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The stranger between oppression and superiority

Close encounter with Heinz Kimmerle



Response to Heinz Paetzold by Heinz Kimmerle



Heinz Paetzold (Kassel and Hamburg)
The relationship between multiculturalism and intercultural philosophy
A comment on Kimmerle


Throughout my own philosophical development I have benefitted quite a lot from Heinz Kimmerle' s work. I mention only three different occasions. In the early 1970' s while I was concentrating on �Neo-Marxist Aesthetics� [i] Kimmerle' s book on Ernst Bloch Die Zukunfsbedeutung der Hoffnung. Auseinandersetzung mit dem Hauptwerk Ernst Blochs (Bonn: Bouvier 1966) has helped me to understand this writer more systematically. It was in the 1980' s that Kimmerle' s book Entwurf einer Philosophie des Wir. Schule des alternativen Denkens (Bochum: Germinal 1983) opened my eyes to the relevance of the philosophy of difference for political theory today. [ii] At third instance I would like to mention Kimmerle' s stimulating ideas on intercultural philosophy. [iii] This is only a modest way of saying that Kimmerle (along with Ram Adhar Mall and Franz Martin Wimmer) is arguing with convincing force an "intercultural turn" of philosophy today.

However, what remains unclarified in his theorizings on interculturality so far is the relationship between multiculturalism and intercultural philosophy.


From my point of view Kimmerle is overstating the opposition between multiculturalism on one hand and interculturality on the other. He observes and describes correctly the various unprecedented continual waves of migrations of huge amounts of people we can notice all over the world today. He is afraid that this would result in an �undifferentiated commingling of thinking and worldviews�, in a �syncreticism of an enormous extent�. [iv] Such a �multiculturality�, Kimmerle says, would disenable people to find an adequate �orientation�. On this view, multiculturalism amounts to be an �obstacle� to a truly �productive relationship between cultures�. [v] An �Einheitskultur� (a �cultural uniformity�), though it might bear a European coloring and even if it would be longed for by the majority of our contemporaries would turn out to be a threat, a real �night mare�. [vi]

Now, the questionable claim of Kimmerle is that we have to opt either for multiculturalism meaning the blend of cultures or for interculturality understood as a philosophical stance concentrating on both, �unity� and �diversity� of �cultures� (�Einheit und Verschiedenheit der Kulturen�. [vii] Kimmerle underscores rightly that the question of cultural unity is put in a wrong way if it is conceived of as a substantial identity, which a given culture would get rid of. What reasonably could be called the identity of a culture is not a �static given� (�statische Gr��e�), [viii] since cultures develop and grow due to processes of �exchange� and �mixture� with other, different cultures. [ix]

What is going on before our eyes, however, is something unique. Contemporaries are facing at the same time an undeniable �risk� (�Gefahr�) and a big �chance� (�Chance�). Kimmerle puts it in the following alternative: �Does there come into existence an unstructured cultural mash ("Einheitsbrei") or is the outcome rather a fruitful tension, a positive shift of identity, in that cultures at the same time are brought closer to each other and kept apart?�. [x]

Although I subscribe to the main drift implied in this sentence, since it testifies the stance of a critical philosophy of culture, I dispute the above mentioned alternative, according to which we have to opt either for multiculturalism or for interculturality. My contention is that the concepts of multiculturalism and interculturality have to be brought into a continuity rather than into an exclusive contradictoriness. These are my arguments. I first concentrate on multiculturalism.


On my view multiculturalism is to be understood as the coexistence of different cultures in one and the same society. Along with Charles Taylor, [xi] multiculturalism has to be framed as the conflict between two modes of recognition. Recognition, this crucial notion of modern philosophy since Rousseau, Kant and Hegel, has not to be mixed up with toleration or mere acceptance. What distinguishes recognition from toleration is that recognition is a strictly mutual relation between two terms whereas toleration is not. A recognizes B to the degree that B recognizes A. Toleration, in contrast, is mostly onesided. If I tolerate my neighbor's way of living I cannot expect that he by the same token tolerates mine. Toleration is somewhere in the middle between mere acceptance on one hand and love for one' s fellow man on the other. [xii] Recognition, however, requires mutuality and reciprocity. It is a political and juridical issue.

The contemporaneous multiculturalism consists, as Taylor rightly has argued, in a conflict between the recognition of equal dignity of human beings and the recognition of cultural authenticity. The recognition of the dignity of each person is at the heart of the modern constitutional state. It requires to recognize a person regardless of his/her merits as is written down in most of the constitutions of democratic states: �The dignity of man may never be infringed�. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany states: �Die W�rde des Menschen ist unantastbar�. However, parallel to the modern emphasis on the recognition of equality of all human beings, there emerged the appreciation of cultural authenticity. Rousseau, Herder and Schleiermacher have been those authors who developed an ethics of authenticity. Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Simmel were to follow after Romanticism. The concept of cultural authenticity has found its defenders in contemporary philosophy. [xiii]

Multiculturalism, as I said, should be understood as the conflict between the principle of equal dignity and the principle of cultural authenticity. Those who are in favor of equal dignity suspect the champions of cultural authenticity that the latter do not accept the treatment of people in a difference-blind fashion. The reproach the latter makes to the first is that it forces people into a homogeneous mold that is untrue to them. The complaint goes further. The champions of cultural authenticity claim that the supposedly neutral set of difference-blind principles of the politics of equal dignity is in fact a reflection of one hegemonic culture. The supposedly fair and difference-blind society is in a subtle and unconscious way, itself highly discriminatory. [xiv]

Cultural authenticity should be understood as that set of values which enables a person or a group to take non-trivial decisions concerning their ways of living. This set is built up by linguistic competence, historical knowledge, religious and artistic convictions, morality, in a word, by all those elements of culture which Ernst Cassirer had labeled �symbolic forms�. If we set aside the symbolic forms of science and technology, which are universal, we can say that all the other symbolic forms are basically colored by a specific cultural background. An important implication here is that there is no hierarchical ranking among them possible.

Here we find a continuity to intercultural philosophy. This reorientation of philosophy presupposes that we break through the confines of thinking about cultures in terms of �developed� and �underdeveloped�, in short of historical and cultural �progress�. [xv]


Earlier in this paper I said that multiculturalism should be defined as the coexistence of different cultures in one and the same society. I specified this claim by saying that multiculturalism consists of the conflict between the principle of equal dignity and the principle of cultural authenticity. At this point it has to be asked how to deal with this conflict which I would like to call a �differend� in Lyotard' s sense. Two lines of argument seem reasonable.

First. Taylor's framing of multiculturalism includes two moves. [xvi] The liberal state should without sacrificing principles of democratic constitutionality take side for encouraging one specific culture, as in the case of Canadian Quebec. Here the state is securing the survival of the French-Canadian culture within the Anglo-Canadian majority culture. The state remains no longer neutral with regards to the cultural development of the society, but favors the survival of one specific culture. In order to avoid narrow-minded nationalism, however, people are asked upon to enrich and change their own cultural self-understanding by exposing themselves to different and even far removed cultures. This could be called the new multicultural imperative. In that we enter the horizons of other cultures we shift step by step the basic presuppositions of the culture we are acquainted with.

It is important to keep in mind that the two steps, the one which is aimed at ensuring the survival of a given culture by transcending the liberalism of neutrality and the second which enhances a given culture by enlarging the cultural background convictions, basically belong together. Only both these moves make up for a valuable multiculturalism.

Second. Taylor' s fellow-countryman Will Kymlicka has introduced the concept of �cultural membership�. It is intended to rethink citizenship under the conditions of the multicultural society. [xvii] The concept of �cultural membership� is meant to provide people in a multi-ethnic society with those cultural means which are necessary in order to choose for ways of living which go beyond the predominant standard. Language, history, religion are decisive here for finding a non-trivial orientation. Immigrants who have left the country of their upbringing are encouraged to entertain their native tongue along with the newly learnt language of their surrounding.

The basic idea here is to put the focus on specific cultural rights. These rights empower people to constitute culturally defined communities without sacrificing principles of democratic liberalism. Cultural membership must be free with regard to entrance into as well as with regard to voluntary withdrawal from a cultural community. The internal structure of culturally defined communities has to be in correspondence to democratic principles.

Whereas Taylor with his Quebec-model can refer to the Quebec Bill of Rights and the Charta of Canada, Kymlicka is referring to international political bodies ranging from the UN, the CSCE (Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe), the European Council, which all have brought the issue of cultural membership on the agenda of discussions on human rights. [xviii] These framings of multiculturalism are thus far from being merely airy speculations. They have to a certain extent a constitutional anchoring. What has to be added is that Kymlicka pleads for the substantiation of cultural minority rights by including them in the catalogue of human rights.


It was necessary to concentrate a bit more on the concept of multiculturalism in order to provide my conclusions with convincing force. I agree with Kimmerle that multiculturality and interculturality should not be mixed up. It is clear that multiculturalism is not something restricted to Canada or the USA. As a matter of fact, multiculturalism plays an important role in countries, such as Singapore and, of course, in many African societies. In the future, multiculturalism will have to be faced by the countries of the European Community whose further development, as Michael Walzer has put it, will �bring to all its member states the advantages and strains of multiculturalism�. [xix]

My point, then, is the following. If it could be shown that a viable theory of multiculturalism is to be brought into a continuity with intercultural philosophy and that the concept of multiculturalism has a worldwide expansion then the �intercultural turn� in philosophy, too, has a broad social fertile soil. I mention just three aspects, which are pertinent here.

