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Community and identity in late modernity: Part Seven

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 22, 2008

It is possible to argue that liberalism could in fact be seen as unicultural -- one North American liberal culture. Does multiculturalism really mean a plurality of "ways-of-life" or even, by extension, of ideologies – i.e., a diversity of thought? Or, does multiculturalism really mean multiracialism and a large amount of dissimilar immigration from nontraditional sources – with one main prevalent ideology of left-liberalism? In Canada today, is not the word "ethnic" really used to refer mostly to so-called visible minorities, as opposed to so-called "white ethnic" groups, like Ukrainian-, Italian-, Portuguese-, and Polish-Canadians?

There is also the issue of multicultural vs. multi-national or multi-ethnic states. Multi-national or multi-ethnic states occur fairly frequently in history -- it is simply the coexistence in a single political structure (usually with some elements of rudimentary federalism) of differing, usually territorial nationalities which have lived contiguously to each other for very long periods of time. Multiculturalism, however, appears to be something other than this. There is, for example, the extreme rapidity of the demographic shifts to be noted.
 
Some might also question the issue of government or state involvement in multiculturalism. Some would say that ethnic groups in a society like Canada's can be entirely free to preserve their own languages, traditions, causes, and so forth -- a tolerant sounding position -- provided they do so with their own resources. The latter qualification sounds rather onerous. Apart from the official Department of Multiculturalism annual budget of around 25 million dollars, state-sponsored multiculturalism is, indeed, one of the central aspects of the new, post-1965 Canadian society, and has, it could be argued, led to expenditures of billions of dollars since that time.

One might also raise the question to what extent one's ethnic identity is predetermined by one's upbringing, or by simply being born into a given group; i.e., that a person typically has no choice about belonging or not belonging to a given group. This is the debate between "chosen" and "ascriptive" identities.

Ralf Dahrendorf has proposed the distinction between "hot" nationalism, i.e., ethnicity, folkways, and so forth, and "cold" nationalism, i.e., citizenship, a formal, legal, rights-based identity. There are different ways these allegiances can be expressed in different societies. For example, the author knew a person of Ukrainian descent born in Canada who was calling himself "an unhyphenated Ukrainian" -- of Canadian citizenship.

It could be suggested (based on a rough analogy from current physics theory) that identity, especially today, consists of overlapping, multiple "fields of force" or "fields of influence" or "zones of influence", rather than hard, impermeable, indivisible shells.

One might identify at least three main possible configurations of culture/multiculturalism:

(a) almost completely ethnically homogenous society (ethnic separatism);

(b) multi-ethnic society united by a common culture (liberalism is or claims to be the most efficacious unifying ingredient) (ethnic equality);

(c) coexistence of dominant and subordinate groups in one society (ethnic hierarchy).

It has happened over time, that once-dominant groups became subordinate groups, and once-subordinate groups became dominant.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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