My writings seek to deconstruct the narration of current affairs as distributed to the public. By taking a linguistic hermeneutic path I attempt to reveal the rhetorical devices grounded within the techno-scientific calculative culture that is characteristic of liberal democracies. I relate particularly to the self-contradictions in the Zionist discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its mutual interaction with world politics.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Legal populism or the way to ‘post’ multiculturalism

Ariella Atzmon ©

This paper is a discourse analysis of the terminology of multiculturalism in relation to legalism vs. morality and ethics, viewed from a philosophical perspective. The ambivalence inherent in the vocabulary of multiculturalism is evident in the political scene where the meaning of legalism, inspired by scientific thought is confused with notions of morality and ethics. In Stanley Fish’s words: “many moralities would make many laws, and the law would lack its most saliently desirable properties, generality and stability”. The term "multiculturalism" which has to do with language and political correctness (or incorrectness), amplifies populist clichés regarding cultural equality and moral norms. Western jurisprudence, bound to morality and ethics, is essential to the way we interpret the notion of multiculturalism.
A discourse can be seen as a set of practices that systematically defines the rules which permit certain statements to be made. A discourse analysis of multiculturalism, from the perspective of educational curricula and other contents organized around the term, exposes liberal democracy's tricky game regarding non-western cultural norms. The fictitious populist view of science as an ideal model for human reasoning lies at the root of the affirmation of the legal system as autonomous, independent of any supplementary discourse such as morality or ethics. "Multiculturalism" as a gentle and tolerant expression actually presents a pair of opposites, declaring the ethnic minorities' empowerment of cultural manifestations on the one hand, and on the other, thoroughly identifying these same groups in terms of socio-economical and cultural guidelines quite distant from them. The use of the expression post-multiculturalism hints at the role of multiculturalism as a safeguard for the new liberal democratic state.
By putting ‘post’ in proximity to multiculturalism the contradictory nature of the term is revealed. The word ‘post’ can refer to the act of posting, that is ‘to deliver’, ‘to make known, to announce’, to advertise or to bring before the public. Simultaneously, the prefix ‘post’ alludes to what comes ‘after’, what is ‘laid aside’, or ‘finished with’, in other words, what is ‘postponed’. Bear in mind that multiculturalism proclaims that all cultures and religions are worthy of respect. So by grouping legalism together with morality and ethics under the same umbrella multiculturalism is concurrently postponed. If moral codification has to do with group cultural norms, then by celebrating the supremacy of legalism as an empirical entity, while ignoring moral considerations and personal ethical reflection, signifies that any possibility for cultural pluralism is called off.
By presenting the ‘nation’ as a unitary, homogeneous formation, legal populism operates as a vehicle for ‘posting’ multiculturalism (i.e., that all cultures are worthy of respect), and postponing it in one and the same breath. As long as multiculturalism is blind to the existence of ‘many moralities’, modes of assimilation and integration prevail upon negotiable hybridization, where cultures are viewed as retaining their distinct characteristics and yet form something new. Our generation has produced more refugees, migrants and displaced people than ever before. The question is how should national institutions respond to this diversity? By an attempt to assimilate distinct cultural norms under the command “melt or get out of the pot." or by trying to generate a hybridized cultural identity?
Regardless of diverse moral norms, multiculturalism enfolds everything under the cover of ethnicity, as if ethnicity is the key for handling multiculturalism better. Opposing this view, I shall stress the idea that ‘the discourse of the law’ as predetermined by words, and common phrases coined by the hegemonic culture, is obscured. The idea of moral universalism that fuses in its amalgamated spirit political, legal and philosophical terminology leads to the confusion of ethics and morality with legalism. Opposed to the melting pot model, it is cultural hybridization, where cultural incommensurability and interstices between cultures should be explored.
Morality has to do with cultures and group norms, while ethics addresses questioning and response-ability. Ethical judgment is the challenge of one’s self in the face of the Other. While morality is a body of norms concerning what is right and wrong, with respect to human conduct, adhered by a professional or social group, ethics never signify closure. As legalism is inspired by scientism i.e. an exaggerated trust in the efficient methods of the natural sciences, it is distinct from ethics and morality because of its claim to universality. This obsession with scientism turns the whole western legal machine into a binary system where statements are verified on the basis of observational proofs. Since testimony in western legal systems means validation of statements in correspondence with empirical evidence, we come to realize how latter day western regimes are steeped in documents and intelligence reports.
The fact that every society is comprised of a variety of interests and communal norms necessitates the foundation of a social apparatus that will be accepted by all. In seeking legitimization of its rule, the liberal paradigm turned to the legal system as its main source of stabilization. Thus, by asserting that legal, rational reasoning emanates naturally and autonomously from moral intuitions liberal secular ideology constituted the civic legal system, as an all-inclusive means for the resolution of conflicts. It is the culture of ‘reason’ that replaced the rule of power. In the course of liberalism, rhetoric turned into an acrobatic pursuit of how to contain politics in accordance with the law. According to this utilitarian approach, ethics are relegated to being interpreted in calculative terms for the assessment of harm caused to the ‘other’. By this argument I contend that liberal democracy, supported by scientific rhetoric, put up a barrier between morality and ethics on one side of the divide, and legality on the other.
