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La rhétorique – Rhetoricity

Jean-Paul Regis

The Rhetoric of Multiculturalism

Michael Clark

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1The issue of multiculturalism has dominated public debate in the United States to an extraordinary extent over the past ten years and has emerged as a central factor in debates over the Maastricht treaty in Europe. The social and political stake of the debate is nothing less than the future of national identity, which is being challenged by rapid shifts in patterns of immigration and by economic changes that have redrawn political geography and created tensions among groups that were invisible or simply non-existent two decades ago. Institutions, laws, and social programs designed to meet needs imagined in the 1960s appear grossly inadequate today, and their failure has undermined faith in the traditional forms of political discourse that created and sustained them.

2Much of the debate over multiculturalism has focused on that discourse, often in the most literal sense of efforts to establish and enforce a "national language." The issue of linguistic diversity is, however, only one part of a more general argument about the relation between public discourse and the social bond. Unfortunately, the most influential statements in that argument often rely on a model of discourse as communication and consensus that cannot serve as the social bond for a diverse community. Any viable defense of a coherent multicultural society will require a new understanding of the relation between public discourse and social cohesion, one that recognizes cultural difference as the enabling principle of the discursive act and posits that act as the ethical touchstone of a just society. There are few signs of that recognition as the debate over multiculturalism is currently conducted in the U.S., but an examination of several claims from both sides can suggest how the debate might be reshaped by a genuine rhetoric of multiculturalism.

3The topic of multiculturalism and social unity is not new, of course. Most attempts to define a coherent national identity in the U.S., for example, have begun with the multitudinous heterogeneity of the earliest European immigrants, as did St. John de Crèvecoeur when he posed the question "What is an American?" about the time the Declaration of Independence was written:

He is an American [Crèvecoeur wrote], who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world [...] The American is a new man. (39-40)

4Crèvecoeur's answer to the founding question of American culture remains popular today. This passage is often quoted to lend historical credence to assimilationist arguments that discount ethnic and racial affiliations in favor of an underlying national unity, though that unity is now more often characterized as a shared set of values or a common language than a "new race." Arthur Schlesingers new book The Disuniting of America is typical, both in its invocation of Crèvecoeur at the beginning and its celebration of unity near the end:

[...] what has held the American people together in the absence of a common ethnic origin has been precisely a common adherence to ideals of democracy and human rights [...] the republic embodies ideals that transcend ethnic, religious, and political lines. It is an experiment [...] in creating a common identity for people of diverse races, religions, languages, cultures. (118)

  • 1 Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education in the U.S., has distinguished between these posit (...)

5The problem inherent in these models of cultural transformation is that the sea change supposed to create Americans out of the immigrants is never quite complete. Ethnic, religious, and political differences persist and constantly threaten the vision of a uniform cultural identity. To the assimilationist, this threat promises catastrophe: "If the republic now turns away from Washington's old goal of 'one people,' what is its future," Schlesinger asks; "disintegration of the national community, apartheid, Balkanization, tribalization?" (118). To most people on the political left, however, the persistence of heterogeneous cultural groups in the United States is not only a fact but a social ideal to be encouraged, usually in the name of an egalitarian liberal pluralism or occasionally in a more radical spirit of cultural separatism or dialectical conflict.1 In an article published in The American Scholar, for example, Molefi Kete Asante declared flatly "There is no common American culture as is claimed by the defenders of the status quo. There is a hegemonic culture to be sure, pushed as if it were a common culture [...] The real division on the question of multiculturalism is between those who truly seek to maintain a Eurocentric hegemony over the curriculum and those who truly believe in cultural pluralism without hierarchy" (Debating PC, pp. 308-08).

  • 2 In the 1970s, Federal Courts in the U.S. often forced school boards to address the issue of lingui (...)

6Despite these different goals, most people involved in the debate over multiculturalism agree that the schools are the principal mechanism of socialization in the U.S., for better or worse (usually worse). The titles of the most popular attacks on multiculturalism are instructive: Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students (1987), and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (1991). Most of these critiques blame the schools for virtually all of the ills afflicting contemporary society, but the most intense criticism is focused on the status of the language arts, particularly literary history and the teaching of English. Efforts to diversify the canon of Western literature by including even a few works by "minority" authors have inspired apocalyptic Jeremiads by national political leaders, and pragmatic attempts to deal with the bewildering range of languages spoken by students and their parents have led to repeated proposals to amend the U.S. Constitution to render those attempts illegal.2 The reasoning behind those proposals was expressed by Senator S. I Hayakawa, who proposed the first "Official English" amendment in 1981:

  • 3 In the 1980s, no less than sixteen separate amendments to the national constitution were proposed (...)

What is it that has made a society out of the hodgepodge of nationalities, races, and colors represented in the immigrant hordes that people our nation? It is language, of course, that has made communication among all these elements possible. It is with a common language that we have dissolved distrust and fear. It is with language that we have drawn up the understandings and agreements and social contracts that make a society possible.3

7The social consequences of the Official English movement are frequently jingoistic and racist, but its faith in the transformative power of a national language as a mechanism for social unity is also shared by those who endorse cultural diversity. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the most eloquent and influential proponents of multicultural education, has compared American culture to a "conversation among different voices — even if it's a conversation that some of us weren't able to join until recently" (175). This metaphor of community as conversation also informs the extensive program for educational reform and cultural access proposed by E.D. Hirsch in Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. While often embraced by D'Souza, William Bennett, and others who insist on a nation of "one people," Hirsch's project in fact assumes a multicultural society in which differences persist and even proliferate under the umbrella of a "national vocabulary" that serves as "primarily an instrument of communication among diverse cultures." His list of words and phrases that constitute "What every American needs to know" will "enable effective and harmonious exchange despite personal, cultural, and class differences."

8Hirsch's concept of a national vocabulary is purely instrumental and at least ostensibly neutral to social and political difference: "After more than two hundred years of national life, the main elements of our vocabulary have transcended the sphere of contention and dispute." The common elements of that vocabulary "are the medium of public discourse, the instruments through which we are able to communicate our views to one another and make decisions in a democratic way" (107). Those who master the semantic and syntactic rules of this neutral code will acquire what Hirsch calls an "enabling competence" that can then be used to effect "wise change" in the cultural politics embedded in the contingencies of the world outside the classroom (137).

9Hirsch's notion of competence is borrowed from linguistics and is the theoretical partner of "performance," the term for what people actually do with the linguistic competence they possess in the abstract. Hirsch's insistence that competence is based on semantic content rather than mastery of generative rules is a departure from the usual sense of the term, but his notion that one need only recognize the terms on his list and not know much about them — what he calls "The superficiality of the knowledge we need for reading and writing" (15) — suggests a purely functional sense of meaning or "knowledge" that is consonant with more conventional understandings of "competence" among linguists. For Hirsch, as for Schlesinger and Bennett and Bloom and D'Souza, the competence needed to participate in the political life of the U.S. — or, more simply, to be an American — is based on mastery of a uniform, abstract and politically neutral cultural code. That code can then be embodied in specific cultural performances that reflect disparate origins and ethnic identities in much the same way that the surface structure of a sentence registers the immediate conversational setting without affecting the deep structure that generated the sentence itself. Bennett put the point this way in a speech titled "In Defense of Our Common Language":

As fellow citizens, we need a common language. In the United States that language is English [...] This is not contradicted by the fact that it is an enduring glory of this nation to have welcomed with open arms immigrants from other lands, speaking other languages; nor by the fact that it is a feature of our free society that these languages can continue to find a place here, in the United States. But beneath the wonderful mosaic of cultures here, beyond the remarkable variety of languages, we are one people.
We are one people not by virtue of a common blood, or race, or origin. We are one people, above all, because we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights....(Language Loyalties 363)

10The problem with these proposals to found social unity on a "common language" is that they confuse specific discursive performance with general linguistic competence. Consequently, two very different sources of cultural unity are conflated; a set of beliefs or what might be called a common semantics of citizenship, and the purely functional goal of discursive contact, what Gates called "conversation." This conflation allows Bennett to call the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence a common "language," though it is one of the most specific, dramatically performative speech acts ever committed. What Hirsch and Bennett are proposing here is a "deep structure" of citizenship with no transformational rules, a model of cultural competence that is identified with only one set of performative terms or, more simply, that produces the same statement over and over again. While recognizing the existence of diversity, such a model cannot account for it as anything other than extrinsic to the fundamental process of expression and hence meaningless, as ungrammatical as it is unpatriotic within the "language" of American society.

  • 4 For an exemple of such a response, see The Graywolf Annual Five: Multicultural Literacy: Opening t (...)

