Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Value Pluralism and Multinational Federalism

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Value Pluralism and Multinational Federalism

Article excerpt

I detest all kinds of tyrannies, that of words and that of facts. Montaigne, Essais, Book III, VIII

Federalism is designed to prevent tyranny without preventing governance. Daniel Elazar, Exploring Federalism

The debate that has taken place over the past decade as to whether liberal democracies are suitably equipped, from a normative and institutional point of view, to deal with cultural pluralism, has revealed the need to revise both the way that liberal democracies perceive their own universalist normativity in an increasingly globalised world as well as the need to update a number of their institutions. This debate has also shown the cultural limits of traditional liberal theories and the partiality of the theoretical interpretations and practical applications of values such as freedom, equality, autonomy, pluralism or dignity in liberal-democratic multinational federalism.

This article is mainly concerned with the notion of value pluralism in liberal multinational federations. In the first section, 1 understand value pluralism as a theory of the structure of moral normativity in liberal democracies. I defend the greater suitability of value pluralism over its rival theories when one is attempting to revise democratic liberalism from the perspective of the cultural, national and normative pluralism of present-day democracies. In the second section, I link value pluralism with multinational federations in order to discuss the suitability of establishing the recognition of national pluralism, a plurinational division of powers, the participation in the processes of constitutional reform and the constitutional regulation of the right of self-determination, following the recent decision of the Canadian Supreme Court in 1998.

1. Liberal Democracy and Value Pluralism


Let us begin with two observations of a more general nature. Firstly, when one is attempting to "improve" liberal democracies, both ethically and functionally, in relation to cultural and national pluralism, two strategies may be used:

1. In the first, we may place ourselves within the theoretical tradition of political liberalism in order to be able to point out the limits, biases, prejudices and partial interpretations that it displays both in its ethical, anthropological and constitutional aspects and in its institutional aspects--such as federalism. This perspective allows us to carry out a theoretical revision in order to refine liberal values themselves and the legitimation of democracies, as well as permitting us to put forward a number of proposals for practical reform that are more suitable for refining liberal values. The aim of these refinements

and reforms is to achieve a higher degree of accommodation for cultural and national pluralism within contemporary societies. (1)

2. In the second, we may use liberal tradition as one of many possible approaches in order to build democratic polities that go beyond western liberalism and which are more in tune with the normative, linguistic, historical and cultural diversity of contemporary societies.

In terms of political theory, the first strategy attempts to create a liberal theory of cultural pluralism (or multiculturalism) and national pluralism. The second strategy is designed to produce a more ambitious multicultural theory of democracy and political liberalism. (2)

Secondly, it is possible to identify four general types of theory, including liberalism, in relation to how they understand the internal structure of moral normativity--in other words, its basic ontology:

1. Pluralist Monist theories

2. Culturally pluralist theories

3. Pluralist theories without fully rank-ordered values (value pluralism)

4. Theories with fully rank-ordered values

By monist theories I mean those that defend only one way of life as the best--a way of life that is based on a value that is considered to be a priority and which is preferable to any other way of life. …

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