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    Will Hutton on Multiculturalism

    by Shariq on 16th December, 2008 at 11:00 am    

    I’m currently reading Will Hutton’s 2002 book ‘The World We’re In’ and regretting not having come across it before. I’ll have more thoughts on it once I’m finished and intend on following it up by reading his latest book, ‘The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century’, which I picked up at the great Pickled Politics book swap.

    Anyways, I think which struck me was this passage defending the European model of integration and critiquing American/British multiculturalism on the grounds that it prevents the creation of a social contract providing an ‘infrastructure of justice’ for everyone. (Extract after the jump)

    I’m in two minds about this. On the hand I fully endorse the idea that race and racism isn’t as big of a problem as it used to be. Instead we need to be looking at the inequality in economic opportunities and outcomes as a whole. Race based thinking does get in the way of that. On the other hand, I’m sure I’ve come across a lot of people saying that despite the social democratic model in most of Europe, immigrants don’t do as well as they do in Britain. On Balance I’d probably agree with Hutton but I’m interested in hearing what people have to say about this. Any thoughts?

    The call to abandon this moral world view by Europeans openly admiring of the US, and to follow the doctrines of multiculturalism in the name of diversity to reproduce America’s approach to recognising minority groups, is a calamitous mistake. Once group politics trumps the politics of social solidarity, the foundations of further injustice are laid for everyone. Massive inequality and and falling social mobility result as it becomes impossible to articulate any sense of a social contract or common purpose once group rights overwhelm the belief in collective efforts and collective responsibilities.

    There are plenty of multiculturalists in Britain insisting that Britain should conceive of itself as a community of communities, conceding religious schools to ethnic and racial minorities and all the other social instruments that balkanise and destroy a common civic culture. Indeed, this is declared New Labour policy. But, as Brian Barry Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, argues in his powerful book Culture and Equality - probably the best egalitarian argument since Richard Tawney - you cannot create a fair society without a common civic culture committed to some notion of liberal egalitarianism. Lose that, and we are on the road to perdition - legitimising alike the noxious politics of the British National Front and the separatist Asian groups protesting that their own subcultures have equal worth whatever their values - and however they obstruct the creation of wider solidarities.

    As the clamour for compensation, reparations and minority group ’separate development’ with their own religious schools grows, we have to be clear-headed. A society can hold together only if it stands by universal egalitarian values and a universal infrastructure of justice - and it is within those that we design our responses to racism and poverty alike. Tawney, Durkheim and Rawls are right in their conception of what produces a just society. Europeans must stand by their values which underpin the contract, not give them up. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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    21 Comments below   |  

    1. halima — on 16th December, 2008 at 11:44 am  

      I did read a recent piece on CiF which Hutton wrote which was de-bunking the Chinese success story so would be interesting to see what you make of the actual book. From the basics, I didn’t think he had a positive take on China’s double digit growth.

      On race being no longer a factor - I’d argue that all social identities are an issue at a particular time and place - and are moving targets. In some contexts, they won’t be an issue and in other contexts they will . Something about diveristy and disadvantage being a continium - not a linear process.

      I also thought that a common civic culture was a given - and the mistake that commentators often make is to assume that one is a trade off against another. I would rather see a diversity confident culture building on a common civic culture - not a substitute. That’s how I always imagined it. By presenting this as an either/or, I am not sure we are doing either cause any justice.

    2. Leon — on 16th December, 2008 at 1:31 pm  

      On race being no longer a factor - I’d argue that all social identities are an issue at a particular time and place - and are moving targets. In some contexts, they won’t be an issue and in other contexts they will . Something about diveristy and disadvantage being a continium - not a linear process.

      I’d say there’s something to this.

      When someone says race is no longer a factor I wonder how many people that knew Anthony Walker (for instance) would agree, or what those Asian’s who’ve been told they can’t form relationships with people from other backgrounds think about this claim…

    3. sonia — on 16th December, 2008 at 2:39 pm  

      we should have another great Pickled Politics book swap.

