The Religious Origins of Multiculturalism

Jean Thibaudeau


After two decades during which I rarely kept up with current affairs, imagine my dismay when I discovered what had become of the progressive left during my “absence”! It took me a long time merely to try to understand the logic which might explain all the anti-racist, multiculturalist, intersectional and transsexual rhetoric which was presented as representative of this “new left” or far-left (and falsely so, in my opinion, as these issues are also supported by neoliberals like Emmanuel Macron in France and, closer to home, Justin Trudeau and Philippe Couillard!). Once I had cleared up that aspect, I was left with the problem of understanding how this mentality had been able to spread so rapidly and almost completely replace the universalist values on which all progressive movements had been based ever since the XIXth century or even earlier.

For a long time I have been convinced that the origins of any human calamity, excluding natural disasters and major epidemics, can almost always be found in religions. This must UNQUESTIONABLY be true in particular for MULTICULTURALISM, that form of social organization which, as a French-speaking Québécois, I was already naturally inclined to abhor. But… just how is it linked to religion? It is only by chance that I came across the smoking gun, by deciphering the aberrant thinking of one Charles Taylor, that Montreal philosopher so highly worshipped in Canada and a great champion of multiculturalism here.

The most astonishing part was when I realized that one had to go way back to the XVIIIth century in order to discover the philosophical origins of the multiculturalist ideology. I needed to learn (something which is perhaps well known in Europe but of which I had never heard) that the blossoming of Enlightenment philosophy had been accompanied by another school of thought which developed rapidly in reaction against it, especially in the English-speaking world. This was the anti-Enlightenment current promoted by, among others, Edmund Burke and Johann Gottfried von Herder. (The English were certainly not going to allow French genius to take all the glory without fighting back!) From the point of view of contemporary anti-Enlightenment theorists, Voltaire, Rousseau and the like are responsible for all the evils of the modern world, and are even blamed for laying the foundations of fascist and communist totalitarianism.

Their reasoning is based on the following three main lines of thought.

  1. “Men can flourish only if they belong to an identifiable group with its own style, worldview, traditions, historical memories and language.” It is therefore essential that the primacy of rights be granted to this traditional and historical group, rather than to individuals.
  2. “All spiritual activity, expressed in art, literature and religion is a means of communication that must be privileged among men of the same identity group.” Charles Taylor adds to this that this type of communication “gives access to a higher reality inaccessible to (or because of) Reason.”
  3. “Each culture has its own scale of values, its own modes of behaviour, all equally absolute and which are impossible to compare or measure using any common standard. This notion, a radical form of cultural and moral relativism, invalidates any claim of the Enlightenment to define universal values.”

Their contemporary intellectual descendants thus blame modernity, which resulted from Rationalism, for “the disenchantment of the world, the totalitarian atrocities of the twentieth century, the absence of moral references and extreme individualism” and they affirm their “conviction that the human being is incapable of defining moral norms by and for himself, that we MUST LOOK TO A TRANSCENDENT OR DIVINE ORDER to define good and to identify an object of unconditional respect,” thus disqualifying Reason in favour of Revelation, “a systematic prejudice FOR THE RECOGNITION OF TRADITIONAL OR CULTURAL PECULIARITIES (pro-multiculturalism) to the detriment of the universal social contract.”

Is it not therefore obvious “how an immense philosophical chasm separates French-inspired conceptions of human rights from attitudes inspired by English and American conceptions” still today? And that that opposition has not changed at all over the last three centuries? When we realize just how attached the French are to their republican values and state secularism, while the British remain stuck with their monarchic institution (the Queen, besides representing God on Earth, is also head of the Anglican Church), while Canada has kept the “supremacy of God” in the preamble to its Constitution only recently (1982) repatriated from London, and while the United States ALMOST constitutes a theocracy (“In God We Trust”)?

Above all… do I really need to explain how our local supporters of this multiculturalist vision react with complicit silence when confronted by Islamist abuses (here and everywhere else in the world), or by barbaric religious practices such as female genital mutilation? Or their obsessive defense of the “Islamic” veil? Despite their remarkable diversity, they all use this philosophy to their ideological advantage (many via the weakening of nation-states):

  1. for Macron, further development of globalization, benefitting the super rich and powerful;
  2. for the pseudo far-left, an excuse to spew their hatred of Western whites;
  3. for the religious, their fight against secularism;
  4. for Islamists… well, no need to explain here, I think.
  5. for the self-righteous, a lovely opportunity to engage in moralization and censorship to their heart’s content.

As I said, for every human disaster, there is always religion hiding in the shadows somewhere…!

All the quotes are excerpts (translation: D.R.) from a marvellous article, to which I award, without hesitation, the prize for the most illuminating writing I have read in the last two years:

  • Malaises avec Charles Taylor (The Problem With Charles Taylor), POISSON, Marie-Michelle (2007). Published in the magazine Cité Laïque, Number 10, Fall 2007.

(Marie-Michelle Poisson is professor of philosophy at Ahuntsic College in Montréal and a past-president of the Mouvement laïque québécois.)

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