Every once in a while, a philosopher emerges from quiet labors in the vineyards of the text to speak with striking relevance to our turbulent times. Charles Taylor, who this week was awarded the first Berggruen Prize for influential ideas, is such a scholar.
The philosopher’s long body of work (he’s 84) ranges widely from meditations on secularization to alternative modernities to the authenticity of the expressive individual. But it is Taylor’s thinking on the recognition of irreducible diversity in an interdependent world of plural identities ― and how societies can cope with this reality ― that gives him urgency in this era of Trump, Brexit, the burkini ban and the rise of the anti-immigrant right in Europe.
Taylor’s approach does not deny clashes of cultures, whether of the French-speaking Quebecois with the English-speaking majority in his native Canada or pious Muslims in predominantly secular societies. Rather it acknowledges the frictions head-on through what he calls “a language of perspicuous contrast,” or the clearly expressed delineation of differences as the basis for reconciliation and “reasonable accommodation” of each to the other. This “intercultural” undertaking contrasts with the identity pillars of multiculturalism that encourage separation instead of integration.
“To have this bland neo-liberal view that there are no major cultural contradictions at all, and things will all go swimmingly, that we’ll all just globalize. This is the absolute nadir of blindness,” he said in a recent interview in Philosophy Today. “That’s what we have to aim at,” Taylor continued in that interview, “if we want to get these differences out into a sphere where there can be a rational and calm discussion of how to live together with tension between different groups. It’s only by coming to such a language that we can have a discussion that doesn’t degenerate into a kind of stigmatizing of the other. ... We need it very badly in our diverse societies.”
Taylor walks the talk. He led the effort to keep Quebec as part of Canada through recognition of its distinctive character in a key 1995 referendum. More recently, he co-chaired a commission appointed by the provincial government of Quebec on how to accommodate immigrants.
The intercultural tensions roiling Europe found expression this week in a referendum in Hungary over whether to reject or accept European Union quotas requiring member states to shelter a minimum number of refugees. The majority of those voting rejected the EU quota, but the voter turnout fell short of the 50 percent threshold of eligible voters needed to make the vote valid. Patrick Martin-Genier, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, notes with concern that the referendum campaign, like the Brexit campaign in Britain, was characterized by “an avalanche of foul and racist discourse.” Though not legally binding, he says, it has nonetheless created a poisonous political atmosphere and encourages other states to follow suit. “It is high time to rebuild Europe,” Martin-Genier concludes, “excluding these countries who, under unethical leaders, are deliberately deciding to forsake and destroy the founding values of the European Union.”
Cas Mudde thinks Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made a political mistake by so thoroughly touting a referendum that failed at the polls. “Though Hungary’s leader might be a master in exciting and expressing widespread prejudices,” Mudde writes, “he is as vulnerable to overreach and popular dissatisfaction as other politicians. But without serious opposition, he will remain unchallenged, even in the wake of defeats.”
Andras Simonyi is hopeful: “This was a serious warning [to Orban] that the patience of the Hungarian people is running out,” he says. “This is a victory of the Hungarian people, the majority of whom, against all odds, embrace Europe, openness, solidarity and democracy.”
Another hopeful sign on the global horizon is that one of the world’s top diplomats most experienced in dealing with the refugee crisis, Antonio Guterres, has been picked to take over as the new secretary-general of the United Nations. The former Portuguese prime minister stepped down last year as the head of the U.N.’s refugee agency. He outlined his vision for the U.N. in an op-ed for The WorldPost earlier this year.
The other shocker on the referendum front this week was the rejection by Colombian voters of a recently concluded peace deal that sought to end the long war between the government and the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels. Miguel Urban is worried. “The shocking ‘no’ vote puts the peace process at risk, fragments the population even further, and badly injures the legitimacy of the government at this key moment,” he writes.
From Perth, Australia, Helen Clark draws on an interview with former Australian Defense Minister Kim Beazley and taps into how a Trump presidency might hurt the legitimacy of U.S. government relations with its Australian ally and its “pivot” to Asia.
In a new collaboration with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, we examine the future of Mongolia’s legendary nomads as that country modernizes.
In their Q & A series on China in Africa, Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden this week discuss how China’s policy of “non-interference” in the affairs of other states is being tested in Africa, especially by conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan.
In a powerful dispatch from Qayyarah, Iraq, WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones talks to women who are reclaiming their lives after two years until brutal rule by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. “Now, we are free,” they tell her.
As bombs continue to drop in neighboring Syria and Russia and U.S. cease-fire efforts collapse, World Reporter Nick Robins-Early profiles the Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets, who though lost out on the Nobel Peace Prize this time, are admired around the world for their work. World Reporter Jesselyn Cook points out a hypocritical promotional video from the Assad government, which urges tourists to flock to the war-torn country.
Finally, our Singularity series this week looks at the likely prospect that, if life is ever found on Jupiter, it may well be discovered by robots.
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