Last year a book was published, The Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights, by Liav Orgad, an Associate Professor of Law at the IDC Herzliya, Israel, a Marie Curie Fellow at Freie Universität Berlin and a Research Fellow at the Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Hailed as one of the most significant books of 2015, it has been extensively reviewed and praised by the liberal establishment. The thesis of the book is incredibly simple in the self-evidential sense that anyone with the most minimal sense of cultural identity, justice, and fairness for all, would have wondered how can this thesis be expressed only now by liberals. The thesis is that the peoples of Europe do have a legitimate right to restrict immigration in order to protect their majority culture.
Have not the liberals who control our universities, media, and major political parties ever considered the topic of the cultural rights of majorities, after publishing thousands of books about rights? No; since WWII the only booming business in academia has been the rights of minorities in European lands and the "legitimate" cultural claims of immigrants. So why this book now? Because, or so I will argue, liberals are starting to realize that European nationalists are gaining popularity and that alternative right arguments for the ethno-cultural rights of European peoples are gaining intellectual credibility.
Orgad's argument is not original, as much as it is an effort to co-opt the growing discontent among European natives against the mess liberals themselves created with their cultural Marxist argument that Europeans needed to diversify themselves in order "to live up to their liberal traditions". This argument has been exposed by reality for the lie it always was, with the assertion of Islamic extremism and backwardness, systematic raping of white girls, massive welfare expenditures on poorly skilled, lower IQ immigrants, ethnic enclaves everywhere, etc, etc.
Liberals now realize they need to up their game; the continued emphasis on minority rights sounds absurd. But we must not allow ourselves to be co-opted by the nice sounding phrases of Orgad's book about the "cultural rights of majorities", the right of Europeans to judge immigration in light of their cultural needs for preservation. The editorial in the back cover already reveals to us what the ulterior motive of this book is:
The book criticizes this state of affairs and proposes a new approach by which liberal democracies can welcome immigrants without fundamentally changing their cultural heritage, forsaking their liberal traditions, or slipping into extreme nationalism.The Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights is an intelligently constructed book, to be sure, aimed at persuading a liberal audience that it is possible, and necessary, to talk in a liberal way about the cultural rights of Europeans, if liberals are not to become anachronistic. The target audience extends over the left-right spectrum of liberalism, but its appeal will be greater among mainstream conservatives or cuckservatives. Rather than writing a review, I will take on the arguments of this book in the context of a debate organized by the Centre for Global Constitutionalism of the Berlin Social Science Center. Nine academics from around the world were asked to write an assessment of this book, with an opportunity for Orgad to write a rejoinder.
Will Kymlicka's Communitarianism
I will take on this rejoinder first, and in future posts evaluate the assessments, as each of them reveals different aspects and traits of the liberal establishment, as it seeks to cope with what is evidently now a failing immigration situation across Europe. We need to understand the enemy, and one of our advantages is that they don't read us, they only read themselves, and for this reason they are very easy to defeat intellectually, as would have long been proven if we had the same resources they have, billions of dollars, all the universities and almost all the media.
As a Canadian, having been educated all my life to believe that we should celebrate multiculturalism, mass immigration, and show sensitivity to the needs of minorities in Canada, the wish of members of minorities groups (Aboriginals and Quebecois) to enjoy linguistic rights and national self-determination within Canada's federation, and the need of immigrants to enjoy certain group rights (affirmative action programs, public funding of ethnic/immigrant organizations, dual citizenship), in addition to the individual rights they enjoy as citizens, it did surprise me to encounter a liberal finally showing concern about the rights of the "majority cultures" in Western societies.
We are facing now, as Orgad observes, a whole new reality never anticipated by the initial proponents of multiculturalism; the "scale, character, intensity" of immigration to Western nations, combined with the demographic decline of the majority culture, does call for a re-evaluation of multicultural liberalism, and compels us to ask "whether a culturally needy majority should be granted a right to defend its constitutional identity in the immigration context".
