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How Successfully Can Liberals Address The Concerns Of Multiculturalism?

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How Successfully Can Liberals Address the Concerns of Multiculturalism?

Previously it was thought that the debate over multiculturalism was essentially the same as the debate between the liberals and the communitarians. The liberal-communitarian debate revolves around the priority of individual freedom; liberals insist that individuals should be free to decide on their own conception of the good life. Liberal individualists argue that the individual is morally prior to the community, that the community is only important if it benefits the individuals within it. Communitarians, on the other hand, disagree with the concept of the Ð''autonomous individual' as they view people as embedded in particular social roles and relationships. The place of multiculturalism within liberal theory remains very controversial.

The term Ð''Millian Liberalism' is known among contemporary political philosophers as the view of John Stuart Mill, that it is the job of the state to promote autonomy. He applied this to the role of the state in terms of education. Mill felt that the state should be restricted to requiring satisfactory performance in annual public exams and the fathers of the children who failed would have to pay Ð''a small fine'. This theory was influential in that Mill and other contemporary philosophers believe that a liberal society enables individual autonomy possible, however this does not commit them to the proposition that the state should promote individual autonomy.

Will Kymlicka's work examines the ethnic and racial diversity of societies, and the increasing connection among these societies. In Multicultural Citizenship he analyses the nature of the individual and culture, the connection between groups and society, and society as a whole. Kymlicka believes cultural diversity has become a key feature of contemporary society.

Kymlicka's view is that there is not necessarily an incompatibility between liberalism and multiculturalism. He believes that contemporary liberals have lost many of

the core ideas and shows that nineteenth century liberals supported minority rights. He places more importance on culture than contemporary liberals as culture helps us critically evaluate our conception of the good. Liberalism looks on the individual as autonomous and able to act. Tolerance and respect for the rights of others are part of this, so pluralism in social and political affairs is a necessary feature of a liberal society. Kymlicka defines liberalism as:

"primarily concerned with the relationship between the individual and the state, and with limiting state intrusions on the liberties of citizens".

Although often individualism and individualistic rights are often viewed as the defining characteristic of liberalism, Kymlicka argues that

"liberalism also contains a broader account of the relationship between the individual and society Ð'- and, in particular, of the individual's membership in a community and culture".

Kymlicka distinguishes two types of ethnocultural groups; national minorities in the multination states and ethnic groups in polyethnic states. National minorities are groups that have in common some or all of history, community, territory, language or culture. A minority of this kind could have come about involuntarily through conquest or colonization or it could have voluntarily agreed to enter a federation with one or more other nations, peoples or cultures. Polyethnic states on the other hand, is when minorities voluntarily immigrate to other countries. He argues that immigrants generally wish to integrate into the society and culture that they enter.

One of the issues within this topic is whether minorities share basic liberal principles or need minority rights, if so then what type of rights? If groups are indeed liberal, why do their members want minority rights? Shouldn't they be satisfied with traditional common rights of citizenship?

According to Kymlicka, national minorities have the right to retain their culture, and should be recognised as distinct. Therefore national minorities should have access to self-government rights or special representation rights. These rights should be recognised on a permanent basis as these are inherent rights of the national minority. However in polyethnic states the minorities are said to want to integrate into the society that they enter whilst at the same time wanting to retain some aspects of their culture, and so Kymlicka says they can be accorded polyethnic rights. Examples of these could be policies relating to ending racism and discrimination, exemption from some rules which may violate religious practises and public funding of cultural practises.

A crucial problem for liberal defenders of multiculturalism is how they deal with cultures that limit the liberty of members and where respect for individual freedom of choice is limited or nonexistent. In order to deal with this problem, Kymlicka makes a distinction between internal restrictions where an ethnocultural group may seek to use state power to restrict the rights of its own members in the name of group solidarity, and external protections which is the right of a group against the larger society, designed to protect the group from impact of external pressures.

Critics of these rights use the example that the treatment of girls and women in some cultures seems unfair Ð'- customs such as arranged marriage, female circumcision etc tends to occur when the rights of collectivity are given precedence over the rights of the individual. Liberal culturalism rejects the idea that groups can legitimately restrict the basic civil or political rights

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