AuthorHosu, Ramona
  1. Introduction

    We are at the end and the beginning of a challenging process of delineation of concepts like human rights, freedom, center, marginal, diversity, unity, tolerance, alterity and so on, along with the social and cultural phenomena that they circumscribe. This because, after some considerable years of manifestation of the modernist tenets of freedom, equality, progress and the supremacy of reason in the social and cultural foreground of the Western world, followed by their postmodernist reconsiderations by means of deconstruction, relativization, uncertainty and ambiguity, the 'world' seems not to have come to engage the whole facets of the problems. Or, if one is to believe in the negativistic definitions of postmodernism, according to which we are now at the end of 'the grand narratives'/ 'metanarratives' of truth, reason, science, progress (as Lyotard calls them), there is nothing to delineate in these concepts because they are just some ideals with no correspondent in the human condition. Hence, with Deconstructivism and Poststructuralism, such values are arbitrary because of the multitude of signifiers that identify infinite meanings in them; human experience is diverse, states Lyotard, and it is precisely this diversity that reformulates and re-legitimizes the variations of the above mentioned principles. This is why they are said to be fabricated, to have no equivalent in 'reality', and what is to 'blame' is today's understanding of representation. Here is what Baudrillard states on the matter: '[...] the whole system becomes imponderable, it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum [...] Representation stems from the principle of the equivalence of the sign and of the real (even if this equivalence is utopian, it is a fundamental axiom). Simulation, on the contrary, stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference. Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the entire edifice of representation, turning it into simulacrum' (Baudrillard, 2008b, p. 8).

    Consequently, affirms the French sociologist in Simulacra and Simulation (2008a, pp. 41-42), '[f]or me there is no truth of America [...] America is neither a dream nor reality; it is hyperreality. It is so because it is a utopia that has lived as fulfilled from the very beginning. Here everything is real, pragmatic and everything makes you dream'. How should then one read democracy today, or, to be more specific, Tocqueville's Democracy in America?

  2. Difference, individual/ community, identity politics, cultural pluralism

    Humans, as social and cultural constructs, are devoid of individual selves and values, they are the products of contextualization, assumes the anti-humanist, anti-Enlightenment Postmodern theory. Furthermore, today, 'one's identity, value, and civil rights are accidents of cultural origin, not some property intrinsic to human nature' (Leffel, 2015). The center collapsed and margins are diffused; 'old' identities vanish and new ones emerge; alterity, difference, multiculturalism, pluralism become topical; nations and nationhood are redesigned ... All in all, identity has become 'the touchstone of the times', in Richard Jenkins' consideration of the issue (1996, p. 8). 'A new politics of identity' results from rapid change, which induces a sense of ontological insecurity (in Anthony Giddens' understanding of the term) (Jenkins, 1996, p. 7).

    Identity is paradoxical, for 'Je est un autre', with Rimbaud, i.e. identity is dialectical, an ongoing process of preservation and change, of alternations of sameness and uniformity with difference and uniqueness. In other words, I is/becomes the Other since identity construction is possible only in dialogue with the Other. As P. Blanchet and M. Francard explain the term, the identity of an individual equals the plurality of belongings or rather of 'feelings of kinship' that imply recognition in between I and the Other (2005, pp. 330-331); self-image or self-consciousness is molded in the dialogue with alterity, requiring and negotiating the recognition of (the same) values and worldview; this is the fundament of individual and social identity construction and it is from here that convergence or divergence results.

    Postmodernity registers an outburst of (re)negotiations of multiple identities (individual, group and even national identities) due to accelerated intercultural communication. Today, '[w]e still lack a true culture of diversity', affirms Guy Jucquois and he explains: 'Thus, the building of a multiethnic and multiracial society becomes an urgent goal everywhere in the world. The major difficulty of such a process resides in the necessary change of mentality that it entails [. ] there is no democracy without pluralism, which is the political expression of diversity. And yet, there is no mentioning of any of the solutions that must be implemented in order to facilitate the political participation of all the interested parties' (Jucquois, 2005, p. 220) (emphasis added). Moreover, the question is if there is a limit in recognizing cultural differences in a multi- or pluri-cultural democratic society and if individualism has a say in this matter. The problematics is three-fold: democracy, multi-/ pluri-culturalism and individualism--translated in democracy, equality, freedom.

