close_menu
close-popup
image-popup

Available languages:
close-popup
Paypal
Carta di credito
subscribe
Religion and Society

Has multiculturalism failed?

Angela Merkel’s recent declarations about the failure of multiculturalism have reignited the debate on the management of immigration in European countries. The debate had never in fact been assuaged but was limited to the circuits of those directly involved. The words of the German Chancellor therefore have the merit of bringing the issue back to its proper place, to public attention, if only for the reason that, as Angelo Panebianco highlighted in an article published in the ‘Corriere della Sera’, ‘the question of immigration is now a political problem of first order[…]. It is the big new question that divides, and will divide for a long time, European democracies and will be added to the most traditional divisions on economic questions’. But what has multiculturalism failed in, apart from the specific characteristics of the countries applying it and the inefficacy of the single policies carried out? Paolo Gomarasca attempted to give an answer to this question in his research two years ago, which was promoted by the Fondazione Internazionale Oasis and culminated in the publication of the volume Meticciato: convivenza o confusione? (Marcianum Press, Venice 2009). The author points out that the problem is the fact that ‘multiculturalism promises “reciprocal recognition”, but at the same time renounces a “shared social understanding”’. Its intrinsic limit is, as already outlined by Donati, ‘the lack of relationality among the cultures that it institutionalises’. In order to overcome this aporia, the book questions the possibility of ‘a different political project, at least because it is really receptive to generating solidarity among strangers’ putting the category, descriptive and not prescriptive, of the mixed race to the test, understood ‘as a real process of mixing people and cultures. Since then the stakes have not changed: it is not a question of stopping peoples and cultures from meeting and mixing, but of understanding how to direct this meeting towards a good life.

 

It is for this reason that on the occasion of this international debate, Oasis reproposes an extract from Paolo Gomarasca’s book, a piece of research that events confirm is topical and in keeping with the issues raised now more than ever.

 

 

Michele Brignone

 

 

 

‘What a spectacle! A society infinitely divided into the most varied races, which clash with their petty aversions, guilty conscience and brutal mediocrity, and which because of their reciprocal ambiguous and suspicious position are all treated without distinction, even if with different formalities, as acknowledged existences by their rulers. It is the same as being dominated, governed, possessed, they must recognise it and profess it like a concession from heaven!’ .

 

 

Written in 1843, Marx’s judgement seems to clearly prefigure the ambiguity of today’s multi-cultural policies: on the one hand dominates what Badou defines as the ‘contemporary catechism of good will with respect to the “other cultures”’ ; but, on the other, there exist practices of assimilation of the “different” that are anything but benevolent. How can this be? According to Chambers, the point is that multiculturalism ‘represents the liberal answer that recognises the cultures and identities of others in order to keep itself at the centre, leaving these other cultures in a position of subordination, so avoiding any questioning of one’s own political project’ . This is why multicultural politics theoretically prefigures the peaceful coexistence of differences within democratic society; but, all considered, it is capable of realising - to use Marxist terms – only a society of “acknowledged existences”, that is, tolerated within well-defined limits . And one cannot even say that the liberal project managed to include everyone: ‘to the surprise of the well meaning – critically notes Luhmann – we must affirm that there are some exclusions, which are in fact substantial and entail a form of indigence that escapes any possible description’ .

 

 

What is to be done? The debate on multiculturalism has undoubtedly reached a crossroads: some maintain that it is possible to reformulate it, continuing though in the same theoretical direction. But others, of whom there is a fair number, consider that the moment has come to take other pathways. The question is that quite often these alternatives are even less convincing than the project that they would like to amend. According to Luhmann, it is necessary to go beyond the barbarism of the “monoculture of reason”, that is, to stop assigning ‘an unconditional priority to the unity of reason on the multiplicity and individuality of exterior appearances’ . But even admitted that ‘the barbarians are subscribed to reason’ , is it sufficient to give up a unifying principle to guarantee freedom and respect for all? Undoubtedly, by promoting cultures “at all costs” every repressive and totalitarian tendency is countered by the dominant culture. But this “differentialist” version of multiculturalism does not seem to have a better outcome than the “assimilationist” version: perhaps it is true that, in order to exist, it will not be necessary to have the consensus of whoever holds the power (the “rulers”, as Marx calls them), but the impression is that society remains anyway “infinitely divided”. ‘In modern multi-ethnic societies – explains in fact Turnaturi – a solidarism is produced directed only at one’s own group, and indifference or at the most tolerance, towards the others, actually excluding any kind of communication and exchange among the different groups’ .

