Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship



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Chapter 2
In Defense of Liberalism


A staunch liberal, Kymlicka wants to defend the liberal tradition against communitarian detractors who strongly challenge liberalism’s ability to respond to issues of culture. As previously described, communitarian advocates of group rights are quick to point out a lack of accommodation of difference in the liberal tradition. The history of liberalism, they say, is devoid of any substantive contribution towards thinking about culture and diversity. Liberalism, swept away in its search for universally valid principles, ignored the fact that all principles arise from particularistic cultures. Based on a deeply flawed concept of the human person, liberals deduced that culture had no place in the public sphere wherein all individuals would, free from the vulgar constraints of cultures, finally meet one another as true equals. Communitarian critics argue that based on this impoverished understanding of culture and the human person, liberal theory is ill-equipped to respond adequately to the needs of our increasingly plural societies.

Will Kymlicka, in his theory of multicultural citizenship, mirrors these critiques by describing how contemporary liberalism inadequately responds to the needs of minorities. Kymlicka aims to differentiate himself from other communitarians however (he places strong emphasis on setting himself apart from Walzer in particular) through his insistence that the liberal tradition can in fact be made to accommodate difference. Though contemporary liberals have typically looked unfavourably upon group rights, perceiving them as a threat to liberal equality, Kymlicka believes they can be justified by the liberal tradition in what he and others have termed “liberal culturalism” (2001b, pp. 39, 43). Indeed, the development of his theory of multicultural citizenship and minority rights can be seen as an attempt to provide justification of a liberal support for group rights. Kymlicka’s marriage of liberalism and its rugged individualism with group rights marked a turning point in multiculturalism studies. As Beiner remarks, this move can either be viewed positively as having “expended the boundaries of liberalism in order to accommodate the concerns of communitarians, multiculturalists, and nationalists” or alternatively, it can be frowned upon as having “put liberalism in the service of multiculturalism” (Beiner, 2003, p. 210).

To support his claim that liberalism can and in fact does accommodate difference, Kymlicka’s approach combines normative arguments with interpretive empirical evidence to justify liberalism and its compatibility with minority rights (Favell, 1998, p. 4)23. Kymlicka aims to show, that the liberal tradition is not, and has not been, so uniform on its stance towards minorities as the communitarians seek to describe it. Indeed, in pointing out the diversity of views captured by liberal thinkers themselves, he states that “there is a considerable range of views on minority rights within the liberal tradition” (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 53). While it is beyond the scope of his work to provide an exhaustive survey of the variety of different perspectives on minorities, he gives a solid representative sampling from the liberal tradition. In doing so, he tries to demonstrate how - perhaps unconsciously - liberal thinkers implicitly made room for the coexistence of culture and liberalism. Armed with this repertoire of liberal support for minority rights, he then develops his own arguments for the need to tie group rights to liberalism, which I explore in detail in the coming chapter. Before we delve into Kymlicka’s own arguments however, let us first consider the sociological and theoretical cases he presents us with which form the germinal for his theory’s subsequent development.

Kymlicka’s sociological arguments in defence of liberalism are deeply tied to his understanding of the theoretical developments that occurred within the tradition to which the communitarians took issue, as elaborated in Chapter One. His quasi-sociological/historical interpretation of the background events and attitudes that led the development of liberal theory to its present form, aims to show that liberal neutrality was very much a reaction both for and against popular movements in western societies and that the liberal tradition itself need not be constrained to such narrow attitudes towards culture.


Sociological Case for (and against) Cultural Liberalism


When examining the history of liberal thought, Kymlicka tries to frame it within the context of the societies in which it arose. He states that for most liberals, the issue of creating spaces of difference simply was never a topic of great concern. Indeed, to the contrary, until recently difference meant division and instability and was therefore regarded by many political thinkers in mostly negative terms, whereas a common identity - particularly wrapped in nationalist garb - was considered a key to peace and stability. Multination federations were generally considered inherently unstable (Kymlicka, 1995, pp. 52-3).

Kymlicka reminds us that J.S. Mill (unlike Kant), writing in the age of imperialism, did not consider forced assimilation or transfer as inappropriate in the way we would abhor to view them today, or that it was problematic for borders or populations to be moved to to align with the “natural” boundaries of the nation (1995, pp. 52-3). If Mill and his colleagues did consider these actions to be a form of violence, it was justified to secure the stability and peace for the greater nation. After all, until only a few decades ago colonisation was popularly considered a “mission civilisatrice”. It is against this background, far removed from our attitudes about culture today, that many influential liberal theorists wrote.



Despite general the negativity towards difference held by liberal thinkers, Kymlicka outlines numerous instances in the pre-war period where liberals did give pause and support to the idea of minority rights, tying this in with western colonizers who were educated in liberalism and who found themselves in the colonies facing situations for which their textbook liberalism had no answers (1995, pp. 54-5). This “openness” on the part of liberals towards the concept of group rights faced a strong reversal in the post-war period, with the concept of liberal neutrality coming to the fore and any talk of minority rights being cautiously avoided. Kymlicka attributes this to three (quite unrelated) historical developments that impacted policymaking in America: 1. The abuses of the League of Nations minority rights schema; 2. The Civil Rights movement in America; and 3. What Kymlicka terms an “ethnic revival” among immigrant groups in North American society.
        1. The Abuses of the League of Nations Minority Rights Schema


The world wars had an immense impact on the Anglo-American political position and the subject of minority rights. From this point onwards, points out Kymlicka, a radical shift occurred away from the comparatively open attitude of speaking about cultural communities and their significance to a much more cautious view (1995, p. 57). He points out that the abuses of the Nazis served a harsh reminder for liberals of the dangers of minority rights used wrongly. In World War II, the Nazis in Germany, after all, had used the minority rights treaties established by the League of Nations as a pretext for war and irredentism by citing a failure to protect German minorities in neighbouring countries. Such abuses of minority treaties became a clear signal of alert to political scientists who had seen the worst abuses committed in the name of “protection” of minorities during the war (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 57).

The civil rights movement


Second, establishing liberal neutrality as an ideal was further reinforced by another historical event of an altogether different nature, but with equal dissatisfaction about the abuses of “separate but equal” laws and their discriminatory potential: the Civil Rights movement in America (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 58). The civil rights movement saw the passing of a series of key statutes set to establish equality for all American citizens, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. In America, racial difference had come to stand for exclusion and separation in its most negative and derogatory form, segregation that sought to elevate some through the degradation and suppression of others. In the shadow of the civil rights movement, minority rights came to be viewed as inseparable from intolerance and subjugation. The notion of having different laws for different peoples came to be seen as inherently discriminating and instead the ideal of a “colour-blind” (neutral) constitution arose in its place, in which fairness entailed giving equal opportunities to all – regardless of racial or group affiliation (Kymlicka, 1995, pp. 58-9)24.

Kymlicka argues that in light of the abuses of minority schemas established by the international community after the world wars, and in the long shadow cast by the intolerances of the history of segregation in America, Anglo-American political philosophy took on a very uneasy and awkward stance on culture. From this, we can extrapolate that the reassurance of liberal “neutrality” was as much a retreat into silence on the difficult questions of minority rights, as it was an escape from the tarnished histories it exposed.


Ethnic revivalism


Kymlicka follows these arguments with a third sociological argument of a very different nature, about the rise of ethnic social movements in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Kymlicka argues that during this period, ethnic groups began to increasingly challenge the assumption that unity was to be found in a single coherent national identity, particularly what he terms the “Anglo-conformity” model, whereby immigrants to the United States were expected to leave their culture at home and come to the political table as assimilated Anglo-Americans (1995, p. 61). Kymlicka argues that this threatened a number of liberals (politicians and thinkers) who believed the rise of ethnic movements to pose a challenge for liberalism and therefore they reinforced the importance of adherence to the ideal of liberal neutrality (1995, p. 61). In particular, Kymlicka is concerned here not with the challenge that ethnic groups posed for American identity during this period (which, as an immigrant society has never been in question); instead, it is the national question that Kymlicka emphasizes. Kymlicka states that the adherents of this ethnic revivalism began to use nationalist terms like “nation” and “people” to define their group identity and began demanding having independence rights and having institutions in their own national languages (1995, p. 62). These demands, Kymlicka concedes, originated only from a small minority from among the ethnic groups in North America; however, he argues that this development nevertheless made many liberals nervous about the prospect of group rights and what it would mean for liberalism (1995, p. 62).

Thus, in wake of WWII, the civil rights movement and the end of colonial regimes, any suggestion of “separate but equal” laws was taken with great scepticism by liberals. This attitude was further reinforced by the rise of humanitarian law and the codification and legislation of international human rights which placed an emphasis on the universal rights of man and which further tied legitimacy for statehood with a single nation. Kymlicka warns us, along with others (Anaya, 1995), that such legislations potentially endanger the rights claims of many minority nations seeking self-determination. In this light, recognition of and codification of special rights to minority groups, indigenous peoples, migrant workers, and asylum seekers is to be seen as a very recent and young development; however, Kymlicka aims to show us that such trends are not altogether without precedents in the liberal tradition.


Theoretical Cases For (and Against) Cultural Liberalism


While Kymlicka refers to the writings of a variety of contemporary liberal theorists (particularly in his book Liberalism, Community, and Culture), the principle liberal authors he refers to are John Stuart Mill and John Rawls. These two authors signify for Kymlicka the difference between contemporary liberalism (as represented by Rawls) as it stands against earlier liberal thinkers (as represented by Mill) for which culture carried an altogether different significance. By quoting extensively from both Rawls and Mill among others throughout his writings, Kymlicka throws light on the paucity of their respective theories with respect to culture, yet also pinpoints the kernels from which a cultural liberalism could form.

Kymlicka begins by acknowledging that the majority of liberal thinkers have held group rights in particular and culture more generally with suspicion (Kymlicka, 1989, pp. 140, 154). As we have already mentioned, for the majority of liberals culture meant dissonance, disagreeableness, intolerance, conflict – none of which were appropriate for a well-functioning nation. Nevertheless, Kymlicka seeks to point out that despite the general aversion towards group-specific rights there is an acknowledgement by some liberal thinkers that diversity is actually good and healthy for democracy. Kymlicka hopes to build from these precedents in order to bridge equality and difference in liberalism.


        1. J. S. Mill


J.S. Mill is one of the authors from which Kymlicka draws many of his arguments about the inhospitality of liberalism towards difference and yet within these early liberal writings Kymlicka still finds grounds for his cultural argument. Quoting repeatedly from Mill throughout his writings, Kymlicka points out how Mill considered uniformity as necessary for democracy. Quite simply, Mill says that borders should match populations. After all, democracy required a “people” and hence a common national identity, which as Kymlicka tells us “in the nineteenth century, the call for a common national identity was often tied to an ethnocentric denigration of smaller national groups” (1995, pp. 52-3).

Kymlicka refers to how Mill maintained that not all nations have the entitlement to statehood or protection and that small, backward nations like the Scottish highlanders or the Basques should be subsumed into more viable, robust ones (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 53)25. As he says, Mill considered multilingual states highly undesirable for the political process would be so hampered by disunion in public opinion that democracy would be “next to impossible” (as cited in Kymlicka, 1995, p. 160). Kymlicka quotes Mill as saying,

Among a people without fellow-feelings, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion necessary to the workings of representative institutions cannot exist….[It] is in general a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities (as cited in Kymlicka, 1995, p. 53).

Kymlicka takes these statements by Mill and ties them to the main thrust of his theory and his insistence on the need for a common national identity. This common national identity, he states, led Mill and others in the nineteenth century to denigrate other groups such as the Basques or the Scottish, who said they ought to dissolve and join greater nations rather “than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times…without participation or interest in the general movement of the world” (as cited in Kymlicka, 1995, p. 53). In other words, Kymlicka says that clinging to smaller national identities in this era was considered against the movement of progress, towards which an assimilative nationalist drive was seen to be the answer.

Yet, Kymlicka points out that early liberal thinkers such as Mill did not have issues with “cultural membership” in the way that contemporary authors have had following the world wars. Nor was there an insistence, that culture should remain a “purely private matter” (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 53). Thus, while Mill saw cultural diversity itself as a negative thing, Kymlicka posits that nationalism, along with the need for a single national common culture, was viewed by such early liberals like Mill as critical for the rise of freedom.

Kymlicka goes on further to describe other early liberal thinkers in brief, notably Lord Acton, who contrary to Mill, did support what might anachronistically be called multiculturalism, in stating how he held the diversity of opinions brought to the political discussion by minority groups was a strong check against state power (Acton, 1922, pp. 285-90).26 Acton believed, similar to Kymlicka, that cultural flourishing and differences were necessary and healthy for a liberal democracy. Indeed, Acton quite notably once stated that “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities” (Acton, 1909, p. 4). Kymlicka takes care to outline how Acton believed that multi-nation states by virtue of their diversity and multiplication of associations, help promote freedom because they reduce government interference and imposition (1995, p. 53). Contrary to Mill, Acton rejected the concept of a uniform nation.

Thus, Kymlicka finds that earlier liberals were able to speak more easily about culture and nationalism than their contemporary counterparts. Indeed, as Kymlicka says, none of the earlier liberals endorsed the commonly held contemporary liberal view that culture need be restricted to the private domain (1995, p. 53). Further, Kymlicka alludes that particular culture to which earlier liberals unabashedly advocated was one’s national culture, for common to these early liberal theories, was that “‘the cause of liberty’ often ‘finds its basis in the autonomy of a national group’” (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 75). In highlighting the viewpoints of these earlier liberals on culture, Kymlicka suggests that when we accuse the liberal tradition of having a narrow position on culture, we should look not only to a recent segment of that tradition, which has been highly shaped by the above-mentioned historic events, but instead must take a more nuanced look over the development of the tradition as a whole.

John Rawls


John Rawls was one of the world’s leading authorities on liberalism, recognized for his strong contributions to political philosophy and for envisioning a tolerant, democratic political order. Rawls’ signature work, A Theory of Justice (1971) set out to describe the principles of justice, whereby moral citizens can live in fairness, equality and freedom. Kymlicka styles himself a Rawlsian and although Kymlicka believes that Rawls did not address the issue of pluralism adequately, he finds that his overall theory of liberalism does not negate the possibility of minority group rights - though in its initial and even revised formulation it also did not support minority rights (Kymlicka, 1995, pp. 93, 158-164). We will investigate the reasons why Kymlicka feels this way about Rawls’ theory later on, but for now, let us first examine what Rawls said, and what were his aims in developing his theory.

One of Rawls’s chief aims in developing his theory was to provide an alternate concept of justice to the dominant strain of utilitarian ideas in the liberal tradition (see Gutmann, 1980, pp. 141-155)27. Behind the principle of utilitarianism, lays the concept that happiness ought to be maximised, no matter what the means. Whenever there is a choice at hand, the solution according to Benthamite utilitarianism is that of calculating the greatest utility; i.e., that which promotes the greatest state of profit or benefit for the majority ought to be the correct choice – even if one’s actions do not exemplify the values they seek to promote (Gutmann, 1980, pp. 25-6). This of course runs in sharp contrast to Kantian deontology, wherein duty would forbid sacrificing a principle (i.e., the taking of life) in order to achieve a certain end (i.e., saving many lives) (Fitzpatrick, 2008, p. 58). Thus, while Kantian ethics points towards absolute values, utilitarianism swings to the opposite extreme and descends to moral relativism, and as such has been criticized for its impoverished and impersonal morality. Rawls does not find utilitarianism to be an adequate solution for providing justice, and therefore aims develop the traditional social contract theory strain of thought and which he finds to be the most moral and equitable solution for a just society (Kymlicka, 1988, p. 174).

Rawls’ theory is therefore heavily influenced by the writings of Kant. As he says, his theory does not contain new ideas but is based on ideas already firmly present in the classical literature of the liberal tradition; however, he wishes to bring the theory to a “higher order of abstraction” than the liberal social contract tradition typically provided for, so as to make the principles more clear and applicable (Rawls, 1971, pp. viii, 3). As we have already discussed in the previous chapter, one of the main criticisms levelled against the liberal tradition was that it was too abstract and universalistic in intention to properly map reality. Many of these criticisms were directly levelled towards Rawls himself, but they were also directed towards the underlying Kantian deontology present in this theory, and its univocal and universalistic pretensions. Let us examine this in more detail.

For Kant, the essence of reason is universal validity; “every human will is a will that enacts universal laws in all its maxims” (4:432) (as cited in Hill Jr., 2009, p. 102). Kant’s moral philosophy establishes firmly that the human rational will is autonomous and that the universal moral laws that guide our ethical standards and principles are freely held; i.e., the law to which the rational being must submit does not originate in an imperative laid down by others or by God but originates within oneself (Fackenheim, 1996, pp. 21-26)28. Thus, one is free when one acts out of a sense of duty in accordance with this universal law, which Kant calls the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative can be discerned by all rational beings and is binding on them. It answers the questions: What ought I do? How ought I treat others? The answer Kant formulates is: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law”(4:402) (as cited in Hill Jr., 2009, p. 4) meaning that one should never take an action unless they would deem it suitable to be applied universally in every situation.

Significant for us, is how Rawls develops the Kantian ‘Realm of ends’, the extension of the categorical imperative into the ideal political society. In the Realm of Ends, everything has either price or dignity. Those things that are an end in themselves do not have relative worth (price) but an intrinsic worth (dignity). Our reason prevents us, argues Kant, from sacrificing our and others’ humanity to personal interests or ends. The human being, reasons Kant, can never be a means to an end, but is always an end in itself and deserves our respect based on the intrinsic worth of their existence as a human being. The Realm of Ends, therefore, is an ideal state in which there is a “systematic union of different rational beings under common laws.”(4:433) (as cited in Hill Jr., 2009, p. 107), or in other words, a society of rational beings following the legislation laid upon them, which they shared equally in creating.

Such Kantian elements clearly underlay the ideas Rawls develops in his Theory of Justice, which he himself describes as “highly Kantian in nature” (Rawls, 1971, p. viii), and are particularly evident in his allegory of the ‘veil of ignorance’, which will be described in the coming pages. Rawls is concerned that individuals are assigned their fair shares of primary social goods, such that they can each pursue their own conception of the good. One of Rawls’ key insights is to treat justice as fairness (Rawls, 1971, p. 3). Justice, for Rawls, means giving the people an equal opportunity, in spite of the varying life circumstances they were born into that are beyond their control.

Rawls’s opus, A Theory of Justice, has strong Kantian echoes, and is founded upon a hypothetical situation in which a group of individuals must decide together the fate of their society. This hypothetical situation runs very similar to a zero-sum prisoner’s dilemma with the participants seeking to pursue their own self-interest through taking into account the self-interest of other individuals composing the group29. The allegory runs as such: All of the individuals who compose the group are blinded by a veil of ignorance (what Amartya Sen refers to as a “situation of primordial equality” (Sen, 2009, p. 54)). Though they are of diverse ages, gender, races and professions, when they meet together to decide on the laws of the future of their society, they become ignorant of their position and identity in that future society. For example, the priest does not know if he will be a priest in the future society, or if he will play some other role such as a fireman, the woman does not know if she will be a man, the Christian does not know if she will be a Hindu, the rich do not know if they will be poor, etc.

This position of blindness to our own particulars is what Rawls calls the “original position” (Rawls, 1998a, p. 62). As Rawls says of the original position,

The reason why the original position must abstract from and not be affected by the contingencies of the social world is that the conditions for a fair agreement on the principles of political justice between free and equal persons must eliminate the bargaining advantages which inevitably arise within background institutions of any society as the result of cumulative social, historical, and natural tendencies. These contingent advantages and accidental influences from the past should not influence an agreement on the principles which are to regulate the institutions of the basic structure itself from the present into the future (Rawls, 1998a, p. 62).

From this, Rawls draws the conclusion that in any reasonable society, those constituting such a group of free and equal persons (excluding “threats of force and coercion, deception and fraud, and so on (Rawls, 1998a, p. 61)) would agree to two fundamental principles: that of equality of freedom and that of equality of opportunity. Justice requires all citizens be accorded the same rights and liberties, promoting them over the general good (Priority of the Right over the Good) (Rawls, 1998b) and that citizens will be given sufficient opportunities (or means) to effectively use these freedoms. As Kymlicka says, “equal consideration requires that people adjust their pursuit of the good in light of the equal claims of others” (Kymlicka, 1989, p. 39). Equality is the foundation of justice and any advantages should be balanced among all citizens. Though the citizenry is diverse, Rawls says that they will opt to support the same basic concepts of justice in light of the desire for equality. This is possible because although the laws may be uniform, the individual relates to them in a non-uniform way deriving meaning and justification based on reasonable arguments drawn from their own separate comprehensive doctrines. Rawls says that

Public reason is not a view about specific political institutions or policies. Rather it is a view about the kind of reasons on which citizens are to rest their political cases in making their political justifications to one another when they support laws and policies that invoke the coercive powers of government concerning fundamental political questions (Rawls, 2000, p. 165).

Such public reasoning does not mean abandoning our comprehensive doctrines, indeed, public reasoning is needed precisely because there will be different and incommensurable doctrines within our society. What liberalism does require is that we should be able to rationally argue our positions to give them public justification and be able to accept the reasonable and rational arguments of others. As Monique Deveaux explains, “Rawls views the principle of neutrality in public life not as a means of securing a thin modus vivendi...but rather as a way of discovering shared public norms and accommodating a plurality of “reasonable, comprehensive doctrines” (Deveaux, 2000). This overlapping of perspectives and reasoning is what Rawls calls an “overlapping consensus”, which is central to his concept of equality and the legitimacy of the rule of law.

Thus, Rawls tries to provide an answer for how a diverse citizenry with disparate advantages and worldviews can agree and be committed to a unified concept of justice. Primarily, justice is rooted in a sense of fairness towards others; as Sen says, the citizens

may differ, for example, in their religious beliefs and general views of what constitutes a good and worthwhile life, but they are led by the deliberations to agree…on how to take note of those diversities among the members and to arrive at one set of principles of justice fair to the entire group (Sen, 2009, p. 55).

However, it is precisely this unified concept of justice which comes under attack by Liberalism’s critics, and which Kymlicka aims to reformulate in his own theory. A single standard of justice, Kymlicka and the communitarians argue, cannot form the basis of justice for a multi-nation society, nor can it be a truly neutral mediator in the way it claims to be.

Nevertheless, Kymlicka styles himself a liberal Rawlsian. Rawls’s theory, after all, was not designed for a uniform populace but was designed precisely with differing people in differing circumstances in mind. Indeed, Kymlicka defends that some strains of political thought running all the way back to classical times have upheld commitment to but one “rational conception of the good”,

By contrast, liberalism as a political doctrine supposes that there are many conflicting and incommensurable conceptions of the good, each compatible with the full rationality of human persons...As a consequence of this supposition, liberalism assumes that it is a characteristic feature of a free democratic culture that a plurality of conflicting and incommensurable conceptions of the good are affirmed by its citizens….In such a society a teleological political conception is out of the question: public agreement on the requisite conception of the good cannot be obtained (Rawls, 1998a, p. 69).

In liberalism, difference is anticipated not only between citizens but also at the level of the individual themselves who can revise their own conceptions of the good, “if they so desire”, without affecting their “public identity” (Rawls, 1998a, p. 63).

The theory also takes into account that some of us are born into circumstances that would impede our ability to equally take advantage of our freedoms. Rawls introduces the Difference Principle, for example, to ensure that individuals, regardless of the position they are born into, have a fair chance at pursuing their conception of the good. Inequalities in distribution of social goods are justified by his theory, but with the limitation that they should be designed in a way to elevate the conditions of society’s most disadvantaged (Rawls, 1998a, pp. 55-6)30. Further, restrictions may be imposed on a basic liberty, but only in the event that to do so would be to secure greater liberties for all.

Apart from these circumstances, equal liberties are considered absolute by Rawls (as cited in Kymlicka, 1989, p. 163). It is this absolute prioritization of liberty which Kymlicka finds as entirely “incompatible with minority rights”, for subordinating the rights of cultural membership to the “liberties of equal citizenship” (1989, p. 162). As Kymlicka says, a system of minority rights does not necessarily create difference in order to benefit the least well off, nor does it restrict liberty to increase overall liberty – for it may do just the opposite and have a negative effect on basic liberty for the sake of cultural membership (Kymlicka, 1989, p. 163).

Kymlicka attacks Rawls for completely neglecting the issue of minority cultures and for treating the national culture as one, undivided (1989, p. 3). Kymlicka views Rawls’ liberalism as “essentially a principle of tolerance between members of different and sometimes conflicting beliefs and faiths” (1989, p. 59). Rawls founds the defence of justice, says Kymlicka, not on “revocability” of our personal ends, but on acceptance of plurality and on a commitment to subordinate these ends for the sake of what Rawls calls, the “liberties of equal citizenship” (1989, p. 162). Yet ultimately, the absolute priority that Rawls places on liberty impedes his ability to adequately provide a solution for minority rights, says Kymlicka31.

Following a series of critiques (such as those enumerated in the previous chapter), Rawls revisited his theory. In the revisions to his theory, Rawls retreated somewhat from the previous issue of revocability. He acknowledged the theory’s deficit in taking a culturally uniform society as its starting point. Rawls amended the theory to recognize the significance of one’s own culture, or “comprehensive doctrine” as a primary good, and that the state should enable its citizens to live in accordance with their own culture (to the extent it is a liberal one) (Weinstock, 1994, p. 181). This comprehensive doctrine however, should not impede us from rationally deciding on joint principles of justice for our society or agreeing to live by them.

Kymlicka contends that while Rawls retreated from his previous stance on culture, he still maintains the public/private division in accepting that while people’s cultural meanings do hold significant value they need not bring these matters into the discussion of “determining our public rights and responsibilities” (1995, p. 159). Kymlicka finds this argument flat and lacking adequate explanation as to why people would “give up their private self-understandings in the public sphere” and why they would accept to distribute a social good which they do not value (Kymlicka, 1989, p. 58). Kymlicka hopes to correct the deficiencies he sees in Rawls theory, and provide an alternate concept of justice, one that does find room for group/minority rights and the priority of culture through grounding it in choice.


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