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Multicultural cities in countries of high ethnic diversity celebrate multiculturalism. Institutes, organisations and general mainstream culture push this notion that multiculturalism brings benefits to the society such as having more cultures and diversity in the society which is portrayed as a positive thing that people should embrace. Real life examples of claimed benefits are along the lines of: more cultures, different perspectives on life, different experiences ... etc. I'm aware of the economical argument which is more related to immigration in general.

Nationalists and far-right politicians or people who are just against immigration particularly for a certain group of people claim that this dissolves the nation's identity and provide next to no benefits compared to the risks. Also that these benefits as claimed by politicians and mainstream media and culture are naive and does not reflect reality.

So what is the realpolitik benefit of multiculturalism in a society? My question focuses on countries such as the UK, France, Germany, and Sweden.

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    Not a full answer, but in addition to the presence of active benefits, would you consider the lessening of negative outcomes such as communal conflicts and economic marginalization of immigrants? And while multiculturalism is an emotional and very fuzzy term, the same exact charge can leveled at nation's identity. But, yeah, upvoted, if it's worth pursuing, it ought to be tangible in some sense. Feb 16, 2022 at 17:41
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    Has there ever, in the history of humanity, been a large group of people that was not multicultural? Every culture has borrowed from other cultures. Every culture changes over time. If we wanted to answer this question with real data, we'd need to find a group that was truly monocultural - I'd suggest that no such group exists - and then compare this group to the rest of the (multicultural) world.
    – Juhasz
    Feb 16, 2022 at 19:05
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    I disagree. How would you go about determining the positive effects of multiculturalism using data (i.e. not using unprovable theories)? I would start by looking at the positive traits of multicultural societies that were not found in monocultural societies. Or perhaps look at the changes in a society as it went from monocultural to multicultural. But neither of these would be possible without first identifying a monocultural society. So can you name one? Is there any culture that has not borrowed from another culture? Or any group with 100% cultural conformity?
    – Juhasz
    Feb 16, 2022 at 19:19
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    See examples of "forced assimilation" for some context of the alternative to a multicultural approach. "...in Japan and Korea, as the two countries stated themselves as a single-nation country, ethnic minorities had to hide their national identity for centuries, and many resulted in assimilation, such as Ainu and Ryukyuan people in Japan, migrants of Goguryeo, Balhae and Tungusic peoples in Korea." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_assimilation
    – DerekG
    Feb 16, 2022 at 20:01
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    It's strange that you say "realpolitik" and link to the Wikipedia page, when realpolitik doesn't really mean what you think it does. The term does not mean practical benefits in general: it is normally used to refer to cynical calculations of narrow self-interest, often in the short-term, and ignoring wider considerations (e.g. promoting public health would not be considered realpolitik). So is the question about cynical self-interest involved in promoting multiculturalism (which might include an assumption that migrants will vote for you), or about objective long-term advantages?
    – Stuart F
    Feb 17, 2022 at 10:14

8 Answers 8

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It gives access to a wider pool of immigrants to select from.

If your nation is open to people of various cultures, more people will consider living in your nation, allowing you to select the best from a much larger pool.

Suppose, for instance, the US had restricted immigration to native english speakers, lest their national ideals be polluted by foreign ideas. In practical terms, this would have prevented people like Enrico Fermi from immigrating, who went on to design the world's first nuclear reactor, or Hans Benthe, who played a key role in the Manhattan project and later went on to win a nobel prize, or Wernher von Braun, who went on to become the chief architect of the moon rocket, or Felix Bloch, who won a nobel prize for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance (the underlying principle of MRI), or ...

So yes, I dare say that getting the best brains, regardless of the culture they were raised in, has its advantages.

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    The intent of immigration is often not what governments laud. Right wing governments use immigration for economic reasons to serve their paymasters, the corporate class, by flooding the market with cheap labour from poorer countries to put downward pressure on the cost of labour in their own country. Feb 17, 2022 at 1:22
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    In Canada there is what is called the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which has brought in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from all over the world with the intent to undermine the power of labour and their unions. And people wonder why Trump has so much support from the working class, despite the con job, over his policy of closing the borders and terminating trade agreements, especially with low wage countries like China. Feb 17, 2022 at 1:22
  • Trying to pick the best and educated brains is still also a policy in place. Unqualified vegetable pickers are not the only workforce developed countries want to attract
    – Stančikas
    Dec 28, 2023 at 18:16
  • The US could still get Fermi and Benthe if they said the rule is "you must be cultured and well educated by US standards". But it would exclude ~99% of people crossing the border illegally. Jan 16 at 19:09
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I suspect answers to this question is going to be strongly affected by one's perception of the pros and cons of multiculturalism vs nationalism. Still, considering that many governments put in place policies promoting one or the other, it seems like a useful policy question.


