Beyond Multiculturalism

Article excerpt

The world's finest writers are always universal (as well as local), not "multicultural" in the current, politically correct sense.

In universal masters of literature, depth--continuity with the common origin--leads to coherence, integrity of composition, and harmony, even when material from sister cultures is incorporated. Further, rootedness in nature and/or the sacred arouses a full resonance in the sister souls of foreign readers, even when details of native scene and idiosyncratic personality vary considerably from country to country. The same is true from era to era: the essential endures.

But in the multiculturalism of today the only major agreement occurs at a shallow, linear, tunnel-visioned level of common, programmatic, tendentious political agenda. And since the emphasis is obsessively on militant action and dissident revolt--engagement as opposed to disinterested truth and beauty--a fanatical polemics against "mandarin" excellence, "elitism," and "static art" or "epiphanies" (Joyce) is inevitable. Ironically, although the multicultural program claims to respect and explore "other" cultures, these other cultures are not truly respected, or known. Instead, they are merely enlisted abstractly in the radical international power perspective, generally originating in the long intellectual tradition of revolt in the West, which uniquely fostered it. Aside from the boringly single-minded theme of revolt, little of substance links the various cultures in undergraduate or, often, graduate study today. The result is an indigestible incoherence, a mishmash, confirmed by the official report of the Committee of Undergraduate Study at Stanford and by widespread student disgruntlement. This is not at all what Leland Stanford and other founders of universities had in mind when they expressed the desire that every student be exposed to great literature.

Homer, Confucius, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Milton, Keats, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Mallarme, Proust, Joyce, Camus--these are universal writers, and their profoundly rooted appeal is practically worldwide as well as timeless.

Celine's hateful campaign of anti-Semitism and Sartre's antibourgeois, score-settling engagement, along with that of all the Nazi and Soviet scribblers and their politically correct equivalents today, are relatively ephemeral. (At least Sartre and Celine had talent, but that's not enough.)

Not everyone is cut out to be a classic. For most of us, however--whether common readers or academics--whom you admire makes all the difference. Millions of ordinary folks flock, typically on Sundays, to adore da Vinci, Vermeer, Shakespeare, Mozart, Debussy, Chekhov, Bergman -- perhaps after paying subtler homage to their God as origin of that serious joy.

That is the opposite of resentment (or ressentiment, Scheler's special brooding and revengeful sense of the word).

What do the politically correct do? They are apt to flock to hear the latest iconoclastic firebrand exhort them to tear down Western (Judeo-Christian) universalist culture and values, the nuclear family, male-female relationships, meaning itself. Pop music, rock, cheap-shot electric guitars and dime-a-dozen wailing voices are likely to accompany this mediocre mass scene of Lumpen revolt.


Because we are far from the French Revolutionary Eden of ubiquitous fraternity and equality, the ruthless less Jacobin perfectionists among the politically correct are perfectly willing to scrap, along with the wisely balanced and realistic political vision of our Founding Fathers, whatever wistful achievements our expressive geniuses made in the direction of big-souled intimacy--what Flannery O'Connor called "a promise of wholeness"-- all this for the sake of a totally unconvincing claim that they know the way and can lead us to Utopia. Meanwhile, they have left a shambles of art and humanities on our campuses, as everyone now knows. …