Cosmopolitanism describes the “nebulous core” of many claims that all of humanity comprises a single moral community, and therefore people have no obligations to their own fellow citizens above and beyond the obligations they have as moral agents to people at large, or, if they do, then the special obligations to fellow citizens is limited in some way.  Discussions about cosmopolitanism—moral, economic, and cultural—are concerned with how citizens of all nations should act as the whole of humanity.  Brought down to the scale of a single country, the questions of cosmopolitanism become the questions of multiculturalism.  Do we have a greater obligation to preserve and promote our specific culture within our country, or should our main concern be the culture that is the mainstream?

            Pluralistic multiculturalism is the view that each culture in a society contributes to the whole collective of cultures, which is the “main” culture or the “parochial” culture.  Particularist multiculturalism idealizes the preservation of distinctions between cultures.

The United States of America—perhaps the most diverse country in the world—does not have an official policy of multiculturalism (unlike the particularistic multicultural policies in places like Canada and Australia), but pluralistic multiculturalism is accepted by the government and often promoted regionally.

Both in parts and as a whole, the United States contains an abundance of “cultures”, and for this reason it is the ideal specimen for examining the pros and cons of what is known as multiculturalism.

The “parochial culture” of the United States began as a diluted mixture of European and African influences, though an insulting belief around the world is that the United States does not even have a culture.  In reality, depending on the position one takes, the United States either has many “cultures” or not enough of a unifying, main culture.

From the start of the United States as a nation-state, no language, religion, or creed was declared official.  Nothing from the set of things that are generally thought to constitute a culture were chosen as the reigning practices.  Did the founders of the United States anticipate multiculturalism?  Or, was Americaalready multicultural?  Put mildly, some cultures—specifically Native Americas and Africans—were clearly treated unfairly.  Despite the atrocities against these groups, the ideas of liberty, federalism, and pluralism were the concerns of those creating the beginnings of a sovereign U.S.A.  Corrective legal measures have sought over time to allow minority groups to benefit from these ideals as well.  Perhaps these political ideals—though not always upheld or achieved—define American culture, and the widespread, diverse cultural practices of groups are irrelevant, so long as they do not interfere with anyone’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the liberal tradition of John Stewart Mill and others, one should be free to practice his culture so long as there is no harm done those outside of it.  Issues, of course, arise in defining harm to others—and troubling problems arise about the kinds of cultural practices we as one nation-state can morally allow.  Surely, as a whole, Americans cannot permit female genital mutilation.  But it is considered a part of the culture of small populations that have immigrated here.  Though many females have fled the practice as refugees, many still feel that, though painful, it is worth consenting to because of their values.  We may turn to Isaiah Berlin’s description of pluralism, wherein legitimate values may be “beaten out” by other legitimate, conflicting values, for a solution to justifying such banishment (though it is doubtful Berlin would have believed the practice to be legitimate in the first place).

Berlin, like most philosophers, never held that all cultures all equal.  Indeed, some cultural practices are morally wrong.

Perhaps there are answers to the problems of multiculturalism in the metaphors of the melting pot and the patchwork quilt.  These ideas reflect the ideas of pluralistic and particularist multiculturalism respectively.  The traditional teaching in the United States is that America is a place where many cultures have blended together to become something new and universal.

From our modern perspective, however, we can see that this is not an accurate description of cultural evolution in the United States.  In New York City, for example, though throughout the country one can witness the same to lesser degrees, there are hundreds of distinct cultural groups who maintain their traditions and practices while taking in little from elsewhere, and outsiders taking out little from them.  Curiosity and tourist industries open the doors of exploration into other cultures, and often outsiders are welcomed in for a peek, though rather than blending into one another they remain within their own imagined cultural boundaries, as do the outsiders.  One might maintain an identity of being American and something else, and have loyalty—patriotic feelings—as well as a feeling of distinction from other kinds of Americans.  Another might feel absolutely distinct.

Proponents of cultural cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism, then, may suggest that the value of having many cultures lays in the balance and sharing in diversity, rather than in the separatism and hoarding of one’s traditions, language, and etc.  Most cultural groups in the United States are embodiments of voluntary association, religious worship, or “foreign” cultural expression.  It is not the norm that these groups want to become members of their own nation-states separate from the union (though there are groups in the United States that do).

In the case of the “hyphenated American,” Michael Walzer makes clear that the pre-hyphen identity is the cultural one, whereas the American following the dash is, perhaps ideally, the identity of politic and state.  “ ‘American’ is a political identity without strong or specific cultural claims.”  The clusters of immigrant “nationals” do not seek (nor could they achieve) territorial autonomy.  They are nations sharing the state with other nations.

An eccentric individual may be merely annoying to the majority population, but an eccentric—or dissident—group may be disruptive, or overtly dangerous.  Walzer also notes that tolerance must come from all sides.  “Everyone must tolerate everyone else”.  Disruptions to the autonomy of other groups—intolerance—is antithetical to the promise and value of liberal society.

Tolerance, he states, can stem from the desire for peace, the idea that “it takes all kinds”, or enthusiastic endorsement.  It is given that in any liberal society freedom can only go so far as its own preservation allows.  In a multicultural society it is clear that a culture that has among its practices that which would ultimately destroy the other cultural groups cannot be allowed.  “There are no religious or cultural excuses” for acts that are not simply strange to others, but rather heinous to us all.

That we tolerate each other, however, does not imply appreciation or respect.  Toleration requires the minimal “putting up with” of other groups.

In many societies, assimilation has been promoted if it has not been the outright policy.  Even in the United States—though the trend has been towards the quilt model in recent years—a member of the mainstream—has been viewed as desirable and even necessary for successful navigation of and contribution to the political and economic landscapes.  Though there is no “permanent majority,” the political ideals have been relatively stable throughout the history of the United States, despite the liquid nature of demographics.  For this reason, the United States is able to be a multicultural society with values that allow its diverse population to be a part of a single nation.

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