Cultural Pluralism and the Rule of Custom in France
Translated by Jane Marie Todd
Jean-Loup Amselle explores the issue of multiculturalism by delving into the history of France's confrontation with ethnic difference. Amselle analyzes France's relationship to Egypt, Algeria, and Senegal to show how ideas about difference and assimilation played out in French colonial policies and how these same tensions continue to be problematic as France grapples with cultural pluralism.
Amselle's book has timely and wide-ranging implications. Arguing against the "liberal communitarian state" as it exists in the United States, Amselle contends that an overemphasis on difference can lead to what he calls "affirmative exclusion"—the flip side of affirmative action. The recognition of a multiplicity of ethnic groups in France, he asserts, creates an environment that fosters racism. "Despite an outward appearance of generosity, supporters of French-style multiculturalism, by promoting 'affirmative action,' run the risk of creating as many difficulties as there are 'target groups,' which they have helped identify and hence produce."
Calling on theories of racial difference devised by early anthropologists—most notably, Louis Faidherbe—and on the work of political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Amselle makes historical and sociological sense of the debates over multiculturalism and the violence they engender. Toward a French Multiculturalism proposes directions for the future.