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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 20

July 18, 2017

The above considerations suffice, for the author, to shift the burden of proof from multiculturalism’s defenders to its would-be critics. Barring further empirical evidence, there is little reason to suppose that multiculturalism and liberal democratic stability are conceptual opposites, distinct and incompatible across all cases. What will instead be necessary is greater attention to the details surrounding particular instantiations of such a relation. The author underscores this in a footnote to the above:

“Philosophers’ claims about the relationship between minority rights and social unity are often doubly speculative: first we speculate about the sources of social unity (the ‘ties that bind’), and then we speculate about how minority rights affect these ties. Neither sort of speculation is grounded in reliable evidence. For example, some political philosophers have suggested (a) that it is shared values which form the bonds of social unity in modern liberal states, and (b) that immigrant multiculturalism and/or multination federalism reduce the level of shared values. There is no good evidence for either of these speculations. I seriously doubt that minority rights have reduced shared values, but I equally doubt that it is shared values which hold societies together. (See pp. 253-7 above) Other philosophers suggest that it is shared experiences, shared identities, shared history, shared projects, or shared conversations which hold countries together. We have little evidence to support such claims about the source of social unity (and even less evidence about how minority rights affect these factors). We simply do not know what are the sources of social unity in multiethnic and multi nation states. To argue against minority rights on the grounds that they erode the bonds of social unity is therefore doubly speculative: we do not know what the real bonds of social unity are, and we do not know how minority rights affect them.” (376, footnote to page 368; cf. Kymlicka 2017)

Finally, Kymlicka turns to the politics of multiculturalism as it is practiced. He suggests that, like other politico-theoretical approaches surveyed in the volume, multiculturalism may take either a forward- or backward-looking form, either both at once or successively, depending on the aims of the group pressing their rights claims. More specifically:

“Multiculturalism takes these divergent political forms because modernization is a challenge not only for the mainstream society but also for minority groups. Multiculturalism can be invoked by minority groups to attack the conformism and conservatism of the larger society, and to pressure it to accept the new realities of openness and pluralism. But some members of the minority groups themselves fear this new openness, and invoke multicultural- ism precisely to justify suppressing the freedom and changes it brings. As a result, multiculturalism is sometimes invoked by liberals against a narrow and conformist conception of the national culture, and sometimes invoked by conservatives to defend a narrow and conformist conception of a minority culture.” (369)

Wherefore a strong ambiguity in its concrete everyday manifestations:

“As with communitarianism and civic republicanism, the political implications of multiculturalism depend in part on whether the people invoking multiculturalism accept the liberal premiss about the revisability and plurality of our ends. If they do, then we are likely to see a liberal form of multicultural- ism which seeks to challenge status inequalities while preserving individual freedom. If not, then we are likely to see a conservative form of multicultural- ism that seeks to replace liberal principles with a communitarian politics of the common good, at least at the local or group level.” (ibid.)

In the end, only a greater attention to details of this sort can help to sort liberal nation-building and minority groups out from their conservative counterparts, a note on which Kymlicka closes the multiculturalism section.

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