Exit Multiculturalism, Enter Trans-Culturalism

Inter-culturalism (or multiculturalism as it is commonly referred to) comes in different forms. You have multicultural state ideologies, which emphasize the importance of in­clusion and diversity, claiming that the more diverse cultures you have, the better. You have corresponding anti-discrimination and pro-diversity poli­cies in companies. You have “inter-faith dialogue” movements, which seek to find common ground and mutual respect among believers of diffe­rent faiths. You have “affirmative act­ion” programs, international child­ren’s summer camps, the peace move­ment, political correctness seeking to ban whatever words have become racist slurs—and so forth. Among theo­rists you find such think­ers as the philosopher Charles Taylor, who em­phasizes the importance of ethnic minority groups having “rights” to the preservation of their culture.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Trans-culturalism which is a key component of Gemeinschaft politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

The general idea here is that ethnic tensions are to be resolved through a high degree of exposure of ethnic groups to each other, and that more diversity is al­most always preferable to less.

The problem with multiculturalism is of course that it does not qualify which kinds of diversity are good, in what quantities, and under what circumstances. It’s just that diversity is good in-and-of-itself, which is then taken as a dogma, and it is often seen as unethical to even question this assumption: multiculturalism is good, period. This naturally leaves the field open to all sorts of dysfunctional social and cultural practices to be defended in the name of ethnic or cultural diversity, be it forced mar­riages, brainwash­ing and scaring children with de facto ghost stories, or female circumcision.

Inter-cultural­ism has important roots in anthropology and ethnology. What anthro­pologists­ have found time and again is that the modern pro­ject—its bur­eaucracy, market and “civilization”—has oppressed and des­troyed the life­-worlds of smaller societies, disrespecting their ways of seeing the world and ruining their societal dyna­mics. In our days, this view is perhaps most fam­ously represented by the anthropologist James C. Scott, who has argued in Seeing Like a State (1998) and Against the Grain (2017) that all develop­ment from agriculture and onwards may be a mis­take. Anthropologists hang out with animist cultures and notice that life there isn’t so bad. They notice there are many “beauties lost”, and that there is a profound richness and diversity which is tragically effaced by modern civilization. So the stance gen­erally becomes to defend the mino­rity cult­ures against discrimination and oppression from the majority. A defen­se of understanding, multiplicity, div­­er­sity—and a critical distance to one’s own culture.

On a strictly logical level, the inter-culturalist idea doesn’t really work. It emphasizes that all cultures are equal, and that each of them has a right to exist, but it is still somehow preferable with more different cult­ures rather than fewer. This leads to self-contradictions: a) If all cult­ures are equal, this means that cultures which work against multicult­ural­ism and seek to retain isolation and purity should also be seen as equal; b) if all cultures have a right to be preserved, they must also be allowed to defend themselves from subcultures splitting off, which then works aga­inst a greater diversity; and c) if all cultures should be exposed to one another, this leads to mono­culture, which often effaces cultural differences in the first place.


Trans-culturalism is a multi-perspectival and developmental view of cul­t­ures and ethnicities; it sees all of these as being in constant flux. In a way, it is the synthesis of the three former perspectives.

Cultures and ethnic identities can always be trans­formed, and they should be transformed to be the best ver­sions of them­selves, whenever this is possible without destabilizing people’s lives too much. Even if hum­ans do need cultures, shared imaginaries, narratives, histories, cus­toms, traditions and other vital aspects of Gemeinschaft—this does not mean that all current cult­ural forms and expressions are necessarily good and conducive to sustainable human flourishing, or that all combinations of cultures are mutually en­riching under all circumstances.

It is an empirical matter of when cultures spur development and ex­change with each other, or when they create pathological dissonances that breed conflict, confusion, insec­urity and resentment. The answer, natur­ally, differs from case to case. And it is a matter of cultural discourse and ex­change to determine which values should—in the long run—trump which other values. Is freedom better than chastity? Under the circum­stan­ces of modern life, yes! Are human rights better than respecting the logic of caste systems? Yes. Is equality better than slavery? Yes. Is peace-loving better than war? Yes. Is gender equality better than patriarchy? Yes. Are animal rights (or some other version of caring for all sentient beings) better than anthropocentrism? Yes. This does not mean that these values should be defended at all costs, that they should be forced upon all people under all circum­stan­ces. It is simply not worth the rapid break­down of someone else’s world, or an ethnic cleansing, or an inquisition, or a Thought Police. But given the choice, given the chance, we can and should evolve cultures.

