I have been reading both older and newer scholarship on European history from late antiquity to the late Middle Ages, and am struck by several features that persist in our political culture: obedience to “authority” (stable hierarchies); and the search for “leaders” reminiscent of the Good Kings of feudal times—the King who, unlike “the Jews,” was not money-mad or selfish. Populists from Left to Right yearn for his return, for he makes us feel safe in an unpredictable and hostile world.
It has occurred to me that the nostalgia for the Middle Ages that I have noted earlier (see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/ or https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/), is not nostalgia at all, but a sign that capitalism, individual opportunity, self-reliance, and mass participation in politics as individuals weighing facts (as opposed to ethnic identification—the hyphenated Americans) has not yet been achieved, though such 19th century figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote about “self-reliance.” (http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm.)
How does multiculturalism undermine the virtues we attribute to market societies, and the rule of law for rich and poor alike, equality that is presumably built into our Constitution and the notion of “liberty”?
First, we might go back to the late 18th century and look at Herder and other German Romantics (all reactionaries fearful of “materialism” and the singularity of the rootless cosmopolitan). For it was Herder and his followers who popularized the notions of ethnicity and national character—collectivist notions that would be institutionalized in the Aryan supremacist Nazi State (a time when Herder’s notions were revived, and in vogue, though the 19th century racists had already become popular).
But the major impetus to multiculturalism in the US was the fear of proletarian internationalism and a feisty new industrial working class (much of it immigrant), that seemed to be taking power after the American Civil War unleashed industrial development and then after the Soviets mounted their revolution in 1917, prefigured by socialist movements in the US and Europe. So such figures revered by liberals as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen stressed the long-standing idea of ethnicity as way more important than class conflict or even so an elastic concept as “class interest.”
What does this have to do with black nationalism and the future of the six black cops in Baltimore, charged by Marilyn Mosby in the death of Freddie Gray?
The most relevant feature of cultural nationalism is the belief that each “ethnicity” or “race” is incomprehensible to members of other designated groups. Out goes any potential agreement on “facts” in the upcoming trial of the black cops, for black nationalists will view the three black cops as “race traitors” who should have acknowledged that the forces of law and order are out to get them in the interests of “white supremacy.” All of a sudden, Marilyn Mosby, State’s Attorney for Baltimore, has no particular bias as an opportunist taking advantage of token reformism as a response to the condition of blacks in Democrat-run urban ghettoes, for all blacks, like all whites, share the same (class) interests in the argot of multiculturalism/racism.
Such is the deadly logic of multiculturalism with its outdated, but persistent, notion of “ethnic” tribalism, a leftover from pre-capitalist periods in history, periods notorious for their hostility to dissent, innovation, and agreement on universal facts (independent of “perspectivism”/“point of view”). Is it any wonder that we are polarized to the point of collapse of the rule of law, for decades and centuries of indoctrination and experience have convinced much of our black population that there is no justice and no peace.