Here in Canada the argument by Will Kymlicka (originated in the 1980s-1990s, but still advocated by him to this day) that we should not worry about immigrants demanding full-fledged cultural group rights within Canada (or within European nations generally), seems obviously dated, as Orgad suggests, in light of demands by immigrants for Sharia law, exemptions from many European cultural practices, including national standards of education, regular security threats from Muslims, excessive use of welfare by migrants, direct threats to the cultural norms of the host nation, the language, symbols, manners, folklore of Europeans. Orgad brings up these problems, though in a subdued manner, and always on the supposition that these are "challenges" to the existing order calling for more liberal measures rather than a full rethinking of the order itself.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the liberalism Orgad is defending is a communitarian liberalism for the majority cultures, and that Kymlicka himself is a communitarian, though Kymlicka's effort has been to emphasize the communitarian needs of minorities and immigrants, while interpreting the majority European cultures as "societal cultures" consisting of modern amenities and multicultural values rather than traditions that identify Europeans as a particular people. I am aware that in his later writings, Kymlicka, particularly in reaction to growing scepticism about the functionality of multiculturalism in Europe after 9/11, and other terrorist incidents, has been insisting that the model of multiculturalism he welcomes is not one in which immigrant groups are encouraged to remain "hermetically sealed and static", but one in which they are guided by principles of equality, human rights, and individual freedoms; and which thus encourages immigrants to be open to other cultures, and renounce values and traditions within their heritage that run counter to these ideals.
Orgad's entry into this debate, then, should be seen as a recognition on his part that Kymlicka's expectation that immigrants would behave in the same way as Europeans, happily endorsing multiculturalism and human rights, has not transpired as expected but has instead resulted in a situation in which immigrants are reproducing their own cultures at the expense of the majority culture of Europeans.
The rationale Orgad employs in his justification of majority rights is the same communitarian rationale Kymlicka has employed in promoting minority group rights, except that for Orgad it is now the majority culture that is in need of protecting itself, its liberal democratic heritage, in the face of immigrants affirming identities that threaten this heritage.
The communitarian liberalism Kymlicka has defended says that humans have a deep need to belong in a cultural community, and that it is false to think that humans can operate in a society as if they were singular individuals; rather, humans need to be part of a community, and, in his view, immigrants have needed special supports from the majority "societal" culture to overcome the "lingering presence or enduring effects of older hierarchies". The majority culture does not need any supports. What Orgad is doing is very simple, and, in fact has been argued for at CEC against Kymlicka and Charles Taylor, but from an Alt-Right perspective, namely, that the members of majority cultures also have a deep need to have their culture recognized.
I have never read a single positive statement by Kymlicka on the Anglo culture in Canada, except deracinated descriptions about the majority culture being the "societal culture" of Canada, the one with the flag, national anthem, and other emblems, in charge demographically of the modern Canadian infrastructure and media; never described as a vibrant, affirmative, proud culture, but always as a culture that needs to become multicultural and eventually overcome its particular cultural attributes and simply celebrate values that are deemed to be for all human beings, secular, and without any national distinctiveness.
In his main work, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (1995), Kymlicka even muses over the fact that in Canada "many state symbols such as flags, anthems, and mottoes reflect a particular ethnic or religious background" and that it would only be fair for other ethnic groups to demand "that their identity be given the same recognition as the original Anglo-Saxon settlers" (1995: 115). As a possible solution he proposes "redesigning public holidays, uniforms, and state symbols. It is "easy", he says, to "replace religious oaths with secular ones, and so we should". It would be "more difficult but perhaps not impossible, to replace existing public holidays and work-weeks with more neutral schedules for schools and government offices".
This brings me to my main objection against Orgad's take on majority cultural rights. Although Orgad makes this majority culture the focus of his attention, he too has a rather limited view of this majority culture, reducing it essentially to its liberalism, which is itself construed as containing values that hold true for all humans, and which portray European nations as civic nations without ethnic origins. It all starts rather badly in Orgad the moment he says that "majorities are largely imagined and socially constructed — majorities are made, not born". This leads Orgad to advocate a civic conception of the majority cultures of Europeans, what he calls an "idea-based" conception" defined by "a society's core constitutional identity...its language, holidays, symbols, values, and institutions".
He is not critical of the decades-old diversification of Europeans but is simply calling for "restrictions" or, really, assimilation of immigrants to a majority culture that is fundamentally defined not by its particularities but by its supposed universal principles. It is true that he talks about norms, holidays, symbols; and thus differs from Kymlicka in saying that these cultural things are important to the majority Europeans and that immigrants should be selected in such a way that these cultural traits are not threatened.
