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Being in the WorldDialogue and Cosmopolis$

Fred Dallmayr

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780813141916

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813141916.001.0001

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(p.195) Appendix A Beyond Multiculturalism?

(p.195) Appendix A Beyond Multiculturalism?

For Bhikhu Parekh

Being in the World
University Press of Kentucky

One of the delights of intellectual life is to pay tribute to teachers, mentors, and friends who have had a formative influence on one’s own maturation. For me, Bhikhu Parekh has been such a mentor and longtime friend. We come from different backgrounds: I from a Continental European background modulated by North American experiences; he from an Indian background modulated by British experiences. But at one point our paths crossed—in ways that became decisive for my development. It happened in 1984. Bhikhu at that time was vice-chancellor at the University of Baroda and, in this capacity, organized a conference assembling a great number of political theorists from both India and the West. The meeting was a “eureka” event for me. I suddenly discovered, in a stark and dramatic way, my Eurocentric parochialism, evident in my utter ignorance of Indian culture and intellectual traditions. Thus, in organizing the meeting, Bhikhu opened a new world for me and set me on the path of cross-cultural and cosmopolitan inquiry. Both then and on later occasions, he also alerted me to the importance of Mahatma Gandhi for contemporary politics and political thinking. In this respect, too, my life was channeled in a new and fruitful direction.

In subsequent decades, I followed Parekh’s writings and activities with a keen interest. I noticed that he was not only a theorist but managed to combine theory and practice. To give just some examples: he served as acting chair of the Commission for Racial Equality in the United Kingdom and as chair of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Thus, when in 2000 his book Rethinking Multiculturalism: (p.196) Cultural Diversity and Political Theory was published, I knew that it was not just another academic treatise on the topic, but a work sustained by vast erudition and concrete multicultural experiences. I wrote an extensive review of the book under the title “Multiculturalism and the Good Life” (which first appeared in 2003).1 In my review, I highlighted a number of aspects that still seem to me salient today. One aspect has to do with the distinction between a purely empirical or descriptive and a normative or evaluative approach to the topic. While the former simply acknowledges the factual existence of cultural diversity without evaluative engagement, the second perspective involves (in Parekh’s words) a “normative response” to such diversity, that is, the manner and character of the evaluative assessment of multiculturalism. Another, closely related aspect concerns the angle from which evaluative assessments are undertaken. Here Parekh adopted a sensible position between universalism and particularism (or relativism), by arguing that cultural diversity can be understood neither from an abstract “view from nowhere,” treating all cultures as the same, nor from the angle of incommensurability and cultural self-enclosure. This insight led him in the direction of a “dialogical” (or hermeneutical) perspective, which stresses mutual ethical engagement and “the centrality of a dialogue between cultures and ethical norms, principles, and institutional structures.”2

In recent times, the political climate in many Western countries has changed. The relative optimism and openness to cultural diversity that attended the demise of the Cold War has tended to give way to distrust, retrenchment, and “identity politics.” Several factors account for this change. One prominent factor is September 11 and its pervasive impact on all aspects of social and political life. In lieu of the celebration of open borders, September 11 fomented fear of strangers (seen as potential enemies); seemingly endless “terror wars”; and the strengthening of the “national security state,” manifest in steadily tightened surveillance and public control. Closely connected with this factor is the worsening of economic conditions, culminating in the financial meltdown of 2008—a worsening that triggered massive unemployment in many places, which in turn pitted domestic workers against immigrants and migrant workers. An additional factor in some countries was the renewed upsurge of organized religion—a process often producing interreligious and sectarian rivalries (in lieu of interfaith (p.197) understanding). As a result of these and other factors, multiculturalism became increasingly suspect and a target of critique. What had earlier been heralded as promising horizons of democratic equality and cross-cultural symbiosis was tendentially cast in the somber colors of intergroup rivalry, enmity, and distrust.

Actually, at a closer look, some measure of critique had accompanied multiculturalism almost from the start. Already in 1989, at the end of the Cold War, one British writer (Fay Weldon) announced that the “attempt at multiculturalism” was destined to shipwreck—citing as evidence the Salman Rushdie affair and the hostility engendered by The Satanic Verses.3 While initially a minority voice, critical sentiments mushroomed during the following decades, nurtured by some of the cited events as well as by the deepening problems of social integration posed by the massive influx of immigrants from formerly colonial countries into Britain and Continental Europe. After having simmered for some time under the surface of official pronouncements, disaffected voices by 2010–11 became a full-fledged chorus that governments could no longer ignore. By that time, prominent political leaders in Western countries took up the gauntlet and zeroed in on the presumed defects and “failure” of multiculturalism, deriving from its corrosive effects on national and social cohesion. Well-known and attracting much attention in this context were public speeches given by the British prime minister (David Cameron) and the German chancellor (Angela Merkel), in which both laid the blame for social disintegration and disharmony squarely at the doorstep of an earlier multiculturalist euphoria. Not to be outdone, some public intellectuals and political writers jumped into the fray—with some of them decrying the celebration of cultural multiplicity as a stepping stone to national suicide or “self-abolition.”4

