Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship / Becoming Free: Autonomy and Diversity in the Liberal Polity
Burke, John Francis, Journal of Church and State
Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship. By Will Kymlicka. Oxford: Oxford University, Press, 2001. 383 pp. $18.95.
Becoming Free: Autonomy and Diversity in the Liberal Polity. By Emily R. Gill. Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 2001. 292 pp. $19.95.
Over the past decade, liberal political theory has been steadily engaging the challenge of reconciling its commitment to autonomy with the oft-times highly scripted practices of cultural and religious communities. Against this backdrop, Kymlicka's and Gill's texts, in disparate ways, are noteworthy attempts at cultivating diverse liberal democracies.
The initial section of Kymlicka's text reiterates the distinction, in his previous works, between immigrants who should be guaranteed fair processes of integration, and national minorities who as conquered peoples should be allowed semi-autonomous political institutions within the overarching nationstate-for instance, Quebec vis-a-vis Canada. In the second section of his text, Kymlicka elaborates on the merits of this multinational as opposed to territorial federalism in terms of: 1) the possible scope for the lights of indigenous peoples in international law; and 2) the tension between indigenous cultures and environmentalism in the context of the politics of the developing world.
Although very concerned with the plight of national minorities, in his third section, Kymlicka critiques the growing call for a cosmopolitan liberal political system that would engage multiculturalism by transcending nation-states. Instead, Kymlicka insists that national political identities have proven to be the most effective basis for a liberal politics-hence his title that "democratic politics is politics in the vernacular" (p. 213). He, nevertheless, promotes a post-ethnic nationalism in which a political system, while fostering a particular ethnic or national identity-for instance French Canadian culture in Quebec-can simultaneously be pluralistic and accommodating to immigrants and national minorities. This argument is frankly murky, for if indeed nationalism can become "post-ethnic," then it also makes sense to suggest, contrary to Kymlicka, that one can "cross borders" through cosmopolitan political arrangements.
In his final section, Kymlicka focuses on cultivating a liberal reasonableness in citizenship education. Most notably, he distinguishes his liberal egalitarianism from what he terms right-wing liberalism in the United States, which he contends has been infected by an illiberal cultural conservatism. Overall, his engagement of communitarian and civic republican concerns from a liberal standpoint is most refreshing, even though his liberal egalitarianism might analogously be influenced as much by socialism as by liberalism.
Whereas Kymlicka dwells on novel liberal institutional arrangements for dealing with multiculturalism, Gill's focus is much more on the circumstances that enable individuals to lead autonomous lives: "The liberal polity is nonneutral in the sense that it embraces autonomy as a necessary means to the good life" (p. 3). Acknowledging how integral diversity is to the liberal heritage, she insists that this diversity is principally valuable as "an expression of [personal] autonomy" (p. 10). Indeed, whereas Kymlicka, according to Gill, "views cultural membership as a precondition of autonomy rather than as its expression" (p. 106), Gill accents the latter. Still, she adds, Kymlicka's cultural rights focus is premised on her concern for creating spaces in which critical personal reflection can project and value alternative ways of life.
For Gill, the principle virtue of liberalism is not just freedom of choice, but the fostering of personal critical reflection through which individuals can confidently value why they are making particular choices without making the content of such choices goods for everybody. …