But why call this a socially constructed conception when we know that this political culture and wider cultural traditions have a long historical lineage behind them, institutionalized and practiced through generations, rather than articulated as "ideas" by academics? Obviously cultures are constructed by humans, not handed to them by nature, but, firstly, as Émile Durkheim argued, cultures have an objectivity which allows one to define cultural events and actions as "social facts" which exert influences on the members of the culture as if they were external facts which constrain their behaviour. The European institutions and norms of marriage, language, religion, government organization and other norms generally, have an existence of their own independent of Orgad's intellectual constructs. This does not mean that they are fixed and can never be changed. But it does mean that they cannot be constructed any which way one wishes, because languages, ethnic appearance, customs do have a reality with generations behind them, attachments, and structures. Europeans, if given a free, and true liberal choice, as to whether they wanted and want continued mass immigration, would reject this policy, and embrace their ethno-cultural traditions.
Secondly, cultures don't exist above nature; humans are natural, biological beings, no less than social beings; and the cultural norms and institutions humans have created have been done in ways that reflect their natural inclinations, sexual dispositions, differences between men and women, physical appearances, survival instincts, and so on, as physical anthropologists and sociobiologists have documented for numerous cultures. But Orgad accepts the standard doctrine of cultural Marxism, which says that everything is socially constructed, and therefore changeable, and continuously changing, open for deconstruction, and that European culture can thus be interpreted as always inclined to become diverse racially, forever constructed in new ways by immigration, conforming to his definition of what liberalism entails in terms of rights. But now reality has struck back, the social fact of diversity, Europeans are tired of having their majority culture demonized by minority right liberals, millions are endorsing nationalist parties, and so Orgad wants to reconstruct a new liberalism that co-opts this movement.
What he advocates, his idea-based conception, has been seriously questioned by numerous books and articles. The national-state cultures of Europe were created on the basis of pre-existing ancestral ties; the sense that Europeans were a national people pre-dated the modern era and can be traced as far back as ancient times. The nations of Europe were not mere "inventions" or functional requirements of modernity, but were factually rooted in the past, in common myths of descent. While the rise of modern industry and modern bureaucracies allowed for the materialization of nation-states in Europe, these nations were primordially based on a population with a collective sense of kinship.
Recently, Azar Gat, a compatriot of Orgad, offered in fact a biological conception of ethnic nationality, in Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism. Gat emphasises the ultimate roots of cultural identities on human nature, evolutionary theory. He writes that "ethnicity is by far the most important factor" in national identity and that through history nations "overwhelmingly correlate with and relate to shared kin-culture traits". Welcoming the application of evolutionary theory to explain human behaviour, Gat says:
Its [sociobiology] relevance to our subject can be summarized as follows: people tend to prefer closer kin, who share more genes with them, to more remote kin or 'strangers'. As a propensity, this is not necessarily conscious.Yet, Gat, too, in my estimation, as noted here at CEC, fails to be consistent in his emphasis on ethnic identity when it comes to the issue of European identity in the face of mass immigration. When it comes to the current Western nations experiencing mass immigration, it never occurs to Gat to consider the ancestral attachments and kin-relatedness of the peoples who have inhabited these lands the longest and transformed them into modern nations. He simply accepts without question the experience of mass immigration as if it were a natural occurrence consistent with the ethnic histories of Western nations.
My point against Orgad is that his "idea-based" conception is out of tune with recent biologically-based research on national identities. It is also the case that Orgad's liberal conception is inherently unable to meet the ever growing problems Europeans are facing as millions upon millions of immigrants with strong ethnic identities and cultural inclinations keep arriving in Europe. He is under the illusion that if only Europeans affirm their "socially constructed" majority culture, without any sense of racial identity, just limiting immigration, somehow transplanting the supposed "successful" model of American immigration to Europe, then things should be fine.
He wants a liberal answer to a problem that was created by liberals in the first place, who thought that national identities were social constructs, and that, therefore, the majority traditions of Europeans could be deconstructed away from any biologically based components in the name of new multicultural reconstructions. Orgad wants to bring attention to the majority culture but only within the framework of the same liberalism that brought mass immigration, and only in order to pacify, re-direct, the growing populist discontent and nationalism of Europeans. The problems Europeans are facing are far more serious than any liberal theory about majority rights can handle, as I will indicate in other comments to the other participants in this debate.