In light of this harsh and sometimes vitriolic rhetoric, recent attacks on multiculturalism are clearly deplorable and upsetting. They are also (and especially) upsetting given some of the underlying factors motivating the attacks: the upsurge of xenophobia and of nationalistic types of populism in many countries. Yet, seen from another angle, the impact of the controversy was not without redeeming qualities. Provoked by stinging critiques, defenders of multiculturalism were induced to rethink or reformulate their position—a rethinking prone to transform antagonism into a productive learning experience. (p.198) While not abandoning their basic agenda, many defenders came to see that the multicultural idea was not always well implemented or translated into a viable social practice. A major defect of a naive or shallow multiculturalism—it was found—was the neglect of the stubbornness of human self-interest, a stubbornness that can only be mitigated through sustained education and the fostering of cross-cultural practical engagement. Where this need is neglected, the coexistence of different cultural, ethnic, and religious groups can only lead to fragmentation, “ghettoization,” and possibly conflict. This fact was clearly recognized by social theorist Tariq Modood—a strong champion of the multicultural agenda—when he wrote that “multiculturalism is incomplete and one-sided” without a continual effort at reintegration: “This is an aspect that has been understated [in the past] when the inattentive assumed that multiculturalism is all about emphasizing difference and separation” to the exclusion of community.5

The defects of a naive multiculturalism and the need for public reintegration have been stressed by Modood on repeated occasions, always with the aim of healing the wounds of intergroup nonrecognition or misrecognition. As he pointedly observed in an essay (2006): “When new groups enter a society, there has to be some education and refinement of … sensitivities in the light of changing circumstances and the specific vulnerabilities of new entrants.”6 Subsequently, Modood developed the distinct notion of “political” multiculturalism or of multiculturalism as a “civic idea” focused on shared citizenship and civic virtues. “Strong multicultural identities,” he stated at that point, “are a good thing … but they need the complement of a framework of vibrant, dynamic, national narratives and the ceremonies and rituals which give expression to a shared public identity.”7 This emphasis on a common civic framework—always in the process of redefinition and renegotiation—is not unique to this author but can be found in numerous writings of roughly the same time. The titles of some texts are indicative of this outlook. Thus, Per Mouritsen and Knud Jørgensen published a collection titled Constituting Communities: Political Solutions to Cultural Conflicts, while Anne Phillips authored Multiculturalism without [Shared] Culture. To be sure, the “civic” orientation was not universally endorsed—a fact evident in the title of an edited volume called An Ambiguous Rescue: Multiculturalism and Citizenship; Responses to Tariq Modood.8

(p.199) Concerns about deficiencies of multiculturalism have prompted numerous writers to resort not only to a rethinking but to a rephrasing of the agenda, involving the substitution of “interculturalism” for the older term. Modood—who ultimately rejects the new term—has reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of the innovation. In an essay coauthored with fellow theorist Nasar Meer, he has outlined four main areas in which, according to its supporters, interculturalism differs from, and is superior to, the notion of multiculturalism (in its traditional usage). The first and major area has to do with the greater emphasis placed by the new term on cultural interaction, dialogue, and mutual engagement, as contrasted with the mere coexistence and juxtaposition of multiple unrelated groups. The second aspect, closely related to the first, involves a different conception of pluralism, in the sense that a more integrated or “integral” pluralism is preferred to an atomistic plurality of ghettoes. In the words of one of its defenders, an implication of interculturalism is that “culture is acting in a multidirectional [or cross-fertilizing] manner.” The third feature, following from the second, is the greater accent on holistic integration, that is, the concern with social cohesion and harmony. To cite again one supporter: “While multiculturalism boils down to celebrating difference, interculturalism is about understanding each other’s cultures, sharing them and finding common ground on which people can become more integrated.” The final aspect has to do with a certain moral or ethical orientation of interculturalism that enables it to expose and criticize oppressive or demeaning cultural practices. As one supporter has noted, devoid of ethical standards, multiculturalism “may end up giving public recognition to groups which endorse fundamentally illiberal and even irrational goals.”9