First, you remark, correctly, that some celebrate multiculturalism, while others bemoan the loss of the nation's identity.

The first group calls multiculturalism beneficial without bothering much to get into specifics why. I.e. "multiculturalism is good because warm and fuzzy and nice".

So, as I understand the question, you're asking: "What are, instead, the utilitarian benefits, if any, of multiculturalism?"

What are the utilitarian benefits, if any, to uni-cultural national identity?

As far as I'm concerned, the second group, those regretting national identity loss are equally unspecific as to the actual, tangible, gains of "cultural cohesiveness".

If we accept the first question, then the flip side "Why should I care if my ethno-nationalist identity gets diluted?" also bears asking. I haven't seen too many good answers to that question either.

That's not your question, but actual data-based answers to it would provide a valid yardstick to evaluate claims about multiculturalism.
i.e. why hold the first group to a higher standard than the second?

Second, probable lessening of negative outcomes.

Before one gets into alleged positive, active benefits of multiculturalism, one might also look at what it probably lessens:

  • ethnic tensions between groups

  • economic marginalization of immigrant groups. Having people stuck in low-paying jobs will forego their potential contributions and tax revenues. Many Western European countries, France being the one I am most familiar with, suffer much higher rates of poverty and joblessness among "immigrants", extending to 2nd and 3rd generation, and affecting people who have the citizenship but are not members of the "traditional historic citizenry" .

Third, is it really an either/or?

Can a country not be both multicultural and take pride in its feeling of shared nationhood?

Certainly it is possible to feel dislike for both sides in this type of debate: some people dislike both white nationalism and, to take an example, the overextension of the initial legal doctrine of critical race theory into an overarching catchall "blame culture". Or, one can dislike fervent nationalists while also being unsympathetic to unfettered, unregulated, immigration and calls for "open borders, always".

So, is it not possible to take pride in your nation and its multiculturalism?

OK, enough of the preambles, let's look at some arguable specific benefits of multiculturalism.

Food and arts

Would the average UK citizen really, really, want to roll back the clock to days of traditional English cooking? No more curries? Ditto in Canada, it would suck for us.

Even France, with its wonderful traditional cooking, benefited from introducing foods from cuisines which better catered to quick casual eating: pizzas, couscous. And, yes, "Le Burger" too.

Music. Aside from chamber music, I'd be bummed if you took out all the modern music genres that descended from rock and forced me to listen to music from "my Caucasian roots". And rock descended from Black American music. To say nothing of jazz. Or rap.

Paintings. The Impressionists were heavily influenced by Japanese art in the late 1800s. Would we better off if the clock had stopped at the Romantics?

These aren't just feel-good benefits. Cultural exports from the music industry has surely contributed massively to the UK and the US's trade balance over time.

Different immigrants

A country which is known to be unwelcoming to immigrants will be an acceptable destination to those fleeing real and immediate threats or abject poverty. The trouble is you get both skilled and unskilled immigrants that way.

On the other hand, a country known to be welcoming, or at least granting opportunities to, immigrants will also be desirable to immigrants who have more agency in where they want to settle and those will tend to be more skilled: doctors, engineers, business people.

That's true for Canada, even though we sadly have too many engineers or architects immigrants driving taxis and other underemployed roles. That's also true for the US, when compared to Europe, even though the US gets a lot of bad press about racism.

Halo effect.

Since multiculturalism is often seen as positive, being known for it can make one look more virtuous. On the international stage, Canada's virtues in that domain helps lessen awareness of unsavoury behavior like discrimination against natives or excessive emissions per capita.

Multiculturalism doesn't have to mean accepting everything.

Some cultures have rather regressive views on subjects like gender equality or homosexuality. Are we obliged to accept those aspects? (keeping in mind that our own fairly recent history, from sometimes belated universal vote for women or things like Alan Turing's treatment leave much to be desired)

We are not. There is nothing wrong with rejecting those particular facets of foreign cultures. But being respectful on the rest gives better "traction" when engaging with a community to curb some of its members.

Openness to new ideas.

Both the Ottoman Empire and China, at one point the top dogs in their time and geographic neighborhood, started sliding into irrelevance when they convinced themselves that they were the be-all of civilization and deliberately cut themselves off from foreign influences. The same thing happened to Japan, though it switched paths extremely quickly. Intellectual and economic autarky are both risky paths for a country to engage in.

In our modern world, Westerners will not be the only, or even primary, innovators in industrial, technological and economic fields. Kanban and just-in-time manufacturing to take examples, have revolutionized how we make cars and other goods, but came from Japan. Ditto for taking in foreign scientists (cribbed from Meriton).

