Romanticism & Multiculturalism: The Roots of Our Soft-Fascism

Romanticism – the Root of Fascism

Romanticism began by favouring emotion over cold reason and particular local identity and experience over universal experience. It was especially keen to repudiate the sort of French rationalism that was being imposed on most European nations as a political and even a snobbish cultural pattern. Napoleon had invaded the hundreds of loosely-allied principalities of what is now Germany and re-organized them politically and geographically along rationalist lines. Perhaps the most easily visible symbol of this trend, this rationalist domination, was imposed weights and measures and metrication. Rationalists hated the illogical local measuring systems of Europe – Pounds? Feet? Yards? Chains? Ells?They would eliminate them and impose the universal logical perfection of the metric system. But it was precisely this sort of rationalist homogenization, this threat to local identity that made people very angry. For what could be more human and organic, they said – more us! – than measurement by a foot, a thumb, an arm, a chain? They thought of culture as local, warm, organic, and human, in contrast to civilization which was rationalist, universalist, cold, and inhuman. Most of all, they correctly perceived metrication and all other such administrative tools as aids to State controls, taxation, and conscription.[1]

In reaction to this homogenization, thinkers everywhere began repudiating all foreign models of universal human perfection that they had for too long been expected to mirror in their manners, thought, and arts. An entire generation of poets and artists began to adopt a more inward model, the metaphor for which was the lamp – the burning inner light of personal identity, and therefore of local, national, and above all, racially-authentic feeling. It was the European Romantic movement that set the tenor for all modern national fascist systems. It was there the distant die was cast even for Canada’s multicultural identity politics. Since the 1960s we have been enduring a Neo-Romantic age.

The German Johannes Herder (1744-1803) was Romanticism’s most notorious racial/cultural philosopher. Meditating upon the clash of cultures in the Baltic, he came to the conclusion “that every tribe and people was unfathomably and indestructibly unique.” What made them unique were mysterious “primary forces deep in the collective soul … each Nation represented a truth of its own, which was a compound of blood, soil, climate, environment, experience – in brief, race, geography and history. There was no universal criterion by which to judge nations … Men did not create a nation; a nation brought forth men.”[2] Implicit in this aspect and in all forms of socialism (whether national or international) is an attack on Western individualism and self-reliance, for socialism and fascism are one in conceiving of the individual as a product of unique social forces. Hence, all socialists and fascists attack the very notion of “individual rights,” believing that “if the culture is at the root of the individual’s identity and meaning, then the culture must acquire a mystical, even a God-like status.”[3]

Richard Wagner, the most notorious musician of this movement, invoked triumphalist German folk-life and warrior lore in his operatic extravaganzas. The most influential recent philosophical giant evoking this lore was the brooding philosopher from the Black Forest, Martin Heidegger. His wife sounded like one of our own multiculturalists when she said that fascists like herself and Martin had not committed “the fatal error” of believing in the equality of all human beings (for them, all races are uniquely different); rather, their whole struggle was “to recognize the diversity of peoples and races.”[4] These seekers of inner truth were arguing passionately that human identity burns with a profoundly local, racial, tribal, and national flame, and that the enemy of true identity is the philosophy of the French-type of universalism and internationalism. This, Herder had described as “the slime of the Seine.” This reaction was feeding the flames of national socialism and the Nazi program: Heidegger was for a time Rector of Freiberg University and the unofficial philosopher of the Nazi party. The party slogan intended to sum up “identity,” was Blut und Boden – “blood and soil.” I have developed arguments elsewhere that trace the course of this Romantic passion as it was shaped by the German philosophical reaction to Western thought, and how in politics it developed into fascism.[5]

Without stretching the point, it seems clear that the recent, if now fading “post-modern” movement (which also repudiates all universal thought), and the moral and cultural relativism that accompanied it (which rejects all universal moral and cultural standards), found a confused – and confusing – home in Canada. In a 2006 Library of Parliament Research Report on “Canadian Multiculturalism,” the authors say that “As fact, ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada refers to the presence and persistence of diverse racial and ethnic minorities who define themselves as different and who wish to remain so.”[6] To this official extent, Canadian multiculturalism identifies and promotes separate racial and ethnic identities, and as such, it must be understood as a clearly-expressed nationalistic form of soft multi-fascism – a fascism not of a single race (as in War-time Germany) but of many races, or tribes. The history of classical political and moral liberalism in Canada is still, and will likely always be strong enough to inhibit any unitary fascism of the type seen in Europe. But if I am correct that soft multi-fascism is already present, then we have begun a journey down a potentially dangerous road. At the least this means Canadian multiculturalism is an official racist doctrine.

A recent social study by the University of Toronto confirms this predictable trend: compared with their parents, the second generation of visible minority immigrants now feels less, not more Canadian.[7] Professor Zheng Wu of the University of Victoria found that the higher the concentration of people from their own ethnic group in the neighbourhood, the less adult immigrants feel like they belong to Canada.[8] The prestigious Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has vigorously underscored the fact that immigration and diversity are reducing social solidarity and social capital.”[9] In 2004 a Statistics Canada report revealed that whereas Canada had six “visible minority neighbourhoods” in 1981, by 2001 there were 254. Some time ago, the American Senator Huey Long warned, “When fascism comes to America, it will come in the name of democracy.” People will vote for it. Well, we voted, and it is here now, in a soft form. It is everywhere in the West under names like multiculturalism and diversity. Soft, but here, nonetheless.[10]

[1] On this, see the fascinating work by James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998).

[2] J. L. Talmon, Romanticism and Revolt: Europe 1815-1848 (New York: W.W. Norton &Co., 1967), p.96 ff.

[3] Gene Edward Veith Jr., Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview (St. Louis: Concordia, 1993), p.37.

[4] Cited in Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Modern Fascism, p. 134 [emphasis added].

[5] William D. Gairdner, The Book of Absolutes: A Critique of Relativism and a Defence of Universals (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), esp. Chap. 11, “German Philosophy and the Relativist Revolt Against Western Civilization.”

[6] See Michael Dewing, Marc Leman, Political and Social Affairs Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, Current Issue Review: “Canadian Multiculturalism, Revised March 16, 2006. This report is weakened by spurious assumptions with respect to Canada’s constitutional founding. For example, on p.2 the authors State that Canada’s English and French Founders “appointed themselves the official founders of Canada.”

[7] Jeffrey G. Reitz, Rupa Banerjee, Mai Phan, Jordan Thompson, “Race, Religion, and the Social Integration of New Immigrant Minorities in Canada” Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, September 2008 (contact: Jeffrey.reitz@utoronto.ca ).

[8] “Ethnic Enclaves Weak Link, Study Finds” (National Post, June 2, 2010).

[9] See Robert Putnam, E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the 21st Century, cited in Herbert Grubel, The Effects of Mass Immigration on Canadian Living Standards and Society (Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, 2009)

[10] A fascinating treatment of this historical and political trend is Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007).

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