In Identity and Violence, the concluding sentence of which I have quoted above, Nobel Prize economist Sen meditates on what the Patriarch of Venice has well indicated as the unavoidable fact of civilizational hybridity. Sen, like Cardinal Angelo Scola, is sensitive to the concerns that many of us, who call ourselves cultural conservatives, have over what passes for multiculturalism:
“There is a real need to rethink the understanding of multiculturalism both to avoid conceptual disarray about social identity and also to resist the purposeful exploitation of the divisiveness that this conceptual disarray allows and even, to some extent, encourages. What has to be particularly avoided (if the foregoing analysis is right) is the confusion between multiculturalism with cultural liberty, on the one side, and plural monoculturalism with faith-based separatism on the other. A nation can hardly be seen as a collection of sequestered segments, with citizens being assigned fixed places in predetermined segments. Nor can Britain be seen, explicitly or by implication, as an imagined national federation of religious ethnicities.” (p. 165)
And neither can the United States — or Europe. Yes, we are members of communities of faith. But there is common humanity, and, in various places and at various times, common civilizations have flourished, each articulating that common humanity in its own unique way. Our own civilization has been fairly unique in offering hospitality to those who come to us from other civilizations and their outskirts, trusting to our common humanity and to a set of institutions and traditions designed to allow members of different communities to collaborate as neighbors, clients, and colleagues. And this has worked remarkably well, at least in America.
August 1, 2007