Is There a Middle-Ground for Multiculturalism?

Mass migration is a fascinating subject. It’s been happening for hundreds of years and can often be an attributing factor to changes in course of the history of humanity. Personally, I think mass migration is a driving force of progress and inevitably improves the outlook of any society which is host to mass migration over time by virtue of the broadening of the outlook of that society as a whole (for a detailed account of immigration by a renowned philosopher I cannot recommend highly enough On Immigration and Refugees by the great Michael Dummett, in which he condemns the kind of nationalism which leads to suspicion of new comers into a society). Unfortunately this takes time, and can cause serious teething pain for both the host majority and the incoming minority.This is the question of multiculturalism. It is an extremely complex issue and I cannot hope to come to some sort of original idea on how to make it work, but I do think that taking a reasonable approach and thinking logically about the question is essential if a middle ground is to be found between an absolute relativist view a majority rules view.

The melding of traditions is not a smooth process, as has been discussed recently, with late last year Angela Merkel claiming multiculturalism in Germany has ‘utterly failed’ and last week with David Cameron taking a somewhat more emotive stance claiming that multiculturalism is fostering Islamic extremism in Britain. I find these assertions to be worrying, as they only serve to increase tensions between communities and increase suspicion. It also seems dubious to draw a causal link between multiculturalism and Islamic extremism; an ideology which seems to have very little sympathy for multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is the belief that minorities should be able to lead their lives how they choose, so long as these life choices do not infringe on others in the society they find themselves in, and although the basis of this belief is the liberal right of self determination, it is liberalism which multiculturalism finds itself often in conflict with. This is because minorities within minorities sometimes find themselves in an undesirable situation; in some minorities the status of women or homosexuals is at times less than what a liberal society would hope for. This seems to undermine the liberal ethos that people should be treated as individuals, rather than members of groups. It now becomes clear that merely tolerating minorities and taking a laissez-faire approach to the issue of multiculturalism does not necessarily improve the lives of the individuals within those minorities. Conversely, questioning the value of multiculturalism on these grounds is throwing the baby out with the bath water. The majority may not like all of the beliefs of the minority, but the answer is not to force them to behave in one way or another (for example threatening to remove funding, as Cameron has). It also seems to be used as camouflage for those who have more sinister, more far reaching views as regards minorities, which is something that should be a concern for every well-meaning member of any society.

There has to be some kind of middle ground here. These are delicate issues and should be addressed as such. Taking ham-fisted swings at the concept of multiculturalism (which in my view is a very positive concept and certainly workable) in public discourse, such as David Cameron’s, presents a real danger of communities which feel themselves to be at risk of isolating themselves from the rest of society, and as someone who enjoys living a in diverse society I find this prospect very worrying.

Related articles:

The Open Boarders Debate on Immigration by Shelley Wilcox

On the Philosophy of Group Decision Methods I: The Nonobviousness of Majority Rule by Mathias Risse

On the Philosophy of Group Decision Methods II: Alternative to Majority Rule by Mathias Risse

Author: Steven Hedley

I am a postgraduate student in philosophy at Kings College London and an aspiring academic.

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