Multiculturalism restricts individual freedom. Because it renders characteristics that are ascribed and immutable salient and imposes scripts on individuals in virtue of them, it restricts the freedom of individuals to be “treated as individuals.”
No one is completely free to invent himself. There are countless characteristics we have that are ascribed and immutable, including sex, race and ancestry, height, handedness and sexual orientation. The aim of liberals, for whom individual freedom is of paramount importance, is to minimize the extent to which such unchosen characteristics affect the way in which people’s lives go — the way in which they are perceived and treated, the way in which they are supposed to behave, and the range of options open to them. Multiculturalism, because it promotes the salience of race and ancestry, and scripts ethnic identity, is therefore inconsistent with liberalism.
I must admit that I'm antecedently disposed to agree. But I still found it an eye-opening read, especially Baber's analysis of white privilege as non-salience:
Going native, at least temporarily, has always been an option for privileged white Americans, from anthropologists studying exotic cultures as participant-observers to journalists embedded with native families to report on their doings, and no one ever suggests that those who manage to go native permanently are inauthentic or self-hating. White privilege is the privilege of self-invention. Immigrants and members of ethnic minorities do not have that luxury. Even when they are not locked out of the mainstream by discrimination and economic disadvantage, multiculturalist notions of authenticity, role obligation and group loyalty dog them.
Baber acknowledges the tension between individual liberty and cultural preservation, but comes down firmly in favour of the former. If few informed young adults would wish to remain Amish, too bad for the culture; it's no excuse to stunt their education and deprive them of the choice. (N.B. Baber assumes that only individual preference satisfaction has real value. It would be interesting to consider whether "communitarian" alternatives are defensible. But I guess that would go beyond the book's scope as expounding "the liberal case against diversity.")
It's worth noting here that Baber's case rests on a particular conception of liberalism, according to which "individual freedom in the interests of desire-satisfaction is the supreme value." Alternative forms of liberalism might be grounded on the ideal of political neutrality between comprehensive moral doctrines (making the Amish dilemma rather more difficult!), though Baber appears to dismiss this alongside "namby-pamby relativis[m]". A bit more detail here would have been nice -- but again, a single book can't cover everything.
What this book does cover, it does extremely well. Throughout, Baber reminds us that "there is no guarantee of a pre-established harmony between individuals’ interests and aspirations and cultural expectations." It seems obvious, once she puts it like that, but the point is too often neglected in multiculturalist discourse. Whenever people make claims about "what the _____ community want", it's worth bearing in mind that there will inevitably be internal dissent. All we've really been told is what the cultural elite want. And if that involves oppressing sub-cultures and unheard individuals, we should surely think twice before "respecting" those preferences.
A final point worth highlighting: drawing on Richard Thompson Ford, Baber identifies a contradiction at the core of common appeals to 'group rights', i.e. when a person claims special exemption from the usual rules in virtue of her group identity (and not just individual liberty more generally):
On the one hand their supporters made out that their behavior was harmless: a matter of self-expression that had no significant consequences for anyone else. On the other hand supporters claimed that it was specially protected on cultural or religious grounds--in which case it was not a mere matter of self-expression that had no significant consequences for anyone else but had import for other [group members].
By granting a special exemption for Muslim schoolgirls to wear headscarves, we affirm that this is part of what it is to be Muslim. It is a slap in the face to other Muslim women who contest those norms, and who would not accept this as an accurate characterization of their (desired) culture. As Baber quotes Ford, to grant such group rights "would be an intervention in the long-standing debate among [group members] about empowerment strategies and norms of identity and identification... A right to group difference may be experienced as meddlesome at best and oppressive at worst even by some members of the group that the rights regime ostensibly benefits."
But enough for one blog post -- do read the whole thing. (And drop a comment with your thoughts!)