For the past several decades, the leading opinion-makers in the media, the universities and the churches have promulgated the view that notions of Western political and economic dominance are the residue of Western exploitation of, and aggression towards, other cultures. Underlying this view—and the corresponding notion that these other cultures are “morally equal” if not superior to the West--is an overwhelmingly negative critique of Western civilization itself.
According to this ideology, instead of attempting to globalize its values, the West should stay in its own cultural backyard. Values like universal human rights, individualism and liberalism are regarded merely as ethnocentric products of Western history. The scientific knowledge that the West has produced is simply one of many "ways of knowing." In place of Western universalism, this critique of the West offers the relativism of multiculturalism, a concept that regards the West not as the pinnacle of human achievement to date, but as simply one of many equally valid cultural systems.
Although originally designed to foster tolerance and respect for other cultures, these sentiments were subsequently captured by the radical left and used for its political ends. Thus the history of Western culture is regarded as little more than a crime against the rest of humanity. The West, say the critics, cannot judge other cultures but must condemn its own.
Though commonly known as multiculturalism, this position is defined by its supporters with a series of post prefixes: postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism. However, it is best understood as an "anti" phenomenon because it defines itself not by what it is for, but by what it is against. It is entirely a negation of Western culture and values: whatever the West supports, this anti-West rejects.
With the demise of Marxism in the late 1980s, multiculturalism emerged as its major ideological successor. What follows is an overview of some of the creed's major precepts:
Western culture was founded on aggression towards others. The whole of Western culture since the ancient Greeks is something to be disowned.
Western literature and arts endorse imperialism. Rather than reflecting “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” the Western literary heritage is politically contaminated. This charge is reinforced by a critical apparatus based on gender, race and class. Othello is branded as ethnocentric; Paradise Lost as misogynistic; Hemingway as pathologically heterosexual.
The Western economic system exploits the rest of the world. Globalization is a euphemism for American imperialism. The poverty of the Third World is guaranteed by debts from the International Monetary Fund and the free-market policies of the World Trade Organization.
Victimhood should prevail over individualism. Individualism is both the cause and effect of capitalism, which in its turn produced the imperialism that now oppresses the wretched of the earth. The idea of individual human rights deriving from the Enlightenment is the one great barrier to a collectivist solution for humankind.
In its pursuit of these ideas, the multicultural left has worked hard to deconstruct the traditional history curriculum of American schools. Western history is no longer to be judged by the record of its achievements. Instead, it is to become a story of the struggle of its victims against oppression and discrimination, and of how they have risen to challenge their exploiters. Consequently, the purpose of teaching history becomes an effort to "empower" victims rather than to tell the truth about the past.
The RESOURCES column located on the right side of this page contains links to articles, essays, books, and videos that explore such topics as:
- the major philosophical premises of multiculturalism and its ascendancy in the Western world over the past several decades;
- the phenomenon of political correctness, which is directly derived from classical Marxism, and advocates a society of radical egalitarianism enforced by the power of the state;
- the dogma which holds that no culture is preferable to, or inherently superior to, any other culture;
- the deeply held belief that white people carry, in their hearts and minds, a uniquely malevolent and far-reaching brand of racism, bigotry, and intolerance aimed at nonwhites;
- the "diversity" movement which seeks to guarantee the presence of an "adequate" number of certified "victim-group" members in any given work force or student body;
- the rise of identity politics -- the belief that one's membership in an
identifiable demographic determines the political views and values that
one is morally obliged to embrace;
- how multiculturalist doctrines and worldviews are passed on to students in America's classrooms, from grade school through college;
- the social and political agendas of the gay lobby;
- the origins and teachings of the week-long Kwanzaa festival which is celebrated mainly in the U.S. from December 26 through January 1 each year;
- how the political Left seeks to devalue Christianity, and to purge Christian customs and symbols from the public square; and
- the leftist notion that Western capitalist societies corrupt the morals of mankind and, in contrast to undeveloped, non-Western societies, are incompatible with virtue.
This Summary is adapted from: "The Cultural War on Western Civilization," by Keith Windschuttle (published in The New Criterion, January 2002).