11Objections to Hirsch's project usually quarrel with the content of his list but do not often question the linguistic model of social unity that inspired it. As a result, "diversity" is simply elevated to the status of a normative standard or the fundamental cultural criterion that imites us all in a common identity.4 Some participants in the debate over multiculturalism have tried to imagine models for heterogeneous social discourse that do not rely on a uniform normative code, however. Among others, Stanley Fish, J. Hillis Miller, and Abdul JanMohamed have suggested alternatives that posit social coherence as the product of negotiated differences rather than some transcendent foundation of shared beliefs or common identity. Various as these alternatives are, they share an assumption about social relations that are expressed most concisely by Fish. Responding to a claim that the "primary subject matter of public schooling" is "the commonalities, not the differences" in society, Fish insists instead that "The common, in short, is a contested category [...] it is difference all the way down ·, difference cannot be managed by measuring it against the common because the shape of the common is itself differential" (246-47). Rather than yet another standard to be imposed as the foundation of U.S. society, difference here is a historical and political function — differential-that insures social coherence through a process of contestation and change. Miller makes much the same point with his concept of artistic and critical acts as "inaugural performatives" that are at once bound to the "standards of hegemonic culture" but "transform and then reinscribe these terms in a founding gesture that is without precedent or ground." Hence, rather than perpetuating a continuous and uniform cultural tradition,

The work of artist or of cultural critic is a response to an infinite demand not only from a heritage to which the artist or critic must be faithful, but from the "other" of that heritage. That heritage is already inhabited by its other. Its other is within, not outside. All cultures were and are constantly changing always differing from themselves. They do not exist as a single, monolithic unity. (Illustration, p. 57)

12That work has already begun in some of the essays collected by JanMohamed and David Lloyd in The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse (1990). In their introduction, JanMohamed and Lloyd reject the "universalist humanism" inherent in both assimilationism and pluralism. They prefer a theory of minority discourse that reinterprets its differences from the dominant culture not in terms of deviation or inadequacy or "diversity" but as "indications and figurations" of resistance to the domination that produced them:

"Becoming minor" is not a question of essence [...] but a question of position: a subject-position that in the final analysis can be defined only in "political" terms — that is, in terms of the effects of economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement, social manipulation, and ideological domination on the cultural formation of minority subjects and discourses. (8-9)

13All three of these alternative models of multiculturalism posit the existence and continuity of a social bond on difference and conflict and so depart significantly from more conventional attempts to treat social conflict as a corruption of a more fundamental discursive unity. Yet, in their insistence on establishing a model of multicultural discourse that would be continuous with social conflict of everyday life, most of these alternatives tend to collapse discourse into the social practices that support it. The exception is Hillis Miller, who does attempt to theorize the relation between "artefact and context" as a "perpetually iterated anamorphosis of the real" (58) in which social conflicts are revealed and restaged in the work of art. Hence the work of artist or critic can be considered a "performative political act" because "the work, whether of art, popular culture or criticism, changes the society into which it enters, makes it, in however minute a way, begin again" (56).

14Consequently, Miller claims there is a close connection between "the responsibility to read," as he puts it, and the necessity to act within the world outside the text. That connection produces the ethical urgency that underlies reading and writing in Miller's argument and transforms its Utopian longing into an operational principle: "The work of the cultural critic, like the cultural products she or he studies, can and should be performed in the name of a justice and democratic equity that have not yet come into the world and that can now only be indistinctly imagined" (57).

  • 5 As Miller puts it, "The further development of this complex problematic of the inaugural performat (...)
  • 6 Lyotard presents his argument in part as an answer to Jurgen Habermas's theory of discursive commu (...)

15For all of his emphasis on the performative dimension of the "inaugural act," Miller stops short of articulating the connection between the "internal" differences of the work and the social practice of democratic equity that should inspire it.5 That connection is, however, argued at length in the work of Jean-François Lyotard, whose theory of a "pragmatics of discourse" accounts for the persistence and proliferation of cultural diversity as the product of specific discursive practices guided by the "Idea of a society of free beings." While far removed from the terms of the debate over multiculturalism even as it is reflected in the work of Miller, Fish, and JanMohamed and Lloyd, Lyotard's account does respond directly to the unified language models underlying most assimilationist arguments for a single cultural identity. Lyotard's alternative abandons the assimilationist's goal of communication within a homogeneous discursive community in favor of a social bond formed and sustained through the endless generation of cultural difference through a heterogeneous iteration of rhetorical exchange.6

16The general outlines of Lyotard's analysis of the "postmodern condition" are well-known by now. Societies of the past, Lyotard argues, were held together by reference to a shared set of beliefs and ideals that he describes as a "metanarratives." Postmodern society has lost faith in any single metanarrative, however, and faces the "atomization' of the social into flexible networks of languages games" (17) with few or no common elements. This condition is, of course, exactly the state of disintegration feared by Schlesinger and other assimilationists, but for Lyotard it simply represents a different kind of social bond, one based on "agonistics" rather than agreement, difference rather than identity. "The social bond is linguistic," Lyotard says, "but is not woven with a single thread. It is a fabric formed by the intersection of at least two (and in reality an indeterminate number) of language games, obeying different rules" (40).