First. A valuable multiculturalism asks for the continual effort to understand other cultures more adequately. The value, which we can attribute to other cultures depends on hermeneutic work. We cannot presuppose this value a priori since then we are in danger to homogenize other cultures. We are only allowed to think of the adjudgement of value in terms of a working hypothesis, which has to be verified by and through the process of understanding itself. [xx]

Here, however, is the locus of an intercultural argument. Kimmerle has made clear that the hermeneutics of the �fusion of horizons� in Gadamer's sense is not fully applicable since during the process of understanding other cultures there remain �erratic blocks�. Therefore, we are asked upon to learn a completely new �methodology of listening� in order to understand the style which is characteristic for posing questions in cultures unfamiliar to us. [xxi] This genuine intercultural argument must have its bearing on multicultural processes of understanding once we realize that cultural otherness is more than just mirroring the cultural familiar.

Second. Kimmerle argues that from the viewpoint of intercultural philosophy human rights (and ethical maximes) do not have the status of a universality a priori, but rather a universality a posteriori. The central consideration here is that the processes of acceptance, substantiation and application of human rights are deeply interwoven with the empirical history. We are, as Kimmerle along with Derrida (and Kafka) argues, always before the human rights, that is to say they have to be established step by step in the social sphere. [xxii] I think that such an idea of universality a posteriori has also to be assumed if we reflect on the establishment of Kymlicka's right to cultural membership adequately. This right has the property that it is not just a right of a singular individual. It allows individuals and groups to keep up to collective practices. Culture is such a collective practice.

Third. If Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms could be withdrawn from Eurocentricism, and I believe that to a large extent it can, then it contains an important message which could function as a link between multiculturalism and intercultural philosophy. A careful interpretation of Cassirer turns out to the argument that there is no hierarchical ranking among the symbolic forms possible. Furthermore, there does not exist a pre-established rule, which would put them into an order. This argument is backing a valuable multiculturalism, as I said earlier. But it is also important for intercultural philosophy. Kimmerle argues convincingly that the European thought could learn from African thought with regard to an intertwining of morality and art. [xxiii]

The Kantian standard version of European thought according to which art and morality are strictly to be kept apart from each other has to be transcended once we want to understand African art. In Friedrich Schleiermacher on one hand and in late Michel Foucault' s concept of the art of living on the other hand we find European resources, which parallel to the African idea that the �universe� has �aesthetic qualities�. [xxiv] Such a view has its bearing not only on intercultural philosophy but also on the understanding of multiculturalism. That is to say, literature and the fine arts are important tools to enter other culture's world-views. Especially in contemporary art we find lots of authors who are acquainted with more than one culture. They are a kind of messengers between the different cultures.


Response to Heinz Paetzold by Heinz Kimmerle

I agree with Heinz Paetzold that interculturality and multiculturalism belong together. And I have always argued that intercultural philosophy and theories of multiculturalism can learn from each other. However, I am not quite sure what Heinz means when he says that �multiculturalism is to be brought into a continuity with intercultural philosophy�. Let me put it this way: theories of multiculturalism, which I understand with Heinz Paetzold �as the coexistence of different cultures in one and the same society� on the one hand and intercultural philosophy, which is worked out as dialogues between philosophers from different cultures and reflections on their input into the international philosophical discourse on the other hand, are theoretical enterprises in fields which are akin to each other.

I appreciate it very much, that Heinz brings in a number of concepts to elaborate a theory of multiculturalism. He takes these concepts from books of Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka, and Ernst Cassirer. Most certainly, the concept of �recognition�, which Taylor introduces into this debate, is very useful for a theory of multiculturalism and also important for intercultural philosophy. This concept presupposes a strict mutuality between two or more persons, and that implies equality. The conflict between equality or �equal dignity� on the one hand and �authenticity� of different cultures on the other is, however, not necessary. Equality and difference can exist side by side: equality in rank or in dignity and difference in content or cultural specificities.

It is also very helpful that Heinz shows, how these principles can be made politically concrete. The liberal state transcends its neutrality by supporting minorities to maintain their cultural specificity. And this same state is asking the different cultural groups to expose themselves to the existence of other cultural groups, even if they are living far away. This new �multicultural imperative� is not a categorical, but a hypothetical one. But it has to be obeyed at least in all multicultural societies. This is all very convincing: also the claim that the recognition of specific cultural rights must not lead to a sacrifice of the principles of democratic liberalism.

I find it difficult, however, to sign for the following statement: �The internal structure of culturally defined communities has to be in correspondence with democratic principles�. In my opinion, it goes too far to prescribe the Western type of liberal democracy for the internal life of different cultural groups. The liberal democracy is a way to realize a maximum participation of the people at the government. If there are other ways to do that, may be better ways, I do not see, why they should be forbidden.

