Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship



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1 Kymlicka says that France is one of the only western democracies that still adheres to an assimilationist model with respect to immigration. On the topic of French Republican nationalism, Bader says that from the beginning there was a tension in its “proclaimed universalism” and its actual commitment to a distinctly ethnic conception of what it meant to be French (Bader, 1997, p.778)

2 In this way, Kymlicka very smartly marries choice and circumstance, by making circumstance the ground of our choice.

3 Kymlicka calls himself a liberal nationalist, however in many respects his theory depicts a very culturalist perspective which though it is not strictly an ethnic nationalism, is also admittedly non-neutral with respect to culture. For more on this, see Ch. 7.

4 Kymlicka cites the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights and the subsequent minority protests that arose in objection to it. As Kymlicka points out, liberalism was at a loss to explain why these groups did not wish to be granted equality in rights. Kymlicka explains however that the opposition was not warranted on the basis of denial of equality but on the pretense that the Charter would restrict their equality and independence and thus subject minority groups to unfair laws not of their own design (Kymlicka, 2001b, p. 84).

5 For representative early writings see: Vernon van Dyke, “Justice as Fairness: For Groups?” (van Dyke, 1975); Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981); Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982); Michael Walzer “Liberalism and the Art of Separation” (1984); Charles Taylor “Atomism” (1985); and James Anaya, “The Capacity of International Law to Advance Ethnic or Nationality Rights Claims” (1995).

6 Such as sequestering the “mad” into solitary confinement, mad houses, etc. away from “nice” society and public view or discomfort.

7 Bader believes that similar scrutiny will reveal a great deal of “outdated and stupid ethnocentrism and nationalism” as well. (Bader, 1997, p.792).

8 As Hellsten says, “For Hegel and for contemporary communitarians then ‘I,’ as a person, am free when I identify myself with the institutions of my community, feeling myself to be a part of them, and feeling them to be a part of me, whereas for Kant and the contemporary liberal, ‘I,’ as a person, am free when I can distance myself from my community and from its institutions” (Hellsten, 1998, 336).

9 Kymlicka himself however, believes that the language of “priority of the right over the good” is “misleading”. (Kymlicka, 1988, p. 174). He says that the confusion is rooted in Rawls’ rejection of utilitarianism, which itself was based on a misunderstanding of the utilitarian doctrine which is as “’deontological’ as any other” (1988, p. 178).

10 What Taylor calls “instrumental rationality”, as he says, “by ‘instrumental reason’ I mean the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of means to a given end. Maximum efficiency, the best cost-output ratio, is its measure of success” (Taylor, 1991, p. 5). The use of intrumental reason has become sweeping with the death of the old moral orders, serving as a “yardstick” for each aspect of our lives, measuring value according to utility. Enchantment and the sacred are lost, “the creatures that surround us lose the significance that accrued to their place in the chain of being, they are open to being treated as raw materials or instruments for our projects” (Taylor, 1991, p. 5).

11 Freedom is considered by communitarians in more Republican terms as the “freedom to” the things which constitute and sustain their cultural structure.

12 MacIntyre argues that “postmodern bourgeois liberalism…[is] the decay of moral reasoning” (1983, p. 591) This argument is somewhat ironic as the postmoderns would say that the absence of cohesive narratives brings us to a better understanding of different perspectives and different cultures.

13 See Putnam (1995) and (2000) for the decline of civic participation and associations in American public life.

14 See also Taylor (1992c, p. 500) where Taylor lists how this train of thought runs through De Tocqueville, Mill, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. Kierkegaard for example, describes society as a network of relations between individuals. Modern society is an abstraction which speaks for everyone and for no one, bound together by the press (Kierkegaard 1962, 59 as cited in Taylor 1992c).

15 This is the argument that Kymlicka ascribes to in his theory.

16 According to Hegel, Moralität is the result of Enlightenment thinking, the belief that individuals within the society may use their reason to derive a universal morality, as epitomized by Kant. Sittlichkeit is what preceded modernity and characterized parochial society. It refers to the belief that ethics are derived from a particular communal setting, with established roles and meaning, and that separate communities have a right to self-determination. Hegel wrote against the Kantian deontology of a universal ethics. He believed that a universal political association was impossible, and that particular cultures needed closure and have the right to protect their distinctive cultures from outside influence (Gauthier, 1997).

17 This logic however leads to a strange paradox: If people are so inundated by the atomist doctrine, and so thoroughly convinced of it, then this too is a kind of cultural understanding, given to us by birth and it too is a culture that is in need of protection (Walzer, 1990, p.20).

18 Strangely, the communitarians insist how powerfully our identities define us, and yet they do not see the contradiction in saying that we live now in an age that is no longer characterized by such roles.

19 Note that Walzer’s argument here is not so far from that posed by Kymlicka as we will uncover in the coming chapter.

20 Taylor borrows this concept from Bourdieu. As Shusterman argues, for Taylor, the habitus “not only provides a middle-ground for purposeful behavior without explicit purposes or rules consciously in mind, but it also offers a better way of understanding personhood. For it includes two crucial aspects that intellectualist first-person accounts of agency neglects: the body and “the other”. The habitus acts through its bodily incorporation of social relationships and meanings (i.e. those involving reference to others) but without needing to articulate them in terms of explicit rules or reasons”. (Shusterman, 1999). Indeed, Taylor takes Bordieu’s habitus as a way of explanation for how rules assume normative value in our lives, the habitus is an “embodied understanding” expressed through living patterns that “activate” rules for us (Taylor, 1999, p. 42).

21 Elsewhere Walzer has framed it as “The community is itself a good – conceivably the most important good.” (as cited in Bader, 1995, p. 219.)

22 Habermas believes that communitarians such as Taylor and Walzer, in disputing the neutrality of the law, are jeopardizing the foundations of the liberal tradition. (Habermas, 1994, p. 109-110)

23 Favell believes that Kymlicka’s work is a watershed for political sciences, a long overdue movement to bring political philosophy into practical application in the real world. While he finds that Kymlicka’s own attempts at bridging empiricism and normative theory are too ad hoc and contextually insensitive, he nevertheless applauds Kymlicka for beginning the attempt. He summarizes his point with regard to the future of the discipline, “This may well then be a case of a discipline faced with crossing the Rubicon: forward into an empirical and theoretical closeness to case material that makes the general ambitions of a work such as Multicultural Citizenship impossible; or back to ideal theory and the crystalline charms of theories of justice. It will be an interesting decision for its practitioners to make” (Favell, 1998, p. 26).

24 Ironically, Kymlicka points out, the same ruling Brown v. Board of Education which struck down the system of segregation in the United States, has been used both in Canada and in America as a pretext for denying Aboriginal rights (Kymlicka, 1995, pp. 59-60).

25 Kymlicka notes this same assumption was also present in socialist thinking as well (1995, p. 70).

26 What Kymlicka fails to point out however, is that Acton argues against cultural nationalism in his essay on Nationalism (see Acton, 1922).

27 The classical utilitarian position is typically associated with Bentham and Mill, however, as Gutmann notes, the utilitarianism in Mill “may be more apparent than real”, “perhaps the most significant different between the two theories is that in Rawls’s terms an individual’s rational interest in primary goods is the baseline for measuring justice, whereas in utilitarian terms individual happiness or preference is the basic valued good” (Gutmann, 1980, p. 142). Even this distinction is muted, says Gutmann, when we have an adequate understanding of Mill, for whom ultimate happiness is determined through “a rational system of desires” (1980, p.142).
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