I just took a quick look over at this essay, Culturalism: Culture as political ideology, which attempts to define a new way of looking at intolerance.

Culturalism is the idea that individuals are determined by their culture, that these cultures form closed, organic wholes, and that the individual is unable to leave his or her own culture but rather can only realise him or herself within it. Culturalism also maintains that cultures have a claim to special rights and protections – even if at the same time they violate individual rights.

It’s useful to think anew about how culture, particularly cultural differences, are used to structure comprehension of conflict.  The “clash of civilizations” seems to draw overt battlelines where only small quarrels may exist.  However, a few things concern me about the essay. First, equating liberal multiculturalism with conservative ethnocentrism misses a crucial point: the former may sow the seed of future conflict by making culture deterministic, the latter seems to read conflict into existing relationships.  Second, calling nationalism a subset of culturalism gets the story backwards.  Our contemporary view of cultural determinism may be able to encompass nationalism (and avoid the dangerous historical associations with nationalist movements and imperialism), but it was nationalism that would seem to have driven our understanding of why culture are not compatable.

However, I think the authors put too much emphasis on determinism when incompatability of cultures may be more important for the political ideologies that interest the authors.  We could look at a larger set of anti-immigrant political groups who view culture as an either/or proposition.  The individual is not confined by their native culture, but s/he must make the full transition from one to the other.  All vestiges of belonging to a minority must be dropped.  Integration is possible, but it does not bring cultures into contact with one another, and indeed reinforces their incompatability.

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