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Give-and-take

If a nurse feels her modesty is at stake, covered arms will be allowed in hospital even if superbugs proliferate and patients's lives are put at risk because the nurse doesn't scrub her arms. That is not the way a government devoted to multicultural piety described its decision, but I think it's an accurate translation.

In Not With A Bang But A Whimper, Theodore Dalrymple wrote about the unusual case of a government multiculturalist who recently rejected multiculturalism. The man is Trevor Phillips, once chairman of the Commission of Racial Equality and now head of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights.

In an interview with The Times, Phillips, a black man born in Guyana, argued that England should abandon the whole concept of multiculturalism since it was doing more harm than good. Officials should even stop using the word itself, he added.

Phillips noted that Britain has a long and mostly distinguished history of accepting people to its shores and integrating them into its national life, while at the same time deriving benefits from whatever skills they may have brought with them. Britishness has been a cultural, not a racial or biological, concept with a tradition of tolerance, compromise, civility, gentlemanly reserve, respect for privacy, individuality (evident as far back as Chaucer's time), a ready acceptance of and even affection for eccentricity, a belief in the rule of law, a profound sense of irony and a desire for fair play: in short, the common decency that Orwell wrote of so eloquently.

Utopian intellectuals, including the theorists of multiculturalism, deride many of these now-weakened British characteristics, on the grounds that they were never universal among the population (but what characteristics are?) and had more drawbacks than advantages. But Britain's common decency proved self-evident to generations of immigrants and refugees, among them my mother, who, arriving in Britain from Germany in 1938, noticed them instantly, to her relief and great admiration.

My family history attests further to British society's generous capacity to absorb. My father, whose immigrant parents never learned to speak English well, attended a slum school. . .Despite his background, my father found himself inducted into British culture by teachers who did not believe that the ability to understand and appreciate Milton or Shakespeare, or to make a contribution to national life, depended on social class or required roots in the soil going back before the Norman conquest. His teachers had the same faith in the liberating power of high culture, in its universal value and appeal, that many British workers then shared. As the historian Jonathan Rose has beautifully demonstrated in The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, many ordinary English working-men, who led lives of sometimes numbing toil and financial hardship, nevertheless devoted much of their little spare time and tiny wages to improving their lives by strenuous reading of good literature, of whose transcendent value they had no doubt - a faith borne out by the success many of them attained. . .

My father's teachers were the only people I ever heard him mention with unqualified admiration and gratitude. And he was right to do so: their philosophy was infinitely more generous than that of the multiculturalists who succeeded them. They had no desire to enclose my father in the world that his parents had fled. And they understood that, for society to avoid bitter internal conflicts, everyone had to share important elements of culture and historical knowledge that would result in a shared identity. Not by chance did Trevor Phillips regret 80 years later that teachers were instructing children less and less in the great works of English literature, especially Shakespeare - a deprivation wrought not because teachers were complying with any spontaneous demand from below but because they were implementing the theories of elite educationists, especially the multiculturallists.

. . .Part of that shared identity - a source of pride - was inventiveness and freedom of thought, the permission for the mind to voyage forever on strange seas of thought alone (as Wordsworth described Newton). And this shared identity relieved those who participated in it of the need to cling too strongly to other, potentially conflicting, identities. The national identity was strong, but loose, permitting a great deal of personal freedom and give-and-take - much more so, usually, than the ethnic identities the immigrants bring with them. Freedom of religious belief was complete, as was practice, provided that it complied with the law and claimed no special privileges for itself. Induction into British culture did not fetter or circumscribe the immigrant, therefore, any more than speaking English determines what anyone has to say. . .

These are two of the 291 fascinating pages in Dalrymple's book, available from Monday Books.

Comments (1)

outcast:

Since invasion, imperialism & colonization are no longer fashionable words, multiculturalism is the justification given for the not so surreptitious alienization of an indigenous culture.

At what point in time will this web site be labelled extremist or reactionary & banned by the political correctors?

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