      ‘race’ is one form of understanding group. and so is one form of group discrimination. even if there weren’t the ‘race’ thing in question, there may and usually is - some other way of understanding group and discriminating on that basis. Membership of however many cliques etc. - because the way we understand group is changing - from perhaps a tightly bounded entity - to a more looser understanding of group. but then e.g. there’s the membership of a ‘network’ rather than group that might not be in your favour! still, i guess its better than one ” you’re born into” etc. - at least you can try and get in! and if its not exclusive - i.e. if you’re this, you’re not that.

      so i don’t see group discrimination /’going’ away - but it may simply not be understood on the axis of ‘race’. that’s how i find myself thinking anyway - if you see what i mean - i find it a more useful prism.

      i’d say the key thing is the term “community of communities” - therein lies the problematic way of viewing “multiculturalism”. because then its not a ‘community of multicultural/different/diverse/ individuals‘ but a community of different communities‘… and the question then becomes well what are the dynamics for individuals within the [2nd] community. especially if they are seen to be within this ’second’ bounded entity, which separates them from other individuals. fact of the matter is that despite many people insisting their ‘community’ is tightly bounded (surrounded by a brick wall in effect) the reality is every individual has a whole bunch of loose and not so loose affiliations. so we are really a multi”group”/culture collection of individuals. and if one particular ‘group’ sees a reason why their individuals should be given different rights/allowances, because of their “boundedness” THEY do have to take into account - well what about other individuals? its the unequal relationship of the individual to the “whole” that concerns me. its basically saying, well mr. x, you’re a member of the X network, therefore as Citizen of the UK, you are entitled to this. and Mr. Y, you’re a member of the Y network, therefore as Citizen of the UK, you’re entitled to something else. That - to me- is making it harder for an individual - without gaining membership of X or Y network - worth something ‘in themselves’. for me, this is very worrying, because it is entrenching the group membership as something you have to have - to get your right as an individual. Its bad enough as it is, the barriers groups form around themselves, its a hard world for an individual to ‘freely’ stand as oneself.

      open and free and egalitarian societies are those where as an individual, regardless of your many affiliations of whatever groups/networks, you should be able to access the same freedom/opportunities/rights as someone else who is affiliated with whatever groups/networks. Okay this is an ideal but you get the picture. CLosed socieities are where you have to be - e.g. a member of the Mafia to do anything, or know someone to get a job (and no two ways about it) what i call Cartel Society.

      It’s interesting how India is a ‘community of communities’ and many of the rights you have as an Indian citizen/which laws apply to you - depend on which defined ‘community’ you fall into. Of course India isn’t known for its emphasis on individuals, you are fundamentally seen as part of the group - and its very slowly getting away from that. Ironic how so many indian subcontinent immigrants come away from that and want to have the same structures in place here! These were the very same structures that kept [most of] those individuals from being able to make decent lives in those countries - why? because they are mafia/cartel countries and it really does matter WHO you are, to be able to get by. they’re elitist and with very little socialism. people go somewhere else where they can get by as an individual, become wealthy and established - and hey presto! they want to establish their own cartels.

    4. sonia — on 16th December, 2008 at 2:44 pm  

      i don’t know anything about how anyone has being ‘doing’ in Europe compared to here, so can’t comment on that. Is there a reason why we think that? or is it simply that Britain has more immigrants? And is that something to do with language and empire? or do people like to go to the same place once there’s a critical mass?

      the swedish have free {uni} education - for anyone - apparently. i met this indian lady on a plane who told me that, the catch is you have to learn swedish first. i daresay if more indians knew this, there would be more people going there to study! i would have, if it had occurred to me…

    5. sonia — on 16th December, 2008 at 2:53 pm  

      plus, race may be the obvious form of discrimination people pick up on in an immigrant context - but when and if that changes, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other forms of social discrimination to take note of.

      I think it is useful to not be obsessed with just one form of social discrimination - of course its understandable- but useful nonetheless, to keep the perspective.
      and its not just one thing on its own - its usually more complex and a set of intertwining factors. examining race on its own tends to skew our understanding of reality.

