I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the minds of people who despise multiculturalism. Do they hold to a fantasy in which multiculturalism is some sort of government construct that prevents people from adopting the same culture? Presumably they must start from the premise that the different cultural practices of other people are somehow detrimental to their lifestyle, or to the “moral fibre” of the nation, or some such nebulous phobia. Even so, do they honestly think that we can just ship all the immigrants and their descendants back to where they came from?

Angela Merkel has apparently decided to go down this sordid path:

At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn’t stay, that one day they’d go home. That isn’t what happened. And of course the tendency was to say: let’s be ‘multikulti’ and live next to each other and enjoy being together, [but] this concept has failed, failed utterly.

If multiculturalism has failed, answer me this: what else is there? On what basis do people of different races and cultures coexist, if not “multiculturally”? The Guardian article notes that Merkel didn’t bother to explain how or why multiculturalism “failed”, or what “failure” even means.

I would have thought that the utter failure of multiculturalism – if that’s truly what we’re talking about – would be marked by something akin to the Rwandan genocide. That is the inevitable, logical consequence of the total inability of people to live with each other.

Multiculturalism cannot be allowed to fail, because there is nothing else besides the abyss. Multiculturalism is not some adopted or invented concept – it’s the natural way of living in the modern world, where we are not isolated tribes but a global civilisation. It’s the alternative to crazed paranoia and ignorance. If multiculturalism fails, civil society fails.

Of course, Merkel wouldn’t be the first to suggest this sort of thing. What I would suggest is this: whenever someone argues that multiculturalism should be discarded, imagine how their argument would sound with “secularism” in place of “multiculturalism”. I suggest this because the two are very similar and comparable concepts. Whereas secularism is the means by which many religions and philosophies can coexist, so multiculturalism is the means by which many races and cultures can coexist. The alternative to secularism is state interference in your belief system, where religious laws effectively institute certain types of thought crime. The alternative to multiculturalism would likewise be a kind of cultural theocracy, with cultural laws mandating or prohibiting certain cultural practices.

There is a fantasy among some that multiculturalism is something imposed on them, as though it takes undue conscious effort to refrain from spitting (metaphorically or perhaps literally) on people they don’t like. They see “political correctness” as some sort of lead weight that stops them expressing their opinions. This is both laughably untrue and excruciatingly petulant. Opinions opposed to multiculturalism are expressed with scarcely-restrained fervour every day. These opinions are frowned upon by reasonable people not because they violate some arbitrary set of rules and conventions, but because they are ignorant and offensive. Yes, we will certainly uphold your right to express your opinion, but we can and will tear it apart with gusto if we see something wrong with it. If you think it’s unfair that people don’t give your views any respect, maybe it’s because you don’t have any respect. “Political correctness” is usually a label given to normal human decency, in order to attack it without seeming too inhuman.

But there’s more than an academic discussion here. There’s the rise of the far right in Europe, and in particular anti-Islamic sentiment. When concepts like multiculturalism are derided by a politician, the entire debate risks slipping off the ledge of sanity. Raving lunacy is ever present at some level in society, just waiting for a voice. As a result, politicians have a responsibility to be scrupulously reasonable – a responsibility that they often either neglect (because they need the votes) or were never aware of in the first place (because they are themselves part of that raving lunacy).

Merkel’s remarks might be defended on the grounds that they’re not provably wrong, but the academic in me twitches at the sheer indefensibly of such a standard. Ignorance does not need a voice – it needs an education.