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Multiculturalism as a "Peculiar Institution" By: Dr. Marvin J. Folkertsma
The Center for Vision & Values | Monday, September 17, 2007


In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down what has since been regarded as one of its most notorious decisions. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, Chief Justice Roger Taney delivered the opinion of the court, which, in the words of the New York Times, decided that “men of the African race are not citizens of the United States by the Constitution.” Further, the court declared unconstitutional the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which forbade the extension of slavery into territory north of Missouri’s southern border. It got worse. The dyspeptic and ailing Taney heaped more coals onto the scorching debate about slavery by declaring that at the time of the Constitution’s adoption, those of African descent had “been regarded as beings of an inferior order” and “had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.” In the words of historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, “the emotional commitment [to slavery was] so intense that it made perception and logic utterly subservient.” Taney was a Southerner who had freed his own slaves, but his dedication to the South and his fervent belief that this “peculiar institution” was inextricably bound to preserving Southern culture gripped his thoughts to his death.

This precisely was the point, of course; the livelihoods and prosperity of that thin crust of haughty and privileged elites could not survive without perpetuating their “peculiar institution.” Indeed, Southern orators had convinced themselves that a moral abomination that defied ordinary sense, everyone’s observations, and especially the nation’s founding principles was in fact a positive good, one that made “higher” civilization possible. However, paraphrasing George Orwell here, you would have to be a member of the chosen caste to believe something like that; no normal person and certainly no slave would be such a fool or a reprobate.

Fast forward to the 21st century to a study by a highly regarded social scientist, Harvard’s Robert Putnam, who recently published a paper calling into question the value of diversity in society. In fact, Putnam fearlessly reports that ethnically diverse communities are characterized by distrust, suspicion of others and lack of participation in community events, to cite just a few findings. It is hard to overestimate what bad news this is to many in today’s thin crust of elites entrenched in America’s universities, think tanks and editorial offices. After all, celebrating diversity and forcing others to follow suit has been great sport for the past few decades. Now to be told it is all a sham could quite possibly ruin your day—or even your livelihood.

The reason is that as slavery was to King Cotton, diversity is to multiculturalism, its intellectual and institutional godfather. Plantation owners defended an abominable hierarchy with whips and guns, and later a horrible civil war; multiculturalists defend morally ludicrous propositions about comparing civilizations by using lawsuits and pink slips, as well as an arsenal of vicious epithets against nonbelievers in today’s “Kulturkampf.” Multiculturalists would have us believe that all cultures are more or less equal in most important respects, or at least, no single one—i.e., Western civilization especially—should be considered “privileged” over others.

That means that the United States—which is based on Judeo-Christian and enlightenment values and committed to freedom and equality of all individuals (not “cultures”), and which has struggled for more than two centuries to end abuses against its citizens by bigoted elites and generally tried to live up to its ideals as expressed in the Declaration of Independence—should be regarded as no better than a civilization that practices infanticide and gender slavery or burns widows on funeral pyres. A culture that rewards diligence, honesty and hard work is no better than one that encourages none of these things; other ways of life are just “different,” that’s all. Now, let us all celebrate these differences; let us all celebrate diversity!

It is a fair guess that no one, not even multiculturalists, really believes this tripe, but many have to pretend to because their livelihoods depend on it. Hence, the danger of Putnam’s study. If multiculturalists had the courage of their convictions, they would be off doing multicultural mission work in such bastions of human rights and progress as Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe or Venezuela. The problem is that you can’t make any money doing that, and furthermore, the natives would likely kill you—after they have all had a good laugh.

So multiculturalists stay in America, where, like their ideological cousins of the old Confederacy, they can continue to preach morally retrograde and empirically ridiculous ideas. That makes them the plantation owners of our day, the defenders of the West’s newest and most dangerous “peculiar institution.”


Marvin Folkertsma, Ph.D. is a professor of political science and Fellow for American Studies with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is the author of several books. His latest release is a high-energy novel titled The Thirteenth Commandment.


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