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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 17

July 13, 2017

While such a societal culture is by its nature thin and allows for rival notions of the good, it nonetheless requires integration into the core societal institutions. Hence it belies the account of “benign neglect” laid out above all while prompting new outlook on the multiculturalism debate. One must better take account of this culture and the identity bound up therein in order to make sense of the injustices to which liberal nation-building can give rise, be it cultural imperialism or ethnocultural prejudice. In the face of nation-building and injustice, minorities may have recourse, following Kymlicka, to one of five strategies: 1.) mass emigration, 2.) negotiation of integration terms, 3.) self-government rights and powers, 4.) permanent marginalization and 5.) military overthrow. Given the feasibility and morality questions surrounding, 1.), 4.) and 5.), the author deems 2.) and 3.) more likely strategies.

Naturally, one and the same strategy may make work equally well for all minority groups, a point which the author takes pains to make clear. Thus, it is important to fit strategy to group type of which Kymlicka delineates five: national minorities, immigrant groups, isolationist ethnoreligious groups, metics and racial caste groups. To each he devotes a short treatment to show what strategies, if any, may improve their situation vis à vis the majority culture.

National minorities come in two kinds: substate nations and indigenous peoples. Despite important differences, these minorities share an overall resistance to nation-building and typically pursue strategy 3.) with the aim of greater autonomy. If, previously, liberal nations sought to disempower and suppress national minorities, the past century has seen a remarkable change in attitude:

“It is increasingly recognized that the suppression of minority nationalism was mistaken, for both empirical and normative reasons. Empirically, the evidence shows that pressuring national minorities to integrate into the dominant national group simply will not work. Western states badly misjudged the durability of minority national identities. The character of a national identity can change quickly-e.g. the heroes, myths, and traditional customs. But the identity itself-the sense of being a distinct nation, with its own national culture-is much more stable. Liberal-democratic governments have, at times, used all the tools at their disposal to destroy the sense of separate identity amongst their national minorities, from the prohibition of tribal customs to the banning of minority-language schools. But despite centuries of legal discrimination, social prejudice, and indifference, national minorities have maintained their sense of forming a distinct nation, and their desire for national autonomy.” (351)

Combined with normative considerations, these empirical observations serve to show the counterproductive effects of nation-building directed at national minorities and the need to change tack. While unable to espouse a theory of permissible nation-building, Kymlicka suggests that, in the case of national minorities, the burden of proof lies with the majority culture rather than the minority group.

By immigrant groups, the author intends both those who immigrate for economic reasons and those who immigrate for political reasons. Still, an important distinction needs to be made between those who become citizens and those who do not. Kymlicka focuses on the former while reserving the latter for discussion of “metics” below. So, how do immigrants on the path to citizenship handle nation-building efforts from the majority culture? The author opines that they are unable to resist such efforts but nonetheless seek to exact a certain price for compliance. In short, they pursue strategy 2.) in contrast with national minorities. He writes:

“Indeed, many recent debates over ‘multiculturalism’ in immigrant countries are precisely debates over renegotiating the terms of integration. Immigrants are demanding a more tolerant or ‘multicultural’ approach to integration that would allow and support immigrants to maintain various aspects of their ethnic heritage even as they integrate into common institutions operating in the majority lan- guage. Immigrants insist that they should be free to maintain some of their old customs regarding food, dress, recreation, religion, and to associate with each other to maintain these practices. This should not be seen as unpatriotic or ‘un-American’. Moreover, the institutions of the larger society should be adapted to provide greater recognition and accommodation of these ethnic identities-e.g. schools and other public institutions should accommodate their religious holidays, dress, dietary restrictions, and so on.” (354)

Although one might point to the need for assimilation in order to become “loyal and productive members of society”, this begs the question by predetermining that immigrants are not already loyal and productive. Imposing further entry costs on immigrants does little to help the process of assimilation. On the contrary, it would be worthwhile, as the author suggests, to lower those costs through mother-tongue services and common institution more sensitive towards cultural and identity differences. Only then can the costs imposed be considered to have fairer terms.

The third group, isolationalist ethnoreligious groups, pose rather more difficulties for nation-building and injustice. First, it should be noted not all such groups seek to isolate themselves from modern society, making strategy 4.) limited in applicability. Secondly, it is unclear whether liberal democracies should continue to offer such groups concessions common institutions, civic duties and standard education even if standard practice to this point has often extended them these concessions. After all, such groups may impose stringent internal requirements which impinge on their members’ autonomy. In short, their situation merits case-by-case scrutiny.

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