Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is This Arnold Toynbee's Relative?

Arnold Toynbee's Study of History is one of my all time favorite reads, with deep erudition and arcane insightful views of cultures abounding in his overall thesis. Here is an interesting query to Camille Paglia:
I was interested to see you claim in your Salon column to be a supporter of multiculturalism and was wondering if you could say more about what you mean by "multiculturalism."

Personally, I feel that what most liberal multiculturalists mean by "multiculturalism" is really monoculturalism. For example, Japan is an extremely sexist society. I doubt any self-described multiculturalists would want sexist cultures included in their list of acceptable cultures. The same goes for female genital mutilation practiced in Africa or forcing women to wear the burqa in the Middle East.

So-called multiculturalism is really a Western upper-middle-class liberal monoculturalism. It mostly amounts to urban hipsters and yuppies desiring many choices of restaurants. Furthermore, what is the relationship between multiculturalists and the multiple cultures they purport to love? Clearly a multiculturalist purports to like all of the multiple cultures that make up the diversity they demand to be celebrated, whether they be Muslim, Japanese, Chinese, Somali, African-American, etc. Oddly enough, however, none of these cultures are themselves multicultural. Japan, for example, is fiercely protective of its culture, as are most other cultures in the world.

So do multiculturalists advocate we all adopt multiculturalism as our ethic? If so, multiculturalism advocates changing the cultures they purport to respect.

My suspicion is that liberal multiculturalists really want everyone else to remain monocultural, while they aristocratically float above them all and reserve the multicultural perspective and arrogant, elitist moral and aesthetic superiority and sense of freedom for themselves. Michael Toynbe

Camille responds, and not as you expect:
This is a delightful skewering of p.c. pretensions! Multiculturalism has become politicized in Great Britain and to a lesser extent Canada. But I can speak only from my own experience: Multiculturalism is an academic shibboleth to which many give lip service but which few honestly try to follow. Like "diversity," multiculturalism became a convenient rubric for the turf wars of identity politics, which began nearly four decades ago with women's studies and African-American studies and which generated one seceding fiefdom after another.

Lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing! But there's more!
All these new subjects were important and worthy ones, but whether universities should have accommodated them by splintering the curriculum into fiercely autonomous mini-majors is a completely different matter. I myself felt, from my college years in the mid-1960s on, that American higher education urgently needed a cosmopolitan broadening of perspective -- a dissolution of existing departments (such as English) into a few overlapping interdisciplinary fields. Identity politics worsened the provincialism, as suggested by the paucity of significant culture critics to emerge from the generation of academics now in their late 30s and 40s.

Multiculturalism for me means the imperative for students and professors alike to learn about the art, literature, history and religion of every major civilization. We cannot understand our own culture fully until we juxtapose it with that of others. The gifts, limitations and repressions of each society come into focus through comparative analysis. For example, I want Judeo-Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam taught in every school.

My portrait of Western culture in "Sexual Personae," however, was not value free. I argued that the grand achievements of the West are inextricable from its restless egomania and its perverse phobias. I accepted the worst things said about the West but connected them to the birth of brilliant, world-changing ideas -- individualism, democracy, civil liberties and feminism, among others.

Too many multiculturalists subscribe to a glib anti-Americanism and constantly sneer at the very European tradition that invented and shaped their mental tools. It's wearisome and amateurish and has seriously degraded scholarly standards in the U.S.

Arnold Toynbee and Christopher Dawson and Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Buber and even Michael Toynbe could not have put it more succinctly into a nutshell.

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