Mutlticulturalism or Assimilation?

To all,

I’m not sure what is meant here by “multiculturalism.” The current American definition of the word—as used in academia for example—is the opposite of the traditional melting pot: multiculturalism means there is no “dominant” culture; there is no one definition of America or American to which all immigrants try to adhere; there is no linguistic or religious or behavioral tradition that we all have in common. If Charles intends to import that idea to Europe, it’s doomed to fail. (I’m not sure it works too well here either, but that’s a completely different matter).

It seems to me that the real difficulty immigrants face in Europe is not racism, or even just the plain old unwelcoming, non-multicultural attitudes of Europeans. It is that the historical national identity of most Europeans is purely ethnic. The definition of a Dane is someone who speaks Danish, grew up eating Danish food, is familiar with Danish fairy tales and has four Danish grandparents. You can’t just tell the Danes they need to scrap all of that old stuff and invent a new identity. To do so would produce a backlash, a cultural vacuum, or both.

The only way immigrants will be absorbed into European countries such as Denmark is the same way they’ve been absorbed for hundreds of years: They must learn Danish, read Danish newspapers, marry Danes, and join Danish political, social, and cultural institutions.

Britain and France are actually exceptions to this, somewhat, because it is possible to be “British” but not “English” or “Scottish,” and because the French have a quasi-universal notion of Francophone culture. Still, the best way to become British is the way generations of, say, British Jews became British: adopt the culture (think of all those Jewish Lords and Ladies). You can’t expect to live a separate life and have separate values and speak a separate language and be accepted as if you were the same. Some European Muslims seem to expect this, however.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • Is “Old Europe” Doomed? by Theodore Dalrymple

    Old Europe may not be doomed, though it is “sleepwalking to further relative decline,” says Theodore Dalrymple. “The principle motor of Europe’s current decline is,” he argues, “its obsession with social security.” If Europe is to have a fighting chance, it must overcome a politics in which “personal and sectional interest has become all-powerful” and “the goal of everyone is to parasitize everyone else.”

Response Essays

  • Reply to Dalrymple by Timothy B. Smith

    According to historian Timothy Smith, author of France in Crisis, the main problem of Old Europe is that overregulated labor markets, alleged to “humanize” capitalism and promote “solidarity,” instead work to consolidate economic privileges for tenured labor unionists and state employees, and exclude broad swathes of the population, especially immigrants, from the work force. Smith is careful to distinguish the relative stagnation of France, Germany, and Italy from their more successful Scandanavian counterparts, and argues against Dalrymple that the U.K. is really in pretty good shape.

  • Reply to Dalrymple by Charles Kupchan

    Disagreeing sharply with Theodore Dalrymple’s grim diagnosis, Georgetown University international affairs professor and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Charles Kupchan maintains that “it is simply not the case that the continent is populated primarily by sclerotic, dysfunctional economies on their last gasp.” However, Kupchan argues that Dalrymple’s essay “considerably underestimates … the challenge of integrating Muslim immigrants into European society.” The Paris riots and the Danish cartoon imbroglio demonstrate that Europe has “embraced multiculturalism in fact, but not yet in spirit.”

  • Reply to Dalrymple by Anne Applebaum

    In her reply to Dalyrmple’s lead essay, the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum lists “three factors which could, over the next decade, help reverse Europe’s course.” Market-friendly leaders, “an acknowledgment of the possibilities presented by the new members of the European Union,” and ditching “their increasingly bizarre obsession with the evil United States,” would, Applebaum argues, go a long way to “help Europe escape its current economic and psychological slump.”

The Conversation