What Comes After Multiculturalism?

Commentary, Culture Wars, Philip Carl Salzman

You do not have to be an anthropologist to understand that multiculturalism as the cohabitation of multiple distinct cultures is a non-starter. If “culture” is understood in its simplest meaning, as a distinct way of life, then the idea of many distinct and mutually contradictory ways of life sharing the same space is obviously nonsensical.

One important feature of culture is language. For people in a society to communicate with one another, they must share at least one common language. It is possible for a society to have two official languages: Kyrgyzstan has Kirgiz and Russian as official languages; Belgium, French and Dutch; Finland, Finnish and Swedish; and Canada, English and French. The record is clear: bilingual societies are fairly unwieldy, and can be politically unstable. So how many official working languages could a country have? Pierre Trudeau, faced with demands from other cultural groups to recognise their languages, decided that Canada would have “multiculturalism” in a bilingual society.[1]

So too with law, the formal statement of what is acceptable and what is criminal, and what fulfills contracts and what does not. Canada officially recognises both English common law and French civil law. Could Canada also accommodate Bedouin tribal law, Indian caste law, Catholic canon law, and Islamic sharia law? They all contradict one another, so the likely result would be utter chaos and frequent outbreaks of violence. Society would grind to a halt, because no one would know what would happen next. It is difficult to act when you have no idea whether your actions would bring about a desired result. Paralysis would result.

What multiculturalism would look like in sports would be a venue in which one team was playing hockey, one team baseball, one team football, and another basketball. How well do you think that would work?

These theoretical objections to multiculturalism are fine, but many opponents of multiculturalism have been informed not by theory, but by practical experience. Here are a few:

In 2011, David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain, said that “state multiculturalism” contributed to radicalization and terrorism.[2] He said that Britain encouraged different cultures to live separate lives. He went on to say that the U.K. needed a stronger national identity. And he had an idea what that should look like: “Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.”

Also in 2011, President Sarkozy of France said that “We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.” He further declared the concept of “multiculturalism” “a failure.”[3]

Chancellor Angela Merkel of German had already stated in 2010 that “the idea of people from different cultural backgrounds living happily ‘side by side’ did not work.” She said “This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly failed.”[4]

Even earlier, in 2003, the Dutch Government introduced “Integration Policy New Style,” saying “Anyone who wishes to settle permanently in our country must participate actively in society and master the Dutch language, become aware of Dutch values and observe the standards. Each newcomer who comes to our country voluntarily … must first learn basic Dutch in the home country as a condition for admission. Once arrived in the Netherlands, the newcomer must also deepen his or her knowledge of Dutch society.22 (Parliamentary Papers Lower House, 2002/03, 28 637, No. 19, p. 14.)”[5]

And the list of those giving multiculturalism in practice an “F” grade goes on, including past  Liberal Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, and past Prime Minister of Spain Jose Maria Aznar.[6]

Why have all of these government leaders declared multiculturalism a failure? Because, for the reasons specified above, it is unworkable. And faced with unbending and truculent immigrants and minorities, vast sums spent on those incomers unable or unwilling to support themselves, major upticks in crime, especially violent sex crimes, and having been subject to terrorist atrocities by people they have taken in, and the incomers’ determined resistance to integration, those leaders are at their wits’ end. The self-gratification of “being nice” and “inclusive” is no longer sufficient to balance all of the liabilities.

Increasingly, voters are disillusioned by multiculturalism in practice. We know that public opinion in Canada and the United States favours assimilation and effective integration of minorities.[7] The same views in Europe have led voters increasingly to vote for pro-assimilation and anti-immigration parties. Politicians who wish to keep their jobs cannot ignore these concerns or they will be replaced, as they have been in Eastern Europe, Austria, Italy, and to a degree in Holland and Germany. Are the Scandinavian countries next?[8]

What will replace multiculturalism as a result of its widespread rejection? Here are some of the candidates to take the place of multiculturalism as an ideal:

Misogynous Dystopia

Author Margaret Atwood has set out in The Handmaid’s Tale, illustrated in the popular television series drawn from the book[9], the misogynous dystopia that she fears. But our social and political reality is so far from this vision as to mark it more paranoia than foresight. “Gender equality” is now a central principle in Western society. In practice, however, in North America, feminists strive not for equality, but for female dominance, and current ideology and institutional rules offer special advantage to females at the expense of males.[10] A more realistic fear is a misandrous dystopia.

