Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The triumph of ‘asymmetrical multiculturalism’

Sometimes it’s better to be the far-group than the out-group

‘The eager Anglo-Saxon who goes to a vivid American university to-day [finds] his true friends not among his own race but among the acclimatized German or Austrian, the acclimatized Jew, the acclimatized Scandinavian or Italian. In them he finds the cosmopolitan note. In these youths, foreign-born or the children of foreign-born parents, he is likely to find many of his old inbred morbid problems washed away. These friends are oblivious to the repressions of that tight little society in which he so provincially grew up.’

So wrote the Greenwich Village intellectual Randolph Bourne in a groundbreaking article for The Atlantic magazine in July 1916. Bourne was a core part of the liberal Progressive movement of the 1910s, a group which was to have a far-reaching influence on the western, especially English-speaking world. Most importantly, they were to help influence what is now termed ‘asymmetrical multiculturalism’, the system by which modern democracies manage their increasingly diverse population — a system filled with contradictions and inconsistencies.

‘Asymmetrical multiculturalism’ was first coined by demographer Eric Kaufmann in his 2004 book The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America, and later developed in his more recent Whiteshift, in a chapter charting Bourne’s circle, the ‘first recognisably modern left-liberal open borders movement’.

Kaufmann wrote how asymmetrical multiculturalism ‘may be precisely dated’ to the article where Bourne, ‘a member of the left-wing modernist Young Intellectuals of Greenwich Village and an avatar of the new bohemian youth culture,’ declared ‘ that immigrants should retain their ethnicity while Anglo-Saxons should forsake their uptight heritage for cosmopolitanism.’

Kaufmann suggested that: ‘Bourne’s desire to see the majority slough off its poisoned heritage while minorities retained theirs blossomed into an ideology that slowly grew in popularity. From the Lost Generation in the 1920s to the Beats in the ’50s, ostensibly “exotic” immigrants and black jazz were held up as expressive and liberating contrasts to a puritanical, square WASPdom. So began the dehumanizing de-culturation of the ethnic majority that has culminated in the sentiment behind, among other things, the viral hashtag #cancelwhitepeople.’

The hope, as John Dewey said of his New England congregationalist denomination around the same time as Bourne, was that America’s Anglo-Saxon core population would ‘universalise itself out of existence’ while leading the world towards universal civilisation.

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