Cover: What is Philosophy of Mind? by Tom McClelland

There Is No Such Thing as Cultural Identity

François Jullien

Translated by Pedro Rodriguez



France’s next election campaign,1 they tell us, will come down to “cultural identity.”

It will turn on such questions as: Shouldn’t we defend France’s “cultural identity” against the self-segregation of various communities?2 and Where do we draw the line between tolerance and assimilation, acceptance of differences and identitarian demands?

This is a debate that is occurring throughout Europe and, more generally, concerns the relationship between cultures within the schema of globalization.

But I think it starts with a conceptual error. It cannot be a matter of culture-isolating “differences” but of divides [écarts] that keep cultures apart but also face to face, in tension, and thereby promote a common [du commun] between them. This is a matter not of identity, as cultures by their nature shift and transform, but of fecundities, or what I will call resources.

Rather than defend any French cultural identity, as anything of the sort would be impossible to identify, I will defend French (European) cultural resources – “defend” meaning not so much protect as exploit. Resources arise in a language just as they do within a tradition, in a certain milieu and landscape. Once we understand this such resources become available to all and no longer belong [n’appartiennent pas]. Resources are not exclusive, in the manner of “values”; they are not to be “extolled” or “preached.” We deploy them or do not, activate them or let them fall into escheat. For this each of us bears responsibility.

A conceptual shift of this kind requires us to head upstream and redefine three rival terms – the universal, the uniform, the common – to draw them out of their equivocalness. In like manner, it will behoove us to head downstream and rethink the “dia-logue” of cultures: dia from divide [écart] and progress [cheminement],3 logos from the common of the intelligible. For it is the common of the intelligible that yields the human.

Should we confuse our concepts we will bog down in a false debate, head straight away for an impasse.


  1. 1. This book was written prior to the 2017 French presidential election – Ed.
  2. 2. A sociological phenomenon known in France as communautarisme. [All notes by the translator unless otherwise specified.]
  3. 3. I.e., progress in the sense of heading down a path.