17"Most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative," Lyotard continues; "It in no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity. What saves them from it is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice and communicational interaction" (41). Unimpeded by the criteria of consensus and shared truth that unite discursive communities in more conventional models, that interaction is explained by Lyotard in terms of disagreement and conflict, "the search for dissent" that generates the difference that keeps conversation going. Rather than enforcing a single metanarrative, Lyotard says that society must encourage a "pragmatics" of "little narratives" [petits récits (60)], "limited in space and time" and endlessly evolving in new and innovative linguistic moves that respond to immediate "practical" needs of the interlocutors and to the shifting conditions of knowledge in which the language games are always conducted (67).

18What holds these discrete sites of rhetorical exchange together is the "obligation to reply" (JG 52), the responsibility to respond to the stories one is told: "someone speaks to me; he places me under an obligation [...] What kind of obligation? The obligation to retell" (JG 35). This obligation subjects us to the social bond — both in the sense of subjecting us to this single regulation and in the sense of interpolating the individual as subject through the rhetorical structure of being addressed — but it also empowers every subject in the network of obligation. "Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at 'nodal points' of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be [...] No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addressee, or referent" (PC 15).

19Thus Lyotard's rhetoric implies a specific social practice guided by an "Idea of justice" that would guarantee equal access to the language games for everyone concerned. When asked if he believed that this idea could really serve as a principle of regulatory politics, Lyotard admitted simply "I don't know" (JG 94), but he added that "the idea that I think we need today in order to make decisions in political matters cannot be the idea of totality, or of the unity, of a body. It can only be the idea of a multiplicity or of a diversity" (JG 94). To be sure, Lyotard admits, this "Idea of a society of free beings" is no more than a teleological fiction in the spirit of Kant's "as if" (JG 77-78). In practice, the social bond is always "traversed by terror" and dominated by a majority that attempts to exclude others from the rhetorical exchange. "Majority does not mean large number, it means great fear" (99), Lyotard says, fear of being silenced, "of a possible interruption of the social bond, which is simply called "death" in all of its forms: imprisonment, unemployment, repression [...] Any language game based on exclusion, therefore, is based on the fear of death and is unjust." Each of his petits récits must therefore be governed by a "justice of multiplicity" (JG 100) that recognizes and preserves the inherent "minority" status of every game. What we need, Lyotard says, is

a politics of Ideas in which justice is not placed under a rule of convergence but rather a rule of divergence. I believe that this is the theme that one finds constantly in present-day writing under the name of "minority." Basically, minorities are not social ensembles; they are territories of language. Every one of us belongs to several minorities, and what is very important, none of them prevails. It is only then that we can say that the society is just. (95)

20What Lyotard proposes, then, is the same participatory, egalitarian democracy celebrated by the assimilationists, but without the need for "common language" to transcend cultural difference in the name of social unity and the communication of shared ideals. The logical and, more importantly, political contradictions of that claim are self-evident, and they stem from the mistaken belief that a unified community must be based on a idealized model of communication between subjects who are linguistically identical. Lyotard suggests, on the other hand, that communication or "consensus" is not the only basis for the social bond, and that in fact — and in practice — the rhetorical obligation to reply establishes a pragmatic link across cultural differences that might be called a "rhetoric of multiculturalism" that is more compatible with the goal of a participatory democracy than the quest for a common language and ideological consensus.

21The multicultural character of most contemporary societies is a fact of global economic and political pressures that will not be changed by any theory of language, but the legislation and funding that determines how that fact affects our lives is determined by the terms, quite literally, in which a society represents the connections among its cultural territories. When those terms contradict the conditions they govern, as the demand for a common language and ideological uniformity contradicts a participatory democratic state, one or the other must give way. We have ample proof of the assimilationists' willingness to hack away at the social body to make it fit the Procrustean bed of cultural consensus. It is therefore essential to contest the theoretical coherence as well as the pragmatic efficacy of reactionary demands for a uniform discursive community, and to do that we must develop a rhetoric of multiculturalism that is as precise, specific, and as productive as the multifarious connections forged everyday by those who live and work in a diverse world.