If we withdraw onto ourselves, rather than accept immigration and ideas from various countries, would we risk missing out on the next new thing? Would we not risk going the way of the Ottomans or 1500's China?

A culture which is confident does not fear the influence of others.

Overfocus on today's differences ignores how past ones worked out.

Once upon a time, "others" in European countries were considered a big problem too. You'd have to look no further than the first waves of Irish and Italian immigrants to the US and their reception. Or how Spaniards and Portuguese were perceived in France. Modest Proposal was satire, but not conjured out of thin air.

Guess what, it all worked out in the end, though it seemed dramatic at the time. The newcomers ended up strengthening their host countries.

How well does the alternative work?

Do countries that advocate immigrants dropping their culture and fully adopting their new host country's instead do better? Contrasting France and Canada, both of which I have lived in, I have a definite opinion.

While a country does not HAVE to accept immigrants, it SHOULD be nice to them once they are accepted in. That's both the decent, and utilitarian, way to proceed.

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    The US has often been called a "melting pot". So multi-culturism is part of our national identity.
    – Barmar
    Feb 18, 2022 at 23:26
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    @Barmar, "melting pot" is something quite opposite to "multiculturalism" (as it is usually understood). "Melting pot" welcomes everyone, but insists on "boiling down" to a common shared culture. Multiculturalism encourages preserving individual cultural identity (and culture as such), even if it doesn't align with the prevailing culture.
    – Zeus
    Feb 21, 2022 at 0:32
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    @Zeus I'm not so sure about that. The melting pot is still heavily ghettoized: Chinatown, Little Italy, etc. Cultures were assimilated without being homogenized and lost. Foreign cultures are celebrated with holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Cinqo de Mayo.
    – Barmar
    Feb 21, 2022 at 2:08
  • It is worth noting that nationalism, borders, visas and nationally pure countries are a relatively recent invention. Borders used to be pretty loosely defined in europe in the 19th century, and cultures would mingle freely.
    – Ccm
    Jan 16 at 23:35
  • @Ccm If you say so. While it is quite possible that the officialdom of border crossings was comparatively less in the past, it needs to be contrasted with the fact that few countries had mass immigration from culturally and linguistically remote peoples. So, no, it is not really worth noting : we did not invent a world that is much less than tolerant than in it was in the past, in the sense of this question. Jan 17 at 2:16
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Immigrants are mostly good for cheap labor. In the US, Italians worked in the mines, the Irish were policemen (at the time it was a low-status job), the Chinese built the railroads, Mexicans work on farms and meat processing plants. In general, refugee-status immigrants tend to be less educated, accustomed to a lower standard of living and are happier with lower-paying jobs while their children go to good schools. Even after the fall of the USSR when Israel was taking in Russian Jews, cynical commentators pointed out they were also cheap labor which could replace Palestinians.

You hear the word refugees and think of crowded camps overwhelming a nation's capacity, but that's when there are too many. The opposite of too-many isn't none. Finland, say, doesn't have people walking in, but they've been recently, deliberately taking in Somolis and Iraqis and from the Wiki page (regarding all immigrants): "According to a macroeconomic study immigrants, refugees and migrants, arriving Finland [sic] benefits its economy within five years of arrival."

Beyond that, minor factors would include goodwill -- potential Iraqi interpreters felt safer since they assumed the US would bring them to the US if things went bad, since the US does that after every war. Then there are economic connections -- successful immigrants set up import/export businesses or work to help your multinationals sell there. Similarly, a country may eventually be able to draw upon them for spying and diplomacy; even indirectly -- having a small Muslim population may give advance warning about some particularly offensive, costly potential policy.

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The specific value of cultural pluralism/multiculturalism for a nation is somewhat difficult to pin down. Obviously, the maintenance of one's own culture appeals to constituent cultural demographics within a country so a pluralistic national culture has one benefit of being broadly appealing to various demographic/ethnic groups that want to maintain their cultural practices. Perhaps the most coherent argument in favor of cultural pluralism would be something along the ideas of the marketplace of ideas.

The marketplace of ideas concept proffers that freedom of expression and a diverse set of ideas/ideals will foster debate, creativity, innovation, and high quality public discourse. A prerequisite for such benefits is that the set of ideas within the marketplace are sufficiently diverse to allow for substantive debate of the merits of each. A pluralistic sense of national culture necessarily provides a broader set of perspectives and ideas than a more homogeneous culture (i.e. melting pot). Downsides of cultural pluralism may be a weaker national identity and sense of national pride, cross-group resentment, and a decreased willingness to engage in national progressive movements (as it is seemingly harder to empathize and view as worthy of help those that are more culturally different from us).