 

 

This can be intuited by analysing, for example, Iris Young’s ‘anti-Kantian’ position: ‘The universal citizen – writes the American feminist – is […] white and bourgeois’ . This means that ‘Modern normative reason and its political expression in the idea of the civic public, then, attain unity and coherence through the expulsion and confinement of everything that would threaten to invade the polity with differentiation' . Young’s assumption is thus stated: ‘These social relations are rigidly defined by domination and oppression’ ; it follows that politics is not the scenario for a possible entente, but rather the place of a resistance to the absorbing power of modern rationality. At that point, instead of pursuing the chimera of ‘a mythical “common good”’ , every man would do better to worry about affirming the exclusive value of his own group of interest . Only in this way, according to Young, can emancipation be guaranteed to everyone: ‘ When feminists assert the validity of feminine sensitivity […], when gays describe the prejudice of heterosexuals as homophobic and their own sexuality as positive and self- developing, when Blacks affirm a distinct Afro-American tradition, then the dominant culture must look at itself and discover itself to be specific: Anglo-Saxon, European, Christian, male, conformist. When the clash is transferred to the political level […] it becomes increasingly difficult for the dominant groups to pass their norms as neutral and universal, and to construct the values and behaviour of the oppressed as deviant, perverted, or inferior .

 

 

Undoubtedly, Ms. Young is right in considering that the fact of plurality (ethnic, cultural, ideological…) wrong-foots the idea that there exists only one unifying and therefore homogenous culture. The doubt, perhaps, concerns the possibility of defining the terms of cohabitation starting with a mere daring show of differences. Moreover, it does not go without saying that the simple polemical display of one’s own diversity will guarantee – on its own – the subversion of consolidated structures of cultural domination. This obviously does not mean that such relations of forces, insofar as being hardened, cannot be modified or that, even, the fate of the ‘different’ has already been decided between standardising inclusion on the one hand, and expulsion, on the other.

 

 

As Alexander, one of the most perceptive theoreticians of civil society, so opportunely writes, ‘what counts is not the simple communication of positive self-identities, nor even a pure decision-making activity on difference. It is the construction of the social context within which are put forward the claims for recognition which determine whether the understanding of social differences in the negative (the ‘stereotypisation’, to use a more antiquated term) can be improved or even reversed. […] The factual existence of heterogeneousness or plurality will never produce the type of reciprocal recognition that it seeks. Only if there is a shared social understanding, organised in the complex and interconnected relations of civil life, is it possible to valorise the representation of heterogeneity positively and negatively’ .

 

 

The problem therefore lies herein: multiculturalism promises “reciprocal recognition”, but at the same time gives up a “shared social understanding”. This is like saying that it is not capable of maintaining what it promises. Donati highlights this self-contradiction very well: ‘the intrinsic limit of multiculturalism […] is the lack of relationality among the cultures that it institutionalises’ . This deficit is visible from every point of view: epistemological, moral and political. ‘In the first place – Doanti in fact explains – multiculturalism does not involve any reciprocal learning between cultures, as long as the claim of a more or less irreconcilable cultural pluralism legitimises the pure and simple ex-istence of the “social fact” of difference: in short, it renounces the exchange. Secondly, multiculturalism, in cases where it reduces the public-political sphere to neutrality, both cognitive and moral, towards differences (what is typical of the liberal ideology of laicity, even though with differences between the different versions of liberalism), does not promote any composition among the various expectations that may lead to the construction of a certain amount of common good: in short it renounces the pursuit of a good that is produced and enjoyed together, in which all the multicultural subjects are involved’ . This is the reason why the project of the civil society proposed by Alexander is destined to fail.

 

 

This work can be defined as an attempt to overcome the aporia of multicultural policies, without however giving up the possibility of constructing a “shared social understanding”, if only provisional and revisable . The objective, therefore, is to try and examine the possibility of a different political project, at least because it is really receptive to generating solidarity among strangers . Undoubtedly the relationships between cultures are always defined, at least in part, by the dynamics of power. It is therefore inevitable to take phenomena of oppression into account. And yet, there exists an undeniable phenomenon that questions both the claim to reduce cultures to subordinate “provinces” of a dominant monoculture, and the idea (reactive for the most part) that cultures are only isolated and heterogeneous points of resistance to power. This is the mixed race, understood – in a completely preliminary way – as a real process of mixing people and cultures. The stakes could then become: to understand whether the mixing of races satisfies the requirement of relationality which is instead lacking in the multi-cultural ideology.

Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter

For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal