In 1944, C.S Lewis wrote:
‘The demand for equality has two sources; First, the noble: the desire for fair play. Second, the mean-spirited: the hatred of superiority. If you seek to appease envy: 1. you will not succeed. Envy is insatiable. 2. you are trying to introduce equality where equality is fatal.
Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into the higher spheres of beauty, virtue and truth. Neither of which are democratic. Ethical, intellectual or aesthetic democracy is death.’
(C.S. Lewis, 1944. Democratic Education) [i]
Lewis’ position can be read as a push back against extreme egalitarianism and the quagmire of sameness. The late American political philosopher, Jean Bethke Elshtain, also brilliantly hummed her own critical tune in relation to this issue.
Writing under the heading, ‘Multiculturalism and Democratic Education’ Elshtain stated:
‘Teacherly malfeasance occurs in instances of unreflective, dogmatic politicisation […] This sort of education fails in its particular and important task of preparing us for a world of ambiguity and variety. It equips us only for resentment or malicious naivete [ii]
Lewis and Elshtain come at this argument from different angles. Both add to an argument for the re-balancing of popular ideologies birthed in the 1960’s, and the new societal norms which come from them.
As Elshtain posits, “I wonder if democracy can survive what it has to, by definition allow? Such as, the desires a mob majority, which works against the democratic voice of the people. Democratic freedom must have a framework of responsible limitations, for example, a just constitution, in order for democratic freedom to exist.”
The area where this applies most is forced compliance with ‘unreflective, dogmatic politicisation’ (Elshtain). (E.g.: forced compliance to the failing and flawed ideology of multiculturalism and new definitions of tolerance).
Instead of preserving the vibrancy of a cohesive multi-ethnic society, under one meta-culture, multiculturalism morphs a once united multi-ethnic society, into a multi-nationalist society. This threatens the national sovereignty and stability of that multi-ethnic society, because it breaks with a shared history, agreed upon ideals, civility and common values. It creates foreign enclaves or beachheads, such as “no go zones“.
This is the direct result of tolerance introducing ‘equality where equality is fatal’ (Lewis). The ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’s’ reign of terror.
Disguised as part of the new educational standard, guided by a good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politicisation’. The new definition of tolerance and compliance poses as the only academic essential. Acceptance and legitimacy are only validated by an absolute alignment with approved ideologies. In turn, a form of emotional blackmail follows. The academy is paralysed because the academic focus is reduced to how best education can be forced to fit within the new educational standard of the ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’.
Democratic education is reduced to compliance. Academic standards are lowered, while teachers are forced to obsess over appeasing the feelings and fickle sentiments of society.
In not being willing to responsibly discuss differences, for fear of offence or ridicule, democracy wanes.
This narrowing forces everyone into the same box: a secular version of “convert, pay a tax or die.” From here academic indifference and complacency replaces the energy of academic rigour. Genuine progress, and the conservation of hard fought for healthy traditions, are held back by the demand for total compliance to the ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’.
Along with a cohesive multi-ethnic society, democratic debate and its ability to preserve the beauty of unity-in-diversity, dies. Political democracy, as C.S Lewis pointed out, is ‘doomed if it tries to expand its demand for equality into beauty, virtue and truth [none of which are determined by democratic vote].’
Society and politics, placed under this good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’, sets people on a trajectory towards tribalism and slavery. People are then forced to stick to their “own kind”: Whites with whites; men with men; women with women; black with black; indigenous Australian with indigenous Australian; Left with Left, Right with Right.
Differences are considered irreconcilable. People are divorced from one an another. Strangers become enemies, and friends become strangers. Thus we come to the inevitable rejection of differences and the quagmire of sameness.
As Elshtain predicted, this flags a new segregation:
‘As a form of ideological teaching, multicultural absolutism isolates us in our own skins and equates culture with racial or ethnic identity. [In America], the new multiculturalism promotes commensurability: If I am white and you are black, we cannot, in principle, speak to or understand each other. You just won’t “get it […]. Some critics wonder how long it will take to move from separate approaches for African-American children in the name of Afro-centricity, for example, to a quest for separate schools.[iii]’
Extreme egalitarianism is a quagmire of sameness. We arrive at the quagmire of sameness because of envy and (as C.S. Lewis so brilliantly put it) its hatred of superiority.
The quest for equality ends up creating new forms of inequality. Anyone with opposing views or unique abilities is silenced, condemned and shipped off to camps, under the guise of “re-education” or “resettlement.” This is all done “for the good of the collective”.
This is evident in Australian society. Where very early on children are taught to tow the good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’.
Over achievers are called “try-hards.” They’re deemed a threat to the collective and are consequently castigated for it. Rather than celebrate the competency and talent of a person, the majority maliciously turn against them. “Try hard”, an otherwise encouraging term, is used as a shaming control technique. Uniqueness is squashed into the box of sameness, under the name of equality.
For both Lewis and Elshtain, extreme egalitarianism is a ‘phony equality.[v]’ It perpetuates that which it says it opposes. This phony equality levels whatever it subjectively sees as uneven ground. The same could be said about the new definitions of tolerance.
Those who want to walk away from the ‘unreflective, dogmatic politicisation’ won’t find it easy.
They will face the same hostile reaction, French philosopher, Albert Camus faced, when he ‘was virtually excommunicated from the French Left by Sartre, and his comrades, because he expressed a strong disapproval of the passion for unity that saw any opposition as treason.’[iv]
In not being able to celebrate unity in diversity or find and maintain common ground, democracy fails. The cohesive elements of a vibrant multi-ethnic Western society are then consigned to the prison of a good vibes only, ‘unreflective, dogmatic politick’. If left unanswered, Western society will descend into the terror of fascist rule, the shared poverty of communism or the destructive anarchist vacuum of pagan tribalisation.
[i] Lewis, C. 1944, Democratic Education In Walmsley, L. (Ed.) 2000 C.S Lewis Essay Collection Harper Collins p.190
[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 Democracy on Trial Basic Books, Perseus Books Group p.83
[iii] Ibid, p.79
[iv] Ibid, p.120
[v] Ibid, p.74
Originally published 5th January, 2016 & on The Caldron Pool, 2nd November, 2018 under the headline: ‘Multiculturalism has failed: Identity politics sets people on a trajectory towards tribalism and slavery.’
Photo credit: rawpixel at unsplash
©Rod Lampard, 2018
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