Cultures have a right to exist, but it is not an absolute right. And in the last instance, all cultures will change and evolve either way, so we might as well have some ideas regarding in which direction they should develop.

But that does not mean certain cultures have infinite rights to im­pose their values upon others; it just means the more universal and functional values should be allowed to win in a longer Darwinian struggle, and that such victories should be sec­ured in the least painful and detri­mental way possible. Cult­ures generally have something to learn from one another—and the aim of trans-culturalism is to make sure that this ex­change is gen­uinely enriching, sustainable and conducive to human flour­ishing.

Trans-culturalism corresponds to a more metamodern take on ethni­city. In academia you can find early beginnings of a trans-culturalist per­spective among sociologists, such as Michael O. Em­erson’s and George Yancey’s 2010 book, Transcending Racial Barriers: Toward a Mutual Obli­ga­tions App­roach.

The best example I know of trans-culturalism in action is in the Belgian town of Mechelen, under the ingenious mayor Bart Somers, who also received a “World Mayor Prize 2016” for his efforts. Belgium was the European country with the largest per capita outflow of ISIS fighters. But Mechelen, with a population of some 85,000, has had no such regi­stered cases. A couple of decades ago, the town had plenty of ethnic ten­sions, a large group of alienated immigrant inhabitants and grow­ing nation­alist and racist sentiments. All of this was turned around by a number of poli­cies and practices under the leadership of Somers. Initially, the city estab­lished a much stronger police presence on the streets so that people could feel safe. Hence, housing prices stopped falling in “unsafe areas” and segregation was curbed. Then, they had forceful information campaigns against dis­crimi­nation and racism, urging tole­rance and open­ness as civic obli­gations of all citizens, creating a common civic identity around such values. Then the mun­icipality officials talked the white middle-class fami­lies into putt­ing their kids back into the schools with many children of immi­grants, family by family—hun­dreds of them—by giving them speci­fic guarantees of how the quality of their kids’ education would be preser­ved. Then they put higher pressure on dysfunctional immigrant families to fulfill their social obligations and live up to their increased status in society, offering to supp­ort the civic actors who played important parts in this. And then—this is where it gets really radical—they sent Muslim kids on special study trips to Córdoba, Spain, where they learned about the era when Islam was a digni­fied Euro­pean power and Córdoba was a center of science and tolerance, a multi­­cultural society ahead of its time. The kids were thereby presented with a positive narr­ative of what it means to be Muslim: to be a pinnacle of enlightened civ­ilization, as the Caliphate of Córdoba was in the 10th century AD.

You see what they did there? Mayor Somers and his crew took a major­ity culture and pushed it towards tolerance, and they took a minority cul­ture and gently pushed for its transformation in a progressive direct­ion. That’s trans-culturalism in action, and it is also the beginnings of meta­modern Ge­meinschaft Politics—and the beginnings of the listening socie­ty. How cool is that? [i]

Mayor Bart Somers with his city Mechelen in the background.

All of this is an example of what smart Gemeinschaft Politics might look like. Imagine if what Mayor Somers is doing was already part and parcel of how societies diffuse ethnic tensions. And could it be further deve­loped? Maybe there could be meeting places and settings that provide facilitated exchanges between different ethnicities? Wouldn’t that drama­tically improve society, lessen ethnic tensions and create a firmer basis for a transnational global community?

Yes, it’s an increased level of the inti­macy of control. But is it oppre­s­sive and mani­pulative? Or is it just con­structive and liberating? Should socio­logical, cult­ural and ethnic issues really be beyond the scope of the political realm?

Stupid forms of Gemeinschaft Politics will be nationalist, non-nation­alist, or inter-cultur­alist. Smart Gemeinschaft Politics will be trans-cult­ur­alist.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Bart Somers did write a book about it all, but it’s in Dutch.

See: Somers, B., 2016. Samen Leven. Een hoopvolle strayegie tegen IS. Belgium: Houtekiet.