In view of recent events where governments are occupied with ‘the legal justification of the war’ the role of THE LAW is better understood. The liberal assertion of moral universalism where the category ‘legally valid’ is equated with ‘morally right’ paves the way to ‘post-multiculturalism. It exemplifies the way in which the legal system blocks any encounter with cultural, moral considerations and silences personal ethical judgments. By highlighting legalism and equating it with morality and ethics, liberal democracy sustains its power.
Actually, multiculturalism as a sophisticated form of social control, talks in two voices. It praises cultural pluralism, while only scientifically approved phrases are acknowledged. The privileged status of scientific thought, is reevaluated in keeping with the idea that autonomy and rational judgment, promise redemption from deprivation. People exchange prior cultural, spiritual and moral bondage for access to the portal of enlightened legalism. Inspired by scientism they are converted to a new belief in facts, reports and evidential findings. Thus, the melting pot metaphor is a cover for a new type of oppression. The only way to melt in the pot is to assimilate - to become similar – to the dominant culture under the hegemony of science. But science is not just a selection of contents; it is a set of metaphysical assumptions about reality and knowledge. Science is an attitude for the legitimization of knowledge. By taking the bull by the horns, science filters the contents of knowledge from the educational curriculum to the legislative system. Thus multiculturalism turns into a safeguard protecting western culture from becoming contaminated by too strong a dose of other rationalities. Science determines the inferiority of those who do not follow its modes of thought. Thus multiculturalists’ openness regarding norms, beliefs, religious worship turns out to be another hypocritical falsehood.
A declaration made by an Israeli Supreme Court judge that: “All can be judicially accountable”, points to one of the most crucial cornerstones of liberal democracy. This phrase assembles ethics and morality under the legal system. Since legalism acts in reference to conformity with a book of laws, the moment legalism is declared all inclusive, multiculturalism is dismantled. The two threats to the authority of the legal system are: subjective moral intuitions and interpretation In Stanley Fish's words: “Interpretation has to do with the ethical judgment which is an inter-subjective consideration regarding what ought to be done”.
The legal system represents a public commitment to view conflicts as something that should be judged by legal means. But what does public commitment mean? If it is a commitment to all communities existing in the public sphere, then does it accord with the cultural norms that correspond to non-representational modes of thought? Defeated multiculturalism can be viewed in Israel where the majority Jewish population, comprised of immigrants and refugees, intolerant of each other, dominates a minority, indigenous Arab population. It is a case where cultural incommensurability between Western law and Jewish Halakhah seems to be insoluble. The multiculturalist demand that all cultural groups have the right to bring their cultural norms into the marketplace of ideas is unfulfilled, since many vocabularies constitute a threat to liberal legalism. This is why multiculturalism appears to the world wrapped in liberal legalism and why the two discourses support each other.
Multiculturalism should be a way to guarantee equality for moral norms and for witnessing many vocabularies. It suggests taking the path of hermeneutic interpretation, interpretation that establishes the meaning of a phenomenon, which, by its very nature, is fragmentary and incomplete. The underlying bloodthirsty wrestling in the political rhetoric for harnessing meaning is a vital tool in fortifying consent in the democratic sphere. Ethics have no rules for justification. There is no viable route for an ethical proof. Even if there are rules for what should be described as ‘the real truth’ they are inaccessible by their ethical nature. Since legality belongs to a calculative culture it needs proofs, supported by factual evidence. While legalism is committed to statutes and the regulation of the law, ethics and morality are released from presenting proofs. Since morality is bound to ethnic, religious, or cultural group norms, it should be contiguous with the discourse of multiculturalism. Liberal democracy’s obsession with legal assessments and evidential proof, with the aim of justifying dubious political acts, ends with a disregard for ethical judgment, and the POSTPONING of multiculturalism. Ethical judgment can not be learned by adding ethnic content to school curricula. It cannot be taught, but is generated by internalizing the essence of hybridization.
The way legalism is confused with morality and ethics, becomes apparent when prescriptions for professional behavior are distributed to the public as ethical codes (medical doctors, lawyers or teachers). In Israel a renowned philosopher produced a document entitled the IDF Ethical Code. Erasing distinctions between ethics, morality and legality leads to a dependence on juridical committees for the assessment of what is right and what is wrong, in cases which should be regarded as purely ethical. Leaders, who should reflect upon their own clear or bad conscience, would be more respected if they leave the court and be judged according to inter-subjective ethical imperatives. Despite this, we are witnessing a current, democratic, judicial routine: where a salient ethical and moral judgment is needed. The political leadership appoints judicial committees in order to examine their deeds in the face of further accumulations of evidential findings. It is the philosopher's task to draw attention to the sly legal game that veils political maneuvering. That’s what Stanley Fish calls the “amazing trick”, by which the law re-builds in mid-air without ever touching down. This is how law subsists through the Hutton Committee or the Butler inquiry.
Citizens of the democratic free world should become more engaged with ideas and the way these ideas are articulated by words. But to cease being indoctrinated by evidential proofs, means taking an alternative path of being attentive to citizens’ moral and ethical considerations. This alternative option does not fit with the liberal image of unprejudiced rational reasoning, free of emotions and the torment of the soul. The gloomy conclusion is that liberal democracy invented multiculturalism in order to tranquilize minorities' aspirations for attracting attention to their moral or ethical thought. By providing endless, observable referents in the name of superior scientific thought, populist legalism crushes any chance for ethical judgment or for a diverse, cultural moral norm to be heard. This is how positivism, phenomenology and constructivism became the leading philosophies in liberal democracies. How Habermass's consensual communication, Rolls' reasonable judgment, and Chomsky’s innate universal grammar, became leading figures in universities' curricula. As the guardians of the democratic deceit, their treatise prevents us from being alert to the deprivation of non-calculative modes of thought. The bearers of deconstruction, Heidegger, Derrida, or Lyotard are marginalized in many departments of philosophy. Totalitarian regimes invented prisons and torture cellars for rebels and political outsiders, while contemporary democracy discovered terms such as multiculturalism for narcoticizing its citizens.
Making a distinction between an object of cognition, and objects of ideas, points to the cleavage which threatens human society. An object of cognition refers to a cognitive category - its existence can be validated or refuted by testimonial means. Objects of ideas have to do with reflective, contemplative thought. Legalism conforms with objects of cognition where a statement about reality can be validated according to a common rule. Ethics and morality comply with the realm of ideas which evade factual findings. There are no protocol procedures for establishing the reality of an object of an idea. And thus, a statement regarding an object of an idea can not be legitimized by legal means!
The minute a person or a site on the map is defined as evil it is predicated as an object of an idea. And as such it can not be validated or refuted by legal means. It can be examined solely in moral or ethical terms. So when Bush's advisers coined the expression ‘axis of EVIL' they elevated Saddam to the heights of an object of an idea. Thus, however, they were caught in the trap they laid for themselves. By referring to Saddam as an evil, they ruled out their chances of justifying the war against Iraq by legal means. From a philosophical perspective, they lost the case of portraying the acts against Iraq as grounded in a cognitive discourse, and thus, all intelligence reports, documents, and testimony regarding the existence of WMD became useless. There is no way to hold the stick by both ends: to declare rational reasoning grounded within the cognitive genre on the one hand, and to validate an abstract idea by cognitive means on the other. This conduct means being irrational while at the same time claiming rationality. For the cognitive genre it is impossible to quit the conditional demand for binary logic. It is impossible to deliver a guilty/not guilty sentence. There is no way to be rational and irrational at the same time! An attempt to elude this claim is totalitarian. So how dare enlightened people establish the multiculturalism project if they themselves are oblivious to their own norms? How dare liberal leaders democratize other societies, whilst they themselves are unfamiliar with rational thought portrayed by scientific reasoning?
The concept of the Differend coined by Lyotard illuminates this theme clearly. A differend is a case of conflict between two parties that can not be resolved for lack of rule of judgment applicable to both arguments. A differend takes place when the one who complains about a wrong done is denied the means to prove the damage. The differend is signaled by an inability to prove, when the victim is reduced to silence. But, to be able not to speak is not the same as not being able to speak. As Lyotard put it, “There is no non phrase. Silence is a phrase”. When 'one can not find the words', one might express oneself by a ‘negative phrase’, by silence, by non-verbal aggression and acts of destruction. The captives of the cognitive genres are left in the remorseless limbo of a futile blind alley. The option available to the victim is to turn the state of being able not to speak into a benefit, to start a wordless fight outside the cognitive genre. Letting the ideas talk for themselves by killing the referent.
Multiculturalism under the hegemony of legalism means lip service that supports the reality of the differend as natural and indisputable. In order to stop being victims of populist rhetoric, and thinking of multiculturalism not in ethnic terms but as a moral issue, people should renovate significations and explore new expressions. Let’s dream a reality where the victim of the cognitive genre is able to dwell in the zone of the differend, get involved in the art of deconstruction. and thus, gain access to expressing the wrong done by using new phrases.
The idea of freedom, tolerance, leadership responsibility, being good or being evil is not conditioned upon phrases which are related to referents of knowledge. Instead of preaching multiculturalism under the guise of science and calculative thought, more space for ethics and morality should be made available. This could generate genuine empathy for immigrants and diverse ethnic or religious communities, and bring ‘cultural pluralism’ to the public agenda and to schools. Thinking of language hermeneutically, putting all texts under the magnifying glass of deconstruction, might let in some light and deconstruct the texts of multiculturalism!
A bothersome questions to ask is: what is the reason for the dubious conduct of western philosophers who do not criticize their political leadership on philosophic grounds; disclosing their ignorance, shouting to the world that ‘THE KING IS NAKED’? What is the use of multiculturalism if they turn their back on justice? Could it be that popularizing legalism is the way to postpone multiculturalism?

This paper was presented at the "New Europe at the Cross Roads" conference (sponsored by Loyola College in Baltimore). Munich summer 2004.