Multiculturalism

November 4, 2009

I’m wanting to get a few more things on paper (electronic paper, at that) as regards my recent classes. So here’s some stuff about multiculturalism.

Interestingly enough, multiculturalism is in fact, the scourge of the modern state. The conservatives are right. But hold on; is this necessarily a bad thing? The vast majority of current nation states are predicated on the idea that the mechanics of government are blind to any difference in citizens. This attitude is a relic of the enlightenment, itself a product of the West. (Please note, I’m not making a normative claim here.) As currently constituted, the United States is one of the oldest countries in the world. Most of the governmental systems that have arisen since the American revolution, and more importantly the French Revolution, have consciously placed themselves in a difference blind national set-up. Indeed, the French are still the most difference blind nation state in the world.

There’s something to be said about this difference blindness; for example it has the effect of putting everyone under identical jurisdiction in matters of citizenship, legal standing, and national rights. It can also most certainly be argued that an immigrant should expect to make changes in order to fit in with the cultural life of the country they have moved to– I don’t really think that’s unreasonable, if for no other reason than the fact that it will make life easier for them.

What it does a poor job of is recognizing the differences within a society, much less the difference that gets imported in. Take Canada, for example. It isn’t like the French Canadians moved there after the country was created, and yet for a long time the state of Canada attempted to function as though no difference existed between French Canadians and English speaking ones, in fact trying to assimilate the French Canadians. Here again is where France has succeeded in its mission; since it can conceive of no-one being a citizen of France who is not “French” the authorities of the country after democratization pushed a homogenizing agenda on the country, aiming to bring people in line with a “French” way of life. It still exists today; they’ve got a group of people who decide if a word is French enough to be used in the language!

Admitting that differences exist in the various people who make up a society undermines some of the authority of the state. If not all Americans are identical, then that makes the claims of governmental sovereignty more or less strong depending on the standing of the citizen. I think it is rather funny that the ascendancy of free market economic thought has spurred this change along. As the free market ideology gained ground it promoted movement of people and services in order to best maximize profit. This is why Southern California relies so much on migrant workers to work in the fields, or why Iowa meat packing plants are so stocked with Latinos; they’re the cheapest. But by importing these people to work the machines of the market, the market has ended up undermining its arbiter– the state. Free markets need a robust governmental system in the states in which they are active in order to ensure a “level” playing field. (Be honest, in practice this means Western multi-nationals get the best deals because they’re best set to make use of whatever resource is in question. And this is because they have a head start on doing work like this. And that’s because they prevented the people in the state in question from doing the work themselves in the past. Which is why they don’t have the expertise to do it now. Convenient circle, huh?) Once this field gets skewed because governments have to start recognizing the differences within their citizens and adjusting national practice for it, the foundations of the state– and indirectly, the markets– get eroded.

The next few years ought to be interesting.

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