Multiculturalism is an increasingly important concept in today’s societies. The author Charles Taylor dedicates to it a book entitled “Multiculturalism. Difference and Democracy”. Here is a summary of the book.
Summary of the book Multiculturalism by Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor, born in 1931, co-chair of the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences in 2007, has devoted an entire essay to the theme of multiculturalism.
Charles Taylor begins with the observation that political movements are based on the need for human recognition.
According to Charles Taylor, recognition and identity are linked.
The discourse of recognition has been made familiar to men in two ways:
1) In the private sphere. In the private sphere, identity and self are constituted through dialogue, through interactions with others who matter to us.
2) In the public sphere. The egalitarian recognition as the history of the society has taken an increasingly important role.
I. Two policies to deal with multiculturalism
A. Two policies based on the same principle: equal respect.
In this second case of the public sphere, studied by Charles Taylor, two movements seem to emerge:
1. Today’s society has advocated the value of equality among citizens, an equal dignity among them.
2. On the contrary, the development of the perception of identity has reinforced singularities, has encouraged the difference:“Everyone should be recognized according to their unique identity.”
A politics of difference has thus been established. This politics of difference“denounces all discrimination and rejects second-class citizenship.”
Charles Taylor devoted one of his essays
to the theme of multiculturalism,
the difference in democracy.
—The politics of egalitarian dignity is based on the idea that all human beings are worthy of respect. For Immanuel Kant, one of the first to define this dignity, men were worthy by virtue of their rationality and their ability to direct their lives according to principles.
It is this idea that has been retained, and that is the basis of the current vision of egalitarian dignity: since every man has a “universal human potential every man has a”, every man deserves respect.
—The politics of difference has in part the same foundations. The universal potential then serves to form and“define one’s own identity as an individual and as a culture”.
B. Contradiction between the two policies
These two policies, both based on the same principle of equal respect, are in contradiction.
The first policy implies that everyone should be treated” blind to differences.
The second policy implies“recognizing and even promoting particularity.
The first policy criticizes the second for “violate the principle of non-discrimination”.
The second policy criticizes the first for“denying identity by imposing a homogeneous mold on people that are not suited to them.
The politics of equal dignity was mainly carried by the ideas of two authors: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the one hand, and Immanuel Kant on the other.
II. Do all cultures have the same value?
A. Increasingly multicultural societies
Charles Taylor notes that today’s societies are becoming more and more multicultural. They “turn to multiculturalism”.
Charles Taylor’s thesis is that liberalism is not totally neutral with regard to culture. Indeed, according to him,“liberalism cannot and should not claim complete cultural neutrality”.
However, a paradox emerges: although societies are increasingly multicultural, they are at the same time increasingly permeable, i.e. they are more open to multinational migrations.
This is not in fact a contradiction, but these two trends go together. The only difficulty lies in the fact that some people are at the same time citizens of the country, and also belong to the same culture that questions the “philosophical territory” of this same country.
Thus, the current debate is about the superiority of one culture over another.
Historically, Western societies are criticized for having tried to impose a culture during the colonial period. But also for their current policy of sidelining cultural minorities, which appears as contempt.
The question asked is no longer only: is it good, is it legitimate, to let other cultures survive? The issue at stake in today’s society is now greater: to recognize“the equal value of different cultures”. It is indeed a question of contributing to the survival of cultures: not only to let other cultures survive, but also to recognize their merit.
This requirement to recognize cultures, which was implicit before, has become explicit in today’s societies. Spreading the idea that we are formed by recognition has indeed allowed this requirement to recognize the merit of other cultures to become explicit.
This reasoning implies that we owe equal respect to all cultures. Charles Taylor then argues that this presumption is partly true, but that “it is by no means free of difficulties and involves a kind of leap of faith.
In fact, according to him, any culture can teach humanity, even if cultures can go through phases of decadence. This is not to say that all art forms in a culture are of equal value. But at least” all human cultures that have animated entire societies for sometimes considerable periods of time have something important to say to all human beings. “
It is this thought that should animate man when he studies any other culture.
Charles Taylor, Le multiculturalisme,
Flammarion, October 21, 2009
B. All cultures are not necessarily of equal value
On the other hand, what Charles Taylor rejects is an obligation to conclude, no matter what, that one culture is of equal or greater value than another. For him, this approach would not be ethical, because this judgment would be independent of the will, it would have been made a priori, without being able to modify it after study. One cannot demand to consider that all cultures are equal.
The first consequence is to depart to some extent from what Charles Taylor calls the” subjectivists the first consequence is to move away to some extent from what Charles Taylor calls the “theories”, derived from Friedrich Nietzsche, Foucault, or Derrida, which state that any value judgment is not a free choice of man, but that it is imposed by power structures.
The second consequence is the necessity not to judge only with our old, clean and familiar criteria, but with new criteria that appear only after studying different cultures. In fact, the analysis of new cultures transforms our own criteria of consideration, which allows us toecaps from ethnocentrism (the fact of being centered on considerations specific only to our ethnic group).
The third consequence is the refusal of a favorable judgment a priority third consequence is the refusal of a favorable judgment, before anything else. That is to say, one should not think that another form of culture is necessarily, necessarily good or better. Otherwise, it would be a double fault: first, because such a demand would be “homogenizing”. Secondly, because one cannot judge only with one’s own original criteria, it would be to fall into the ethnocentrism already mentioned.
Thus,“in this form, the demand for equal recognition is unacceptable.”
In conclusion of this summary on multiculturalism
Man thus uses presumption to study other cultures. This presumption requires an openness to different cultures, in order to be able to modify his criteria of judgment:“what the presumption requires of us is not to peremptorily and in authentically decide on equality of value; but to be open to comparative cultural study, to shift our horizons to new mixtures.”
Finally, Charles Taylor allows himself to conclude his essay with a demand. It is a reminder of a man’s humility; man has not yet reached the point where he will be able to judge perfectly and obviously the value of cultures:“we are very far from that ultimate horizon from the top of which the relative value of different cultures might be obvious.”
You will be interested to read the various comments that Susan Wolf, Steven Rockefeller, or Michael Walzer has written in reaction to this essay.
→ In 2014, the Sciences Po competition focused on best articles on culture to read here!