As it seems to me, the intervention of “interculturalism” was salutary and welcome to the extent that it exposed certain shortcomings of a simplistic multiculturalism. But of course, not all formulations of that perspective have been shortsighted or simplistic; some of them— most prominently the formulation of Bhikhu Parekh—have explicitly acknowledged the need for interaction, mutual learning, and engagement, and thus also the ethical quality of multiculturality properly conceived. As we read in Parekh’s famous text, cultures cannot be encapsulated against each other; for: “However rich it may be, no culture embodies all that is valuable in human life and develops the (p.200) full range of human possibilities. Different cultures thus correct and complement each other, expanding each other’s horizon of thought.”10 Thus, once the remonstrations of interculturalism are duly noted and incorporated, the older vocabulary may still be usable as a “polysemic” concept. This dual aspect is properly endorsed by Meer and Modood in their reflections on terminology. One the one hand, they note, older formulations have often tended to ignore “how central notions of dialogue and communication are to multiculturalism.” On the other hand, however, they find it possible to rescue the term, stating: “While advocates of interculturalism wish to emphasize its positive qualities in terms of encouraging communication, recognizing dynamic identities, promoting unity, and challenging illiberality, each of these qualities already feature in (and are on occasion foundational to) multiculturalism too.”11

Enriched by intercultural insights and emendations, multiculturalism—in my view—continues to be a valuable perspective today, by serving as an antidote to xenophobia and populist identity politics. In addition, the perspective also addresses long-standing dilemmas besetting Western liberalism and liberal democracy, especially the dilemmas resulting from a rigid public-private bifurcation and the banishment of cultural as well as religious commitments into the netherworld of idiosyncratic beliefs. This banishment had been denounced already by Parekh when he wrote, with specific reference to the American “wall of separation”: “Part of the reason why religion arouses strong passions in the United States has perhaps to do with the fact that it is not taught in schools as an academic subject. Religious citizens pick up their religion from sectarian churches, and the non-religious, having never been systematically exposed to it, find it alienating and frightening.” This observation is corroborated and reinforced in some of Charles Taylor’s writings, especially his comment that public discussion about cultural and religious issues is “essential to a healthy society under diversity” and “both a sign and support of real mutual respect among people of different fundamental commitments.” By contrast, “the kind of pale ‘ecumenicism’ where each feels constrained [or inhibited] from speaking about the other’s views is actually a way of preserving, under the mothballs of respectful silence, all the old misconceptions, prejudices, and contempt.”12

Provided it does not shrink into shallow relativism, multiculturalism (p.201) has always supported the need for cross-cultural and interfaith discussion and hence opposed the chimera of public “neutrality”—all the while keeping its distance from cultural or religious autocracy or domination. In recent times, this balanced multicultural outlook has been ably reaffirmed by a number of writers, always with an edge against both antiseptic indifference and monological dogmatism or oppression. Thus, Canadian philosopher Sonia Sikka picks up the Parekh-Taylor line by arguing that “the principled exclusion of religious views from public debate, as a result of the commitment to neutrality, ironically gives an unwarranted power and legitimacy to religious positions that cannot withstand critical scrutiny, with negative consequences for both religion and politics.” As Sikka acknowledges, a pale or relativistic multiculturalism has sometimes converged with a neutralizing liberalism by purging the public sphere of vigorous cross-cultural and interfaith discussion. What she proposes as a remedy for this collusion is, first of all, a “lifting of the gag order” on religious and cultural speech on the level of civil society and, second, the inclusion of education about religious and cultural traditions in all publicly funded schools and colleges. As she writes, the treatment of religious and cultural commitments as a matter of either private belief or self-enclosed identity “may serve, in practice, to undermine the better possibilities in this regard, while encouraging the worse.”13

To reiterate a point: the deprivatization of religious and cultural attachments does not sanction their “politicization” in the sense of their imposition through governmental fiat (which would run afoul of constitutional “antiestablishment” provisions in many countries). As Sikka prudently observes: “It does not follow from my argument that substantive debate about religious views should occur on all public levels; there are good reasons for preserving liberal and multicultural constraints within governmental institutions.”14 Wedged between private belief and state authority, multiculturalism properly conceived thus occupies a place in civil society that Hannah Arendt has called the “public realm” (and others the “public sphere”). In his 2000 text, Parekh made the bold proposal for the creation of a “public forum” where issues arising from religious, cultural, and ethnic differences would be discussed and negotiated. In Parekh’s words, the common good in a multicultural society is “generated not by transcending cultural and other particularities, but through their interplay in the cut (p.202) and thrust of dialogue”—where dialogue is not restricted to the cognitive level but descends into the depths of emotions, suffering, and hope. Such an engagement forms the heart of “dialogical democracy” (which, on the global level, finds a parallel in “dialogical cosmopolitanism”). Crucial in this engagement, Parekh concludes, is the cultivation of sympathy and trust: “a deepening of mutual understanding between different groups, sensitizing each to the concerns and anxieties of others” which performs a “vital community-building role.”15


(1.) See Bhikhu Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory (London: Macmillan, 2000); Fred Dallmayr, “Multiculturalism and the Good Life: Comments on Bhikhu Parekh,” Good Society 12 (2003): 40–44. The latter review is reprinted in my In Search of the Good Life, 237–45.

