Commentary Magazine


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David Cameron’s Warning

At the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a significant speech on what he calls “the doctrine of state multiculturalism.”

Mr. Cameron spoke about the weakening of Britain’s collective identity as it relates to young Muslims. He laid out what needs to be done to defeat the home-grown Islamist threat in the UK, first by confronting it in all its forms, and second by creating a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.

On this second point, Cameron said this:

[W]e must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.

What that means in concrete terms, Cameron says, is educating people in the elements of a common culture and curriculum. What he’s arguing for, in short, is assimilation — the importance of citizens of a nation sharing certain common principles, common memories, and a common language.

In 1992 the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote a book, The Disuniting of America, in which he warned about the cult of ethnicity in America, including the danger of “the fragmentation, resegregation, and tribalization of American life.” The historic idea of a unifying American identity was in peril in many arenas, he warned. “Will the melting pot give way to the Tower of Babel?” he asked.

Schlesinger’s concern has touched down on distant shores. The United Kingdom and much of the Western world are now struggling with how a nation respects diversity while holding itself together.

E pluribus unum is more than a motto; it is a fundamental part of citizenship in a free society. If a nation loses that, it has lost something precious. This is what David Cameron was saying in so many words.