Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy

by David Gordon


Paul Gottfried has seen an aspect of multiculturalism and political correctness that previous critics of these doctrines have failed adequately to stress. He uses his insight to develop a brilliant analysis and critique of the modern managerial and therapeutic state.

By “multiculturalism,” our author has in mind a set of phenomena. “In the new multicultural as opposed to conventional multiethnic situation, the state glorifies differences from the way of life associated with the once majority population. It hands out rewards to those who personify the desired differences, while taking away cultural recognition and even political rights from those who do not. The differences being honored involve not only a wide range of cultural exotica, but, perhaps even more importantly, the showcasing of alternative lifestyles” (p. 14). Thus, blacks and Hispanics benefit from affirmative action programs, while attempts to resist activist homosexual blocs are derailed in the courts.

Gottfried differs from most other critics in his stress upon governmental promotion of multiculturalism: “For all their complaints about ‘political correctness,’ moderate conservatives . . . do not devote their primary attention to the government’s control of speech and behavior. The battle between supporters and opponents of political correctness is thought to be taking place among warring cultural elites” (p. 5).1

This at once raises a question: why do the governments of the United States and Europe engage in these activities? Multiculturalists stand ready with an answer: Morality requires the policies they favor. So alien are these policies from Gottfried’s own views that he passes by this response, as Dante says, in silent contempt. For him, multiculturalism is a perversion of morality. It is an instance of what Carl Schmitt called “the tyranny of values,” i.e., an attempt to elevate an arbitrary preference to the status of a binding, objective judgment and on that basis forcibly to impose it on society.2

But this raises yet another question: why does the state seek to impose multiculturalism? Gottfried argues that it does so in order to control society. “While this now dominant Western regime does not engage in brute force, it marches nonetheless through once ‘independent social spheres.’ As both the protector of designated victims and the sensitizer of consciousness, this expanding state is authorized to make constant interventions, directly or indirectly, in a wide range of human and commercial relations” (p. 88). Americans should take small comfort from the fact that the situation here has not progressed quite so far as in Germany, where “every year about eight thousand German journalists and scholars are tried by the government for ‘Volksvehetzung’ (inciting the public) against the democratic foundations of the German constitution” (p. 44).

Well, one might object, certainly those jailed for their opinions are “controlled”; but how does enforcing political correctness enable the state to dominate society? Are not those who feel the state’s wrath isolated extremists, usually of the right?

Here we arrive at Gottfried’s central point. The managerial state wishes to weaken, if not cripple altogether, any social group not under its control. The favored minorities who benefit from multiculturalism depend entirely on the state for their enhanced position: strengthening them weakens those who might prove recalcitrant to the state’s domination. A majority culture not created by the state is in a position effectively to resist its absolute mastery; hence the state claims that the historically dominant culture is but one of many competing groups, enjoying no privileged status. As a result, civil society loses its independent status and becomes totally subject to the state’s power.

To secure its position, the managerial state imposes an ideological orthodoxy. This in effect becomes the state religion and nonbelievers fare no better than heretics customarily do. Gott-fried questions “an association that has been made since the pioneering research of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch between secularization and modernization.

Supposedly as societies become more secularized, they abandon the religious myths and doctrinal mysteries that once permeated their fiber” (p. 134). In Gottfried’s view, this radically misrepresents what has taken place in our own society: “Transposition takes place as well—for example, the substitution of designated victims for the older adoration of religious martyrs. . . . The notion of the ‘suffering just’ has been ‘brought up to date’ and signifies Third World, gender, and lifestyle victims” (p. 135). Our author finds in the works of, among others, Eric Voegelin, René Girard, and Jacob Taubes,3 support for his contention that modern society transposes religious motifs into ideological categories.

The modern ideological state goes further. Not only can no majority culture claim special privilege: no individual who has any social advantage is immune from the government’s attention. Susan Okin, an influential Stanford University professor, “maintains that social justice requires nothing less than a concerted political war against gendered discrimination. . . . Okin advocates administrative intervention in family situations to monitor the relative earnings of husbands and wives and to make sure that sexist toys are kept away from children” (p. 2).

