Jens-Martin Eriksen and Frederik Stjernfelt’s The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism, now available from Telos Press, explores the fundamental conceptions and political implications of culturalism and multiculturalism. “Multiculturalism” is a term that is used often in mainstream discourse, although its meaning usually goes unquestioned or unchallenged. For Eriksen and Stjernfelt, multiculturalism is either “soft” or “hard.” Soft multiculturalism allows the individual to express his or her cultural identity: it is “a system where the individual can choose to live in whatever way she or he wishes.” Hard multiculturalism, however, describes a community that uses legal and social tools to reproduce and regulate its own values; moreover, “the community may even mobilize its own police force and legal system in order to demand, to some extent or another, the conformity of individuals.”
In Democratic Contradictions, Eriksen and Stjernfelt focus upon the latter kind of multiculturalism. At a recent event at St. Marks Bookshop in Manhattan, the authors elaborated their analysis and arguments from the book, and engaged in a lively and robust Q&A session with the audience. At a subsequent roundtable discussion at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, the authors also expanded further on their ideas with associates of Telos Press, selected journalists, and others from New York’s intellectual community.
Both engagements prompted a number of questions, but two came to stand out as fundamental: (1) Does the critique and concern of multiculturalism put forth by Eriksen and Stjernfelt presuppose a liberal democratic model of government as opposed to a more radical or grassroots democracy? (2) Is multiculturalism also dangerous insofar as political institutions may use their endeavors under the guise of multiculturalism to pursue political projects that are, in fact, not culturally “sincere”?
To find out more about The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism, we present a series of short interviews conducted with the authors last week.