The Death of Culture

A German newspaper editor, Anna Sauerbrey, posted a chilling opinion piece in the New York Times the other day. It illustrates with depressing clarity a recurring theme of this blog: the necessarily destructive effect of multiculturalism upon human societies. Her piece begins:

In Germany, a big question is back on the table: What is German — and how German do you have to be to belong to Germany? With the arrival in 2015 of 1.1 million refugees and migrants, it’s an important issue. But rather than having a reasoned debate, the extremists have already taken control. For a disturbing number of Germans, the answer is culture, including religion.

That’s the message coming out of the Alternative for Germany, an upstart right-wing party that has drawn double-digit support in recent state-level elections.

There’s certainly no doubt about her stance: despite the government having managed to settle 1.1 million Muslim “refugees and migrants” in a single year (the equivalent of importing 4 million to the U.S.), the “extremists”, with their “upstart party”, have “already taken control”. Well, I say, if they’ve taken control, they’re doing a pretty lousy job of it.

Modern Western multiculturalism depends upon the elevation of two axioms to sacred principles. One is the belief in human universality, which entails a fortiori the belief that all culture is contingent and transferable. The other is that equality is the greatest social good. They go well together: a belief in universality implies that inequalities are necessarily a matter of historical happenstance or malevolent human agency, and therefore remediable.

Readers will know that our editorial position favors neither of these axioms, and views culture not as something that falls from the sky onto whatever human population happens to be passing underneath, but as the “extended phenotypes” of various human groups. As I wrote in an earlier post:

The idea is a simple one: a biological organism has both a genotype, which is the sum of its genetic information, and a phenotype, which is the physical result of the expression of the genotype — the term “phenotype” usually being understood to refer to the organism’s body. [Richard] Dawkins’s fertile insight was that the phenotype extends beyond the body, into the wider world.

For example: a beaver has a beaver genome. This expresses itself in the usual beavery way: big front teeth, webby feet, and a broad, flat tail. But the “extended” phenotype is much more than that: it consists of felled trees, a dam, a lodge, and a pond. In this view, that pond is as much a part of the beaver’s gene-expression as its teeth. Bird’s nests, spiderwebs, and honeycombs — things in the world that themselves contain no genetic information — are as much a manifestation of genomes as wings and stingers.

In H. sapiens, the social animal par excellence, the extended phenotype quite naturally includes culture. And just as we see variation among subspecies for, say, bowerbird nests, we should expect to see that long-isolated human populations, whose genomes have been subject to widely varying selection pressures throughout their history, will create different, often very different, cultures — cultures as distinct as their physical appearance. And so we do.

Ms. Sauerbrey explicitly rejects and denies this view:

Anti-Muslim sentiment is just one element in the party’s fairly coherent, nativist concept of national culture. The preamble to its program promises to preserve “our occidental and Christian culture, our nation’s historical and cultural identity, and an independent German nation of the German people.” The party refers to German culture as the “einheimische Kultur” — native culture — and describes the German nation as “a cultural unit” under threat from immigrant cultures. Its program for the state election in Baden-Württemberg in March stated: “Germany’s cultural foundation is being smashed by immigration.”

For many liberals and centrist conservatives, culture is defined as the ways a person or group does things. For the Alternative for Germany, it is much more — a natural fact, the core of a person or group’s essence, a thing, not a set of practices.

The lines are very clearly drawn here: for Ms. Sauerbrey, culture is not, and clearly must not be, a “natural fact” — an expression of any essential qualities shared by a people of common ancestry. If that were so, it would mean that the people themselves were not identical to all other people — and so would violate the axiom of universality. Because this axiom is, in the West’s secular religion, now a sacred principle, it means that anyone who denies it is promoting heresy, and is therefore an enemy and an existential threat.

Consider everything that Ms. Sauerbrey — a German! — must reject in order to hold this view. Look at the towering edifice of German culture, and the conspicuous particularities of the German people throughout history. Can she really believe that all of that might just as likely have sprung from Dinkas, or Eskimos? Such is the power of religion.

