Unite and Conquer

Here’s Terry Eagleton (the one who thinks suicide bombers are “tragic heroes”) with a typically fuzzy piece in the Guardian. Apparently, the reason those in power criticise multiculturalism is because it threatens their abilities to invoke “materially divisive policies”. I don’t know whether that’s their reason or not, but it certainly isn’t the only reason they might have.

There is an insuperable problem about introducing immigrants to British values. There are no British values. Nor are there any Serbian or Peruvian values. No nation has a monopoly on fairness and decency, justice and humanity.

There’s that “British values” term again. This sort of thing is part of the reason I don’t like it. Bringing nationality into it is counterproductive, equivocal and offers this kind of easy-out. Either way though, I don’t understand his point. Evidently, Terry Eagleton values writing vague articles in the Guardian. But he doesn’t have a monopoly on it. Not by a long shot. But that doesn’t mean writing vague articles in the Guardian is not an Eagletonian value or that, because all his values may overlap with those of others, Eagletonian values don’t exist. Anyway, it’s more the liberal, egalitarian, modern and progressive values themselves that are important. If they’re the ones being proclaimed to be, conceptually speaking, “British” then fine. It’s secondary who else holds them. Maybe it’s the fact that some seem to be transgressing these values – and others allowing them to do so – in the name of cultural plurality that’s prompting concern.

It is easy to see why a diversity of cultures should confront power with a problem. If culture is about plurality, power is about unity. How can it sell itself simultaneously to a whole range of life forms without being fatally diluted? Multiculturalism is not a threat because it might breed suicide bombers. It is a threat because the kind of political state we have depends upon a tight cultural consensus in order to implant its materially divisive policies.

So, if it’s a threat to those in power in because it challenges a “tight cultural consensus” (whatever that means and even though we’ve been given no reason to think it, but let’s just assume that’s true for a moment) then it can’t be a threat because it might breed suicide bombers (or misogynists or homophobes or archaic theocrats)? And this is because things can only be threats for one reason? Or because being a threat to a “tight cultural consensus” necessarily excludes being a threat for more legitimate reasons? Perhaps it’s none of the above and these are just two unrelated and unsupported assertions. And perhaps Eagleton just writes for the sake of writing.

Incidentally, David Thompson, Ophelia Benson and Rosie Bell all beefed Eagleton rather more articulately than I just did.

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