(2.) Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 6, 15. Compare also my Dialogue among Civilizations.

(3.) Fay Weldon, Sacred Cows (London: Chatto and Windus, 1989). (p.258) Compare also P. Kelly, ed., Multiculturalism Reconsidered (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2002); and Christian Joppke, “The Retreat of Multiculturalism in the Liberal State,” British Journal of Sociology 55 (2004): 237–257.

(4.) Compare in this context Thilo Sarrazin, Deutschland schafft sich ab: Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen (Munich: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 2010); and Derek McGhee, The End of Multiculturalism? Terror, Integration, and Human Rights (Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2008). In the United States, parallel sentiments can be found in Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to American Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).

(5.) See Tariq Modood, “Multiculturalism and Integration: Struggling with Confusions,” in Defending Multiculturalism: A Guide for the Movement, ed. Hassan Mahamdallie (London: Bookmarks, 2011), 5–18. The paper is also available as part of the “Accept Pluralism” project of the European University Institute (San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy).

(6.) Tariq Modood, “The Liberal Dilemma: Integration or Vilification?” International Migration 44 (1006): 6. See also his Multicultural Politics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005).

(7.) Tariq Modood, “Multiculturalism’s Civic Future: A Response,” Open Democracy (June 2007): 10; see also Modood, Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea (London: Polity, 2007).

(8.) See Nick Pearce, ed., An Ambiguous Rescue: Multiculturalism and Citizenship; Responses to Tariq Modood, http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-europe_Islam/response_modood_4630 (accessed Feb. 10, 2012). See also Per Mouriben and Knud Erik Jørgensen, eds., Constituting Communities: Political Solutions to Cultural Conflict (London: Palgrave, 2008); and Anne Phillips, Multiculturalism without Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). The latter text resonates with German (and European) discussions of Leitkultur; see, e.g., Bassam Tibi, Europa ohne Identität? Die Krise der multikulturellen Gesellschaft (Munich: Bertelsmann, 1998).

(9.) See Nasar Meer and Tariq Modood, “How Does Interculturalism Contrast with Multiculturalism?” Journal of International Studies 32 (2011): 1–22; Leonard M. Hammer, “Foreword,” in Interculturalism: Exploring Central Issues, ed. David Powell and F. Sze (Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press, 2004), 2; Pearce, Ambiguous Rescue, 8; and “It’s All in the Mix,” New Start Magazine, June 7, 2006. Compare also Jagdish S. Gundara, Intercultural-ism, Education, and Inclusion (London: Paul Chapman, 2000); Gundara and Sidney Jacobs, eds., Intercultural Europe: Diversity and Social Policy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000); Beatriz P. Ibañez and Carmen Lopez Saenz, eds., Interculturalism: Between Identity and Diversity (New York: Peter Lang, 2006); and Michael Emerson, ed., Interculturalism: Europe and Its Muslims in Search of Sound Societal Models (Brussels: Center for European Policy Studies, 2011).

(p.259) (10.) Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 167.

(11.) Meer and Modood, “How Does Interculturalism Contrast with Multiculturalism?” 9, 18.

(12.) See Charles Taylor, “Modes of Secularism,” in Secularism and Its Critics, ed. Rajeev Bhargava (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 50–51; Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 332. Compare also Roger Trigg, Religion in Public Life: Must Faith Be Privatized? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Brendan Sweetman, Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006); Nancy Rosenblum, ed., Obligations of Citizenship and Demands of Faith: Religious Accommodation in Pluralist Democracies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); Ronald Thieman, Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1998); and Paul J. Weithman, ed., Religion and Contemporary Liberalism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997).

(13.) Sonia Sikka, “Liberalism, Multiculturalism, and the Case for Public Religion,” Politics and Religion 3 (2010): 580–609, at 582–83, 588, 593; Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 334. For the distinction between a shallow and a “deep” or ethically engaged multiculturalism see also Janice Stein, “Searching for Equality,” in Uneasy Partners: Multiculturalism and Rights in Canada, ed. Janice Stein et al. (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), 19.

(14.) Sikka, “Liberalism, Multiculturalism,” 599. For a critique of the twin dangers of privatization and politicization see also my “Religion and the World.”

(15.) Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 306–9, 341. See also Arendt, Human Condition. 45–53.