Multiculturalism, Identity, and Rights

Multiculturalism, Identity, and Rights

Multiculturalism, Identity, and Rights

Multiculturalism, Identity, and Rights

Synopsis

This innovative volume brings a selection of leading political theorists to the wide-ranging debate on multiculturalism and political legitimacy. By focusing on the challenge to mainstream liberal theory posed by the surge of interest in the rights of minority groups and subcultures within states, the authors confront issues such as rights, liberalism, cultural pluralism and power relations.

Excerpt

Political theory has always had an uneasy relationship with the political world. The language of normative theory has been forged in response to political forms varying from small city states to vast empires, yet out of practical necessity we have had to avail ourselves of concepts fashioned in widely different circumstances. This has generated confusions which, as historians of political ideas, we can try to address and resolve. We enjoy no such luxury in our normative theorizing. Contingent situations demand attention. We bring received understandings to bear on problems that resist orthodox treatment. From time to time we despair of our established institutions and theories. Moral and political theory, we are sometimes told, rest on a mistake. Without the support of grounding assumptions that we can no longer take seriously, our normative theorizing might come to resemble a sophisticated species of special pleading. But even in these circumstances, we cannot avoid the necessity of making normative judgements. These may be well or ill considered, but the demands of social co-operation and co-ordination are relentless. The complexity of our circumstances makes normative theorizing difficult; yet as practical agents we are compelled to try to chart a course through a labyrinth of possibilities.

In this book we focus on the challenge to mainstream liberal theory posed by the resurgence of interest in the cultural identities that inform and legitimize polities, particularly since the 1990s. Our concern is primarily theoretical, though we are profoundly aware of the difficult practical issues raised by groups and sub-cultures within states that reject standard liberal means of adjudicating conflict and allocating resources. Claims for special treatment or exemptions from certain burdens necessarily introduce divisions within a citizen body. Liberals have always acknowledged that additional resources may be required to enable disadvantaged groups to contribute effectively to cultural, economic and political life. But the problem becomes much murkier if the fundamental values of particular groups are hostile to the standard tenets of liberal political order. The liberal principle of equal respect may be exploited in order to foster and facilitate projects and attitudes that actually constrain the options of individuals. Faith-based schools may propagate a limiting view of a woman's role; parents may claim an

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