  • 7 Lest there be any confusion about his intentions, Crèvecoeur overturns the whole hierarchy of know (...)

22It would be naive, of course, to think that an arcane philosophical theory of postmodern rhetoric will have much impact on the debates about multiculturalism as they are now conducted. I would therefore like to conclude by quoting Crèvecoeur, since his third Letter is so often invoked as the founding text of social union. I am more interested in Letter XII, however, which he wrote some years later after becoming disillusioned with the hypocrisy of a slave-holding democracy and the bloody violence of the "new race" that had colonized America. Observing the unsettling phenomenon of people who had been captured by Indians only to find that they preferred their life as captives to the one they had known in the European settlements, Crèvecoeur remarks "there must be in their [the Indians'] social bond something singularly captivating and far superior to anything to be boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are [become] Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those aborigines having from choice become Europeans! (209). After reciting a long list of ways that Indian society is superior to life in the British settlements, Crèvecoeur then proclaims his intention to pull up stakes and move to the frontier: "You may therefore, by means of anticipation, behold me under the wigwam. [he writes]... I shall erect it hard by the lands which they [the Indians] propose to allot me, and will endeavour that my wife, my children, and myself may be adopted soon after our arrival [...] According to their customs, we shall likewise receive names from them, by which we shall always be known" (214-15).7

23Here is Schlesinger's fears of "tribalization" dramatically realized, and had he read this far into Crèvecoeur's Letters, Schlesinger might have reconsidered the transformative power of the new world he celebrates in the earlier letter. For what Crèvecoeur finally teaches us is that social identity is never uniform or stable but is in fact constantly changing, responding to shifts in political alliance and personal fortune, and always open to renegotiation as we learn new languages and are known by the names we find there. That lesson is as important today as it was to Crèvecoeur's America, for we now live in a world where immigration is not so much something that occurs between societies and as it is the founding principle that joins us all together.


Works cited

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: how Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Improverished the Souls of Today's Students. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

James Crawford, ed. Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Dinesh D'souza. Illiberal Education: The Politicals of Race and Sex on Campus. New York: Random House, 1991.

Henry Luis Gates, Jr. Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Darryl J. Gless and Barbara Herrnstein Smith, eds. The Politics of Liberal Education. Durham: Duke university Press, 1992.

Jurgen Habermas. Legitimation Crisis. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975. Legitimationsprobleme in Spatkapitalismus.·. Suhrkamp Verlag, 1973.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987.

Jean-François Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1979.

Jean-François Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud. Just Gaming. Translated by Wlad Godzich. Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 20. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985. Au juste. Christian Bourgois, 1979.

J. Hillis Miller. Illustration. London: Reaktion Books, 1992.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992.


1 Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education in the U.S., has distinguished between these positions as "pluralistic multiculturalism" and "particularistic multiculturaiism." Debating PC, p. 276.

2 In the 1970s, Federal Courts in the U.S. often forced school boards to address the issue of linguistic diversity in the classroom. The most important of these cases is Lau v. Nicols (414 U.S. 563 [1974]). The suit was filed against the San Francisco Unified School District on behalf of Chinese students who could not speak English. In his decision, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to argue that the school's exclusive use of English in the classroom violated the ban on discrimination "on the ground of race, color, or national origin," in "any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," as the school in question did (253).
Immediately after the Supreme Court's decision, the U.S. Congress passed the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (20 USC 1703 [F]), which required school districts "to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs." Soon after this Act was passed, courts began ordering bilingual education for most students in public schools. In at least one case, the Act was extended to include students who spoke a minority dialect of English, Black English. See Martin Luther King Jr., Elementary School Children et al. v. Ann Arbor School District, 473 F. Supp. 1371 (E.D. Mich. 1979).

