As a student in Beirut, Lebanon, in the 1930s, like my non-European school mates, I leaned toward the left. Living under French rule since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (1919), Lebanese Muslims and Christians, liberals and conservatives, religious and secularists, struggled gung ho for their independence. European leftists supported their goals and often encouraged and helped them.
In those days, Liberals developed rational, secular ideas. They supported science and technology. They believed in progress and called for the “unity” of all people as members of one species. They considered as their duty to bring the Third World into the 20th century and fight the Western ruling classes who wanted to keep the “colonies” into backwardness in order to exploit them.
In short “internationalization” constituted the Left's order of the day. Socialists created the so-called “Second International”; the Communists the “Third International”; all Liberals dreamt of “cultural” revolutions that would unify all people. “Du passé faisons table rase” proclaimed revolutionary chants.
In those days, modernization was a cherished liberal value. Whatever our particular personal beliefs, whatever doctrine we adhered to, one goal united us: develop our countries and catch up with the European “colonialists”. With the collapse of fascism and nazism, in the mid-fourties our hopes rode high. We thought that our ideals were about to come true.
But alas, in a short period, the reverse happened. France, for instance, did not want to loosen its grip on Indochina and Algeria. Britain dragged its feets in Egypt and Iraq. The Soviets tightened their hold on their own peoples as well as foreign communist parties and started a campaign against “cosmopolitism”: to be a reliable communist one should possess solid “roots” in a national culture!
America supported the most backward Middle Eastern regimes and third world tyrants in order to contain communist expansion and keep access to oil fields. In terms of Realpolitik all this could seem normal as the former “great powers” and the new super-powers tended to ensure their so-called “national interests”.
But at the same time a startling phenomenon surged among the former “liberal” intellectuals . In less than a generation they morphed their internationalism into what came to be known as “multiculturalism”. On face of it, they were promoting egalitarianism: all cultures are valid and should be respected.
In fact, under the academic banner of “post-modernism”, many liberal thinkers intersected with their rightist colleagues. Indeed they militate in favor of keeping alive and even encouraging local cultures and differences. In the United States, this new leftist trend promoted ethnic communalism among immigrants. In the world at large it fortified notions of national identity and the search for roots.
Those of the right promoted and pursued similar ideas in their policies of segregation and apartheid (concerning principally the Blacks). Today, at least in the United States, only tiny groups known as White supremacists openly try to implement such ideas. The goal of racists was (and still is) to keep the “inferior” races into subjection, if not to totally eliminate them as as Hitler dreamt.
The new “liberals” end up restraining underdeveloped nations from catching up with the most advanced world. Their motives are (hopefully) different from those of the so-called “ultra-right”; indeed they speak of saving the “diversity” of the human species; they want to uphold the positive contributions of all nations and groups, and so on.
Some ten years ago, the late cosmopolitan multi-billionaire James Goldsmith, who had bought the French weekly L'Express and many other journals, launched the idea that the Western model of scientific, technological and economic development should not be “imposed” on other nations. He affirmed that the latter, large or small, had the right to preserve their spiritual legacy, their moral and cultural values, their mores,etc.
He cited the example of the kingdom of Bhoutan, where more than 90% of the people live on income from small pieces of land; less rich than the American or European farmers, but they enjoyed living in a stable society and a “beautiful” environment. Why should they earn more and bring in all the ills of advanced industrial and technological societies? It is true that sometimes curious political and social ideas creep in the minds of billionaires who steep in luxury and abundance. Here in America, Soros seems to continue in the footsteps of the late Goldsmith…
In any case, rich or less rich multiculturalists reaffirm their commitment to the necessity for the advanced West to increase its technical and financial assistance to the developing countries. But all the same they contribute to the perpetuation of backwardness in the third world . I think that today's liberal intellectuals are a far cry from those whom I admired in my student's days. They should beware not to end up as the White supremacists of the 21st century.
In answer to a question concerning the preservation of cultural heritage, Nehru the Prime Minister of India after independence once said: “We do nothing to preserve our traditions. We just try to find out which of them constitute an obstacle to our development and progress.”
Young generations in the Third World (and indeed of the first one , too) should ponder the following slogan I have coined in response to that new kind of multiculturalism: Only vegetables have roots and only the police are interested in people's identity.
I think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitutes the greatest achievement of the so-called international community in the 20th century. What is needed now is a Declaration of Human Unity. All earthlings should equally benefit from advances in knowledge, science and technology. There are about 200 countries living on the same planet. But they are far from being contemporary; they should all reach the same time zone: the 21st century.