to reason, incommunicability, and inability to sense pain (inflicted on others that is; their own, well). They are gleefully joining the surging mass of walking dead as they besiege the isolated farmhouse of reason that you and I, my friend, are frantically boarding up. Duck for a moment would you? Got him. As I was saying.
Sure, they don’t have the ghostly pallor, white hair, and the glassy, bloodshot eyes of a zombie or a Ted Kennedy, and they lack the affected sartorial accoutrements and facial hair of the campus radical, but something is amiss. Maybe they’re not zombies after all. Have you seen The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Someone get down to the Wall Street Journal and check for pods.
The open-borders Republicans long ago adopted the insinuations and invective of the Left. A popular conservative blog, one that specializes in quoting articles at length and appending a sentence or paragraph of affirmation or ridicule, so regularly mingles the epithets of the left, racist, islamophobe, etc., with the neo/theo-conservatives' own curious inventions, nativist, realist, hyper-rationalist, that if it wasn’t for their pathological to-the-death defense of the slowly unfolding catastrophe that is the Bush Presidency a visitor might think he had wandered into the blog of an earnest young campus radical.
In his column Brooks suggests that the Democrats have ditched identity politics for good old fashioned populist working class advocacy. If only it were so. Why then is there complete unanimity in the Democratic Party for perpetuating immigration policy that undercuts everything Democrats once stood for: wage equity, urban planning, environmentalism, health care, education? Because the scramble to outmaneuver the opposition commands the attention of the political class as a whole and in this environment racial politics trump all, apparently. The mantle remains on the ground, where the Democrats left it. Perhaps if they conjure up and reanimate William Jennings Bryan. Though I still harbor my suspicions about Hillary Clinton. Something in those disembodied, unfeeling eyes; not human, no sir.
If identity politics be dead, why then would hundreds of thousands of Latinos, the vast majority of whom are middle and working class and therefore most vulnerable to the depredations inflicted by continuing open-ended immigration, take to the streets in outrage at the relatively modest proposals put forth? After all, even the immigrants already present and working in the American economy are themselves undercut by the continual slackening of the labor market they inhabit; more so than anybody. This is the dirty little secret of the open borders camp; that the working class masses that the elites make such a show of caring about more than you will suffer most by way of the policies these elites defend.
Current immigration patterns can only serve to lower the incomes and quality of life of those who must compete with the never-ending flow of newcomers for jobs, housing, health care, etc. But for most (though certainly not all) American Latinos the enticing prospect of their own racial plurality in states like California overwhelms all other considerations, in spite of the many and varied pains unregulated immigration inflicts on them.
Oh, sure, they’ll have their own class of political elites who will make a great show of lobbying on their behalf while enriching themselves, their families, their cronies and political allies. But the last thing any of us need is to create another breed of racial shake-down artists; a whole new generation of Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons with Spanish surnames.
Are the democrats engaged in a far sighted and cynical strategy; ensuring a large and growing underclass so as to administer to it, with a newly ascendant welfare state? I don’t believe that, but at least it would be a plan. What exists now is willful dereliction of duty motivated by political gain and dishonestly portrayed as humaneness.
Our conservative class once would have been unabashed about pointing out the inherent danger of growing an ethnic underclass into a plurality. But we now have “compassionate conservatives.” That they don't blanch at such a silly phrase reveals more than its crass, focus group oiliness. A good conservative is there to remind you that even compassion, when offered in place of reason, can lead to ruin. Conservatism once was the refutation of kitsch as political thought. Barry Goldwater would have laughed you out of his office.
Multiculturalism has in fact achieved a great deal; now one need not even be a citizen to feel that he, by virtue of his sense of racial solidarity, is entitled to not only the same rights as a citizen but to special considerations above and beyond that. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, under current affirmative action policy an illegal immigrant amnestied by something like the Kennedy/McCain Bill will instantly become eligible for preferential treatment as an assumed victim of white American discrimination and its “legacy.” How’s that for dead, Mr. Brooks?
Still, multiculturalism may very well be done. I don’t really know, I haven’t done time in an institution of higher learning. But then it always rode the momentum of forces that aren’t so easily mocked, so readily parodied, so obviously hollow and false. Unless this constant of history should magically dissipate in our time one can rest assured that the assault on reason and law will find new forms, and new victims. Fair, impartial laws can only yield unequal results; there will always be a tension between the ideal of blind justice and the inequality it produces.
Once our conservatives argued that some inequity of wealth as a result of just law was preferable to enforced equity as a result of unjust law; now they pretend that “globalism”, tax cuts, and church attendance will make it all irrelevant.
I don’t see any crisis, they say from the insulated remove of expensive homes in security buildings and gated communities. In another column, Immigrants to be Proud of, Brooks engages in the sort of sentimental portraiture that would have made Norman Rockwell blush:
Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants have less money than average Americans, but they spend what they have on their families, usually in wholesome ways. According to Simmons Research, Hispanics are 57 percent more likely than average Americans to have purchased children's furniture in the past year.
Wow. Perhaps we should assimilate into their morally superior way of life. I’m still unclear on how this admirable familial tradition hasn’t created wealth and liberty in Mexico proper. One thing’s for sure, Brooks et al. aren’t going to go anywhere near that question; rather, they will indulge in the same evasive reasoning of the multiculturalists Brooks has come not to praise but to bury. It’s the legacy of colonialism, perhaps, or just a matter of a little too much corruption in the system, as if this corruption is a geographical feature of Latin America. You see, whatever problems Mexico has have nothing to do with Mexicans; conversely, whatever success America has had has nothing to do with Americans. In fact there’s no significant difference, except of course, they’re a little better than us. I can hardly wait for the utopia all these virtuous newcomers are sure to produce. One thing is for sure, Mr. Brooks has never set foot in the barrio.
Brooks delivers his idea of a coup de grace with this heartwarming statistic:
Mexican-Americans spend 93 percent more on children's music.
How does one respond to such ironclad argumentation? More importantly, how does one, with a clear conscience and a straight face, dig through the voluminous evidence of the deleterious effects of unregulated immigration to produce these little gems? One imagines him leafing quickly through reams of data and shouting his approval when he arrives at, on page ten, this or that gem about children’s books.
Brooks offers us the trite, condescending image of the nobler, purer outsider, free of the messy encumbrances of our particular socialization; this is pure multiculturalism. I know he intends the familiar Mexicans will save us from gay marriage sub-textual wink and nod for the evangelicals, but he is falling for the key fallacy of multiculturalism; culture from outside of one’s own can only be superior, can only add positively to it, because to consider that it can’t is to be a chauvinist. He has found his way to the most anti-conservative belief of all: everyone is equally endowed at birth with the same capacity for virtue and creation. Multiculturalism, in other words. Oh the irony, Mr. Brooks.
Multiculturalism? Dead and loving it.