Multiculturalism, political culture and secularism

(This note is the translation in English of a previous one, written in French, which is to be published in a reduced form by the Valdai Club).

The question of « multiculturalism » is now being asked forcefully. The term has indeed different meanings in different national contexts[1]. About fifteen years the polemic is raged In France. The concept of « political culture » is central here. It involves a relationship to institutions, rules (explicit and implicit) of political debates, to history of these institutions and rules that are common so that it could be possible to construct a real space for debate. Without this shared political culture a society has the risk of civil war, what Hobbes called « war of all against all[2]. »

Diversity of people

A « people » is not an ethnic, cultural or religious notion, but a political community of concerned individuals, which take their future in hand around a representation of their future. This « people » is a people « for himself », which is constructed into the action and not as a people « on his own « [3]. It is therefore necessary to overcome the idea of a people formed on ethnic, cultural, or any other community of believers. Regional cultures were different in France, and sustained until the late nineteenth century by languages and regional dialects, which coexisted within the French. Between Brittany, Provence and Picardy existed significant differences in culture. Yet there was a common political culture that, beyond the differences of languages, allowed the emergence of a common idea of the future.

The opposition between supporters of an essentially subjective vision of ethnicity and supporters of a vision called « objective » is well known[4]. These are however not the « objective » facts that lead to the formation of a Race or a people but political principles as demonstrated by great anthropologist, Maurice Godelier[5]. The distinction between what is called a “tribe” and « ethnicity » is essential if we are to understand how to represent the people. The premium is the process of generation and production of social and political rules. Social life is in fact a prior reality to the construction of ethnicity. Newcomers can be political culture carriers, which are very different from that which predominates in community, in which they wish to aggregate. The integration is then a process of assimilation of rules and customs, which is partly conscious but is also partly unconscious. But for this unconscious mechanism could be put in place, it is still necessary that there be a referent. The loss or deletion of the latter on behalf of a speech of « multiculturalism », which actually means that tolerance to very different practices, so is a serious obstacle to integration. In fact, as for exchange must establish objects which does not exchange, to integrate and reach a principle of tolerance of individuals must set very clear boundaries, the points on which it is not question of compromising.

The conditions of integration

Meanwhile, to put this unconscious mechanism in place there must be a referent. The loss or deletion of the latter on behalf of a discourse of « multiculturalism », which actually means tolerance to very different practices, is a serious obstacle to integration. We end up with several observations. Cultural diversity is a fact, prior to large populations of migratory waves that we have is today. There is a « multiculturalism » of fact. It is neither good nor bad. Call it « multiculturalisme de constat” or a “de facto multiculturalism”. But « multiculturalism » can’t be a reference to a social organization and therefore can’t exist as ideology because it condemns the constitution of « people for himself. » It can exist only as recognition of the diversity of cultural references. The need to share a common political and social culture for political action refers to this dual process, which is cited in the construction of the « people » and of the « Nation ». The form of mediation is essential for the emergence of the « common things » that allow political action to manifest and to « the people for themselves » to build. These « common things » are what is called Res Publicae of which comes from the term Republic[6].

The « multiculturalisme de constat  » is not the acknowledgment of ethnic or religious community as the stepping-stone for a society. It implies that either is admitted by all the fundamental distinction between private and public spheres, between values (which belong to privacy and intimacy) and principles (within the public sphere), which are organizational rules. This distinction has a name: it is called secularism[7].

Multiculturalism and secularism

Secularism is an organizing principle of the political field and not an individual value. The principle of secularism is derived from the sovereignty. Secularism is not an extra something to the Republic: it is the glue of the Republic. To understand the importance of the concept of secularism, but also to understand what founds, we must return to the centrality of political ties. The importance of policy is revealed by a term highlighted by Maurice Godelier: the tribe. There is an extremely important track. If we do not return to the situation described Marx, individuals no more links potatoes in a bag, after passing through various intermediate stages, is that there is one thing that continues to unite. This thing is the state or the political organization of society. Men basically are political animals, but animals that have socialized in contact with their own fellows[8]. To say that is to recognize that men seen as isolated individuals are to be returned to their most brutal animality. This implies that the forms taken by the social organization are important. This means that the rules contributing to this social organization, are important[9].