In our post Culture and Metaculture, we quoted Leszek Kolakowski on the impossibility of synergistic polycultural fusion. Kolakowski began by quoting this passage from Toynbee:

Our own descendants are not going to be just Western, like ourselves. They are going to be heirs of Confucius and Lao-Tze as well as Socrates, Plato, and Plotinus; heirs of Gautama Buddha as well as Deutreo-Isaiah and Jesus Christ; heirs of Zarathustra and Muhammed as well as Elijah and Elishah and Peter and Paul; heirs of Shankara and Ramanujah as well as Clement and Origines; heirs of the Cappadocian Fathers of the Orthodox Church as well as our African Augustine and our Umbrian Benedict; heirs of ibn Khaldun as well as Bossuet; and heirs, if still wallowing in the Serbonian bog of politics, of Lenin and Gandhi and Sun Yat-Sen as well as Cromwell and George Washington.

He replied:

In a trivial sense we are already the heirs of these men, in that we live in a world they all helped to shape; but Toynbee clearly has in mind a heritage in a stronger sense, a positive continuity of ideas. But in order that our descendants may be heirs in this sense, we must admit that everything that makes the values and ideals of these people incompatible today will lose its significance; and then, far from having them all as our spiritual ancestors, we will have no one at all.

The difference between Catholics and Protestants could conceivably vanish, but then Bossuet and Cromwell will not so much become synthesized by our descendants as vanish altogether, losing what was specific and essential to each, and heritage will have no discernable meaning. It is, similarly, difficult to imagine how someone who values spiritual liberty might one day consider himself the heir of Lenin or Mohammed. We can imagine the question of liberty losing all significance in some future society that is perfectly totalitarian and accepted as such by its members; but in that case our descendants will indeed be the heirs of Lenin, but not of George Washington. In short, to imagine our grandchildren combining all these conflicting traditions into one harmonious whole, being at once theists, pantheists, and atheists, advocates of liberalism and totalitarianism, enthusiasts of violence and enemies of violence, is to imagine them inhabiting a world lying not only far outside the scope of our imagination and prophetic gifts but also beyond the possibility of any tradition whatsoever; which means that they will be barbarians in the strictest sense.

To create the new metaculture, muticulturalism cannot not add cultures together, due to the points of contradiction and conflict that are, in turn, manifestations of the innate differences of the peoples whose cultures they are. Instead, it can only proceed subtractively, by stripping away particularities, until it finds commonality at some baser level — and as more peoples and cultures are added to the mix, more and more must be pared away. Among the first things to go are the natural cohesion and public trust that organic cultures enjoy; these natural assets must be replaced prosthetically, by an act of power imposed from above. That this artificial, top-down structure in turn creates new inequalities even as it scrapes away familiar liberties must simply be tolerated as the price we pay for our salvation. Ms. Sauerbrey acknowledges all of this:

Asked in 2000 what he thought went into German Leitkultur, [Christian Democratic Party member Friedrich] Merz pointed to the Constitution and to women’s rights. But it’s no use making refugees swear an oath on women’s rights. Germans won’t control what they think. But Germany can help them understand the laws protecting women’s rights — and reinforce them.

She might more plainly have said:

“These people will never fit in with us naturally, as we Germans organically and effortlessly fit in with each other. They don’t think like us! But we can force them to obey our law, rather than their own instincts, affinities, aversions, traditions, moral principles, ancient folkways, and religious doctrine. That should work just as well, right?”

In her last paragraph, the author says:

A modern nation state cannot be built on an ontological notion of who belongs and who does not, whether it’s outright ethnic or pseudo-cultural.

To which I reply: why not? I’d say that’s always been exactly what makes a cohesive and durable nation. And what’s with “pseudo-cultural”, anyway? Obviously this is an attempt to deny even the actual existence of the genuinely “cultural”.

Note here that Ms. Sauerbrey cannot even manage to say “cultural”. We have got to the point now in the decomposition of the West where even the idea of an actually existing culture is offensive: because its particularity is an intolerable heresy, the whole of German culture — Beethoven, Bach, Schiller, Goethe, Luther, Heine, Kant, Gauss, Liebniz, Wagner, Kepler, Hegel, and all the rest of it — can no longer even be permitted to be real, and so it must be seen as a “pseudo-culture”. What an enormous, and catastrophic, delusion.

Read the whole thing here.

Related content from Sphere


  1. Malcolm,

    “Read the whole thing here.”