    6. Leon — on 16th December, 2008 at 3:58 pm  

      we should have another great Pickled Politics book swap.

      Definitely! Although I’d like to expand it to DVDs too.

    7. sonia — on 16th December, 2008 at 4:05 pm  

      superb points from Halima.

    8. shariq — on 16th December, 2008 at 4:11 pm  

      Halima, this has probably been discussed before on PP but what do you make of the idea of religious schools? Do you think this detracts from a common civic culture by having a ‘community of communities’ mindset which Sonaia highlighted or simply a way of certain people expressing preferences which don’t harm the social contract.

      Sonia, you make a really interesting point on the community of communities concept in India. It seems even there affirmative action is a shortcut to providing substantive justice and a lot of people who benefit from it are the ones who are better off in their communities.

    9. Parvinder — on 16th December, 2008 at 5:13 pm  

      ‘A society can hold together only if it stands by universal egalitarian values and a universal infrastructure of justice - and it is within those that we design our responses to racism and poverty alike’ - totally agree with Hutton.

      These values do exist and are universal even in the most unlikely situations. Just look at how far our English Cricketers have come despite losing to an amazing Indian team:

    10. Metatone — on 17th December, 2008 at 12:53 pm  

      Have to agree with halima and also sonia@3. One of the problems is that multiculturalism has come to mean “community of communities” (often lacking that base civic community.)

      This isn’t what multiculturalism means to me, so we probably need a new word as right now we get bullied into a false dichotomy between “community of communities” and “everyone should learn to be thoroughly English” aka “properly integrated” (whatever that might mean.)

      Context: I was born in the UK, lived here for school and worked here a bit. I’ve also lived and worked extensively in various countries in Europe. I’m half-Indian, half-white.

      My observation is that (unsatisfingly for some) the great philosophical principles involved do not provide a solution on their own.

      For example: In France they go the whole hog with the concept Hutton presents. They don’t even take statistics on various racial composition issues.

      Arguably, despite their being a normal quantity of racism in various individuals, this has contributed to the existence of a more meritocratic education system. If you’re poor of any race in France, there’s more chance for your children to work their way up to a good university place than in the UK.

      But… what’s not clear (and it’s difficult to discuss in part because there are no stats kept) is that France actually provides better outcomes for immigrants. It’s really hard to compare because so much depends on timing and size of immigration waves, but there just seems (both from anecdote and the sketchy stats that are available) that there are more ethnic kids who actually make good in the UK than in France.

      Despite the meritocratic possibilities in France, the reality is that racism does exist (just like everywhere) and it does have impacts. The effective denial of racial identity works to deny political collective action by a racial group that is discriminated against. My model of the biggest causal impact is that it’s just a lot more socially unacceptable to be a randomly racist public figure in the UK than in France.

      What all this suggests to me is that the UK’s success is because it’s been a fudge. (I’d argue that we’re slipping now too far towards “community of communities” perhaps.) The principle (as espoused in France) that people exist only as citizen in official identity is appealing and it does provide a philosophical buttress for redistributive policies. However, humans deal in much more than just the official identity and a rigid system like France just, in the end, pretends the consequences of that don’t exist.

      As such, being “ethnic” won’t stop you getting into a good school, because schools are better funded than in the UK, so if you pass the test, you can go. But when it comes to getting a job… well good jobs (as in the UK) are in shorter supply, they get to sit down with your resume and choose. Hence as the famous study showed, the same resume in France with an Arabic name and a French name get very different receptions.

      Of course, the French started out (years ago) by solving this the full on “integration” way by mandating legal names that were all French. But whilst it’s a philosophically consistent approach, it again doesn’t work for real humans that well. I wouldn’t want to be forced to be Victor or Jean-Paul and I suspect Shariq wouldn’t either…

      This is not to pick on France and suggest that “oh we’re so much better than them” but to just use them as an example of the philosophy in action. After all, because they have a larger state sector and the state sector does adhere to the principle that all citizens are equal, then the French state has arguably made as much progress as the British one in integration. (And god knows the police forces on both sides of the Channel both have some horrific pockets of intolerance.)