I should like here to supplement Gottfried’s argument by attention to the most influential of all contemporary accounts of political philosophy, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, a frequent target in these pages. According to Rawls, individuals do not morally deserve benefits that stem from inequalities of talent. The state should sweep away such undeserved privileges, unless the inequalities benefit the least well-off group. Once more, then, the pattern Gott-fried has identified is confirmed: the state stands above civil society, adjusting “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” groups at it sees fit. As if this were not enough, Ronald Dworkin, another philosopher of vast influence, has criticized Rawls for allowing too much inequality to remain untouched.

But does not the state face an obstacle in its efforts to impose what Voegelin terms a “political religion”? Will not genuine religions interpose their immense influence to block the state from its program of ideological deformation? In particular, will not religion come to the rescue in the United States, where, in contrast to Europe, rates of church attendance are high?

Far from being a source of resistance to the state’s ideology, the churches have served as a principal means of its propagation. “A transformation of the self-image of the majority population would have had to take place in order for the therapeutic state to have reached its present strength. This change can be traced to, among other things, an altered religious consciousness that has affected Protestant majorities in the United States” (p. 49).

Sin and redemption are central themes of Protestant Christianity, especially in its Calvinist variety; and, to liberal theologians, social sins have replaced on the agenda individual failings of character. “Liberal Protestant theology is entirely compatible with the managerial state’s evolution into a regime promoting victim self-esteem. Without administrative assaults against biological and social distinctions, argue liberal Protestants, the sin of discrimination would rage even more fiercely” (p. 61).

As everyone acquainted with Paul Gottfried knows, he is a man of exemplary fairness, and I am happy to assure readers that conservative Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews do not escape unscathed. Others before him, including William Graham Sumner and Oswald Spengler, have indicted the churches on similar grounds; but Gottfried has dissected the social effects of the contemporary church better than anyone else of whom I am aware. I venture to add to his analysis one other factor. A key theme in modern Protestant theology has been the need to imitate Christ’s atoning sacrifice by sacrificial behavior in one’s personal life. Those in privileged positions should then willingly give up the benefits of their superior status. A locus classicus for such views is the work of the great British theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth, who in The Justification of God and The Christian Ethic of War (both 1916) welcomed the opportunity for British soldiers to sacrifice their lives in battle.

Will the new religion triumph? Our author doubts it. He suggests that the massive immigration promoted by the multiculturalist elite will generate intolerable social problems. “But staggering numbers of unfriendly foreigners must tell in the end. . . . To whatever extent our elites take their ideology seriously . . . they do not reckon with the fall that may await them” (p. 149). This is not a happy ending, but our author is not known for his optimism. He ends this outstanding book with great elegance: “In Greek mythology the Litai, divine respondents to our supplications, come only after Ate, the goddess of mischief, has wrought havoc. For the managerial class and its multitudinous supporters, it might be best if the repairing deities come sooner rather than later” (p. 149).

Professor Gottfried has rather disconcerted me, as it is so difficult to find errors in his book. On one point, though, I think he is mistaken. He finds a difference between Mises’s Socialism, which stresses nationalization of the means of production as essential to socialism, and Liberalism, where Mises acknowledges that socialism can be instituted through government control that preserves the outward forms of private property. In fact, the two works are entirely consistent. Mises’s point in both works is that socialism means governmental control of the means of production. Since a genuine market is not present in this circumstance, rational allocation of resources is impossible. I shall close with one very minor point. I think it better to term Rudolf Steiner an opponent of the Jesuit Order, rather than an “anticlerical” (p. 7, n. 10).

1 If the passage quoted in the previous paragraph is taken as a strict definition, then orchestrated private campaigns against, say, believers in racial inequality do not count as manifestations of political correctness. I doubt that Gottfried would accept this, so it is better to take his remarks, not sensu strictu, but as a preliminary survey of the terrain.

2 See my review of Gottfried’s earlier volume, After Liberalism, in The Mises Review, Fall, 1999.

3Taubes, like Gottfried, has been greatly influenced by Carl Schmitt.