Multiculturalism without Culture

By Anne Phillips | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Multiculturalism without Culture

IN A 2001 book, Will Kymlicka declared that the long battle to establish the justice of minority rights was over.1 Those concerned with the rights of ethnocultural minorities had successfully redefined the terms of public debate. It was now widely recognised that states can harm their citizens by trivialising or ignoring their cultural identities, and that this harm (commonly described, following Charles Taylor's work, as a failure of recognition)2 can be as damaging to people as denying them their civil or political rights. It was also widely accepted that laws, rules, and institutions are likely to be biased towards the identities and interests of majority cultural groups, even when they have been crafted in ways that are supposed to make them culture blind. “If we accept either or both of these points,” Kymlicka continued, “then we can see minority rights not as unfair privileges or invidious forms of discrimination, but as compensation for unfair disadvantages and so as consistent with, and even required by, justice.”3 In conditions of cultural diversity, what the majority supports does not guarantee citizen equality, and it may be necessary to supplement majority decisions by a stronger regime of minority rights. In some circumstances—most notably those involving the rights of indigenous peoples—justice may mean devolving authority to subnational groups. In others, it may be more a matter of reviewing the society's institutions to see whether and where its rules and symbols disadvantage minority groups. In many cases, insisting that everyone must abide by identical rules will turn out to be unfair to minorities. Sometimes it is more equitable to have different rules for different groups.

In making what subsequently proved a premature declaration of victory, Kymlicka was not suggesting that the cultural wars were over. He predicted, however, that future critics of multiculturalism would spend less time challenging the intrinsic justice of minority rights and more querying the perverse effects of particular multicultural policies. There would be fewer arguments about whether it was possible to be a liberal and yet

1 Will Kymlicka, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizen-
ship
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 32.

2 Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” in Multiculturalism and the Politics of
Recognition,
ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

3 Kymlicka, Politics in the Vernacular, 33.

-11-

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Multiculturalism without Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Multiculturalism Without Culture 11
  • Chapter Two - Between Culture and Cosmos 42
  • Chapter Three - What's Wrong with Cultural Defence? 73
  • Chapter Four - Autonomy, Coercion, and Constraint 100
  • Chapter Five - Exit and Voice 133
  • Chapter Six - Multiculturalism Without Groups? 158
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 191
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