Monday, October 22, 2007

'Out of date fifty years ago'

Jonathan Sacks has written a new book about how multiculturalism is a bad thing, and there is a need for a shared national morality. An extract was printed in the Times, here.

Part of the problem with Sacks' article is that it is filled with sweeping assertions without any evidence or even examples to back them up. I don't think, for example, that 'liberal democracy in Britain is in danger', that 'a combination of political correctness and ethnic-religious separatism is eroding the graciousness of civil society', or that 'Britain is becoming a place where free speech is at risk'. It would at least be nice to know why Sacks thinks that these things are the case. There is also an attack on political correctness, which apparently rules certain opinions out of order for being right-wing, pro-Israel, Christian, or in favour of traditional marriage. The totalitarian effects of political correctness can be seen, I presume, by the fact that these opinions are aired daily in the newspapers and form the basis of the ideology of the government in the USA and across most of Europe.

But unlike many opponents of multiculturalism, Sacks does set out what his alternative is. If you oppose multiculturalism, then you have to explain who should decide what the monoculture which everyone must follow should be. Sacks argues that 1960s liberal measures such as the decriminalisation of suicide, and the legalisation of abortion and 'homosexual behaviour' undermined the shared moral code which society had at its base, and that we are living in a society with no shared 'moral truth'. He cites the example of an Italian politician disqualified from being the EU justice commissioner because he thought that homosexual behaviour was a sin. Bafflingly, Sacks concludes that 'one thing is clear: the new tolerance is far less permissive than the old intolerance'. This is only clear if you agree that being disqualified from taking up a job is worse than, um, being imprisoned for your sexual orientation.

So Sacks' alternative to multiculturalism is a culture in which our legal system is based on Christian ethics and legislates on private morality, people know their place, everyone knows a set of great texts and gets their news from the same few sources. One of the wonderful things about multiculturalism is that it offers the space for Sacks and other social conservatives to peddle this sort of argument, while acknowledging that they have lost the argument with the majority of people and that they should not be able to make laws to reflect their obsession with other people's sexual behaviour. Far from being in danger, Britain's liberal democracy has proved able to evolve a new moral code which reflects changes in society. Sacks' complaint is not that there is no national culture, but that our national culture is one which he disapproves of. It's well worth being reminded from time of what the alternatives to multiculturalism really are.


At 10:30 am , Anonymous jdc said...

"Sacks' alternative to multiculturalism is a culture in which our legal system is based on Christian ethics"

A challenging position for the Chief Rabbi to hold, I would have thought.

As for his claim that multiculturalism encourages separatism, well, a scan of his renewal papers and some associated articles might be instructive regarding how he really feels about separatism.


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