Cultural Identity and Political Ethics

Cultural Identity and Political Ethics

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Identity and Political Ethics
    Book Description:

    Today, people's cultural identities are increasingly invoked in support of political claims, and these claims commonly lead to acrimony and violence. But what is 'cultural identity', and what is its political significance? This book offers a provocatively sceptical answer to these questions. Tracing the idea back to the now largely discredited notion of national character, it argues that cultural identity is no deep going feature of individual psychology. Nor is it any uniform phenomenon. Rather, various types of so-called cultural identity emerge in response to the different circumstances people face. Such identities are marked by merely surface features of behaviour and these have a principally aesthetic appeal. In consequence, it is argued, cultural identities lack the ethical significance claimed for them and their invocation is in many ways politically pernicious. The book engages not only with thinkers in the analytic tradition like Isaiah Berlin, Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, but with Continental writers like Sartre and Kristeva.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3023-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. 1 The Politics of Identity
    (pp. 1-15)

    Hermann Goering is credited with saying that whenever he heard the word ′culture′ he reached for his revolver. These days, people who reach for revolvers – or heavier weaponry – frequently justify their violent actions by using that word themselves with anything but distaste. For in today′s world people′s cultural identities are increasingly invoked in support of their political claims. Claims to some form of political recognition for a group on the basis of its members′ supposed cultural identity are commonplace, ranging from demands for separate statehood for putatively national groups to an insistence that differences in a multicultural society...

  5. 2 National Character
    (pp. 16-37)

    The most apparently novel ideas are seldom without their historical precedents, though their connection with these is usually concealed. Thus the politics of identity that has come to the fore within the last twenty years overturns a half century of thinking in which what was supposedly the same across all people determined the political agenda: how could people, supposedly much the same, best be organised and governed? The politics of identity indicates, instead, a range of differences between people and asks how such differences can best be accommodated politically and socially. There are many types of difference involved here, of...

  6. 3 The Idea of Deep Identity
    (pp. 38-65)

    The broader notion of cultural identity that has emerged from the wreckage of national character has become the common currency of groups in different circumstances, with consequentially different concerns and different political goals. These correspond to some extent to the situations that contributed to the demise of national character. The division of empires after the First World War failed to produce the homogeneous nation states that idealists like Woodrow Wilson had hoped on account of the fact that these states each took in a variety of ethnic groups. The end of colonial empires revealed a similar situation in the newly...

  7. 4 Types of Identity
    (pp. 66-94)

    The revival of interest in Herder and his doctrine of the political importance of cultural diversity is in large part due to Isaiah Berlin. But, as David Miller has observed,¹ Berlin has two quite different accounts of the political expression of such diversity in movements like nationalism. On the one hand he associates the Herderian doctrine with Kant′s remark that ′Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made′,² and regards the desire for separate treatment as a natural consequence of these irregularities across humankind. Berlin glosses Herder approvingly:

    There is a plurality of incommensurable cultures....

  8. 5 The Embodiment of Cultural Identity
    (pp. 95-123)

    Faiza Silmi is a Moroccan woman, married to a French citizen, who has lived in France since 2000 and has four children who are French citizens by birth.¹ She applied for French citizenship herself but her application was refused by the Conseil d′État on the grounds that although she

    possesses a good command of the French language, she has nonetheless adopted a radical practice of her religion incompatible with the essential values of the French community and notably with the principle of equality between the sexes.²

    The practice in question is the wearing of a burqa that reveals only the...

  9. 6 Identity and Subjectivity
    (pp. 124-151)

    An immediate objection to the account I have offered of cultural identities as merely surface phenomena is that it neglects the way in which they are internalised by their subjects, so that it flies in the face of, for example, psychoanalytic accounts of identity. Psychoanalysis, it has been suggested, ′could be described as a theory of unhappy relationships′.¹ What unhappier relationships are there, one might ask, than those that so often exist between members of different national, ethnic, religious, or other identity groups? What relationships are there, at least, that give rise to so much unhappiness and misery? Can we,...

  10. 7 The Art of Identity
    (pp. 152-172)

    Insistence that collective cultural identity is not a deep identity may seem untrue to the phenomenology of identity – to the way people feel about their cultural identifications, in particular to their attachments to them and the way features of their culture evoke such attachments. Now it is widely accepted that cultural identities, and in particular national identities, are constituted, at least in part, by distinctive artistic productions – literature, painting, music and so on – to which the members of a cultural group will have responses of a sort not shared by those outside it. I shall ask, then,...

  11. 8 The Ethics of Identity
    (pp. 173-199)

    Apologists for a politics of identity often speak in terms of the value of cultural identity. If the line of argument I have been pursuing is correct then cultural identity, in the sense of membership of a cultural group, has, in itself, no value for people. If they do not qua members have a deep identity of the sort I have tried to characterise, then there is no need for a cultural identity so far as their psychological functioning is concerned, and so such an identity does not have value in supplying such a need. The Herderian notion that there...

  12. Index
    (pp. 200-202)