Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship

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Ultimately, Kymlicka’s version of nationalism unable to fully shed the constraints of the former monocultural model and has many remnants and concepts which continue under Kymlicka’s new label. As Helder De Shutter says, Kymlicka “treats the world as a large mosaic of mononational blocks that have a distinct language and homeland, inhabited by monolingual and monocultural speakers” (2005, p. 18), or in other terminology, what Michael Dusche refers to as a slip towards “monadology”130 (Dusche, 2000). This monocultural and mononational stance, argues De Shutter, blinds Kymlicka to the possibility of grey areas, the crossing of boundaries, “minorities within minorities”, bilingualism, and dual commitments to nationalities. Kymlicka’s failure to conceive of the prospect of a dual-national “societal culture” or the fact that those within a particular societal culture will relate to it differently, limits his ability to foster adequate and authentic pluralism within a national setting (De Schutter, 2005, pp. 31-2). Irregularities - those who inhabit the vast grey areas beyond Kymlicka’s monocultural, mononational framework - should not be considered mere “noise”, says De Shutter, they are not insignificant at all, but instead may be considered as “cracks in the old bastion of the nation-state assumption” (2005, p. 32).

Liberal nationalism claims that it aims on the one hand for a diverse, multicultural society, and yet at the same time is also strives for cultural unity. Tamir and Kymlicka’s liberal nationalism still, in the end, expects cultural consensus from within the national group. This inability to reach a full multiculturalism is due to the conceptual limitations of nationalism itself. While the national structure (and also liberal nationalism) is designed with a culturally uniform group in mind, multiculturalism advocates non-uniformity and non-conformity. While official policies of multiculturalism encourage pluralism and acceptance of difference, the nation-state has from its inception has been due to its very nature homogenizing and intolerant of difference.

While political stability was once sought from former “liberal nationalists”131 like John Stuart Mill, the new stability sought by Kymlicka takes the form of a cultural stability (of one’s own “societal culture”). Although state mechanisms are no longer expected to have one political consensus in mind, under Kymlicka’s new national rights schema they should balance between two or multiple consensuses, which are protected from one another’s interference. How these diverse groups are to be balanced, and how the inner consensus is to be allowed change, or they are to be inclusive of all of the society’s diverse groups, Kymlicka does not say, however the effect of ensuring institutionally the continuance of a particular societal culture may serve to silence non-dominant voices and cultures from the political sphere.

This tendency towards monoculturalism and limitations on difference are explored in the following paragraphs which examine the relationship between 1. Nation-building and rights, 2. Stability and Liberty, 3. Politics of the Vernacular and Polyethnicity, and 4. Summary of how National rights can reduce diversity.

        1. Nation-building and Rights

As Rebecca Kook argues, differentiated citizenship such as that advocated by Kymlicka is a “conceptual heir to the critique generated by the concept of nation-building” (2000, p. 43). Kook warns us that the institutionalization of differences have at bottom the unrealistic expectation that the state will become more equitable through differentiated rights. As Kook says,

Arguments for collective cultural rights rest upon this assumption: that true freedom for the group and its members is gained only through the ability to exercise their culture freely, and that the ultimate guarantee of that freedom is attained through the political recognition and institutionalization of these cultural attributes. If modern history has taught us anything, it has taught us the folly and fallacy embedded in these assumptions: while national self-determination might enhance freedom, it does not do so by definition. (2000, p. 59)

There is always a price for collective rights warns Kook, a distinct society is ultimately bought with allegiance to the state and hence a system of dependency involving increased mechanisms of state control over the group – not, as many mistakenly believe, greater independence (2000, p. 53). In a way, national minority rights further entrench confrontations and the hierarchy between groups (as Kook reminds us, “indeed, within harmonious cultural-ethnic relationships no such demands [for national self-determination] will arise”) (2000, p. 57). In a similar vein, Bannerji borrows Althusser's terminology to describe top-down multiculturalism as “an intrinsic part of the ideological apparatus of the state…a device for ascribing subjectivities and conferring agency to the nation’s ‘others’ on non-structural and nonmaterial grounds” but based exclusively on culture or ethnicity (Bannerji, 2003, p. 37). Ethnic groups are cast in an awkward role, says Bannerji, whereby they find themselves being defined by dominant hegemony and at the same time needing to appeal to that same hegemony for “recognition”.

Stability vs. Liberty

Margaret Canovan has said that nationalism filled a gap left in contractarian thought: precisely, how to provide political stability through transition? (1998, p. 73) Canovan argued that all liberal thinkers were tacit supporters of nationalism and spoke about “nations as batteries” (1998, p. 72). Nationalism, unlike religion or other ideological sources of collective power, operates like a battery; it can lie inactive for extended periods, only to be jostled into activity when needed (1998, p. 73). For Canovan, this “stability” is assured through the nature of nationalism itself, which turns political institutions into a kind of “extended family inheritance” and “creates an enduring ‘we’” to sustain collective existence transcending the mortality of its members (1998, pp. 69-73). Canovan claimed that nationalism does this in a most subtle way, and is effective due to its non-ideological nature and of course, adroit use of essential and emotive myth. But the defining thing about nationalism that separates it from other sources of collective power is its ability for long-endurance (as Beuilly says, “a nationalist movement cannot be turned on and off like a tap” (1982, p. 32)). But if this is so, then at what point can the collective ‘we’ feel free to change? In the long-run, doesn’t stability trump liberty?

For Kymlicka, education and the media serve as an important vehicle for sustaining societal cultures and hence nations. Yet, can a “thin” interpretation of nation place so much emphasis on institutionalized dissemination? The emphasis on national media and schooling is closely matched in previous monocultural national models, as Fichte once said with respect to German nationalism,

Schools have to be established in which children could be separated from the reigning social habit of self-seeking and nurtured in the atmosphere of social service and cooperation. If Germany was to be saved, the nation must be taken as the unit of social organization. Germany must know its character and destiny, and through a conscious control of education it must liberate all the potentialities – moral, intellectual, physical, vocational – for national service, that existed within the children of all people (as cited in Tamir, 1993, p. xx).

Kymlicka’s own definition of societal culture does not offer a strong departure from the above, though it is couched in different terms. Both Fichte and Kymlicka aim to have “nation” as the central unit of political organization. Both he and Kymlicka speak about the importance of a nation’s joint history and future, the importance of an education that reflects the national culture and disseminates its myths and symbols. Both speak about “national service” or as Kymlicka words it, the sense of community that nationalism engenders, driving civic participation and political unity, and finally, both speak about forgoing certain freedoms in order to ensure the continuance of the nation. Tamir herself mentions that often the survival of the group “trumps individual rights” (1993, p. xii).

The Politics of the Vernacular vs. Polyethnicity

In many of his arguments for the need for sustaining societal cultures, Kymlicka refers to the “politics of the vernacular” and the difficulties which are posed for minorities who must live within a different vernacular than their own. These difficulties impede their ability to fully participate in the society, and partially on this basis Kymlicka recommends that we must award these minorities (who are national minorities – who had previously existing societal cultures prior to the intrusion of the state) with special group rights. Yet in much of his discussion about the need for a stable cultural environment, Kymlicka conflates the need for language rights (accessibility to government institutions: courts, legislatures, welfare agencies, health services, etc. in your own language (1998a, pp. 191-2) with the need for a structured institutional societal culture that is disseminating not only language, but also a particular form of cultural nationalism.

While the former is in my opinion justifiable and fully liberal, the latter is not. It makes sense that being able to participate in your mother tongue would be an advantage for you, and if there are large enough numbers of speakers of a second language (as mother tongue) in a country, then it would seem only fair to give them the ability to conduct their affairs in that language. But this is not to say that Kymlicka’s “politics in the vernacular” is exactly true, for Kymlicka and the communitarians are speaking of much more than just language, but about an ability to “speak the culture”, to know its intricacies and therefore to be able to relate to other members. As Rebecca Kook, reminds us, “language is power and, hence, control…political control over language is tantamount to control over one of the main membership criteria in the political community” (2000, p. 50). Language control is a “mechanism of control” that like all such mechanisms has “both an inclusive as well as exclusive capacity” (Kook, 2000, p. 50). Emphasis on a common “politics of the vernacular” can perpetuate increased marginalization for already marginalized groups.

Contrary to the communitarians and Kymlicka, speaking in the same cultural tongues is not a guarantor of better political and civic engagement. Besides, in today’s world, we may find ourselves having more in common culturally with those living in far corners of the globe, than with those down the street from us. A common “vernacular” is being gradually replaced with multilingualism as much as multiculturalism: we begin to more openly acknowledge that differences with our neighbours and speaking different tongues can be an asset, not a detriment to democracy.

Indeed, the failure of Kymlicka’s model’s to meet the changing circumstances of globalization is particularly evident in his writings on the “Politics of the Vernacular”. Both the communitarians and Kymlicka insist on the need for being able to speak in one’s own native tongue in order to be capable of fully engaging and participating in the political forum. For those living in English Canada, if English is not their native tongue then they, say Kymlicka and Taylor, are at an immense disadvantage compared to those who have fluency. Yet, while this may have been true thirty or even twenty years ago – when Kymlicka began addressing the topic of minority rights, the world has vastly changed during this time. English has become not only an important national language but has become the lingua franca of business and international communications worldwide. Further, speakers of other languages are not at a distinct disadvantage. In the global marketplace and in the global political forum, the more languages you are fluent in, the better. Proficiency in English is needed - but not necessarily fluency. The more tongues you speak, the greater your ability to reach and interact directly with greater numbers of people. Which is why in a country of large numbers of multiple languages like Canada with a policy of bilingualism is beneficial. Positive bilingualism, in this sense, is a growth opportunity for all citizens, rather than in Kymlicka’s sense, a compensatory measure to make up for a deficit.

But even a policy of bilingualism can be seen as inadequate in the face of growing pluralism in Canada. As Coulombe cautions, language rights be taken to unfairly privilege those groups who receive official language status, while under-privileging the language rights of others whose languages do not receive official status, effectively marking them as first and second-class citizens (2000, p. 283). Already over a decade ago, Coulombe cautioned that in face of Canada’s increasing pluralism the “illusion of a clear-cut bicultural political community” and hence a dual language policy, is coming under increasing fire. As he says of Canada,

The charge is not against the idea that rights can have their source in historical events, but that the singling out of one community requires a reading of history that unfairly ranks the contributions of the many peoples who built this country. (2000, p. 283)

In particular, Coulombe points out the status of indigenous languages and alludes to the fact that weaker parties risk coming out short-changed.132

National Rights can Reduce Diversity

Kymlicka himself points out that minority rights should not be defended on the basis of their contribution to overall diversity, which he believes is misguided. As Kymlicka says, “the value of diversity within a culture is that it creates more options for each individual, and expands her range of choices,” yet measures to protect national minorities do not expand the range of choices, but may actually reduce diversity by impeding new voices from the minority to being added to that of the majority (1995, p. 121). So in other words, while having two or more main national groups may increase to some extent the diversity of the state, this can be a misguided impression because within each of these groups the overall diversity may actually be reduced due to decreased heterogeneity and mixing between the groups in question. Here, Kymlicka is implicitly acknowledging the essentializing monocultural stance his position assumes.

With respect to arguments that seem to counter Kymlicka’s claim of the United States being “monocultural”, Kymlicka answers that societal cultures in today’s world are in fact pluralistic:

Societal cultures within a modern liberal democracy are inevitably pluralistic, containing Christians as well as Muslims, Jews, and atheists; heterosexuals as well as gays; urban professionals as well as rural farmers; conservatives as well as socialists. Such diversity is the inevitable result of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to liberal citizens” (1998a, pp. 180-1; 1999a, pp. 104-5).

For Kymlicka however, the Quebecois policy of “systematically…increasing the ‘prestige’ of the French language,” (2001a, p. 76; 2001b, p. 286) can be justified, even if it is illiberal, because for him this policy can bring about a shift from an “ethnic” to a ‘post-ethnic’ form of nationalism (2001a, p. 77; 2001b, p. 287).

But it is very unclear how we can understand a policy which effectively homogenizes an otherwise more pluralistic approach to limiting the choice of the language you put your child in school or limiting you from having an Italian, Arabic, or English sign on a commercial storefront. In the majority of schools worldwide, you will find a plethora of English schools – from Cairo to Seoul, and even in Paris, but in a cosmopolitan city such as Montreal with a dense population of English speakers there are no English-language schools. How is this a sign of anything but a form of ethnic/cultural nationalism? For Kymlicka, the focus is not on the policy itself, but on what he believes to be the transformation of the Quebecois society to protect a distinct societal culture from threat. Yet, while the case for cultural protection in Quebec seems fairly clear cut, in most other circumstances worldwide it is far more complicated. Defining the lines of cultural communities is extremely difficult; the problem of defining “who is a member” and “who belongs to the nation” can be exclusionary, even in places as liberal as Quebec, when it comes to immigration rights and the future of the community in a vastly mobile world.

Putting Theory into Practice

Indeed, beyond the issues faced by the circular and paradoxical logic pervasive in Kymlicka’s theory, the applicability of the theory itself is in doubt. Kymlicka states that there is a general agreement that there are around 5000-8000 nations in the world, yet only 190 independent states133. For Kymlicka, it is clear that many more nations than just a mere 190 need to have formal recognition and status as a distinct nation. Instead of granting full sovereignty, Kymlicka’s solution is to insist on the multinational character of states so that multiple national identities may be promoted within the same overarching borders, “living side by side” with one another. The question remains however, which of these 5000-8000 nations are to be granted official national minority status (note the tremendous discrepancy here with an uncertain attribution of 3000 various peoples worldwide in between the figures) (Kymlicka, 2004b). At the lowest estimation – if all these groups were spaced evenly across countries (which of course they are not), that would leave around 26 various national identities in each state. It is of course, impossible to recognize all of these groups says Kymlicka, so where do we draw the line? Kymlicka’s answer on this point is less confident. In Multiculturalism and the Welfare State, in considering which groups to consider as national minorities he and his co-authors arbitrarily “set the dividing line between ‘small’ and ‘sizeable’ national minorities at 100,000 people to exclude smaller nations from their discussion (as they warrant different considerations)134. Such arbitrary distinctions and lack of clear definitions undermine the applicability of Kymlicka’s theory.

Kymlicka provides many compelling arguments for why we should provide minority rights; nevertheless, his theory falls short in providing a clear and logical framework for identifying which minority nations should be granted official status. His theory also fails to answer how we are to apportion recognition rights once status is granted: which groups are to be deserving of remedial rights and which one’s full sovereignty? And another pressing question: in a multi-nation state with divergent rights for separate national groups, how can the state be united and its stability be ensured?

Illiberal Leanings

Related to the above points about putting theory into practice, one of the murkier areas of implementing Kymlicka’s theory is in maintaining its commitment to liberalism and individual rights while at the same time affirming its commitment to the protection of a particular cultural community or group. Kymlicka does make it very clear that the dangers of minority rights are real and present, and that bestowing “minority rights” has been used “by apologists for racial segregation and apartheid” across the globe. Therefore, any “liberal theory of minority rights…must explain how minority rights can coexist with human rights”, and further with liberalism, which he points out is indeed the purpose of his book (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 6). But does he really reach this aim?
        1. Limited Deviation from Liberalism

Kymlicka admits to the potential illiberalism involved in the promotion of access to secure societal cultures. Particularly, it becomes troublesome when Kymlicka says openly that, “the sorts of policy required to achieve a successful form of multicultural integration may be more complicated, and in some ways less liberal, than those which the majority can adopt” (2001a, p. 79) (italics mine). As he himself states with respect to language laws in Quebec restricting the use of English:

These policies are sometimes criticized as illiberal. And perhaps they are. But here we reach a genuine dilemma. For such illiberal policies may be required if national minorities are to integrate immigrants successfully (2001a, p. 76) (italics mine).

In this passage, Kymlicka is referring to the fear on the part of the Quebecois that immigrants will come into their society and prefer to speak English instead of French, thus weakening their French cultural fabric. This has led to several movements by various groups in Quebecois society to push for a unilingual policy and to exclude the possibility of study in English. Kymlicka justifies limited deviation from liberalism to prevent ethnonationalism, yet the above-mentioned language laws are internal restrictions, and he acknowledges himself this dilemma. He therefore offers what he calls, “a qualified defence of the permissibility of using some illiberal policies in order to overcome ethnic nationalism” (Kymlicka, 2001b, p. 288). He says that in some cases it may be necessary to “accept some limited deviation from liberal norms” (2001b, p. 287) in order to prevent a worse situation of the inflammation of xenophobia that is typically associated with ethnic nationalism. He calls ethnic nationalism such a “dangerous phenomenon” that he is willing to “look favourably on any policies that would help to dislodge and dispel it, even if they are mildly illiberal.” (Kymlicka, 2001b, p. 288). Kymlicka means to say that by allowing English schools in Canada, the native French population would inevitably feel threatened that their culture was being eroded and would then become ethnocentric and intolerant of the English speakers and immigrants who join them. But this represents just another illogical conclusion that results from his theory: the aim is to prevent ethnonationalism and so we pursue the means of tightening our ethnic fabric and limiting ethnic choices. In this discussion, Kymlicka disregards his own compelling theoretical deductions about the need to distinguish internal and external restrictions. Where do we draw the line on which illiberal internal restrictions we impose?

Although Kymlicka concedes these measures are illiberal, he nevertheless finds them justifiable. Indeed, Kymlicka admits that, “both self-government rights and polyethnic rights can, under some circumstances, be used to limit the rights of members of the minority group” (1995, pp. 38-40). Kymlicka mentions this with respect to women’s rights in Native American societies, the end goal of bestowing these self-government rights may mean decreased freedoms for female members; however, becoming involved and attempting to provide equal rights for women could be construed as interference by the majority imposing its own values negatively against traditional structures. Kymlicka says that because the aboriginals say they adhere to liberal principles it is ok to exempt them from majority law and this is liberal. But how are we to judge if women are being discriminated against? When it is acceptable to intervene? The case of women’s position as minorities within a minority nation is already a tenuous one. As McClintock points out, nationalism itself has heavily invested gender constructions, “despite nationalism’s ideological investment in the idea of popular unity, nations have historically amounted to the sanctioned institutionalization of gender difference” (as cited in Cusack, 2000).

Kymlicka has not shown us how to judge if the minority group is putting an internal restriction on themselves. He then goes on to give an example of an exception, that the Pueblo impose a religious restriction; anyone who does not share the tribal religion does not receive housing benefits. “It is often difficult to assess the likelihood that self-government for an indigenous or national minority will lead to the suppression of basic individual rights. The identification of oppression requires sensitivity to the specific situation, particularly when dealing with other cultures” (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 40). He puts the dilemma of external/internal restrictions very clearly when he says, “Laws that are justified in terms of external protection can open the door to internal restrictions” (1995, p. 43).

Kymlicka himself points very well he contrast between an increasingly open society and one which is concerned about the “survival” of a specific national culture,

“[W]e have a choice between, on the one hand, increased mobility and an expanded domain within which people are free and equal individuals, and, on the other hand, decreased mobility but with a greater assurance that people can continue to be free and equal members of their own national culture” (2000a, p. 26) (italics mine).

It is the latter that Kymlicka supposes individuals in a liberal society would prefer, though this seems to spell nothing apart from cultural protectionism. Special representation rights (those for national minorities) are meant to provide enduring protection of cultural belonging. This stems from the fact that Kymlicka makes our cultural community not just a social good, but a primary social good, which Merle says means that “affiliations with a cultural minority will remain a good for the entire life of all the members of a given minority...[although] Kymlicka recognizes the right of all individuals to leave their communities…typically he neglects to pursue the point further” (Merle, 1998, p. 265). But can a liberal society really support rights with the intention that they must endure beyond the point of equalizing injustices?

Societal Cultures Conflate Internal and External Restrictions

The chief difficulty with Kymlicka wrapping his theory in a language of nationalism is that he undermines his important distinction between internal and external restrictions. As we have described previously, while external restrictions (preventing imposition from outside the group) are permissible, internal restrictions (the group imposing on its own members) are impermissible. Let us take an example to illustrate the point of how the line between these two becomes blurred under conditions of nationalism.

In our fictitious example, we have a Majority society X and a Minority society Y. Let us say that Xs are typified by wearing blue hats, while Ys are typified by wearing red hats.

According to Kymlicka’s theory, external restrictions are permitted, so X’s are restricted from forcing Y’s to wear blue hats, or moreover from distributing blue hats around.

Internal restrictions are not permitted, so X’s cannot (in principle) stop another fellow X from adopting a Blue hat instead of a Red one.

This should stand in correct accordance with liberalism, and indeed Kymlicka holds this critical distinction to be at the very core of his theory and turning minority rights into liberal rights.

Yet, let us take a closer look at the X’s.

The X’s are not just X’s actually. They are a “distinct society”, with a specific “societal culture” or “national culture”, which in Kymlicka’s words is “in need of diffusion”.

So in other words, the X’s are not simply X’s, they are Red Hats. Belonging to X group is not simply a question of being X, Y or Z, it’s a question of your having “Red Hat-ness”.

This changes the stakes entirely.

The Red Hats, under Kymlicka’s system, also have a mandate to distribute other red hats across the entire population. They have the ability to control whether someone entering their territory is allowed in – based on whether they are wearing the red hat or not. And if they are not wearing a red hat – they have the ability for force him to wear one.

A person wearing a Blue hat or even a Green hat inside Red hat territory will find themselves under pressure to abandon their hat for a Red one. While they may not be thrown into jail for maintaining their Blue/Green/Turquoise hat collection, they are not in any way sent a message that “this is a (poly-ethnic) society which loves rainbows, so please parade a spectrum of your hats.” Instead, they may have to hide his or her hat collection in the closet.

It must be clear that, when Quebec says to a citizen “you have no right to have your child study in English as his first language”, that this is the Red hat taking away a Blue hat. In other words, this is a clear illiberalism and a restriction on an individual within the group, based on forcing them to meet and live up to group cultural expectations. The fact that Kymlicka tries to find justification for this is a deficit in his writings.

My point about the hats is that, even if the national minority is not directly punishing members for non-adherence to cultural norms, by wrapping group rights in cultural/national norms (or “hatness”), Kymlicka inadvertently blurs the lines between the two, making the tendency to lead towards illiberalism far more pronounced, particularly as the nationalism which Kymlicka describes makes no pretences about being culturally neutral but is devotedly committed to a single societal culture. In a free and liberal society, you should have the choice to don either a red hat or a blue hat, without being coerced into one or the other, or made to feel that your belonging to X community is diminished as a result of your choice.

The distinction between internal and external restrictions is critical for Kymlicka’s theory. Internal restrictions are supposed to protect the stability of the group from internal dissonance and change. According to Kymlicka, such restrictions are not considered liberal and therefore should not be part of any liberal collective rights schema. However, by framing collective rights in national terms, we inadvertently lead to the imposition of internal restrictions. The goals of national (or societal culture) are ethnocultural uniformity. We thus indirectly prevent dissent and undermine diversity. Internal restrictions – such as promotion of cultural purity – seem endorsed by societal cultures

Kymlicka himself is adamant about the importance of barring internal group restrictions, “In short, a liberal view requires freedom within the minority group, and equality between the minority and majority groups” (1995, p. 152).

And here we come to what I think is the crux of the contradictions in Kymlicka’s theory: societal cultures conflate Kymlicka’s ‘internal’ and ‘external’ restrictions. Indeed, the societal cultures which Kymlicka seeks to promote sound dangerously like the internal restrictions he says his theory is against. Although it is of course possible to have a nationalism that allows and even encourages change and dissent from within, the nationalist drive, per se, works against such diversity.

Kymlicka describes internal restrictions as those which develop within the group itself, whereby individual choices are limited for the sake of the group. He cites an example of how theocratic and patriarchal groups may limit the freedom of women (and others) through imposing orthodoxy on members, “the freedom of individual members may be restricted in the name of group solidarity or cultural purity” (1999a, p. 116). But what is an internal restriction really? Even Kymlicka somehow alludes to the fact that often internal restrictions are “defended…as unavoidable by-products of external protections” (1995, p. 44). While in theory the distinction between the two is very sound, in practice, it becomes quite difficult to separate the two.

Kymlicka says the danger here lies with theocratic and patriarchal cultures, but even most liberal societies still oppress women and have various levels of oppression for other groups such as homosexuals and other ethnic groups. To simply assume these internal restrictions are non-existent in liberal societies is naïve. We need a more honest reassessment of even our western democracies and the levels of oppression. Internal restrictions are not so easily defined. Where do we draw the line? Is it not an internal restriction to prohibit English language schools, as Kymlicka sees fit for Quebecois society? The prohibition on English language schools is to protect the viability of the French language, and hence Quebeois societal culture, how is this so very different from “restricting the freedom of individual members…in the name of group solidarity or cultural purity”?

Kymlicka seems to push aside the illiberalism by stating that the majority of immigrants do not mind such illiberal policies because they themselves are keen to integrate into their new societies and therefore do not voice much opposition. But even if they did object, how well would the voice of a minority immigrant be received? What options do immigrants have for speaking up against the national will? Further, and more dangerously, if we allow some concessions to liberalism, where do we eventually draw the line? If Quebecois society is using some illiberal policies towards the English-speaking population of Montreal, what right do we have to say to areas of high-intensity conflict – such as the treatment of the Serbian minority within Kosovo, or a few years ago, the Kosovar minority within Serbia – what right do we have to say to these countries that they have to adhere strictly to liberalism when we can in some instances condone it for ourselves?

