Right-wing (classical) liberals generally answer with a consistent “no”. Even if they feel some sense of ethnic identity themselves, they believe that a modern, autonomous individual should be shaped by his own reasoned choices. We don’t get to choose our ethnicity, so it is assumed (at best) that ethnicity is something of secondary rank within human nature, something of a sentimental nature, but not relevant to how we choose to organise our lives or our society.
Left-wing liberals are less consistent. Like all liberals, they believe that we are human because of a freedom to exercise our individual will. Therefore, they tend to read issues in terms of power relations: who is dominant in their will over others. Those tagged as dominant tend to lose moral legitimacy, as they are thought to have organised a privilege at the expense of the oppressed “other”.
What this means is that left-wing liberals will generally be harsher on ethnic groups tagged as “dominant” than on those they consider oppressed – especially if the “oppressed” group is thought to be rallying around ethnic discrimination to improve their status.
For a traditionalist conservative like myself, neither of these liberal views is adequate. A traditionalist would argue that ethnicity is important in creating a social context for individual life and in providing a core source of identity for individuals.
This is true whether we belong to a large, successful, “dominant” ethnic group (e.g. the Japanese), or a small, beleaguered one (e.g. an Amazonian rainforest tribe).
The importance of ethnicity is evident even amongst Western populations who are supposed to have transcended it some generations ago.
In my recent reading I have happened across the following three stories, each highlighting the continuing relevance of ethnicity in the West.
The first deals with an unhappy topic: the suicide rate amongst adoptees in Sweden. A large scale research project has found that children adopted from overseas are several times more likely to suicide than ethnic Swedes.
Why? One plausible explanation offered by the research is that it’s “not unusual for foreign adoptees to have greater problems in finding their identity in relation to their parents and society as a whole.” In other words, they suffer because they are less sure of who they are both in terms of their family and their ethnicity.
(After the Asian tsunami the UN discouraged adoption offers from Australia for precisely this reason.)
Then there is the following snippet of information from a science website:
If your spouse is genetically similar, you’re more likely to have a happy marriage ... Child abuse rates are lower when similarity is high, and you’ll also be more altruistic and willing to sacrifice more for someone who is more genetically like you, research shows.
This supports data produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that divorce is twice as likely when spouses are born in different countries.
Finally, there was the newspaper report on housing trends in Melbourne. The featured family, the Gannons, were moving from West Brunswick to McKinnon for several reasons:
I saw it as a very good area to bring up a family, probably as opposed to where we live at the moment. Nothing against it, but you’ve got schools that aren’t that great, a big influx of migrants, we’re not that far away from Housing Commission, which affects the schooling, so that was a consideration.
All these cases involve serious issues: where to raise your family, marriage outcomes, mental health. In each case, ethnicity remains an important factor and can’t simply be relegated to a sentimental B-League, as some liberals might expect us to do.