    Thanks, but I’ve already made other plans — sticking needles in my eyes.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 2:59 am | Permalink
  2. Joe says

    It’s funny you know, go anywhere else in the world and you find many great countries, and large ones, built entirely on the principle of ethnic homogeneity. Like China and India, no multiculturalism there (apart from a loose collection of historical Chinese ethnicities, etc).

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink
  3. JK says

    It’s funny you know, go anywhere else in the world and you find many great countries, and large ones, built entirely on the principle of ethnic homogeneity. Like China and India, no multiculturalism there …

    Just so Joe; and for Ms. Sauerbrey’s benefit I’d humbly suggest she might hit the NYC’s archives to more perfectly digest all she would seem to be onto.

    The lack of China/India’s “no multiculturalism there” aside.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  4. Whitewall says

    This sad woman is intellectually beaten down to a quivering mass. If all the means to shape a new multi culti world “must come prosthetically, by an act of power imposed from above.”, then it would behoove those of us who virulently disagree to make sure we have control of “power from above”. Or else our children and theirs will face a thousand years of barbarism.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  5. In other, albeit related review of Leftist insanity, we have this from Thomas Sowell:

    Socialism sounds great. It has always sounded great. And it will probably always continue to sound great. It is only when you go beyond rhetoric, and start looking at hard facts, that socialism turns out to be a big disappointment, if not a disaster.

    While throngs of young people are cheering loudly for avowed socialist Bernie Sanders, socialism has turned oil-rich Venezuela into a place where there are shortages of everything from toilet paper to beer, where electricity keeps shutting down, and where there are long lines of people hoping to get food, …


    But people who attribute income inequality to capitalists exploiting workers, as Karl Marx claimed, never seem to get around to testing that belief against facts — such as the fact that none of the Marxist regimes around the world has ever had as high a standard of living for working people as there is in many capitalist countries.

    Facts are seldom allowed to contaminate the beautiful vision of the left. What matters to the true believers are the ringing slogans, endlessly repeated.


    None of this is rocket science. But you do have to stop and think — and that is what too many of our schools and colleges are failing to teach their students to do.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  6. Whitewall says

    Henry, I like the link. BTW, how are your eyes doing today?

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  7. Robert,

    My eyes are OK today. But, in order to avoid as much of Leftist insanity as possible, I plan to sit in traffic — naked — eating glass.

    I don’t recommend it, but it does get me thru the day …

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Anna Sauerbrey:

    But it’s no use making refugees swear an oath on women’s rights. Germans won’t control what they think. But Germany can help them understand the laws protecting women’s rights — and reinforce them.

    Sure. How’s that going so far?

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  9. Pangur says

    We live in a cultural winter in part because of the insidious universal solvent of cultural marxism, which at its base denies beauty and goodness. Part of its expression is the levelling effect of relativism and the accompanying lack of standards. The suspects are the usual ones, in this case particularly the unis which — as we all know — should be burned down to the fucking ground (whether or not the faculty are inside at the time seems a detail).

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm,

    Sure. How’s that going so far?

    My guess is it’s going about as far as hopey-dopey has gone.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  11. I liked the comments posted with the Times article, especially most “Readers’ Picks”.

    Here’s a taste:

    “When last I read Ms. Sauerbrey’s musings, she was dismissing the New Year’s eve Cologne sexual assaults on German women by young Muslim men as “hysteria.” She was siding with recently-arrived Muslim men against hundreds of German women who are used to a certain level of security afforded them by German men. She obviously feels that Muslim cultural norms represent no challenge to German society. And if you think that, obviously you are a xenophobe and a nativist.”

    Posted June 2, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  12. JK says

    Amusing that; “Hysteria.”

    Posted June 2, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  13. cecilhenry says

    The agenda is White Genocide. Period. Diversity=White Genocide. ITs a crime not a policy option. And ‘assimilation’ is not the issue.

    You can ‘assimilate’ 2 million Chinese and Indians in Vancouver or Toronto and what you have is a non-white city. The Whites are
    destroyed and lose their right to their identity and control of their nation

    Looked at one country at a time, immigration and assimilation is a policy. Looked at globally, it is White genocide.

    If a non-white country cut off all immigration, no one would object. If a white country did that, anti-whites would scream “Racist Nazi!”

    Posted June 5, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink