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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 6

June 27, 2017

Regardless, the foregoing suffices to show that liberals recognize that human beings are naturally social creatures by means of a neat inversion:

“Liberals supposedly think that society rests on an artificial social contract, and that state power is needed to keep naturally asocial people together in society. But there is a sense in which the opposite is true: liberal believe that people naturally form and join social relations and forums in which they come to understand and pursue the good. The state is not needed to provide that communal context, and is likely to distort the normal processes of collective deliberations and cultural development. It is communitarians who seem to think that individuals will drift into anomic isolation without the state activel bringing them together to evaluate and pursue the good.” (252)

With this, Kylicka turns to 3c.). On the standard liberal view, solidarity and respect for others’ rights are sustained by mutual recognition of the other’s having a claim to equal consideration. In a word, solidarity follows from a sense of justice without a need for principles regulating the common good of public life. According to the author, “Taylor believes this is sociologically naive: people will not respect the claims of others unless they are bound by shared conceptions of the good, unless they can identify with a politics of the common good” (253). To his credit, Kymlicka seconds this charge of sociological naïveté while issuing a caveat:

“Shared political principles may indeed be a necessary condition for political unity – where people disagree too deeply on questions of social justice, the result may be civil war. But shared political principles are not sufficient for unity. The mere fact that people share similar beliefs about justice is not enough to sustain solidarity, social unity, or political legitimacy.” (253-4).

While setting aside considerations about cosmopolitanism or a world-state for later, the author takes up liberalism’s universalist take on community. Certainly, liberalism has a commitment to community, but “what begins as a theory about the moral equality of persons typically ends up as a theory of the moral equality of citizens” (Black 1991). In other words, only persons of a certain kind are granted those equal rights which liberalism otherwise promises to all, namely those who are residents of a certain state. Leaving out the democratic boundary problem, Kymlicka suggests that of liberal justice that it “operates within bounded communities, and requires that citizens see these boundaries as morally significant” (255). The author goes on to show that boundaries do not, however, track differences in liberal principles of justice, so solidarity with one’s co-citizens cannot be based solely upon shared liberal principles of justice. This leads him to the conclusion that:

“If nation-states are to function as bounded ethical communities, then people must not only agree on the principles which govern their community, but must also agree that they in fact form a single ethical community which belongs together and should govern together. If this sense of community is lacking – if two groups simply do not want to stay together in a single state – then no amount of agreement on liberal justice will keep a state together.” (257)

All of which suggests that a feeling of “shared belonging or shared identity” is further necessary to the achievement to the solidarity and political legitimacy. The author considers three possible approaches to achieving such a feeling:

3ca.) Shared belonging and shared identity stem from an emphasis on a common way of life. (communitarian approach)

3cb.) Shared belonging and shared identity stem from an emphasis on common nationhood. (liberal nationalist approach)

3cc.) Shared belonging and shared identity stem from an emphasis on political participation. (civic republican approach)

If all take seriously the idea that some form of ethical community is necessary to sustain solidarity and political legitimacy and are thus inherently communitarian, they differ on the details of that community. Kymlicka dismisses 3ca.) as being naive about the chances of recovering the kinds of community capable of being sustained by a common way of life and oblivious to the exclusions operative therein which maintained them. Indeed, he puts this point sharply:

“We cannot avoid this problem by saying with Sandel that women’s identities are constituted by existing roles. That is simply false: women can and have rejected those roles, which in many ways operate to deny their individual identities. That was also true in eighteenth-century New England, but legitimacy there was preserved by excluding women from membership. We must find some other way of securing legitimacy, one that does not continue to define excluded groups in terms of an identity that others created for them.” (248-9)

In a way, this puts the communitarian approach at an even more utopian level than the liberal approach on which solidarity is generated by the knowledge of shared principles of justice. It also serves to highlight a second key aspect to self-determination: the right to determine one’s own identity. Kymlicka elaborates thereon in considering Sandel’s views on the regulation of pornography and of homosexuality as in tension with points drawn from feminism:

“On [Sandel’s] argument, members of marginalized grups must adjust their personalities and practices so as to be inoffensive to the dominant values of the community. Nothing in Sandel’s argument gives members of marginalized groups the power to reject the identity that others have historically defined for them […] in the case of pornography, Sandel is not affirming the importance of giving women the ability to reject the male view of sexuality, and to define their own sexuality. On the contrary, he is saying that pornography can be regulated whenever one male-defined view of sexuality (the pornographer’s) conflicts with another male-defined view of sexuality (the ‘way of life’ of the community) […] However the community decides, women, like all marginalized groups, will have to adjust their aims to be inoffensive to a way of life that they had little or no role in defining. This is no way to develop feelings of legitimacy amongst members of marginalized groups.” (260)

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