Heinz Paetzold usefully elaborates the concept of multiculturalism. He does not just intend to add these considerations to my statements about multiculturalism and its relation to intercultural philosophy, but criticizes what I say about multiculturalism as too negative. Thus he can confront these statements of mine with the more positive aspects of intercultural philosophy in my discourse. That is, to a certain extent, a misunderstanding. My negative statements about multiculturalism are meant as a description of its dangers. I have pointed at negative tendencies, which come up, when different cultures are mixing at a very large scale. In fact, it is also with regard to multicultural societies that I plead for the positive structure of unity and diversity at the same time. I see a possibility to strengthen this model of multicultural societies by showing that it plays a positive role in intercultural philosophy. Heinz himself has quoted that I speak about a �risk� and a �chance� in multiculturalism.

What remains, is then that Heinz Paetzold is concentrating more on a philosophy of multiculturalism and Heinz Kimmerle primarily engages in intercultural philosophy. The engagement in intercultural philosophy offers a special possibility, which may be an advantage with regard to multiculturalism: it takes place as the practice of communication between philosophers from different cultures. This practice has the form of dialogues, and a positive effect is possible on the practice of political or economic communication, and also on the policies in organizing multicultural societies. These might become more dialogical. Finally, intercultural philosophy could remind multiculturalism of the concept of �patchwork� which has been used by the young Lyotard, if one does not speak of a �patchwork of minorities�, but of different cultural groups

[i] H. Paetzold Neomarxistische �sthetik, 2 Vol., D�sseldorf: Schwann 1974.

[ii] See my essay �Metaphysischer Pessimismus und alternative Bewegungen�, in: W. Schirmacher (ed), Schopenhauer in der Postmoderne.(Schopenhauer-Studien 3), Wien: Passagen 1985, p. 211-220.

[iii] H. Kimmerle: Philosophie in Afrika afrikanische Philosophie. Ann�herungen an einen interkulturellen Philosophiebegriff. Frankfurt Main New York: Edition Qumran im Campus Verlag 1991 and Die Dimension des Interkulturellen. Philosophie in Afrika afrikanische Philosophie. Zweiter Teil. Supplemente und Verallgemeinerungsschritte. Amsterdam Atlanta GA: Rodopi 1994 (Studien zur interkulturellen Philosophie, ed. by H. Kimmerle/ R. A. Mall Vol. 2).

[iv] Kimmerle, Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, l.c., p. 119

[v] Idem, p. 120

[vi] Idem.

[vii] Idem.

[viii] Idem, p. 121.

[ix] Idem, p. 121-122.

[x] Idem, p. 122.

[xi] Ch. Taylor, Multiculturalism. Examining the Politics of Recognition. With comments by K. A. Appiah, J. Habermas, S. C. Rockefeller, M. Walzer, S. Wolf. Edited and Introduced by A. Gutmann. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1994.

[xii] Cf also Kmmerle�s Entwurf einer Philosophie des Wir, l. c., p. 139-145.

[xiii] Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press 1992; A. Ferrara, Modernity and Authenticity. A Study in the Social and Ethical Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Albany: Suny Press 1993; Ferrara, Reflective Authenticity. Rethinking the Project of Modernity, London/ New York: Routledge 1998.

[xiv] Kimmerle, Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, l.c., p. 124-126 and Philosophie in Afrika, l.c., p. 184-190.

[xv] See my essay �Von der Multikulturalit�t zur Interkulturalit�t�, in: W. Schmied-Kowarzik. (ed), Verstehen und Verst�ndigung. Ethnologie - Xenologie - Interkulturelle Philosophie. Justin Stagl zum 60. Geburtstag, W�rzburg: K�nigshausen & Neumann 2002, p. 343-358, here: p. 345-350.

[xvi] Taylor, Multiculturalism, l.c., p. 43.

[xvii] W. Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community, and Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1989, p. 162-181 and Multicultural Citizenship. A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1995.

[xviii] Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship, l.c., p. 5.

[xix] M. Walzer, On Toleration. New Haven/London: Yale University Press 1997, p. 51.

[xx] Cf. my essay �Von der Multikulturalit�t zur Interkulturalit�t�, l.c., p. 354-356.

[xxi] Cf. Kimmerle, Philosophie in Afrika, l.c., p. 8; Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, l.c., p. 127 and �The intercultural dimension in the dialogue between African and Western philosophies�, in: Issues in Contemporary Culture and Aesthetics, No. 6, 1997, Maastricht: Jan Van Eyck Akademie, p. 57-68, here: p. 67.

[xxii] Kimmerle, Die Dimension des Interkulturellen, l.c., p. 147.

[xxiii] Idem, p. 147.

[xxiv] Idem, pp. 169-186.


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