While George Watson (“Don’t Give Us India,” September 1996) is essentially correct in his critique of multiculturalism, he misses the mark in his interpretation of a passage from Paradise Lost. Watson cites the lines in which “Columbus found the American so girt / With feathered cincture, naked else and wild . . . ” as evidence that Milton held the Caribs as “gloriously innocent before Europeans came to corrupt them, much like Adam and Eve at the Fall.” On the contrary, Milton implies that the near-naked Americans are as tainted with Adam’s sin as the explorer who discovers them. It is not the quantity of clothes that counts but the fact that one is clothed at all. Adam’s sin is seen to pervade all times and all cultures, staining all of humanity, and one should not be deceived by the appearance of innocence. Milton offers an anticipatory debunking of the Rousseauian “noble savage.”
All of which leads me to my ultimate point, namely, that multiculturalism tends to ignore just these sorts of universal truths: we all are sinners; our ancestors have oppressed and been oppressed in turn; we all dwell in the threshold of the charnel house, and yet we all are called to redemption; we are summoned by love and beauty. I do not know why multiculturalists exaggerate the differences of color, creed, and language while they ignore or disparage the universal truths of the human condition. Perhaps they act out of a perverse hatred of anything that smacks of authority, in which case they are like Milton’s Satan whose identity is his hatred of God. It is a miserable existence to be defined by what one hates rather than what one loves—which is, I suppose, indifferent consolation for those of us on the losing end of the culture wars.