In a book accessible to scholars and non-specialists alike Paolo Gomarasca, a researcher in Moral Philosophy at Milan’s Università Cattolica, looks at the potential of métissage (a notion worthy of reflection according to Cardinal Scola) as the productive intermixing of individuals and cultures.
In a well-known argument by Foucault, the West has been trying to violently incorporate and assimilate others at least since the conquest of the New World. In looking at the Foucauldian perspective Gomarasca reflects upon the notion of métissage and the ethno-anthropological sciences that celebrate the mixing of differences and identities from a relativistic point of view. In doing so he ultimately decouples the notion of métissage from the highly charged debate over colonialism and anti-colonialism to reconnect it to that most important of human need, that of the recognition by others.
As the author correctly points out the West is not inherently assimilationist. Indeed in some cases it can meet the other on equal ground. In fact métissage would not have been possible without the recognition of the humanity, dignity and liberty of Native Americans.
Such a position was promoted by the Catholic Church, which taught that Native Americans were also created in the image and likeness of God, especially following the Provincial Councils of Lima (1583) and Mexico City (1585) where missionaries were urged to learn indigenous languages. By contrast, in North America and South Africa Protestant colonialism was quite different and quite racist.
Inspired in particular by Hegel (but going further than the German philosopher), Gomarasca insists on the notion of recognition. For him human beings have this crucial need to relate to others, to be appreciated and valued by them, in an anthropogenic relationship.
The first and paradigmatic place for this recognition is the family (when it is well adjusted), an environment where relations of love, trust and communion are at home, where each individual can develop his or her identity and sense of self-esteem. Civil society too need not be exclusively utilitarian in nature as the existence of private social associations and agencies capable of solidarity shows.
Furthermore, like Habermas (and Böckenförde before him) Gomarasca rightly argues that the state relies on pre-state resources and repertories of behaviours and is in debt to their holders, above all the family. Given this religions have a public role to play (especially Christianity) in the development of this social capital.
Lastly for Gomarasca diversity can only be promoted if different groups are united by something. Certainly the chaos of fragmentation can only be avoided if they have something in common (and this even when their acculturation is not desired). By analogy identity and differences hang together, a situation that highlights the “ontological affinity” of all human beings, as part of a greater whole.
The outcome of the right kind of métissage is found mainly in the offspring of mixed couples who can bring together their parents’ cultures and act as valuable agents of mediation and translation.
Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter
For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal