cover image The Defeat of the Mind

The Defeat of the Mind

Alain Finkielkraut. Columbia University Press, $33.5 (165pp) ISBN 978-0-231-08022-4

In a provocative, philosophically grounded contribution to current debate on multiculturalism and ethnicity, French thinker Finkielkraut draws on the universal values of the French Enlightenment to argue that every citizen in a democratic society has an obligation to become fluent in the dominant language and culture. He maintains that the cultural relativism advanced by French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and by Third World theorists such as Frantz Fanon has led to a contemporary ``cult of difference'' and to nationalist politics that exalts group identity over individual freedoms. Finkielkraut critiques the seductive perils of the German model of the Volk (people), whereby the individual can join the nation only if he or she belongs to an ethnic group, and he detects reverberations of this line of thought in anticolonial, anti-Western attitudes and in the modern multicultural movement. He concludes this essay, published first in 1987 in France, by analyzing corrosive effects of the spread of Euro-American culture, particularly rock music and the cult of youth, on non-Western peoples. (Apr.)