Antonio LÓPEZ and Javier PRADES, eds. Retrieving Origins and the Claim of Multiculturalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. pp. 208. $29.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-6990-6. Reviewed by Joseph S. FLIPPER, Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY 40205
Western societies claim to constitute themselves as multicultural, that is, generative of a public sphere open to pluralism of culture, ethnicity, race, language, worldview, and religion. An assumption is made that societies that grant a significant place to individual rights naturally generate multiculturalism. But profound problems associated with migration and social integration in places like Britain, France, and Italy raise questions about whether liberal societies can create social unity and maintain diversity. Retrieving Origins and the Claim of Multiculturalism addresses whether multiculturalism is really consistent with the principles of liberal societies in Europe and North America.
Years ago David L. Schindler raised a similar question. He argued that the liberal tradition of political thought (the U.S. Constitution as a product of that tradition) is not ideologically neutral. Liberal societies claim to create an ideologically-neutral public square. Schindler claimed that the modern liberal state conceals a preference for a certain view of freedom and the human person beneath its claim to ideologically-neutral procedures. Schindler’s intuition is of critical importance today, where many people experience life in the west as the imposition of a certain view of the world.
The premise of the book is that the unity of society is not preserved by a false claim of neutrality to all views of the world, but by recognizing the truth implicit in our relationships in the world. The authors suggest that despite a diversity of worldviews held by contemporary citizens, metaphysics and anthropology still have a place in ordering a pluralistic society. This does not imply, however, that this metaphysics and anthropology must derive from a comprehensive viewpoint imposed upon the minority. They gesture to what Joseph Ratzinger called “polyphonic relatedness,” that is, analogous understandings of humanity that emerge among pluralistic ethical worldviews. Implied is a common intuition into human nature.
Retrieving Origins is divided into three sections according to discipline. The volume begins with the field of philosophy in Part I, “Perceiving Otherness, Understanding Difference.” Essays by Francesco Botturi, Carmine Di Martino, Pierpaolo Donati, Constantino Esposito, and Antonio López challenge the cultural relativist models we have for multiculturalism. Questioning models of culture as a distinct whole, these essays examine the ways that that cultural identity is relational rather than “clearly circumscribable.” Cultural relativism’s weakness is in a conception of “incommensurable” differences between cultures that generates no positive rationale for dialogue or social unity. Echoing the work of Jürgen Habermas, these essays place dialogue and discovery of otherness at the heart of a new multiculturalism.
The philosophical challenges of multiculturalism are brought to bear on the field of law in Part II, “Ordering Social Life.” Essays by Marta Cartabia, Lorenza Violini, and Joseph H. H. Weiler engage the field of law. International law, particularly the area of human rights, which have a potentially universal scope, is challenged by philosophies of multiculturalism that emphasize cultural particularity. Rather than refusing an account of the human good, these essays point to grounding law and social regulation in an ongoing dialogue concerning about human dignity, a dialogue that can cross cultures and religious traditions.
Part III, “Recognition of God as the Ultimate Ground,” turns to theology. Essays by Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández, Massimo Borghesi, Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, Javier Prades, and David L. Schindler address the central problem of forging societal unity in the face of differences of worldview. These authors seek to move beyond a Eurocentric universalism and a multiculturalist relativism by expressing a distinctly Christian vision of interculturality and “organic pluralism.” They suggest that Christianity provides models for the flourishing of diversity within a social unity.This is a valuable volume in which the authors seek a dialogical rather than atomistic multiculturalism. It may be surprising that the only contributors to this volume come from Western Europe and the United States. The questions being raised by these scholars are similar to the questions being raised in non-North Atlantic contexts and by non-Christians. Certainly these conversations must be joined, since the legacy of modern European universalism concerns everyone. This weakness of Retrieving Origins is also its strength: the volume does not claim to speak for all or embrace a universalist perspective of modernity, but rather the authors struggle with the complexities of contemporary experience from a particular social location and religious tradition.