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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 7

June 28, 2017

This may lead us, with the author, to the conclusion that the oppressed should be more amply enabled to define their own aims. In which case, with Herzog 1986, it is hard to see how, if liberalism is the problem, communitarianism could be the solution (484). In the footnotes, Kymlicka extends this consideration to Rawls and his treatment of public legitimacy:

“Rawls cites the need for public legitimacy as grounds for supporting rather than opposing neutrality. He claims that perfectionism threatens the public consensus, because people will not accept the legitimacy of state policies based on a conception of the good they do not share. Rawls seems to think that this will be true of any society where citizens are divided by conflicting conceptions of the good. Put at this general level, Rawls’s claim is surely false. As Raz shows, it is possible for people with conflicting ends to agree nonetheless on a procedure for arriving at a public ranking of the value of different ways of life, or perhaps to accept a particular public ranking with which they disagree but which they nonetheless see as a better second-best option than neutrality (Raz 1986: 126-32). There is no inherent connection between neutrality and state legitimacy. However, the kinds of conflicting ends in modern democracies, and the history underlying them, are such that perfectionism of the communitarian variety surely is a threat to state legitimacy.” (282, note to p. 260) (and democratic perfectionism?)

On this note, the author closes his reply to 3ca.) and turns to 3cb.), the case of liberal nationalism, which he also considers the second liberal accommodation of communitarianism (the first being political liberalism. If, for solidarity and legitimacy, citizens require something more than shared principles of justice but something less than a common way of life, it is right then to ask to what states might appeal as between the two. For some, the answer turns out to be that of nationhood. Certainly, the idea is a relatively recent development in human history to which nationalism and general enfranchisement have greatly contributed, for better or worse. But there may exist limiting cases. The author recalls that:

“State boundaries, then, do not just circumscribe legal jurisdictions, but also define a ‘people’ or ‘nation’ who form a common political community, and who share a common national language, culture, and identity. Of course, the boundaries of states rarely coincide exactly with people’s national identities. Most states contain people who do not feel a part of the dominant national community, either because they are perceived as ‘aliens’ by the majority, and so have been prevented from integrating into it (e.g. illegal immigrants; Turkish guest-workers in Germany), or because they have and cherish their own distinct national identity, and so do not wish to integrate (e.g. the Québécois in Canada).” (263)

Still, the drive towards common national identity has been surprisingly effective in certain cases, either through redrawing boundaries or, more commonly, revising the content of people’s national identities to fit existing boundaries. The combination of these facts also sketches a plausible response to one version of the democratic boundary problem:

“The location of boundaries is no longer simply the result of historical accident or injustice, but rather marks an actual change in people’s loyalties and identities. People on the other side of the border are not in fact ‘one of us’. Even if they are just 5 miles away, and even if they share the same principles of justice, they will have been raised with a different national identity, in a different national culture, with different national heroes and symbols, and often in a different national language.” (264)

Yet this solution comes with its own complications. Is the imposition of a common national identity in itself a legitimate exercise of state power?

“We can call this the ‘liberal-nationalist’ approach to social unity, since it is the approach which most real-world liberal democracies have adopted. But is it really a ‘liberal’ approach? State efforts to promote a particular language or identity may seem closer to a communitarian politics of the common good than to a liberal politics of state neutrality. Should we not perhaps describe this as a form of communitarianism?” (idem.)

For Kymlicka, this hinges on the kind of national identity being promoted. This cannot be a shared conception of the good life. That said, a shared sense of belonging to the same society, whatever their interpretations of its past and hopes for its future, seems less objectionable. He adds:

“What underlies this shared national identity? In non-liberal states, shared identity is typically based on a common ethnic descent, religious faith, or conception of the good. However, these cannot provide the basis for social unity in a liberal state, since none of them is shared in modern pluralist states. What then makes citizens in a liberal state feel that they belong together, that they are members of the same nation? The answer typically involves a sense of shared history, territory, a common language, and common public institutions. Citizens share a sense of belonging to a particular historical society because they share a language and history; they participate in common social and political institutions which operate in this shared language, and which manifest and perpetuate this shared history; and they see their life choices as bound up with the survival of this society and its institutions into the indefinite future. Citizens can share a national identity in this sense, and yet share very little in terms of ethnicity, religion, or conceptions of the good.” (265)

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