Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi (whatever that is), has come out with a book saying that multiculturalism threatens democracy. According to the article he defines multiculturalism as “an attempt to affirm … diverse communities and make ethnic and religious minorities more appreciated and respected.” If that’s the goal, it seems, then communities reap advantages from claiming they’ve been put upon, and compete with each other in doing so, so you end up with victimology, identity politics, self-segregation, suppression of free speech, and rule by judges, bureaucrats and expert therapists instead of democracy.
He’s obviously right that multiculturalism means the end of democracy, assuming democracy is rule by the demos, since its point is dethroning or dissolving any demos that’s coherent enough to do anything, let alone rule a whole country. That’s especially true if multiculturalism is combined, as it inevitably is, with acceptance of mass immigration from radically different societies. His analysis of the dynamic of multiculturalism and victimology also seems correct. The issue though is whether anything can be done about it within the limits of what basic modern political understandings find rational and morally decent.
I don’t think there is. He says he wants his book to be “politically incorrect in the highest order,” but I have my doubts. Does he propose that diverse communities shouldn’t be affirmed or that ethnic and religious minorities shouldn’t be appreciated and respected? That they ought to be suppressed, as Jewish communities were suppressed in the course of European nation-building in late medieval and early modern times? (In 1500 there were no Jews legally resident in the European countries on the Atlantic seaboard.) That everyone ought to be forced to adopt some constructed national identity? It seems not, since he also strongly supports Jewish schools in Britain.
If he doesn’t like multiculturalism, but doesn’t support outright ethnic and religious suppression in the interests of social unity, then it seems the alternative is a society that doesn’t aspire to an overall order that’s just and rational in the modern sense—that is, that’s comprehensively ordered in accordance with clear equal principles that all legitimate groups in the society can accept as justified by their own standards. Presumably you’d have what’s generally existed in the past, a public life based on some particular understanding of man and the world, and thus some particular religion, and some particular set of inherited standards governing conduct and mutual dealings, and thus some particular ethnic tradition. Minority groups would more or less keep their heads down. In other words, you’d accept ethnic and religious hierarchy and discrimination as legitimate. You’d shuck off points now generally accepted as minimally necessary to avoid the extremes of oppression that have supposedly characterized and disfigured the past.
I haven’t read the book, but somehow I doubt he does anything of the kind. He’s a respected public figure who appears on TV a lot and that can’t be by accident. He’s given interviews on the book but hasn’t been James Watsoned. Multiculturalism may be patently irrational and destructive, but it can’t be gotten rid of without radical change in the ways of thinking about human life and social order now demanded. At a minimum, you have to get rid of the idea of a unified and rational social order, and thus of social justice, or else the idea that social justice involves a regime of equal acceptance and respect for ethnic and religious differences. I can’t believe that a man in Sacks’ position could do so and retain that position.