    11. halima — on 17th December, 2008 at 1:26 pm  

      Building on Sonia and Metatone’s contributions, I also have issues with the way language is formulated to discuss diversity . Language to me has always been a disciplining tool - and not just neutral words leaping out of a page.

      I wouldn’t normally try and compare different countries - and especially Britain and France - but have to agree on balance that France’s ideological take on difference isn’t one that works for me.

      For example, their recourse to any challenge on exclusion is that ‘We are all French’ and ‘Equal’ except as Metatone has pointed out - how do we know what works if you cannot even have a disaggerated poverty monitoring system that tells who which groups are the poorest or faring well in society . France’s biggest ‘ethnic minority’ is actually the Portoguese, but this isn’t known to many people - and most people generally associate ‘ethnic minority’ with more visible minorities.

      I think France’s response to diversity and difference is caught between an ideological debate about what it means to be French and a knee jerk emotional response to the North African legacy. I prefer the British response which has been to muddle through , and ‘fudge’ as Metatone says - ‘fudging’ is one of those verbs I am begining to like more and more. It leaves you with a flexibility to accomodate issues as and when they come up. I’ve seen this used in the context of how we deal with the inevitable and unresolved political settlement in Nepal - where commentators have discussed what you do with the unreoslvable issues that don’t make sense - and might ultimately push Nepal’s dissisenting minorities towards brinkmanship and cession. But we hope that we won’t get there. More importantly it also accepts that soceity will never be as cohesive as we aspire it to be - nostalgia for cohesiveness usally hinges on wanting an idealised past that never really existed anyway. It is quite a conservative way of looking at society’s evolution. And when nostalgia for the past is coupled with concerns with diversity we get quite a reactionary vision.

      For me, civic values were always about bringing collective benefit - more benefit for mutual gain - and if more and more people want to re-negotiate the social contract so it reflects more of their wants - why not? To resist is to assume that society will always be composed of the same majority we have today - and never change. Today’s majority could be tomorrow’s minority - or roughly there is likely to be some redistribution in representation over the years, and the political structures and social values have got to be open to accoomodate this.

      The social contract is only meaningul if there is buy in to the idea that there is more benefit staying in than staying out - and unless this contracts speaks more to the ever growing larger minorities, it will cease to mean much for the whole population. No one group and its values has monopoly on the rules of the game that govern what’s in this social contract.

      I don’t see diversity diluting the social contract - the rules of the game in the social contract ( which as I see as a tool for building common values) would always be re-wrriten to reflect the new changes in society. Justifying the rules of majorities is a philosophical arument - and many have quibbled with it , what have you .

    12. halima — on 17th December, 2008 at 1:40 pm  

      “but what do you make of the idea of religious schools? Do you think this detracts from a common civic culture by having a ‘community of communities’ mindset which Sonaia highlighted or simply a way of certain people expressing preferences which don’t harm the social contract.”

      I don’t think the idea of religious schools detract a common civic culture. The question was never asked of Christian or Jewish faith schools for many years - but it is asked now in context of people’s anxieties that more faith groups are Islamic, Hindu etc.

      Do I think there is an assumption there that certan faith schools detract from a common civic culture more than others? I think it’s the wrong question. I always approach an issue from the perspective of what’s fair first, the process.

      I think it would be unfair to assume some faith groups can hold onto their preferences, while others can’t. It is inherently unfair. So unless we can be consistent with our views on all religios schools we are actually discriminating against schools that we don’t recognise or understand much - Catholic faith schools don’t appear ‘religious’ in the same way because Catholocism is associated with an ethnicity/whitness that’s accepted in Britain. Equally there are concerns about the regulation of non-state schools and this i think is legitimate. I’d argue for better regulation of all non-states schools so that the quality of education in the country is improved over all. You might find that improving education governance will improve education outcomes and virtues and value that schools teach children.

    13. halima — on 17th December, 2008 at 1:42 pm  

      PS I was actually working with the Parekh commission when they wrote that report and recommendations, and can recall the difficult task of formulating a response that was broadly a compromise - hence why they settled on ‘community of communities’. I quite like the formulation because it doesn’t priviledge one community over another but then goes on to link this concept with common civic values.