White Supremacism

The alleged great influence of North America’s sad handful of white supremacists, throwbacks who hate blacks and Jews, and favour nazi paraphernalia, is an imaginary bogeyman of our quasi-dominant progressives and far left. All together, North America’s white supremacists are not numerous enough to carry a vote at a meeting of one university’s faculty members. But the left must find some way to justify their extremism, including their antifa street thugs. There is no chance that white supremacism will play any significant role in Canada’s future.

Islamic Supremacism

Canada and the United States, unlike Europe, have low numbers of Muslims. While some North American Muslims can occasionally mount a small scale terrorist attack, the chances of their taking over is small. Muslims in North America are not a demographic bomb as Muslims are in Europe[11], partly because the general birthrate in North America is substantially higher than the native European birth rate. However much some North American Muslims would like Canada and the United States to adopt sharia law and Canada and the U.S. to join the umma, the Community of Muslims, many other Muslims are happy to become Canadians and Americans in substance as well as form. Whatever the fate of Europe might be, Canada and the United States will not be having an Islamic Future.


Decolonialization and Indigenization

A more serious contender for Canada’s future is “decolonialization” and “indigenization,”[12] inspired by marxist anti-imperialism and by our contemporary culture of victimhood. The object of this movement, sometimes under the cover of “reconciliation,” is to re-do Canada’s history and to rectify the losses experienced by Canadian indigenous native peoples, also called First Nations. This is a project moving ahead at the initiative of the United Nations, the Government of Canada, and all Canadian universities, especially supported by university administrations and professors in the social sciences, humanities, education, social work, and law.

Indigenous Canadians make up less than 5% of Canada’s population.[13] What is intended by “decolonialization and indigenization” varies according to the advocate, but some initiatives are underway, and others are being discussed:

Indigenous knowledge is increasingly required to be integrated into the curriculum of public schools and universities, and recognized as (at the very least) equivalent to Western knowledge. Here is epistemological relativism at work: “no way of knowing is better than any other.” Some professors, one of whom I know first hand, take an additional step to claim that indigenous knowledge and practice are superior to Western knowledge and practice.

Another way to indigenize is by recruiting indigenous students, providing them with special support and facilities, and hiring indigenous professors to teach indigenous subjects. This is already the official policy of the Government of Canada[14], the Canadian Research Councils[15], and Canadian university administrations and departments[16], often expressed in terms of “diversity” and “underrepresented categories” of the population. My own department at McGill last year had a self-directed search to hire two indigenous professors, although the two selected received better offers and went elsewhere. A related initiative is establishing separate programs for indigenous populations.[17]

A further initiative is the rewriting of Canadian history to reassess people and actions of one and two hundred years ago in terms of their relations to indigenous populations. Those individuals of the 19th and 20th century who are seen to be negative or abusive to indigenes from our 21st century perspective are to be discredited. Steps have been taken to discredit and shame John A. Macdonald, no less than one of the main founders and the first prime minister of Canada.[18] The city of Victoria, capital of British Columbia, has torn down Macdonald’s statue[19], activists in Montreal intend to do the same[20], and Wilfrid Laurier University has scrapped its plan for statues of Canadian prime ministers, bowing to representations such as this. From one of its own professors, “It is politically insensitive, (if not offensive) to celebrate and memorialize all Canadian prime ministers in the form of bronze statues on land that traditionally belongs to the … Anishnaube and Haudenausaunee peoples (in a) large-scale public art installation that will … transform the cultural landscape of the Waterloo campus. … It flies in the face of what contemporary universities are about.”[21] In the name of “reconciliation” and “indigenization,” major figures from Canadian history are to be vilified, and the memorials to them in statues and names of building are to be removed, making them less than non-persons and making them villains. Most Canadians are not as yet on side with this initiative.[22]

