Don't Give Us India

The Multiculturalist Case

"Don't give us India," Samuel Johnson once told Boswell, when the talk was about how widely mankind differed in its view of chastity and polygamy. Montesquieu, he said, the great pioneer of anthropology, was in many wavs a fellow of genius. But

whenever he wants to support a strange opinion, he quotes you the practice of Japan, or of some other distant country, of which he knows nothing. To support polygamy lie tells you of the island of Formosa . . .

"Giving us India" means offering an easy moral excuse, and Johnson was above all concerned that anthropology might be used to justify abandoning our moral certainties in favor of a facile relativism. He was no doubt aware, what is more, that you do not need to cite foreign and exotic lands—minorities at home will do—in which case he would find no shortage of relativists if he were alive today. We are always being given India or Japan nowadays, or gays or blacks or women. There is even a familiar barrage of polysyllables to characterize the mood, like multiculturalism, positive discrimination, subculture, Eurocentricity, and political correctness. Some of these causes may be justified, but the more confident claims of multiculturalism now need to be scanned, especially the notion that the world has some sort of moral duty to defend, even to promote, a variety of incompatible moral views in order to uphold the due rights...

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