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What if not all goods are compatible?

It is an abiding conceit of our age that all good ideas go together. Truth and reconciliation, peace and justice, even justice and truth: these are only some of the worthy ambitions for human society that are routinely presented as totally reconcilable. But the stony reality is that it is by no means obvious that they are.

Of course, in societies that are basically in good shape, both psychologically and materially, such moral fables - such wishful thinking, really - rarely do much harm and can often do considerable good. Think of the current multiculturalist fables that we in the West have concocted for ourselves in order to cope with the dilemmas and challenges of mass immigration from the non-European world. In this piece of inspired oversimplification, cultural 'diversity' is invariably seen as a boon rather than a threat.

Yet one does not have to be a follower of Jorg Haider or the late Pim Fortuyn to know that, whatever the gains have been, whether in terms of economic growth or even the widening of cultural experience in the West, much has and is being lost. At the very least, the national cultures of the major Western countries - their deep structures of ideology, taste, and aesthetics - are being changed, as new peoples, with new assumptions, demand that their sense of the world be taken into account.

Sometimes those changes can be for the worse. Think, say, of how in much of Western Europe the only way that new immigrants and their host culture are reconciled is through a culture of consumption and materialism - that is, a culture of the lowest common denominator. Still, it is preferable that this culture of the supermarket prevails, rather than one in which everyone's gods, habits, and beliefs are in perpetual conflict.