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  • But what does a "marketplace of ideas" add in value to a society that some politicians or organisations would like to encourage?
    – SkyAbove
    Feb 16, 2022 at 19:04
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    The benefits to society would be creativity, innovation, and a systematic promotion of the best ideas and ideals. For a society, this could be broadly interpreted to give the society stronger economic and technological innovation, a more robust academic/intellectual sector, and a broader and generally more diverse/higher quality pool of ideas for solving various societal problems.
    – DerekG
    Feb 16, 2022 at 19:43
  • I'm curious whether the benefits and tradeoffs of diversity of ideas vs uniformity is a specific field or topic of study. Does anyone know what the name of such a field of analysis would be?
    – DerekG
    Feb 16, 2022 at 19:55
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Look into Switzerland, one of the most prosperous nations. Who made them great?

  • Huguenots, French Protestants who fled religious persecution, brought for them high end watchmaking.

  • Mountain skiing, the now iconic recreational resource bringing good money, came from England.

  • Many foreign bankers contributed to the development of the Swiss banking system. Which was so "multicultural" that both Hitler and Stalin could keep the money here at the same time. With bank secrets obviously strictly preserved.

  • Italian workers dig out most of they sophisticated railway tunnels, good and in use up till today.

  • Skilled workers from Germany, contributed a lot to the development of Switzerland's textile industry.

  • Most of the professors in leading science institutions like ETH Zurich are foreigners, and many do not speak any official state language (of which they have as many as four). No problem, they just use English for teaching. So far, 22 Nobel Prizes have been awarded.

From the other side, no oil or any other serious resources. No colonies, no slaves from Africa in the past. No even sea access. Even land is bad, mostly mountains. Here could be simply another Haiti with enough explanation for that and no surprise. Was the openess a contributing factor to make them great? I think, likely.

Now look into United States. They also do not really look like a nation, they are the mix of cultures from all ends of the world brought since the times of the Wild West. Does it makes them weak? Looks, the opposite.

Soviet Union? Not everyone likes it, but forcibly or not it also was a diverse multinational country. There are many things Russia cannot longer do as well when now alone. Hell, they would need Ukraine in the company to build they nuclear rocket "Satan" again.

Europe Union? No comments are likely needed on diversity of this structure. Is it successful? Well, many want to come and settle there for some reason.

There are some highly monolithic cultures that are also successful, but I think less by numbers. Japan is probably the only one I could definitely name. Maybe some European countries but mind that "UK", for instance, is actually England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland so not very sure.

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  • Note that all of the listed peoples are from "white" countries, so it doesn't really count as "multiculturalism" in the modern sense of the word.
    – nick012000
    Jan 17 at 12:00
  • And Jazz, and basketball? Black have brought they part into some cultures as well.
    – Stančikas
    Jan 18 at 8:33
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In Pavić's Dictionary of the Khazars, there's a chapter on the regime of Khazar state (a proxy for Yugoslavia, a fairly multicultural state). It explains that the Khagan (the monarch) is afraid that people of his own nation may challenge his authority, so he takes precaution through the elaborate system which transfers power to religious and national minorities while refusing it to "regular" khazars.

It is a piece of fiction, but one worth considering. The people in power may have sufficient distrust (or contempt) of their nation that they prefer to dilute it with other identities' groups.

I'm not confident this is the sole reason or even a widespread phenomenon, but here it goes.

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One interpretation would be that multiculturalism essentially just happens (or the cost of stopping it is prohibitively high) and if as a politician you believe you can't do anything about it, it is much better to claim that it is a benefit than claiming that it is primarily negative. Note that this doesn't require a careful tallying of advantages and drawbacks, you just focus on the positives because it is the better political strategy.

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  • I agree. However, that is in case one is a politician and is facing the reality of the situation. How about encouraging it in homogeneous societies?
    – SkyAbove
    Feb 16, 2022 at 18:58
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Just some ideas from the top of my head

  • Some people are not that into their national cuisine, so they might like having restaurants available with cuisines from other cultures.

  • Some people might have a sexual preference for a partner with a different etnicity than their own.

  • People with roots in other countries might (still) have valuable business-contacts there. These business-contacts might ultimately benefit the country as well.

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    Points #1 & #2 are not benefits for countries, but for certain individual. #3 seems to confuse multiculturalism with immigration.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 16, 2022 at 21:25
  • Most answers talk about immigration than multiculturalism, makes you wonder if the latter is just a proxy for the former.
    – alamar
    Feb 16, 2022 at 23:49
  • Point #1 is plain wrong. You do not have to import Japanese to have sushi shops abundant, and you would not likely afford to import much Japanese in the first place.
    – alamar
    Dec 28, 2023 at 20:18

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