But these are modest steps, and advocates foresee much more major compensations, such as the return of indigenous ownership to land now occupied by provinces and cities. No longer would Canadians bow their heads and say, “We are on treaty land [that belongs to Canada]”, but instead, “we are now on First Nations land.” Indigenous activists and advocates claim vast areas on which are built Canadian cities and industries, as native land, and demand their return to native ownership. Perhaps Canadian “foreign occupiers” may remain, by paying rent for their colonialist cities and industries. As well, indigenous groups want a veto over any Canadian resource projects.

Another much discussed goal is political independence of indigenous peoples. In Canada, indigenes already live under separate laws, for example, being excused from paying taxes. And while they receive billions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers, the finances of indigenous bands are not overseen by the Canadian Government. Indigenous individuals are also tied to the collective tenure of their bands, which have no freehold real property. But a more complete independence of First Nations is envisioned by activists: First Nations are to become entirely independent of Canadian laws and the Canadian Government. They are to become independent states, which would deal with Canada, or whatever is left of it once indigenous land is removed, on a nation to nation basis. Canadian subsidies would then presumably become foreign aid.

Canadians have already taken the first steps into this future. It may be the next big thing.


The Canadian Prime Minister argues that Canada is a “post-national” state[23], and that “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.”[24]

But the Canadian public does not believe this. A national poll found that that 68% of respondents agreed that “Minorities should do more to fit in better with mainstream Canadian society.”[25]

Furthermore, Quebecois/e have always rejected multiculturalism; cultural nationalism has been strong for the last half century at least, and many supported political nationalism in the independence campaigns. A different concept, “interculturalism,” which gives greater weight to the majority culture, has been put forward by Quebec as an alternative to multiculturalism.[26]

President Obama, speaking about the United States of America, said he wanted to “change the country,” that it was ready for “transformative politics.”[27] His comments about America tended to be equivocal, for example, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”[28] Obama was a great advocate of multilateralism, and an enthusiast for the United Nations. It would be difficult to claim that he was an ardent nationalist.

Many Americans, although they liked Obama as an individual, did not think he was much of a patriot. Polls consistently showed that at least half of Americans thought that the country under Obama was going in the wrong direction. The election of Trump was to a degree a reaction to Obama, not the man but his “soft power,” multilateral policies. Perhaps “America apologises” and “We support the United Nations” did not resonate with Americans as much as “Make America Great Again.” Trump ran as a patriot, as a nationalist. Many Americans feel patriotic and want to be proud of the United States again. “Progressives” who were supporters of Obama’s policies, and who voted against Trump, might feel that the country has gone backward. But Trump voters and supporters feel that the country has returned to its proper course. How nationalism will play out in future elections is not known, but for the time being it is triumphant in the United States.

Nationalism is very much passé according to “progressive” intellectuals. The European Union was devised to undercut the European nationalisms that had come close to destroying Europe in the two world wars of the twentieth century. “Nationalism” became a dirty word.

However, in the 21st century, in response to what many Europeans regard as arbitrary and undemocratic governance on the part of the European Union, the asymmetrical economic crisis of integrated currency, and the flood of refugees and illegal immigrants from distant and alien cultures of the Middle East and Africa, nationalism has returned in an unexpectedly muscular form. The European Union directive for all member states to take a portion of the refugees and immigrants was rejected by Eastern European states, which closed their borders to protect their citizens and their cultures.[29]

Western European countries are gradually joining the Eastern European in rejecting the flood of refugees. Austria and Italy have elected anti-migration parties, and similar parties have gained strength in Germany, Holland, Sweden, and elsewhere. Great Britain has voted to withdraw from the Union altogether. Nationalism has returned to Europe, less as an enthusiasm than as a reaction.[30]

Nationalism may not be the best political philosophy, but today many people appear to believe that it is better than any of the alternatives. It is the most likely candidate to succeed multiculturalism.

Read the PDF version with footnotes here: EF48AfterMulticulturalismSalzman