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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 13

July 7, 2017

If not these institutions and practices, one may wonder what then remains for inculcating civic virtue. It is at this point that Kymlicka recalls perhaps the most significant candidate vehicle for civility: schools and the education system. Indeed, these seem perfectly situated to bring persons up in “the kind of critical reasoning and moral perspective that defines public reasonableness” (ibid.). That said, a question makes itself immediately felt. If such reasoning and perspective undermine deference to authority and particular associations within society are predicated on such deference, what reason do such associations have to buy into the educational system as the source of civic virtues? Put somewhat differently, why should their members, future and present, be brought up in common schools wherein one sees the reasonableness of religious disagreement?

“To learn public reasonable- ness, students must come to know and understand people who are reasonable and decent and humane, but who do not share their religion. Only in this way can students learn how personal faith differs from public reasonableness, and where to draw that line. This sort of learning requires the presence within a classroom of people with varying ethnocultural and religious backgrounds. This suggests that the ideal of liberal education involves some degree of detachment from the student’s home community or culture, and interaction with people from other communities and cultures.” (308)

It is precisely the liberal ideals of “detached schools” and “critical engagement” which sit ill with conservative groups already opposed to less robust liberal ideas on common schooling. If one might be tempted to accommodate certain groups, such as the Amish, on the basis of their relative non-participation in civil society and politics, the same accommodation cannot be extended to all groups opposed to integrated schooling in that at least some groups are actively involved in shaping civil society and politics for which the liberal civic virtue of public reasonableness seems indispensable. More generally, this suggests that the school as a source of civic virtue faces its own theoretical and practical shortcomings: schools provide an opening for virtue inculcation yet form but one part of civil society and the broader “virtue ecosystem” on which they rely for support, support which may be withdrawn by concerned parents at any given moment.

In light of the above, Kymlicka finds the only appropriate conclusion to be “that no single institution can be relied upon as the exclusive ‘seedbed of civic virtue’, and that citizens learn an overlapping set of virtues from an overlapping set of institutions” (310). Indeed, it seems very much a question of a virtue ecosystem with its own dynamics, its give and its take. That said, the line of questioning itself may be misplaced in that the real question may well be why citizens “would choose to exercise those virtues when they conflict with other preferences or goals” (ibid.). What then ensures that a person adopts the self-reflexive attitude of citizen as opposed to other possible attitudes when faced with the costs of public reasonableness?

If concerns over long-term legitimacy and stability seem remote from the person’s interests, then these will be too insubstantial to carry much weight in deliberation. In reply, liberal theorists will most likely offer the following two-pronged approach:

“At one level, liberals emphasize that citizens are assumed to have a sense of justice, and this shared commitment to principles of justice provides a sense of solidarity that unites people with different con- ceptions of the good. At another level, liberal nationalists argue that social unity based on principles of justice is too thin, and must be further stabilized and strengthened by the development of a shared sense of nationhood, based on a common language, history, and public institutions.” (311)

Leaving aside the question of where a noted liberal like Rawls fits in on this picture, one should then consider the extent to which different theorists are comfortable with the talk of nationhood invoked here by the author. Yet, or so Kymlicka argues, they put forward conceptions of justice which trade on ideas predicated on nationhood. We need only consider that most liberals would be hard pressed to maintain that a shared sense of justice can operate independently of a common language and institutions in which to adjudicate different rights-claims. Similarly, deliberative accounts of democracy, with the noted exception of transnational instances, assume the need for a single language with which to deliberate. All this leads the author to conclude:

“Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how deliberative demo- cracy is possible without a shared language. But the diffusion of a shared language within each state is one of the main goals of nation-building, and in assuming the existence of such a common language, theorists are implicitly assuming the appropriateness of nation-building. Indeed, liberal nationalists argue that the shift from an aggregative to a deliberative model of democracy, and the recognition of the need for greater civic virtue, simply strengthens the argument for building a sense of common nationhood. As David Miller puts it, a common sense of national identity ‘is the precondition of achieving political aims such as social justice and deliberative democracy’ (Miller 1995: 162,96; cf. Kymlicka 2001: ch. 10).” (312)

In a word, liberal and deliberative democracy seem parasitic on some form of national identity in order to achieve civic virtue. Faced with such an alternative, supporters of the former positions may prefer to recall common objections to nationhood and shift their attention to the international level and cosmopolitan citizenship. Certainly, globalization and the shift to an increasingly post-national scene may lead one to believe that the nation-state is no longer the locus of citizenship. But there is also good reason to temper this view with reference to the observation that the locus of political action in transnational organizations remains the nation-state (such as in the EU) and the worry that greater transnational citizenship could undermine its domestic counterpart. In a word, it seems difficult, if not undesirable, to pursue a cosmopolitan citizenship strategy free of national or domestic citizenship considerations.

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