      Subsequently I think all diversity approaches are subject to criticism in light of 9/11 - and who could’ve forseen this tragedy.

    14. Metatone — on 17th December, 2008 at 2:54 pm  

      halima - I’m glad to find someone else who sees some value in the “fudging” process…

      Sorry if I sounded like I was picking on the “community of communities” phrase unduly. It’s that issue of “linking to common civic values” is not integral to the phrase linguistically, which makes it easily misinterpreted. We should start a new thread on that one perhaps.

      What I mean to say is that there are extremes… one of total integration and another of absolute laissez faire and they both attract people because they are easy to convert to and from clear philosophies. However, I’m more in the middle, because I think the imperfections of real society mean you can’t start from those philosophic assumptions.

    15. halima — on 17th December, 2008 at 3:38 pm  

      Hi Metatone

      It’s funny because only recently a political economy analyst at the Institute of Develoment in Sussex in the UK used this in relation to getting on with the business of government formation in post-Maost Nepal. So you’re not alone either.

      I don’t think you were picking the community of communities - though many have in the past, and I’ve seen many students pick it apart. But there is a need as you say to link common civic values with diversity, it’s wrong to assume one detracts from the other. It doesn’t happen often - and there is your problem. Perhaps I can write a thread over Christmas as a guest piece.

      I like your idea that imperfections of real society mean we can’t start from ideal philosophic assumptions. This is your starting point. This is exactly what the business of politics is - compared with the business of philosophy.

    16. Muhamad — on 17th December, 2008 at 11:47 pm  

      halima, did you mean ‘disaggregated’?

    17. Sunny — on 18th December, 2008 at 12:00 am  

      Interesting discussion, but I think Will Hutton is too simplistic of the American experience.

      Part of the reason why America has such ingrained sense of different communities is because of the civil rights movement and slavery and segregation.

      In a country where segregation was legalised, how else could communities develop, but separately?

      Is it a bad model to follow for the UK? Possibly? But we were never down that road anyway, and anyone who thinks that is indulging in hyperbole. Suddenly religious schools have become an issue even though they never were when the COE and Catholic schools dominated.

      Anyway, I can go on this topic endlessly, but for now I just don’t agree with the choices presented. I think the analysis is too simplistic.

    18. halima — on 18th December, 2008 at 1:24 am  


      Yes… sloppy of me - tend to write without thinking and don’t pay attention to detail!

    19. Boyo — on 18th December, 2008 at 7:50 am  

      Frankly its not about race or culture - why? Because all these will pass: look at me and you see a white British male, actually I’m only a quarter English - the rest is a mix of Scots, French, Austrian and Jewish, all immigrants to London in the 19th and early 20th Century. Now, these immigrants just had to get on with it, so to speak - there were no allowances for them - and though harsh, it was fair, and in a couple of generations my family integrated and have gone from working to middle class. Had they been given the opportunity to “preserve” their culture, I doubt that we would have been so successful.

      Nations are tribes. Tribes are communities. I’m sorry, but within reasonable parameters, we all have to “be the same” - trash racial and cultural exceptionalism and in a couple of centuries we’ll be a charming, olive-skinned secular democracy with a proud island tradition and spicy food. Preserve things as they are, and I fear we will descend in to communlaism and conflict.

    20. Boyo — on 18th December, 2008 at 7:54 am  

      Oh, and I’d go with the French system, except maybe preserve the Monarchy. Except… I have to admit the French are terribly racist, precisely because they haven’t had multiculturalism. But that doesn’t mean MC works - just that it has set the scene for a secular revolution!

    21. conger — on 18th December, 2008 at 10:23 pm  

      Multi-culturalism means more non jobs for graduates ie race relations officers, diversity officers, outreach workers and all others preaching an uncle Tom mentality to line their own pockets and build empires in the town hall. We do not need it and yes there is a universal set of human egalitarian values; no relativism or particularism.

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