In a society made of diverse members, where heterogeneity predominates, we must build (not prescribed) a form of political homogeneity if we want this society to function, debate, create institutions through conflicts[10], and thus exist. It is this political homogeneity built, it is appropriate to name the « political culture ». It is this fact, which will allow the convergence of expectations required for the implementation of joint projects. The debates on the definition of the commons, and the implementation of joint projects must be completed within a political space were cleared religious ideas, because these are not the domain of reason but that of the faith. From this stems the need for secularism

Secularism is not tolerance. Tolerance is an individual value and secularism a principle of political organization. Secularism is characterized both by the principle of separation between the public sphere and the private sphere and the principles of inclusion.

Social and cultural heterogeneity ex ante thus sets the objective of building an ex-post political homogeneity, and conflicting interests in companies crossings. We must understand democracy while not as the sum of pre-existing freedoms to society development or simply as a framework for the expression of political, religious or commercial. The concrete democratic systems in action are actually sets of procedures:

  • The release of convergences in the representations and convergence between these representations and reality, through nested systems of controversial areas.
  • The legitimation of rules and sanctions systems that enable these areas to function.

Note that, in the process of building a homogeneous space was then changed dimension. The link between social (and economic) policy and is thus permanent. This brings out the principles and rules that can be used to base the « political culture ». These principles and rules both define and trace the border for what has been called above « multiculturalisme de constat” or a “de facto multiculturalism”. The different cultures that may exist at any given time on a given territory can not be accepted in their public expression to the extent that they recognize the primacy of these principles and to the rule.

We must therefore return to the question of what is called the « political culture ». The principles mentioned above may only apply to cultures recognizing the primacy of these so-called principles. If one is faced with a culture or an ideology that rejects these principles (in whole or partly), an inclusion is not possible. The existence of civil peace (which is not the extinction of conflict but limiting the level of conflictuality) is possible only through the acknowledgment of these principles, no matter in what form they will take, and their implementation be it through threats, and public violence. The existence of a people conceived as a political community implies convergence around a common political culture. These rules of inclusion imply what is respected in the distinction between private and public spheres, and there should be agreement on the basic principles. It condemns the existence of « multiculturalism as a project » that would hardly lead to coexistence in the same space of too different political cultures. The possibility of existence of these rules of inclusion implies that we also think about the possibility of the radical separation with the public expression of cultures that do not respect these principles.

[1] On comparera Bissoondath N., Le marché aux illusions. La méprise du multiculturalisme, Montréal, Boréal, 1995 et Taylor C. Multiculturalisme, différence et démocratie, Paris, Aubier, 1992.

[2] Hobbes T., Leviathan, introduction, traduction du texte anglais et notes par F. Tricaud, Paris, Sirey, 1971 et traduction du texte latin (1658) par François Tricaud (achevée par de M. Pécharman) Tome VI-2 des Œuvres de Hobbes aux éditions Vrin, 560 p.

[3] Lukacs G., Histoire et conscience de classe. Essais de dialectique marxiste. Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1960, 383 pages. Collection « Arguments »

[4] Simard J-J., « Autour de l’idée de nation. Appropriation symbolique, appropriation matérielle », in Nation, souveraineté et droits, Actes du IVe Colloque Interdisciplinaire de la Société de philosophie du Québec, Bellarmin, Montréal, 1980.

[5] Godelier M., « Ethnie-tribu-nation chez les Baruya de Nouvelle-Guinée», in Journal de la Société des océanistes, N°81, Tome 41, 1985. pp. 159-168. Idem, La production des grands hommes : pouvoir et domination masculine chez les Baruya de Nouvelle-Guinée, Paris, Fayard, 1982.

[6] Bodin J., Les Six Livres de la République, (1575), Librairie générale française, Paris, Le livre de poche, LP17, n° 4619. Classiques de la philosophie, 1993

[7] Bodin J., Colloque entre sept sçavants qui sont de différents sentiments des secrets cachés des choses relevées, traduction anonyme du Colloquium Heptaplomeres de Jean Bodin, texte présenté et établi par François Berriot, avec la collaboration de K. Davies, J. Larmat et J. Roger, Genève, Droz, 1984, LXVIII-591, désormais Heptaplomeres.

[8] De Wall, F. Le Singe en nous, Editions Fayard, Paris, 2006.

[9] Spinoza B., Traité Theologico-Politique, traduction de P-F. Moreau et F. Lagrée, PUF, Paris, coll. Epithémée, 1999, XVI, 7

[10] A. Bentley, The Process of Government (1908), Evanston, Principia Press,1949 and François Guizot, Histoire de la civilisation en Europe, rééd. du texte de 1828, Paris, Hachette, coll. « Pluriel », 1985.


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s’est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

Vous aimerez aussi...

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *