Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship



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Power-Sharing as a Vehicle for Peace


Finally, in this last section, I would like to look at asymmetries of power, how power centres can be disaggregated and dispersed, and how power-sharing arrangements can play a vital role in brokering peace, not only between but also within states. To a certain extent, Kymlicka’s project is about power-sharing. The crux of Kymlicka’s work is to raise groups to a level of equality – equality within groups and equality between groups. However, the tools Kymlicka gives us do not so much transfer power or authority but instead mark a form of non-interference into the sovereignty of minority (national) group affairs through Kymlicka’s distinction between internal and external restrictions (Kymlicka, 1999a, p. 117). Groups attain a degree of autonomy from one another and semi-independence; the majority is unable to interfere in the choices of the minority group. Such restrictions are not in conflict with liberalism says Kymlicka; instead, they can actually prevent oppression of one group over another. Kymlicka is trying to model Dworkin’s resource egalitarianism and distributing not just resources, but also culture (writ power) to the underprivileged and systematically disadvantaged.

Kymlicka’s strategy to overcome cultural hegemony and to override privilege of choice may in fact work however conversely towards reinforcing them. While power-sharing is indeed an important step forward – the terms of incorporation of these minorities and the ways in which culture and ethnicity become embedded in choice are equally important for our consideration. As we have already seen, to many minority groups – particularly indigenous peoples – Kymlicka’s proposed “non-interference” is not enough. Many minority groups find that “Kymlicka’s Constraint”153 leaves them nonetheless subject to the authoritative voice and rule of the majority nation legislation, unequal partners – as the ascriptive title “minority group” labels them.

In considering power relations, it becomes clear that the term “minority rights” is itself a misnomer: often oppressed groups do not form minorities (such as women) and likewise oppressors do not always form majorities (such as the whites in South Africa). The genocide in Rwanda is case in point; in the conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis the issue was not about numerical majorities/minorities but about the vicissitudes of control over the wheels of power. Yet the main formulation of Kymlicka's argument is presently one of scale, not of power politics. For example, Kymlicka cites as justification for the native restriction of mobility that the Indians did not demand 87% of the land or form Bantustans (1989, p. 247). He addresses the same issue in terms of maintaining a numerical majority of Indians for voting, instead of focusing on the underlying systems of domination and colonization which are deeply intertwined in native demands for territory.

There are two aspects of Kymlicka’s theory which he deals with separately but which I believe should be treated as significantly related: the demand for sovereignty (Kymlicka’s national minority rights) and the need to make our societies more pluralistic (or in Kymlicka’s terms polyethnic). In what follows, I will begin with an investigation of the bases for pluralism and then lead into a discussion on the meaning of sovereignty, by which I aim to show that both our de facto pluralism and de jure sovereignty cannot be disconnected from one another and properly speaking should be mutually reinforcing.


        1. Unavoidably Side by Side


The starting point for plural societies is to understand what Immanuel Kant over two centuries ago described as our condition of living “unavoidably side by side” in the world. Liberalism, it would seem, is well-suited to this task. Not only Kymlicka, but also other scholars have pointed out that liberalism is the ideal ground for living well with others who are different from us. As cosmopolitan theorist Jeremy Waldron says, the liberal tradition has been premised on the notion of difference, the great liberal thinkers “assume that we are always likely to find ourselves, in the first instance, alongside others who disagree with us about justice” (Waldron, 2000, p. 171). This is at odds with the countervailing communitarian view, which begins with the idea that we belong in a community of those who are similar to us (and similarly the liberal nationalist view which says we should live close to those with whom we share deep associative bonds and familial/historical ties). To the contrary, the liberal tradition prides itself on allowing people space to pursue their own conceptions of the good without others’ (or the state’s) interference. Waldron says that in a liberal society individuals and groups need to be made to feel as if they belong regardless of their differences, and that their contributions and various identities are considered respected and meaningful (Waldron, 2000, p. 171).

John Rawls, the ultimate reference point for liberalism of the 20th century (and the key reference for Kymlicka as well), also believes that our society is composed of many separate and sometimes opposing comprehensive doctrines. His theory articulates a way to mediate between various parties and their diverse attitudes and worldviews, to found a concept of justice and a set of legal norms the people not only accept but are themselves the authors of. Rawls’s solution relies however on individuals being able to articulate through reason their beliefs and values, which has come under attack by the culturalists and the communitarians, including Kymlicka. These critics say that we cannot abstract from our identities, the notion that we can separate ourselves from our culture in order to defend our identity-based choices in rational discourse is an unrealistic one. Further, as Brian Barry warns, defining and defending “good reasons” to the majority culture may be steeped in power issues of domination and authority, which themselves are culturally shaped.

Take, for example, the issue faced in Canada, with the case of a Sikh gentleman, Mr. Baltej Singh Dhillon, who in 1990 became the first officer of the Royal Canadian Mounties allowed to wear a turban in place of the traditional Stetson hat. At the time, the multiculturalism debate was being pushed forward in Canada with authors such as Kymlicka leading the way. Yet, despite the intellectual debates on multiculturalism at the time, many “rational” arguments were given against Mr. Dhillon’s adaptation of the official Mountie costume, by detractors who did not adequately understand or take into consideration the importance of wearing a turban as a fundamental religious duty for a devout Sikh male. Pluralism or multiculturalism, through their lens, was mistakenly viewed as a threat to liberal equality, which was confusingly taken to mean equal treatment for all. However, as Kymlicka points out, equal treatment is often wrongly confused with identical treatment.

Indeed, as we have already mentioned, Rawls’s theory has the potential to go beyond its own conclusions, as Kymlicka also correctly identified. Rawls’s theory describes a “difference principle” whereby difference can be allowed so long as it will be invoked to better the position of the society’s most disadvantaged. In a way that Rawls did not himself propose, Kymlicka connects these sources of disadvantage to cultural ones. Kymlicka points out that the culturally disadvantaged sometimes require accommodation in order to feel accepted within the wider society, or to fully embrace the common shared identity, as in the case of Mr. Dhillon, who clearly was embracing one of Canada’s most revered symbols, in becoming a Mountie, yet doing so on terms which did not conflict with his own worldview.

Yet, I believe for those liberals who would say that Rawls would be in disagreement on the acceptability of Mr. Dhillon wearing a turban have a serious misreading of Rawls. Indeed, it seems to the contrary that this particular case is in fact a great example of why Rawls’s theory does provide us with at least a starting basis for our living together in the world. The “overlapping consensus” which Rawls speaks of can be understood as the point of agreement wherein we bring our various worldviews into harmony – in the case of Mr. Dhillon, situated in the act of wearing the turban alongside the traditional Mountie uniform. At bottom, we are all rational beings, capable of at least describing and explaining to others why the things we hold dear are of value to us. Indeed, this step of “rationalizing”/describing our point of view is an essential step for the meeting of cultures, and indeed the introspection and development of culture itself. Once we accept that others see the world differently (which again, I believe is a fundamental premise of liberalism) then the point of our living side by side together is to look for those “meeting points”, the intersections of agreement from which we can build our common laws and society. When I truly understand and accept that others have different comprehensive doctrines, and I can accept that my own is not universal and hence cannot be seen as authoritative over them, then I open myself to the world, allow myself the possibility to live side by side – not only with others – but also with their multiple viewpoints. I thereby invite the possibility for my own viewpoint to alter with time, as I discover the difference internal to myself, from both within and without.

In a similar vein to what I am arguing, Habermas says with respect to the Sikh headdress, it is “not a question of a mysterious ‘conversion of the universal into a particular’; instead, it is a trivial case of a basic right [religious freedom] taking priority over an ordinary law or public-safety regulation” (Habermas J. , 2005, pp. 14-15). Through multilevel governance we have varied obligations says Habermas. We of course have different obligations towards our community than we do towards strangers; nevertheless, we must have first of all commitment to a shared life, and secondly a commitment to upholding basic human rights for all. It is through the law that “solidarity among strangers” is attained (Habermas, 2000, p. 524; see also Habermas, 2006, p. 85).

The difference between Habermas and Kymlicka goes back to their views on the human person and the different conclusions drawn from this. While Habermas also spurns the idea of the unencumbered self of the Rawlsian “original position”, he differs from Kymlicka and the communitarians in his key insight into the “intersubjective constitution of the self and the evolution of self-identity through communicative interaction” (Benhabib, 1992, p. 42). Habermas makes an even stronger defence of Kantian deontology than Rawls, in asserting that with the fall of teleological views with the birth of modernity, ethics must be deontological with justice coming to the fore (Benhabib, 1992, p. 43). But our intersubjectivity plays an important role in our decisions on justice, as “justice is the social virtue par excellence” (as cited in Benhabib, 1992, pp. 43-4) and thus our understanding of ourselves, of others, and of the Right, are deeply connected.

Kymlicka’s concept of the human person however, does not speak at all about intersubjectivity in the way that Habermas does, which I believe is a key insight needed in his theory. While the self for Kymlicka is ultimately alterable, its linkage to a discrete societal culture makes it somehow contained nevertheless within a bounded horizon.

Instead of focusing on group boundaries as Kymlicka does, Iris Marion Young suggests that the relations between various groups is a more fruitful starting point. Beyond essentialism and categorization, it is more important for us to consider the context and the perception of groups than determining its “intrinsic” characteristics (Young, 1995, p. 159). Groups should not be considered as discrete units, “every group has differences cutting across it” (Young, 1990, p. 273). Our imagined communities are precisely such – imagined. This means that the “group” is not a “purely present reality” (Young, 1995, p. 159), but is instead, as much a creation and result of the viewer describing it, and therefore subject to shifts in context and perspective. As Young says, groups only exist in relation to others as an experience of difference, not out of their own essential nature (1995, p. 161). To reach a state whereby these differences are accepted, in Young’s words, “political togetherness in difference” (1995, p. 157), former models of assimilation and homogenization should be dropped and instead a new approach to groups should be embraced. This means that groups should not be considered in substantive essentialist terms, but as being “constituted in relation to one another and thus as shifting their attributes and needs in accordance with what relations are salient” says Young (1995, p. 157)..

What are elements of Young’s "relational conception of group difference"? (1995, p. 165) In Arendtian fashion, what is primarily needed is a vibrant public forum that enables the heterogeneous public to resolve their differences and to overcome privilege and oppression by giving fair representation to the marginalized (Young, 1995, p. 157). While Kymlicka does emphasize giving representation rights to the marginalized, “the marginalized” of which he speaks are unfortunately limited to very concrete, specific set of terms that excludes many forms of wider marginalization amongst societies and which takes for granted the unity and tangibility of national groups. He neglects, for example, many other salient points in Young’s solution, such as the need for an inclusive and heterogeneous public space. For Young, defining groups “as Other” is a denial of heterogeneity. It is a denial of difference within groups and “reduces member of the group to a set of common attributes” (Young, 1995, p. 159). Yet, this would seem to be precisely the sort of reductionist approach that undergirds communitarian thinking and similarly the concept of societal cultures.


Identity as Sites of Overlapping Contestation and Movement


We simply cannot isolate ethnicity from other spheres of identity. We must look at various levels of oppression and how they overlap. The situations of minorities are gendered for example. Women are often oppressed in minority groups and suffer both the burden of their minority cultural status in addition to a further burden of being prejudiced against on the basis of being women. As Judith Butler writes,

Gender intersects with class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities. As a result, it becomes impossible to separate out “gender” from the political and cultural intersections in which it is invariably produced and maintained (2003, p. 31).

Further, women cannot be lumped together into a single group. As Medina writes, women of colour have been unable to related to the “unitary subject postulated by feminist theory”, and calls feminists to realize that issues of gender cannot be detached from class, ethnicity, and racial oppression (2003, p. 666). Bannerji also powerfully affirms, “denial of difference within ethnic communities silences women, socialists, gays and lesbians and other ‘others’ as culturally inauthentic and deviant” (2003, p. 37).

We cannot assume that national identity is the umbrella identity that subsumes all of our other identities leaving us with a level playground. This is dismissive of the fact that national identity itself is gendered, racial and class-based. The more one deviates from the normatively imposed national identity, the more marginalized and excluded one is. There are many inter-ethnic tensions in Canadian society and these are not limited to an English-French dichotomy, or a Canadian-Indigenous or Quebecois-Indigenous one either for that matter. There are systemic patterns of discrimination across all societies, many of which are perpetrated by the nation-state model. We need to examine these patterns of discrimination and oppression and respond to them equitably. Indigenous peoples are often at the bottom of the ladder of development, if only for this reason alone, we must seek to redress their inequitable situation. That means dialogue with the indigenous peoples, encouraging bottom-up mobilisation to change their current conditions.

Particularly, we have to examine the role of women in fostering social change and welfare. If minorities are disempowered socially and economically, then minority women are at the bottom range of the scale. The intersection of gender and ethnicity points out core groups which in and of themselves need to be acknowledged. We cannot isolate ethnic group oppression from other spheres of social identity. The interplay of gender and ethnicity can have a significant impact on the outcome of our group rights and attempts to provide lasting equality.

Lisa Wedeen, an expert in comparative politics, aims to avoid outdated essentialism through examining culture from the prism of dynamism: focusing on cross-fertilization of semiotic practices within historical movements and changing power relations (Wedeen, 2002, p. 714). Wedeen sees symbols (in text, practices, and images) as sites of contestation and examines the fragility, diversity, ambiguities, and even resistance to prevailing norms. She says that to avoid cultural essentialism, we must look at culture in a new light, and identity the “ongoing processes by which ongoing practices and systems of meaning change, are sites of political struggle, and generate multiple significations within social groups” (2002, p. 716). Similarly, Niels Nørgaard Kristensen, in his study on political empowerment in Danish society, concludes that,

In a modern world it apparently is not necessary for the individual to identify with a certain community, a certain group or with a certain set of preferences [nor] can this be said to be [a] determinant for the individual’s understanding of power or identity. We identify ourselves with many different groups. While solidarity has not disappeared, it is no longer exclusively associated with specific groups or to a shared ‘we’ (2005, p. 61).

The evidence found in Kristensen’s study, that we have multiple identifications and no longer form our lives according to “monological” group narratives (Kristensen, 2005, p. 61), indeed runs counter one of the key assumptions underlying Kymlicka’s theory, that “our capacity to form and revise a conception of the good is intimately tied to our membership in a culture” (1992, p. 140). Moving beyond this limited notion, minority rights must be grounded in a more discriminating political conception that understands the multiplicity and dialectical nature of our identity.

Our identity is formed from overlapping social spheres of varying importance, each taking a claim on us (Parekh, 1999, p. 310). Jacob T. Levy in “Multiculturalism of Fear” says that culture properly understood does not run in concentric circles, but overlapping ones; “between family and humanity there are any number of imagined communities to which we belong” (2000a, p. 122). 154 As Edward Said famously wrote: “No one today is purely one thing,” he continues,

Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worse and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe they were only, mainly, exclusively, White, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about (Said, 1994, pp. 407-408).

As Said says, we are many things together and our human existence is defined by much more than what separates us. Indeed, history shows that the greatest cultural vistas of humanity have been found, not in stable and historically continuous communities, but along caravan routes and silk roads where cultural boundaries were overcome and cultural blending led to discoveries and great intellectual renaissances.

To focus exclusively on labels and categories misses a big part of the greater picture. We form our identity in relation to others. This of course is not to negate the importance of national feelings, but it does negate prioritising any one form of identity over others, particularly if that form of identity – such as nationalism – has a distinct tendency to silence other spheres of identity and to type people under certain labels.


Fostering Cross-group Solidarity


Instead of focusing on what makes us stand apart, we must look to the shared waters of a single lonely planet. Finding ways to bridge diverse peoples is not a new idea; indeed, it echoes throughout the long corridors of the history of liberalism. Kant and Hobbes both encouraged us to find ways of living side by with those who are different from us. For Arendt, (as for Habermas and Young), an active and inclusive public space is the key to holding diverse peoples together. Rawls took this to a new level with his shared conception of justice, and newer authors like Slaughter and Connolly move the discussion to a new place with their discussion of cross-state / transgovernmental citizen networks. The question is, does Kymlicka’s theory remain faithful to Rawls’ vision, and can he go further?

One major issue with Kymlicka’s theory is that through its separation of rights according to group membership it undermines cross-group solidarity. Moving beyond the nation to secure safe access to waters for all, we need to look past what divides and build bridges, to form what have been dubbed “rainbow coalitions”. As John Joseph Borrows says, national rights run the risk of focusing “on autonomy to the exclusion of interdependence” (Borrows, 2000, p. 338). Kymlicka himself questions the sources of unity in a multi-nation state. He provides the example of Switzerland as a good example of a multi-nation state that overrides division and has come to see themselves with a strong sense of unity. However, the identity of Switzerland as three separate nations is itself questionable (Stojanovic, 2003).

Further, Kymlicka himself acknowledges that there is more of a tendency towards strife in multi-nation states than unity, as seen in places such as Lebanon and Yugoslavia, or another example (which he cites often as a good example of minority nationalism rights at work) the near collapse of the Belgian government over several decades due to internal national divisions (Kymlicka, 1998c, p. 180). Kymlicka admits that multi-nation federations are prone to conflict and that “competing nationalisms” become an inevitable “source of deep tensions and conflicts” (Kymlikca & Raviot, 1997, p. 43). Indeed, his conclusions about the fate of multination societies should give us pause when considering the efficacy of a theory advocating precisely such states.

Everything we know about multinational federations suggests that they are, and will remain, deeply divided societies, which are never going to achieve the level of social and political unity characteristic of countries with a single, shared national identity. Effective leadership can help to manage certain conflicts for a period of time, but the underlying conflicts are endemic and enduring (Kymlikca & Raviot, 1997, p. 43) (italics mine).

In other words, Kymlicka himself acknowledges the difficult tensions embedded in his own solution of remedial national rights: divisions exist and they will be enduring. His solution, rather than trying to look beyond divisions and find a way for those divided to still share the planet together is to define those divisions further by institutionalizing culture and attaching rights to group membership, thickening the lines drawn between peoples. Yet such a theory, to be effective, must at the very least begin to look at how those different groups can operate and live in peace together.

What becomes important then is not to focus on the boundaries between cultures and how to preserve them but to shift focus on the relationships between them. Not on defining boundaries but on creating channels of respect. To open spaces for meeting and for learning about each other and ultimately our selves. In “The Souls of Black Folk”, W. E. B. Du Bois remarks on the so-called “Negro Problem”, Du Bois explains that the sort of thinking which labels the Negro as a problem can be likened to a veil. Those living under the veil, are opaque to those on the outside, understood only through filters and oppositions. The resolution to this problem is to “pierce” and eventually “lift” the veil (Du Bois, as cited in Medina, 2003, p. 676). Recognition is about restoring the balance, or forming it in cases where there never was a balance. As Beiner says,

The issue here is not whether every nationalist movement will turn into a Rwanda-style bloodbath or a Yugoslav-style free-for-all of ethnocentric hatred. The issue is whether it is morally and politically attractive to give political priority (as nationalists do) to questions of national sovereignty and cultural self-affirmation (1999, p. 13).

Beiner asks us: what are the political consequences of national rights? Is it theoretically sound to prioritize culture and national rights above other forms of belonging, or above liberalism itself – if the two are faced at odds with one another? Division into separate group memberships (“distinct societies”, or “societal cultures”) is simply not a practical reality in today’s world, if it ever has been. The Quebecois and the Ojibwa will continue to live side by side, no matter how we draw the borders around them; despite the fact that they do not feel a shared identity, they still share the same waters. The question that is important is not how to sustain solidarity with one’s nation and nurture national identities, but rather, how do different groups who value differently learn how to share the same waters. How can justice and fairness be done to each group, without one monopolising the waters to the exclusion of others? While such questions inevitably have much to do with values and identities, the identities are not the key to be promoted; instead, it is the identities and differing values that have to be mediated.


De-normalize to Create Conditions of Plurality


Kymlicka’s solution to oppression and privilege is to provide special compensation to the minority group, taken as enduring measures. Young differs on this point entirely. Instead of providing “special compensation to the deviant until they achieve normality,” the institutions themselves need to be “denormalized” and plurality created within them (Young, 1998, p. 286). Kymlicka himself however, does not dwell long on questioning the institutions themselves, or on the specifically nationalist and monoculturalist drives that have helped shaped them. Instead of challenging the dominant metanarrative and seeking to make this more inclusive, Kymlicka sees the need for minority nations to engage in their own systematic nation-building efforts to ensure the diffusion of their own metanarrative over their society. As Kymlicka says:

The minority must also engage in its own competing form of modern, state-sponsored nation-building. Nationalists [in minority nations]…must use the same tools that the majority nation uses in its program of nation-building. (1998a, pp. 194-5)(italics mine).

The important question is how to make the societal culture itself less static and more open, dynamic, less ethnic, and less “White and Anglo.” This in itself is a critical point, for which Kymlicka later is dragged into murky waters by his ready acceptance of the national system by stating that even English Canada would be better off if it became more “nationalistic” and Anglo. Far from advocating a theory of multiculturalism, his theory at this point takes a dive into advocating monocultures sitting complacently side by side (or as Bannerji might put it, maintaining the “hegemonic nature of the dominant culture – elite European/white” (2003, p. 36)). While in a theoretical world this might suffice, add a touch of realism to the mix (money, power, and land) and Kymlicka’s theory can lead us perilously towards “otherness” and exclusion.

Instead of focusing on ways of making our governments more culture specific and breaking them down into smaller subunits based on these fragmented national cultures, another solution is to try to find ways of deconstructing the overall political framework. We should acknowledge the difference between a country which is firmly committed to the ethnicity of its members vs. an immigrant country such as Canada which has ethnically neutral symbols (such as the maple leaf). Perhaps the dominant Canadian social narrative is still overwhelmingly White, Male, Anglo and heterosexual; but if it is, then this is to the detriment of the great majority of its inhabitants who do not fall under these categories (including women and other marginalized groups beyond just ethnic minorities).

In following the works of Marion Young, it is not enough to merely give groups representation rights, but we need to try to re-establish the main political order in a way that is more representative of the total society, to turn it into a framework that is capable of accepting and hearing all the multifarious voices which compose it, and for providing a much needed forum for these different perspectives and peoples to call each other to justice and to build a mainstream space for tolerance.

Alice Feldman, who has done extensive studies on indigenous hearings in the US Congress and found overwhelmingly “insurmountable and sometimes pathological” barriers to hearing the indigenous perspectives in the legislative process (Feldman, 2000, p. 560), proposes that this prevailing “anti-dialogics” can be challenged through critical pedagogy, involving both sides (insider and outsider) in creating critical social change (Feldman, 2000, pp. 574-5). Feminist author Sherene Razack also speaks about how one of the most difficult aspects of group rights is that it is often hard for the dominant group to fully witness the oppression of the minority group. Caring about rights, she says, must begin first with learning to shift our perceptions and seeing (Razack, 1994, p. 7).

Habermas, similar to Rawls, says that when we live in a society of others we need to be able to explain the basis of our beliefs in a reasoned way that others who do not share those beliefs can accept. Benhabib eloquently captures the theory of Habermas, and says that in modernity we can no longer speak of a common good, instead:

We have to conceive of the faculty of reason not in the image of a homogenous, transparent glass sphere into which we can fit all our cognitive and value commitments but more as bits and pieces of dispersed crystals whose contours shine out from under the rubble. (Benhabib, 1992, p. 48)155

Habermas says that the just political system should be inclusive of all groups, and give recognition to group identities, affirmative rights may be needed to redress group-based oppression. For O’Neill, as with these other above-mentioned authors, this entails the need for an inclusive public space separated from our social groups. The public space offers members equal citizenship and an equal voice, and is “inclusive of all significant groups”, without privileging a dominant cultural group above them (O'Neill, 2003, p. 227).

As Simone Chambers says, its “voices [not] votes” that count. (Kymlicka & Norman, 2000, p. 9). Chambers speaks also about a “conception of public reasonableness” which is not only a mirror of the dominant culture but instead is reflective and also accessible to all of the various groups that compose the society. Chambers defends Canadian society and sees Canada’s open cultural environment as a strength and a sign of its “commitment to rights and recognition” (2000, pp. 64-5). The clearest symbol of this, says Chambers, is the continuing inability of Canada to ratify its constitution. For Chambers, the failure to ratify this document is not a failure in itself; instead, it is a sign of Canada’s own diversity and its “ongoing conversation” which continues over the years to accommodate “new voices and new claims” and to bring accountability to all of its citizens (Chambers, 2000, pp. 64-5). James Tully agrees on this point and echoes Chambers in saying that contrary to “consensus on forms of recognition” we need to “aim to place the free and self-determining activity of struggling over recognition within a continuous process of discussion” (Tully, 2001, p. 29). Such “struggles” are important because they ensure plurality of expression and an openness (non-definitive) towards future accommodation. Tully warns that any “definitive” rapprochement on the other hand, should be held “with suspicion, as the voice of anti-democratic domination” (Tully, 2001, p. 30).


Peace and Power-sharing


The classic study of minorities, Gurr et. al Minorities at Risk, of which Kymlicka is himself a contributing author, the authors of the book conclude that ethnic conflict is best managed by power-sharing arrangements and by granting minorities a degree of autonomy (Gurr, Harff, & Marshall, 1993). Sean Byrne, in his studies on the peace process in Ireland also reaches this conclusion, prior to 1985 all four attempts at peace had failed, it was only when a shift towards power-sharing and recognition was introduced that the negotiations were successful (Byrne, 2001). Kymlicka helps us to understand power-sharing, but leads us in to frame it in cultural terms instead of looking at sovereignty more squarely as a purely political phenomenon. Byrne, in his article on peace-making in Ireland, states that prior to 1985 there had been four attempts at peace which all failed. Since that time, peace became possible because of two central elements: recognition and inclusiveness.

Instead of focusing on giving national groups separate rights and maintaining a status quo that reinforces such national and cultural boundaries, a healthier standpoint would be to look at how we can mediate conflicts of interests between groups. Pursuance of our cultural preferences cannot be done with disregard for others. When two groups encounter a conflict of interest, the preconditions for negotiating such evaluative claims are mutual recognition and understanding. This is especially true in the case where peace and coexistence are the end goals of ethnically riven populations; equal respect must come first. As Habermas says, it is more important than other’s valuing your culture equally with their own (which is an untenable demand), what is needed most by diverse groups living together is to have their right to culture equally respected (1994, pp. 129-30).

Ultimately, culture is one thing, but the right to live and to sleep in peace is another. Sometimes the choice between peace or economic and social parity may come at the expense of culture and the survival of the social group. What then?

Survival of the group is something Kymlicka does not support unconditionally in the way that he claims the communitarians do156. The group has a right to survive so long as the group decides it is worthwhile surviving; its survival is not to be limited from those outside the group but is only subject to continuance based on the vision of its internal members. But what if, as is often the case in conflict situations or deeply divided nations, the majority group in question also feels that its survival is at stake? Their decreasing numbers, occurring perhaps due to a lower birthrate, lower immigration rate, high assimilation (to other national group/cultures) threatens the right of the group members to exist into the foreseeable future? In reifying culture in national terms, may Kymlicka inadvertently have opened the door for existential excuses for any number of illiberalisms in the name of group survival.

