Briefly Noted: Roger Kimball on Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is the ideology that promotes the institutionalization of multiple cultures within a single community. Almost always, it promotes relativism in relation to religion and morality and, as such, is antithetical to Christian belief and practice. And according to Roger Kimball, in a recent issue of The New Criterion, Americans should question the legitimacy of multiculturalism because it doesn’t work.[1]

Kimball builds his essay around recent statements by several European leaders. He notes, for instance, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed in 2010 that “the dream of multicultural harmony, according to which people of radically different backgrounds and aspirations would ‘live side-by-side,’ had ‘failed, utterly failed.’” He further notes that Britons are also awakening to this reality. In other words, multiculturalism–which has for decades been touted as the ideal by the Western academy–is not so ideal.

One of the reasons some European leaders are now thinking this way is the negative effect of immigration, especially from Muslim countries, on Europe’s population and thus on the economy. (Economic crises such as the current Eurozone crisis are usually never only fiscal or monetary issues.) Kimball finds an irony, however, in multiculturalism’s roots and effects. “That is the curious thing about multiculturalism: it is a Western export that is itself anti-Western. Born in the academy, it is the creature of political correctness.” So, for Kimball, ideological multiculturalism is not an ideal at all, but rather the child of a flawed worldview, and he believes this worldview and its effects have great bearing on American policies of immigration, homeland defense, and the economy. In sum, he states, “The Brits and the Germans seem to be waking up to the dangers of multicultural accommodation. When will we?”

I agree with Kimball, and will add a couple of comments. First, one’s rejection of multiculturalism as an ideology is in no way a rejection of multiple cultures within one community. In fact, one hopes that multiple cultures and sub-cultures are able to live in harmony alongside of one another. Second, one’s rejection of multiculturalism is really a rejection of the relativism that often accompanies it. Such relativism attempts to neutralize the religious and moral beliefs of the various cultures, sitting above them in imperial judgment. Third, instead of such relativism, one hopes that multiple cultures will be able to live alongside of one another harmoniously, while still being free to speak convictionally about religious and moral matters in the public square.

For those readers interested in the conversation about multiculturalism, here are two further articles, one by the Pope and the other by R. R. Reno.


[1] Roger Kimball, “The Multicultural Morass,” in The New Criterion 30:7 (March 2012): 1–3.

Briefly Noted: James Pierson on the State of American Higher Education

Who knew? Noteworthy conservative critics such as William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Allan Bloom, and Roger Kimball no longer stand alone in their critique of American higher education (for dismantling core curricula that stand at the headstream of Western tradition, desperately seeking to be politically correct, emphasizing the trendy over the proven, and allowing liberal thought to have a stranglehold over the academy). James Pierson’s recent article, “What’s wrong with our universities?” (The New Criterion) examines three recent liberal assessments of the state of the American University, and prospects for the future.[1] The liberal critique is interesting, according to Pierson, precisely because it joins critiques long-held by conservatives.

Pierson first discusses Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Money and Failing Our Kids­­-and What We Can Do About It (Henry Holt & Co., 2011). This book is written with “the premise that higher education has lost its internal compass and can no longer fulfill its basic obligations to the rising generation of Americans” (19). Writing from the standpoint of the pre-1960s view (old-school liberalism) that democratic education and liberal arts should operate in tandem, the authors observe several ills in American higher education: emphasis on faculty research rather than on teaching, the multiplication of superfluous administrative posts, and the depreciation of the liberal arts. Although the authors’ observations are helpful, Pierson argues, the authors do not offer much evidence to substantiate their claims (20). Nonetheless, the book provides an interesting indictment of American higher education and offers some controversial proposals for remedying the ills.

Second, Pierson treats Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (U. of Chicago Press, 2011). Arum and Roksa claim, in the light of a good deal of complex data, that “college students are studying and writing less and learning far less than their peers of a generation ago, while our competitors are passing us by in measures of achievement and rates of college graduation” (22). As Pierson states, “though burdened by the social science excess of data and methodology, Academically Adrift is a serious effort to find out if colleges and universities are delivering on their promise to educate all students” (22). Although the authors’ diagnosis of higher education is nothing new, their proposals for improvement are focused and helpful.

Third, Pierson discusses Mark C. Taylor, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (Knopf, 2010). Taylor published this work as an expansion of his 2009 op-ed in The New York Times. In line with other critics, Taylor is troubled by the emphasis on faculty research at the expense of classroom instruction. The primary distinction of Taylor’s book is his analysis of the impact of the “Great Recession” on America’s universities (25). The negative of the book, according to Pierson, is that it does not provide a robust constructive proposal.

[Editor’s Note: This post is the first installment of a new series at BtT. “Briefly Noted” will consist of brief notes about ideas, literature, and events that might be of interest to our readers.]

[1] “What’s wrong with our universities?” The New Criterion 30 (Sep. 2011): 17-25.