3 In the 1980s, no less than sixteen separate amendments to the national constitution were proposed in the U.S. Congress. In 1984 the Senate convened hearings on this issue, as did the House of Representatives in 1988. Generally, the amendments call for designating English as the Official Language of the U.S., and most go on to outlaw the use of other languages by government agencies except in special cases such as emergencies, and schools where those languages are being taught as "foreign." Texts for several of the proposed amendments are collected in Language Loyalties, pp. 112-113.
None of these amendments ever came to a vote, though several states passed similar amendments to their own constitutions. Nevertheless, their spirit lived on in attacks on bilingual education by other senators and Secretary of Education Bennett. 1983, Hayakawa founded a national lobbying group called U.S. English based on the principle that "In a pluralistic nation such as ours, government should foster the similarities that unite us, rather than the differences that separate us." (129)

4 For an exemple of such a response, see The Graywolf Annual Five: Multicultural Literacy: Opening the American Mind, edited by Rick Simonson and Scott Walker (Saint Paul, Minn: Graywolf Press, 1988). The anthology concludes with "A Preliminary List" of items not included by Hirsch in his list from Cultural Literacy, many of which refer to Asian, Latino, and Native American cultures. The editors introduce their list by observing that they "think the list compiled by Hirsch and his colleagues is fine as far as it goes, but that their list is alarmingly deficient in its male and European bias. Failure to articulate a viable theoretical account of the relation among the cultures represented on these two lists does not, of course, mean that the essays and terms in The Graywolf Annual Five are unimportant or irrevelant to the project of a multicultural literacy. It just tends to reinforce the foundationalist premises of Hirsch's list, "fine as far as it goes," and so perpetuates a model of social cohesion that finally must disregard cultural differences in the name of a unified mutual identity at the level of national vocabulary, however broad and eclectic that vocabulary might be.

5 As Miller puts it, "The further development of this complex problematic of the inaugural performative as it is specifically exemplified in the work of the cultural critic must here he deferred as work for the future" (158, n. 39).

6 Lyotard presents his argument in part as an answer to Jurgen Habermas's theory of discursive community, the Kommunikationsgemeinschaft, or "communication community" (Legitimation Crisis 105). That community is formed of participants who share a set of "intersubjectively recognized norms," the validity of which can be "discursively redeemed — that is, grounded in consensus of the participants through argumentation" (LC 105). Because discourse is ideally "that form of communication that is removed from contexts of experience and action," the interaction of participants is undistorted by questions of domination. Habermas calls the consensus that emerges from that communication "rational will " that transcends specific interest and local conflicts:
The discursively formed will may be called "rational" because the formal properties of discourse and of the deliberative situation sufficiently guarantee that a consensus can arise only through appropriately interpreted, generalizable interests, by which I mean needs that can be communicatively shared [...] argumentation is expected to test the generalizability of interests, instead of being resigned to an impenetrable pluralism of apparently ultimate value orientations (or belief-acts or attitudes). (108)
The ideal discursive community described in this model is seldom if ever realized in actual situations. It is, rather an Unterstellung, a "reciprocal supposition" or enabling assumption that allows the community to form and operate.
This suppostion can, but need not be, counterfactual; but even when counterfactual it is a fiction that is operatively effective in communication. I would therefore prefer to speak of an anticipation of an ideal speech situation. (LC, xviii)
Thus, "anticipation" is crucial to Habermas's theory — as it is to Miller's — because it joins the ideal represented by the assumption of communication to the reality of the social context, or theory to practice. It allows an egalitarian discursive community to form against, or within, pluralistic social contexts that embody exclusive "belief-acts or attitudes." Communication thus "anticipates" a unified egalitarian community within the diverse, heterogeneous, contradictory context of present social conflicts. As his translator puts it, Habermas's "argument is, simply that the emancipated form of life that is the goal of critical therory is inherent in the notion of truth : it is anticipated in every act of communication" (xviii), though each specific act does not depend on it. It is thus a theory that enables a specific practice to take place, but one that is organized in such a way that it looks beyond the concrete specificity of the moment to a universal state of social unity.
Habermas's theory of consensus obviously resembles the assimilationist's idealistic invocations of a common language and shared values, but it is much less idealist and repressive because Habermas stresses the active formation of a unified consensus through argument rather than the transformation of subjective identity and its political correlative, the authoritarian imposition of a uniform norm by force and exclusion. Habermas argues that such coercion only distorts true communication, and the specious legitimacy it may produce will be transitory and repressive — or "partial" (142) — as measured against the universality of the rational will. (See Habermas's argument against Nikolas Luhmann, LC 130-42, and "Legitimation Problems in the Modern State" in Communication and the Evolution of Society).

7 Lest there be any confusion about his intentions, Crèvecoeur overturns the whole hierarchy of knowledge and the role of mastery that characterized the "pluralistic" interest in primitive cultures in the European Enlightenment: when earlier Europeans went to the woods, he says, "They went there to study the manner of the aborigines, I to conform to them [...]; some went as visitors, as travellers; I, as a sojourner, as a fellow-hunter and labourer" (223).


University of California, Irvine

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1993

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