Don’t Give Us IndiarnThe Multiculturalist Casernby George Watsonrn** I |on’t give us India,” Samuel Johnson once toldrnJ ‘ Boswell, when the talk was about how widelvrnmankind differed in its view of chastity and polygamy. Montesquieu,rnhe said, the great pioneer of anthropology, was inrnmany wavs a fellow of genius. Butrnwhenever he wants to support a strange opinion, hernquotes vou the practice of Japan, or of some other distantrncountry, of which he knows nothing. To supportrnpolygamy lie tells you of the island of Formosa . . .rn”Giving us India” means offering an easv moral excuse, andrnJohnson was above all concerned that anthropolog)’ might bernused to justify abandoning our moral certainties in favor of arnfacile relativism. He was no doubt aware, what is more, thatrnvou do not need to cite foreign and exotic lands—minorities atrnhome will do—in which case he would find no shortage of relativistsrnif he were alive today. We are always being given Indiarnor Japan nowadays, or gays or blacks or women. There is even arnfamiliar barrage of polysyllables to characterize the mood, likernmulticulturalism, positive discrimination, subculture, Eurocentricity,rnand political correctness. Some of these causes mavrnbe justified, but the more confident claims of multiculturalismrnnow need to be scanned, especial]}’ the notion that the worldrnhas some sort of moral duty to defend, een to promote, a varietyrnof incompatible moral views in order to uphold the duernrights of minorities, whether one’s own or others. In its latter-rnGeorge Wafson, who is a Fellow of St. John’s College,rnCambridge, is the author of The Certainty of Literature andrnBritish Literature since 1945.rnday form, which involves encouraging as well as accepting ethicalrndiversity, it is a notion far odder than anything that Johnsonrnor Boswell knew.rnMulticulturalism offers itself as a defense of the outnumberedrnand oppressed: of subcultures which, rightly considered,rnhave as good a right to exist as traditional culture itself. Traditionalrnculture IS conceived of here as white, male, and dead, andrnit is above all the humanism of the Dead White EuropeanrnMale (DWEM) that the multiculturalist most commonly hasrnin his sights. The case can be openlv self-interested, as in EdwardrnSaid’s Orientahsm {1979), a book bv a New York Palestinianrnprotesting against alleged Western contempt for the culturalrntraditions of Asia; or it can be made b’ whites against whites.rnTo go back a century; it was a titillating implication of J.G. Eraser’srnThe Colden Bough, which began to appear in 1890, thatrnChristian dogmas like Virgin Birth are the less plausible becausernthe- can be paralleled in other messianic cults—all ofrnwhich, as an argument, struck a subtle blow against the Westernrnreligious tradition and its claim to uniqueness. Eraser lovedrnto give us India, so to speak, which helps to explain whv his bigrnbook was enormously influential in an era of advancing skepticism.rnIt can be profoundly exciting, after all, to lose faith inrnone’s own gods and heroes. In a Spanish city in 1992, for example,rnan unknown artist decorated a large public wall with arnpainting meant to belittle the 500th anniversar’ of Columbus’srndiscovery of America; it shows a crowd of brown Caribs laughingrnheartih at a medieval Spaniard, and one of them is announcing;rn”He sas his name is Christopher Columbus andrnthat he has discovered us.” The implication that you wouldrnhave to be some sort of neoimperialistic Eurocentrist to be impressedrnbv what Columbus did in 1492 is perfectly plain;rn14/CHRONICLESrnrnrn