In his latest book Jews, Confucians and Protestants: Cultural Capital and the End of Multiculturalism, Lawrence E. Harrison, a senior research fellow and adjunct lecturer at Tufts University, presents an unorthodox investigation into what constitutes a universal progress culture. He does this by examining cultures through the lens of a set of values that include a focus on education, achievement, merit, frugality and ethical behavior.
It is his belief that these goals are facilitated mostly through the beliefs and attitudes inherent in Jewish, Confucian and Protestant cultures.
“At the heart of this I pose a fundamental question: does the culture encourage the belief that people can influence their destinies?” he said in a telephone interview. “The most important aspect of religion, I believe, is that extent to which the faithful can believe that they have control over their own lives. It’s the extent to which their religion gives them agency, the extent to which their culture gives them agency.”
In his book, Mr. Harrison also takes aim at multiculturalism itself, saying that it “rests on a frail foundation.” Mr. Harrison evokes the goals of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to make his point. “But what if the objective is to assess the extent to which a culture facilitates progress towards democratic governance, social justice, and an end to poverty,” he writes.
Mr. Harrison structures his book by creating a foundation for his argument and then examining numerous cultures by way of many different factors. The book travels widely, from the Ten Commandments to the Reformation, from Islam to Mormonism and from the Basques to the Sikhs. Throughout, the author attempts to analyze each culture’s effectiveness by how it addresses human rights and social, economic and political achievement.
The result is a comprehensive and controversial book, guaranteed to make readers sit up and take notice, agreeing or disagreeing to the full extent of their varied and individual voices.