Australia and Multicultural America?

One dominant theme on the Australian right is monoculturalism, the insistence there must be unifying set of national values, much is made of Europe’s alleged capitulation to a dread ‘cultural relativism’ (see a typical expression here). Another theme on the Australian right is devotion to the United States, or more accurately to an idealised vision of this nation. Some research by Jack Critin & John Sidoes (from which chart is drawn) compares attitudes to cultural and religious homogeneity across the US and 20 European countries. The two questions are:

1. It is better for a country if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions?

2. It is better for a country if there are a variety of religions among its people.

Relative to Europe, much fewer Americans (slightly over 20%) support cultural or religious homogeneity. European countries record notable higher levels of support for cultural and religious homogeneity. Are there comparable Australian statistics? The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes in 2003 found that 71% of respondents believed that immigrants should ‘adapt and blend into the larger society’ but that 74% believed that ‘immigrants had made Australians open to new ideas and cultures’. Maybe Australia would be intermediate between Europe & the US?

5 thoughts on “Australia and Multicultural America?

  1. Lucy says:

    The International Migration Review published an interesting article in 2007 about comparative attitudes to immigration in a number of different countries. It didn’t directly address the question of “values”, but it did show that Australia and Canada were closely aligned on questions of immigration in general, and were considerably more liberal than other countries surveyed (Germany, Japan, Britain, United States, France). That is, they were more likely to believe that immigrants made the country more open and were good for the economy, more likely to think the number of immigrants should be increased, less likely to think they caused an uptick in crime, etc.

    So as far as those results can be extrapolated to the present question, it seems that Australia is relatively open. (Canada, too.) I don’t know exactly how far they can be generalised, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a correlation between approving of immigration on one hand and of cultural heterogeneity on the other. To put it crudely, if you think a Mexican is going to take your job, you are less inclined to be grateful for the burritos, and likewise if you are suspicious about Muslims, you are less likely to notice if Pakistani immigrants have helped drive productivity gains. (Or whatever.) Empirically speaking, the results of this latest study about values reflect those of the earlier one about immigration generally, in that the US was generally significantly more approving of immigration than Britain, France and Germany, and also less likely to demand cultural homogeneity.

    Anecdotally, Australia seems to have hosted more nativist, anti-multicultural claptrap than either North American country in recent times, but it’s seeming more likely that it was sort of circumstantial – a certain element of anti-multicultural thinking that, for various reasons, became politically prominent here in a way it did not in North America. Witness how quickly so many of Howard’s pet cultural signifiers have disappeared from mainstream politics, how rapidly his government’s vision of a homogenous, white-picket Australia seems rooted not just in the past, but in the distant past. The pro-homogenous element is there in Australia to exploit, but I don’t think it’s nearly as pronounced as it is in Europe.

  2. Jim Belshaw says:

    Very interesting, Geoff. As I remember previous cross-cultural studies, on the collective-individual measure, Australia also sits between the US and Europe.

  3. nimh says:

    Thanks for the pointer here on The Monkey Cage site!

  4. [...] America based on a shared history of vulnerability. It sheds light on the evidence reported in my previous post on high levels of religious tolerance in the US. Does religious belief encourage tolerance in some [...]

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for responses, will mention Canada in my lecture that touches on this topic.

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