This report argues that a narrow focus on promoting diversity threatens individual liberty by promoting the interests of particular groups over those of the individual.
When it first emerged as an official policy in the 1970s, multiculturalism was a response to the legacy of the White Australia policy. Multiculturalism continues to enjoy broad popular support, with Australians broadly accepting of reasonably high levels of immigration and the benefits of cultural diversity in society.
For example, the 2012 Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion report showed a steady support of between 67% (2007) and 65% (2012) for immigration in Australia. The 2013 report showed that our support for multiculturalism, and appreciation of its benefits, remains high (84%).
But there are disturbing trends in this success story. Multiculturalism is raising important questions about the way public policy promotes the peaceful coexistence of diverse people in a single polity.
In its ‘soft’ form, multiculturalism simply named that traditional willingness of Australians to tolerate cultural and ethnic diversity and make newcomers reasonably welcome.
But then it began to give way to a new, ‘hard’ form of multiculturalism. This form was fuelled by a determination to eliminate racism and a fear that unless carefully managed, diversity would cause intolerance and racist prejudice to flourish among Anglo-Celtic Australians.
‘Hard’ multiculturalism may have been well intentioned to begin with. However, over time, concern about protecting diversity has turned into a determined drive to promote it as both a moral and political end. The proponents of ‘hard’ multiculturalism argued that unless diversity was managed by the state, the ‘fair go’ would not be extended equally to all Australians.
This determination to promote diversity has become an obsession that has driven ‘hard’ multiculturalism beyond a concern to eradicate racial discrimination; it has begun to cast doubt on the very legitimacy of the notion of a core national culture.
Diversity has come to be seen as not just a policy outcome but a moral objective that must be promoted as an end in itself.
This narrow focus on promoting diversity threatens individual liberty by promoting the interests of particular groups over those of the individual. In doing so, it diminishes the liberty of every citizen.
It is time for the fetish of diversity to end, and the advance of hard multiculturalism checked. In pursuing a vested notion of social justice, the demand for equal recognition should not trump the demand for liberty.
The fairest way to accommodate differences is not by eradicating perceived inequality as a matter of public policy. Freedom of the individual is the only acceptable basis for a healthy, descriptively multicultural society.
Once the rule of law determines the extent of permissible behaviours, the state should get out of the business of supporting or maintaining the cultural, ethnic or religious components of identity.