Implications of Europe's Turn Away from Multiculturalism for the U.S.

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on February 13, 2011

Those with liberal views and short memories often urge Americans to learn from Europe when it comes to building a fairer and more just society and a foreign policy stance that avoids unilateralism and empire. The implication of this position was not only that American had much to learn, but a great deal to emulate.

Given Europe's financial problems, less talk is heard along those lines these days. And there is growing appreciation that Europe's call for a more "world community"-friendly foreign policy stance is a luxury made possible by American military capacity and protection.

Still, there is one area where the United States can learn a great deal from Europe – and from Canada and Australia as well. And that area is immigration.

I mean this in precisely the way it is said: learn from, not necessarily emulate. Indeed, one of the virtues of the comparative study of immigration policy is that the United States can reap the advantages of being somewhat slow to recognize that its traditional laissez faire approach to helping new legal immigrants become Americans needs rethinking.

The three major national powerhouses in Europe have already done so. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron has come to the conclusion that "State multiculturalism has failed." German Chancellor Angela Merkel had publically concluded that multiculturalism as a strategy for new immigrant integration had "failed and failed utterly" several months before that. They were joined Thursday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who, when asked about the policy under which host societies welcome and foster distinct cultural and religious immigrant groups, said simply, "My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure."

The fact that these three leaders of major European countries have publically made such a blunt assessment is, by itself, a startling and consequential political event. Yet, that should not cause us to lose sight of the even more striking and dramatic fact that their consensus was of an acknowledgement of failure of policies that have been central to each of those country's attempts to integrate new immigrants. The three leaders' public rebuke of multiculturalism as an integration policy is striking, but it is the failings of those policies that merits our more focused attention. And while Chancellor Merkel was referring to issues regarding Turkish immigrants and Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy were discussing issues arising out of Muslim immigration more generally, it is the premises of multiculturalism as an integration policy that deserve our attention.

It is these basic premises, and not the fact of Turkish or Pakistani or other particular immigrants, that have the most potential to aid the United States in its needed efforts to help ensure that new legal immigrants not only become integrated enough to take advantage of the opportunities they came here to seek, but really become an integrated and emotionally-attached part of the national community. Moreover, while Great Britain's concern with integrating its Muslim population is wrapped up with concerns over terrorism, both homegrown and as a transit station for its export, this is less the case generally for Germany or France. Theirs is the much more prosaic, but nonetheless crucial issue of assimilation.

The question is: What do their experiences teach us?

Next: "European Multiculturalism's Lessons for the U.S.: Double Standards"