It seems that as much as Kymlicka holds the distinction between internal and external group restrictions to be essential for maintaining liberalism, there are instances when he is willing to forgo this critical distinction and concede to “some” illiberalisms. The difficulty is that this may lead to a slippery slope. If some illiberalisms are conceded even among wealthy and highly stable territories such as Quebec, more are bound to follow - particularly as Kymlicka’s theory is spread to other parts of the globe where liberalism is on insecure footing or is altogether absent. By adhering to a theory like Kymlicka’s and citing precedents in international law established by western societies (conceding “here and there a few illiberalisms”) what was meant to be a theory to bring greater liberalism into the world may unleash a Pandora’s box that ultimately defeats it.

Open to Dangers of Oppression?

Walker is astonished that Kymlicka does not see the contradiction in his work between cultural fairness and the endorsement of societal cultures (or what Walker terms “ethnic hegemony”) and says in fact that “title notwithstanding, there is a tendency in Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship to give pride of place to the model of ethnic hegemony over the model of cultural fairness” (Walker, Modernity and Cultural Vulnerability: Should Ethnicity Be Priviledged?, 1999, p. 153). He describes the apparent tension between the two in an example of two potential courses of action for the city of Montreal. Following the “ethnic hegemony” model of Kymlicka, we ought to give Montreal a “francophone visage linguistique”, in order to make the very diverse, multicultural, and in many parts Anglophone city of Montreal match its comparatively ethnically homogenous surroundings. An argument for cultural fairness however could never support such a move, says Walker, and I would have to agree. I further agree with Walker that, when it comes to his theoretical conclusions Kymlicka seems to disregard his own theory and presents cultural fairness as, in Walker’s words, “elusive and as in many cases as simply unavailable as a social option” (1999, pp. 151-3). Walker is basically saying that Kymlicka is advocating a masked form of ethnic hegemony by his insistence on protection of societal cultures, which runs in sharp contrast to his claims about liberalism and cultural fairness. Kymlicka covers this ethnocentricism and what Walker’s calls “cultural de-differentiation” (1999, pp. 145, 153, 158) behind the language of self-determination and liberalism, when in reality it is far removed from liberalism itself.

No Such Thing as Benign Societal Culture

While Kymlicka holds that there is no such thing as benign “neutrality”135. I would add to this, in disagreement, that it logically follows from his theory that there is no such thing as a “benign” societal culture. Societal cultures are themselves detrimental for liberal equality. Societal culture advocates a certain set of norms and social practices that are in themselves overdetermining for minorities within.

I think societal culture can be a misleading term. I would prefer to speak in terms of an overriding metanarrative, which I feel is a more helpful way to look at these “societal cultures”. The metanarrative typically endorsed by nation states (through top-down institutional dissemination), leads to a level of hegemony and thus “unity” in our societies. This is what De Schutter describes as using the “homogeneity of culture as a vehicle”, which he finds to be “an underlying assumption of Kymlicka’s theory” (2005, p. 28). To help the underprivileged however, we need to look beyond such limited perspectives and find ways to challenge the metanarrative at hand.

When the cultural continuity of a nation is deemed at stake, and when a state (or minority sub-state) pursues a policy of prioritizing the interests and the well-being of that cultural community through a model of differential citizenship (based on the distinction of members and non-members), than a whole host of possible illiberal tendencies may arise. Subtle and even overt discrimination, systemic pressures/barriers against "non-community" members, direct racist policies of discrimination favouring one race/religion over all others, seem unjustifiable measures, no matter how valued a cultural tradition. While Kymlicka's theory disavows such measures, he must next aim to provide safeguards against them.

When legitimacy is attained through nationalism, minorities have to prove themselves as nations to attain recognition/rights. Kymlicka’s classification systems may be used to justify categorical inequalities in power. The source of many internal struggles minorities face is the national framework that structurally excludes them, minority national rights only reproduces those exclusions on a micro scale. Although Kymlicka does rightly insist that group rights should only be used to equalise the good of membership of a culture, even he admits that his theory can be abused:

Of course, one can imagine circumstances where the sorts of external protections demanded by a minority are unfair. Under apartheid in South Africa, for example, whites, constituting less than 20% of the population, demanded 87% of the land of the country, monopolised all political power, and imposed their languages throughout the school system. They defended this in the name of reducing their vulnerability to the decisions of larger groups, although of course the real aim was to dominate and exploit these other groups (Kymlicka, 1999a, p. 116).

Kymlicka here clearly spells out the difficulty of even enforcing “external restrictions”, he describes apartheid in South Africa as an abuse of external restrictions by the minority (but domineering) white population which used the excuse of minimizing the influence of larger groups over their affairs as a way of coercing and oppressing them.