While collective privileges according to Kymlicka’s theory are only be given if they redress an imbalance and provide equitable recognition for a disadvantaged group, in practice it becomes difficult to draw such lines. Access to state power encapsulated in a national/cultural framework runs the risk of just the opposite, entrenching hierarchies of power and forms of control and domination of one particular cultural group over another. The crisis of minorities is not a crisis of values. On the eclipse of Huntington’s catastrophic prophesy of the doomed clash of cultures, the quandaries presented by minorities does not represent a clash of values, or of cultures, but a clash of interests – economic, military, political, and perhaps cultural interests, but not due to a lack of capacity for these cultures to coexist, but often from a lack of interest for them to do so.

Sovereignty as Relational and Non-Domination


As Rainer Forst powerfully says a “critical theory of justice” must begin with “the fact of multiple domination…one can say therefore that the question of power is the first question of justice” (2001, p. 167). Iris Marion Young has developed one of the most compelling cases for reinterpreting sovereignty as non-domination (Young, 2005), and the one which I believe offers the most insight into how to redress imbalances between groups and move forward the theory of Kymlicka. For Young, conceptualizing sovereignty as non-domination starts from the fact of the multiple spheres of oppression and injustice that determine the outcomes of our societies. While Kymlicka primarily conceives claims for sovereignty (or minority national rights) in terms of pre-existing national cultures that have dominion over large swathes of bounded contiguous land (as in the case of the Quebecois for example), taking a point of view that combines both feminist and neo-Republican157 theory, Young says that this is an unrealistic starting point to think about the majority of group claims worldwide (Young, 2007, p. 46). The majority of people who demand sovereignty often live across non-contiguous land, deeply enmeshed within another opposing group. The history between the two groups is often marked by large disparities in power and oppression of the weaker group. This is reflected, says Young, in the situation of the majority of indigenous peoples worldwide, which contrary to the theory of Kymlicka, Young takes as her starting point and the model upon which she bases her theory of sovereignty (Young, 2007, p. 44).

Young rightly says that indigenous forms of sovereignty are quite different from Westphalian sovereignty (which closely matches the national minority rights of Kymlicka). Westphalian sovereignty, as we have already touched on earlier in this Chapter, primarily conceives of sovereignty as non-interference. Indigenous sovereignty on the other hand, looks not to the isolation of groups, but to their relatedness to the whole – not only to other groups, but also (addressing a gaping hole in western normative theory), a critical interconnectedness with nature and the earth as well (Clarke & Whitt, 2007, p. 19). This is really a more realistic look at how groups really exist side-by-side or together in the world. As David Kahane says, “the contours of any particular cultural identity are developed through interaction and struggles between groups” (Kahane, 2004, p. 37). The principle of non-interference says Young, is simply inadequate in addressing the bigger issues of power relations at the root of divided populations and demands for sovereignty. Further, it radically undermines the fact of our “being-together-in-difference”, that even communities that do have clear borders separating them – still share a border (Young, 2005). Focus too much on borders and we forget that there are also many bridges, and that the various groups and allegiances that exist in our societies are created from and beside one another, not in a vacuum.

In most cases, the borders that do divide are porous and populations on either side are to some degree mixed. Decisions taken within one side often have implications for those living on the other side. Young provides the example of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes who wanted to lease some of their land bordering the state of Utah for dumping nuclear waste (Young, 2007, p. 54). Since the location of nuclear waste near the border would have implications for the health and well-being of people within Utah, the decision to lease the land is one, Young argues, that needed to involve both stakeholders. Sovereignty, rather than seeing groups in isolation to one another, as the principle of non-interference tends to do, requires instead a relational approach, a form of mutual responsibility or shared-sovereignty. Further, non-interference is linked to the mistaken concept of autarky, but this is simply unrealistic says Young. Groups are never in isolation – economically or socially – but are always formed jointly and have obligations to one another.

The second aspect of Young’s concept of sovereignty is that it should be primarily considered as non-domination as opposed to merely non-interference. What exactly is the difference between the two? Young says that sovereignty can be construed as non-interference in a way that still marginalizes groups, making them weaker parties against an oppressor that dominates them culturally and economically. Non-interference does not guarantee that the more vulnerable group will in fact be protected from the domination of the larger one. Kymlicka’s theory, which does not address such power issues, looks at the principle of non-interference strictly through the lens of autonomy and choices for the minority group, but offers no way to conceive of balancing powers between the two groups, or for how and when the majority group can interfere if those choices among members are being restricted. Young’s insistence on non-domination, I believe, gives Kymlicka’s theory this missing link and a helpful approach to keep some of the core issues of group iniquities in focus. Further, Young says, in a way that really captures the (healthy) plurality of indigenous societies in particular, and of all societies more generally,

Extending political theoretical concepts of individual freedom to a people appears to reify or personify a social aggregate as a unity with a set of common interests, agency, and a will of its own. In fact, however, no such unified entity exists. Any tribe, city, nation, or other designated group is a collection of individuals with diverse interests and affinities, prone to disagreements and internal conflicts.

Young says that Indigenous demands, rather than non-interference and institutional separateness, “are better understood as a quest for an institutional context of nondomination” (Young, 2007, p. 50). Many indigenous peoples still suffer from disenfranchisement and colonization; these are not mere historical legacies but unfortunate living ones that could be otherwise. Self-determination as non-domination means that sovereignty rights must be tied to empowering the weaker party and preventing domination by the other group through creation of a public forum based on mutual respect for resolving their conflicts, sometimes involving a third-party who is less involved in the dispute, as well as supporting weaker units to a point where they can not only pursue their lives meaningfully but also negotiate with other “self-determining units” on a more even-footing. (Young, 2007, p. 66) Under such conditions, Young hopes that divided communities can create enabling conditions for justice and human agency and ultimately remove themselves from the cycle of violence.

Jacob T. Levy, in the paper “Self-determination, Non-domination and Federalism” (2008) disputes Young’s dismissal of the concept of non-interference. Levy says that the concept of non-interference is an important one that should not be so easily disregarded, because it establishes in the rule of law who has the authority or primacy in making decisions. Looking towards the practical implementation of Young’s theory, he says that involving the two contesting groups in a process of debates over every step which the minority group takes would we debilitating, leading to long and protracted (and perhaps irresolvable) court cases. Non-interference however, establishes first the right of priority in the decision-making, if an self-determined group is given right of non-interference in their affairs, this affirms that they can first act without being, perhaps intentionally, delayed by the another group from acting. He says that this does not negate Young’s need for viewing both groups in relational terms, or her demand for creating open channels of communication and negotiation. Once the initial rights have been allocated then the other side can “persuade” the acting side to abandon their project if they so desire. Yet, Levy’s argument can easily work against him as well, and I believe Young would take issue with it. Non-interference (on matters of import for both groups) may allow the acting group the time to create “facts on the ground”, to start projects which might negatively hinder the other group before they can even raise objections, and from which it becomes immensely harder to retreat once they have been established. Levy and Young do express a common concern however, that the arbitration of decision-making should be done with a view to decreasing patterns of domination and Levy says that Young is perfectly correct in setting non-domination as an evaluative criteria for judgement (Levy, 2008, p. 72).

The challenge for Kymlicka, and other post-Rawlsian philosophers, summed up nicely by Bader and Engelen, is to “take the pluralism of our moral universe, the multi-layeredness of our social reality, the indeterminancy of our normative principles and the complexity of our practical reasoning seriously” (Bader & Engelen, 2003, p. 375). Does Kymlicka help us to get there? Well, somehow. Kymlicka gives us our first step forward. For Kymlicka and Norman, multi-ethnic societies need the values and institutions of democratic citizenship as much as “mono-ethnic” ones do158, in many respects the greater the diversity, the greater the need for “public reasonableness, mutual respect, critical attitudes towards government, tolerance, willingness to participate in politics, forums for shared political deliberation, and solidarity” (Kymlicka & Norman, 2000, p. 11). However, by framing his theory in discrete “societal cultures” Kymlicka focuses more on cultural separation than togetherness.



MacMullan says that we must, “appall people into action,” open their eyes to how their prejudices affect the other (MacMullan, 2005). We must move beyond blame, and see how the futures of all peoples are inherently tied together. We live on a small planet, and we must share the same limited resources. National stories have the problem that they focus far too often on the role of the “victim”. But as Taylor contends, so long as the stance of the victim is held, no true reconciliation can occur, no true meeting of the Other can take place (1998b, p. 155). Nationalist struggles are often fuelled by drive for dominance – economic, societal, and symbolic. When we begin to see minority rights as a way of conversely building bridges, we can take the next step forward towards embedding minority rights in conflict resolution and facilitating coexistence. Rights and recognition can provide the security and dignity that allow peaceful coexistence to be possible, whereas abrogation of such rights and recognition only leads to downward spiral of domination and abjection.

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