Well after the success of my last revision piece I’m going to do another. This is indulgence on my behalf, but to be blatantly honest, it beats writing boring past essay answers over and over again, and I got a lot of feedback and comments on Twitter because of my last post. Honestly, I didn’t expect my revision to fall into a Liberty versus. series, but hey ho!
Today, I’ll take a look at liberal principles and the problems of multiculturalism. As ever, any feedback (and it can be good!) is wanted.
Firstly, let me start with a disclaimer – *I think multiculturalism is a good idea* – bare that in mind, it may get a bit liberal ranty.
“Multiculturalism is a body of thought in political philosophy about the proper way to respond to cultural and religious diversity.” The response of many is that we must give people of a cultural or religious minority “group rights” which protect them from the tyranny of the majority. Will Kymlicka is one such proponent of group rights and takes a “liberal egalitarian” approach to the matter. He argues that by the accident of birth, people are born into minority cultural or religious groups, they make no choice and it is luck that places them in society. As a result, because they fall within a minority it is legitimate to grant them special protections and even to support affirmative action.
Yet this is completely ILLIBERAL. It is illiberal to grant minority groups affirmative action or special conditions solely because they are in the minority, in fact it is illiberal to grant them special rights for any reason. For example, to grant women group rights in selection quotas resulting in all women short-lists; or A-Lists for ethnic minorities adopted by the Conservative Party in the UK are illiberal. It denies the majority, who have done nothing wrong (except be born into the majority) the chance to participate, flying in the face of democracy and liberalism. It also denies voters the chance to actively participate, they are presented with an artificial choice. You simply cannot stick the word positive in front of discrimination and think that everything is rosy.
So where do we go from there?
Iris Young argues that universal citizenship cannot be sustained in a plural society. Plurality means that people are going to be different, therefore giving everybody equal rights undermines the rights of some groups.
i) Equal participation
ii) Leaves behind particularity and denies differences
iii) Indifferent treatment, law denies the needs of certain groups
Treating people who are different exactly the same is intolerant. Equality (wrongly) dominates difference. Surely we don’t want to live in an intolerant society whereby we treat people of different cultures exactly the same? Or do we…
We can break society down into the public and the private sphere. The public sphere is where Government operates, it tells you how much tax to pay, how long you have to go to school for etc. The private sphere is where the Government should have no control, for example what you wear, who you marry etc. Would we be a liberal society if we treated everybody the same in the public sphere? I think so. Chandran Kukathas suggests that groups suffer because of the primacy of autonomy under liberalism, but we shouldn’t abandon liberalism. Groups should instead simply remain in the private realm. We should grant the same basic liberties to everybody, no more to some, and no less to others. People should be allowed the freedom of speech, even if you disagree with it. People should be allowed to practice a religion of their choosing, and be allowed to wear religious accessories as they see fit. The ban in France on religious clothing is as illiberal as affirmative action.
We should be happy to celebrate the differences between people, from different opinions we evolve as a society. Multiculturalism is to be encouraged, but we should not be granting special privileges to any group. The Government should act solely in the public sphere and remain outside of the private sphere, and to suggest this is not intolerant as suggested by Iris Young.