    Democracy is a form of government in which 'people rule', or a political community in which there is some form of political equality among the people (Held, 2006, p. 1). To complicate matters: what precisely is the meaning of people and of rule? For Alexis de Tocqueville, the answer is simple and pointed: 'At the present day the principle of the sovereignty of the people has acquired in the United States all the practical development that the imagination can conceive'; 'The nation participates in the making of its laws by the choice of its legislators, and in the execution of them by the choice of the agents of the executive government; it may almost be said to govern itself [...] The people [...] are the cause and the aim of all things; everything comes from them, and everything is absorbed in them'; 'It is possible to imagine an extremepoint at which freedom and equality would meet and blend. Let us suppose that all the people take part in the government, and that each one of them has an equal right to take part in it. As no one is different from his fellows, none can exercise a tyrannical power; men will be perfectly free because that are all entirely equal; and they will all be perfectly equal because that are entirely free. To this ideal state democratic nations tend' (Tocqueville, 1998, pp. 32-33; p. 201). In Tocqueville's belief, democratic nations 'show a more ardent and enduring love of equality than of liberty'.

    To entangle issues even more, there have been numerous debates on the dichotomy liberty--equality. Do the two exclude each other or are they interdependent, as Tocqueville assumed? The manifestation of individual freedom (in the liberal understanding of individual autonomy) often comes against egalitarianism, which entails the sharing of common tenets and which, correspondingly, prioritizes group values over individual ones. The dilemma here comes from the current definition of social justice understood as the virtual reconciliation of the sense and need of belonging to a community, the common good (and this encompasses equal values, equal rights and equal status), with self-determination and individual liberty, according to Alain Policar (2005, p. 248). 'The community or the individual?', that is the question! There is no such question for Joseph Raz who understands that 'personal autonomy depends on the persistence of collective goods', which is why 'the notion of the inherent general conflict between individual freedom and the needs of others are illusory' (Raz, 1986, p. 250). Raz argues that an individual's freedom (personal autonomy) might be in conflict with the interests of the others but it also 'depends on those interests and can be obtained through collective goods which do not benefit anyone unless they benefit everyone' (p. 250).

    Multiculturalism and cultural pluralism, as phenomena, have redesigned the debates on the above-mentioned dichotomy. A. Policar distinguishes two directions in the institutionalization of multiculturalism in the USA; on the one hand, there is the affirmative action policy, focusing on social equality; within it, positive discrimination is meant to restate equality; this means that a moral issue is at the origin of public action; on the other hand, there is what Charles Taylor calls the politics of recognition, i.e. the recognition of difference as the basis of human dignity; such identity politics implies the political acceptance of rights and privileges granted by the specificity of the group; this results in social visibility and access to the public space (Policar, 2005, pp. 450-451). In Taylor's terms, multiculturalism is built on the principles of the politics of equal respect, respect for difference and uniqueness: 'Just as all must have equal civil rights, and equal voting rights, regardless of race or culture, so all should enjoy the presumption that their culture has value' (Taylor, 1994, p. 68). As mentioned before, recognition implies multiple negotiations of affinities and oppositions among identities (individual and/or group ones) in the context of intercultural relations and these construct a 'new reality' carrying the imprints of the 'new identity' (Blanchet and Francard, 2005, p. 335). In addition, where in the process of negotiation, forces/ groups are balanced and 'exercise a limited measure of democratic control through their access to the major elites', in which no group 'wields dominant power' (Swingewood, 1994, p. 114), we...

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