One of the characteristics of liberalism is tolerance. While that might be true of liberalism taken as a whole, as usual, I am interested in classical liberalism and will refer such liberalism as simply liberalism. This tolerance originates from the non-aggression axiom. While I understand the relationship between tolerance and the non-aggression axiom, I had a hard time trying to justify multiculturalism in the name of liberalism. It turns out that it is hard to justify because it is unjustifiable.

I had the impression that multiculturalism is the apex of tolerance where different people from very different backgrounds come and live together in harmony, respecting each others’ rights. This impression, that both are related to tolerance, has brought me to assume that liberalism actively supports multiculturalism by virtue that both share the characteristic of tolerance. That opinion further strengthened my opinion on the relationship between liberalism and multicultural societies; that a liberal society is a multicultural society and multicultural society is synonymous to multiculturalism.

After a couple of headaches, enlightenment rained upon me. I somehow began to realize the difference between the descriptive multicultural and the prescriptive multiculturalism. The former merely describes a state of a society without espousing what state should the society be. The latter actively advocates for a state of multicultural through policies collectively called multiculturalism. With that realization, I have come to the conclusion that liberalism is neutral of multicultural society and unsupportive of multiculturalism.

It must be noted that a multicultural society is the natural course of a liberal society. Be aware that this is not similar to stating that the only cause a multicultural society is liberalism.

Liberalism by its very nature is tolerant and a liberal society is a tolerant society. This tolerance exhibited by liberal societies attracts people from all over, especially from illiberal societies. While liberalism produces multicultural societies, multicultural societies are not the goal of liberalism. To make the idea clearer, multicultural society is a side effect of liberalism; liberalism indirectly causes the creation of multicultural societies. The relationship between liberalism and multicultural societies stops there and goes no farther.

To actively encourage the formation of a multicultural society is taking it one step farther; that is multiculturalism and not liberalism.

A pillar of liberalism is spontaneous order. The policies of multiculturalism contradict the spirit of spontaneous order. A liberal must not force to turn a society into a multicultural one. By force, I mean, the state, which has the monopoly of policing power, actively promoting multicultural society as an end. It is worth reiterating that a liberal society would sooner or later become multicultural unconsciously. Forcing the process to go faster is counterproductive. Just as we cannot force others to be free, we cannot force society to become multicultural.

While multicultural society is, depending on point of view — I certainly do see it as such — a positive unintended effect of liberalism, liberals themselves, or rather, liberal states, should be neutral on issues relating to multicultural societies. Such neutrality is essential because whether a society is multicultural or monocultural, it is not related to liberty. In an already liberal society when negative rights are secured, do we expect the state of multicultural to affect liberty in any way?

I would answer no.

I do believe that I was not the only that that had tried to say multiculturalism is part of liberalism. A lot of multiculturalists do call themselves as liberals and it is easy to understand how such confusion could occur.

As stated earlier, a creation of a multicultural society is a side effect — a symptom — of liberalism. Advanced liberal societies more often than not are multicultural societies. Those that misunderstood the relationship between liberalism and multiculturalism will try to emulate these advanced liberal societies to the letters, instead of to the spirit. The strong relationship between liberalism and multicultural societies blurs the causality and causes many liberals — I would call these liberals as neophytes — to accept multicultural societies as central to liberalism.

Again, multicultural society is a symptom of liberalism; a multicultural society is simply a sign of a maturing liberal society. Multicultural society is not central to liberalism while multiculturalism is out of the equation.

For us to emulate advanced liberal societies, we need to secure the roots of liberalism, not the symptoms of liberalism. For once the roots are secured, the symptoms will come in good time.

4 Responses to “[1092] Of liberalism, multicultural societies and multiculturalism”

  1. on 13 Feb 2007 at 23:24 'Abidin

    The most illiberal thing about multiculturalism is that the state chooses your identity – see how ignorant we are about our own histories; we only have those prescribed for us!

    Liberalism might enable a society to be multicultural, but there is no *inherent* value in that. I would much rather live in a liberal monocultural society than an authoritarian multicultural one.

  2. on 14 Feb 2007 at 08:09 Mudasir

    Multiculturism will be liberty cause of death.

  3. […] For this reason, policy of multiculturalism has to be rejected. […]

  4. […] common identity is a crux of a nation-state. The identity more often than not demands assimilation instead of co-existence and that tends to create a tension among groups that feel the chosen common identity is sidelining […]

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