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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 16

July 12, 2017

In response to the above, Kymlicka underscores the fact that the bond with a particular language or culture is not always a choice to which maintenance costs and reasonable expectations would then attach. Yet he is ready to concede that there is a more difficult question to face about the tension which may arise between autonomy and minority rights. One need only think of those minority groups opposed to liberal values or to gender equality, and one will need to think hard on whether this tension can be reconciled. The author elaborates:

“A crucial task facing liberal defenders of multiculturalism, therefore, is to distinguish the ‘bad’ minority rights that involve restricting individual rights from the ‘good’ minority rights that can be seen as supplementing individual rights. I have proposed distinguishing two kinds of rights that a minority group might claim. The first involves the right of a group against its own members, designed to protect the group from the destabilizing impact of internal dissent (e.g. the decision of individual members not to follow tradi- tional practices or customs). The second kind involves the right of a group against the larger society, designed to protect the group from the impact of external pressures (e.g. the economic or political decisions of the larger society). I call the first ‘internal restrictions’, and the second ‘external protections’.” (340-1)

The first variety concerns intra-group relations. This variety becomes “bad” should those internal restrictions shift from the person’s respecting certain conventions in order to remain part of a group to the group’s imposing conventions regardless of whether the person wishes to remain a member thereof. In contrast, the second variety concerns inter-group relations. This variety becomes “bad” should the external protections prove unfair in the treatment of one group as opposed to another, for example, by marginalizing one group to protect another’s distinctiveness. That said, the varieties of minority rights come apart insofar as a group can seek one but not the other; both are not always present within one and the same movement’s demands.

Kymlicka finds reason, however, to cast some doubt on the first variety of rights. Specifically, he thinks that the burden of proof lies with the group or movement claiming rights to govern “intra-group relations”:

“Given the commitment to individual autonomy, I believe that liberals should be sceptical of claims to internal restrictions. Liberal culturalism rejects the idea that groups can legitimately restrict the basic civil or political rights of their own members in the name of preserving the purity or authenticity of the group’s culture and traditions. However, a liberal conception of multiculturalism can accord groups various rights against the larger society, in order to reduce the group’s vulnerability to the economic or political power of the majority. Such ‘external protections’ are consistent with liberal principles, although they too become illegitimate if, rather than reducing a minority’s vulnerability to the power of the larger society, they instead enable a minority to exercise economic or political dominance over some other group.” (342)

In a word, Kymlicka finds external protections to be compatible with liberal society and governance but cautions that claims of either kind should be scrutinized before broader political and social uptake. With this, the author concludes his account of the second wave of multiculturalism and turns to the third, which he understands as a correction of the second’s misunderstanding of the liberal state’s inner workings and requirements for minorities. In particular, the author suspects that the principle of “benign neglect” towards ethonocultural diversity and a person’s ethnocultural identity is a myth. It is important to point out, as Kymlicka rightly does, that “benign neglect” makes stronger demands on persons than “state anti-perfectionism” for which the state simply “rules out certain kinds of arguments or justifications for public policy – namely, those which appeal to a ranking of the intrinsic merits of conceptions of the good life” (344). In contrast, for benign neglect to obtain, the state actively avoids promoting ethnocultural diversity “at all, even for neutral reasons of efficiency or social harmony” (idem.). Furthermore, the criterion of benign neglect could be used to distinguish different approaches to statecraft:

“Indeed, some theorists argue that this is precisely what distinguishes liberal ‘civic nations’ from illiberal ‘ethnic nations’ (Pfaff 1993: 162; Ignatieff 1993). Ethnic nations take the reproduction of a particular ethnonational culture and identity as one of their most important goals. Civic nations, by contrast, are indifferent to the ethnocultural identities of their citizens, and define national membership purely in terms of adherence to certain principles of democracy and justice. For minorities to seek special rights, on this view, is a radical departure from the traditional operation of the liberal state. Therefore, the burden of proof lies on anyone who would wish to endorse such minority rights.” (345)

Accordingly, the supporter of liberal culturalism must go one of two routes: show that she meets the burden of proof or that the burden of proof is itself misplaced. Kymlicka opts for the second route and cites the example of the United States. Throughout its development, public policy decisions have been made to achieving such goals as a common language of governance. For the author, this suggests that:

“These policies have all been pursued with the intention of promoting integration into what I call a ‘societal culture’. By a societal culture, I mean a territorially concentrated culture, centred on a shared language which is used in a wide range of societal institutions, in both public and private life (schools, media, law, economy, government, etc.). I call it a societal culture to emphasize that it involves a common language and social institutions, rather than com- mon religious beliefs, family customs, or personal lifestyles. Societal cultures within a modern liberal democracy are inevitably pluralistic, containing Christians as well as Muslims, Jews, and atheists; heterosexuals as well as gays; urban professionals as well as rural farmers; conservatives as well as socialists. Such diversity is the inevitable result of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to liberal citizens, particularly when combined with an ethnically diverse population. This diversity, however, is balanced and constrained by linguistic and institutional cohesion; cohesion that has not emerged on its own, but rather is the result of deliberate state policies.” (346)

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