What is apartheid after all? It is pulling people apart. Separating them from their brothers. Breaking them down so that they cannot move freely between themselves. Setting them outside the spheres of influence and control. It is setting themselves outside the “respectable society”. It is defining them clearly, distinctively as outsiders. Moreover, not only does it define this, it actively promotes it. As Adrian Hastings reminds us, ethnic tensions, particularly those leading towards ethnic cleansing, need a strong ideological pull. To mobilize enough people to engage in “the horrors of mass murder…An ethnically edged nationalism can best do the job of providing such moral cover” (Hastings, 1997, p. 113).

Kymlicka solves the issue partially by saying that his schema is only for liberal nations; however, he does not show us the way to avoid nationalism descending to its illiberal excesses. He only leaves us with saying that those which are illiberal are not supported by his theory.

Liberalism, Minority Rights, and the Rest of Us

How to distinguish between illiberal and liberal states when it comes to minority rights? It is certainly possible that liberal countries could also have abusive minority rights policies, as demonstrated by the previous segregation of African-Americans in America. What of minorities living in illiberal countries? The majority of conflict situations and deeply divided societies worldwide are in fact illiberal, in many cases their illiberalism stems precisely from their treatment of minorities. Where do we draw the line? When we begin to introduce minority rights, how can we be certain that it will not infringe upon the rights of those minorities to equality? In many cases minority “privileges” entrenched their inequalities – even when conducted under the banner of fairness. How are we to draw the line? Who is to judge and enforce when that line has been crossed? On this, Kymlicka is silent.

Kymlicka is concerned with what the principles of minority rights should be, “not with who has the power to determine, interpret, and enforce such principles” (Williams, 1994, p. 54). Kymlicka’s theory, although it claims it could never support Apartheid does little to provide safeguards against it and more dangerously, the underlying inconsistencies in Kymlicka’s theory could be easily manipulated and used as justification for differential treatment. Tacit support for illiberalism in his theory (such as restrictions on mobility) risks the creation of Non-liberal minority rights.

Kymlicka says that there is a fine line in knowing when to intervene, with respect to “internal restrictions” (1996, p. 26). The lines between internal and external restrictions become blurry when we are dealing with issues such as sexual equality and religious freedom. If a particular tribe has less voting privileges for its women, would majority intervention to provide women with equal opportunities (and imposing western constitutional law) be enforcing liberalism (prevention of internal restrictions), or would it simply be insensitive to foreign cultural systems and another form of imposition of values from the majority onto the minority? It would seem that taking action to prevent internal restrictions on a minority culture once given their semi-independence will nearly always cause tension from the part of the minority group, who inevitably would see the majority’s intervention as a further confirmation of their interference in their affairs, which they could easily argue away as an external interference (and hence unallowable).

When issues are wrapped in national frameworks they become inherently oppositional: us vs. them. The same issues wrapped within a representative framework that instead looks towards bringing cultures to live side by side and with one another in dialogue, would find an easier time to navigate through such difficult scenarios.

The question is really: how can we have a universal legal ethics that does not treat everyone as if they were the same but can equitably take account of differences and be fair to all? How can we override the authoritative vocabulary that determines what is on the political agenda and what is not and include minority voices? Kymlicka’s answer is to divide the authoritative vocabulary into two distinct components separated by national group. But by this action he is not taking away the authoritative vocabulary and making it more dynamic and representative, indeed, as we have seen with the red hats – the minority in need of protecting its cultural practices may even take a stronger authority over cultural choices than a “civic” or non-national sovereign.

Kymlicka is trying to surf the waves of the new multiculturalism, but his vessels, the tools he uses are still tied to the shores of yesterday’s political conceptions. This has led to rifts in his theory, thrown on the rocky climes – not able to fully embrace the sea, leading his theory to look backwards towards nationalism, closed borders, restriction of immigration and restriction of other cultural preferences.

Rethinking Nationalism

Can Kymlicka’s theory go beyond some of the difficulties enumerated in this Chapter? I have argued so far that one of the key areas in need of revision to improve the applicability of Kymlicka’s theory is to reinterpret it by removing its nationalist vocabulary and the conceptions which underpin this. There are many reasons why this is important, among them, the fact that nationalism itself is being reshaped over time through the advancement of globalization.
        1. Nation is being Recontextualized

Arguably, the “deep meaning” which Kymlicka says national identity holds for its members is increasingly on the wane. The former charisma and attachment to national identity is fading. As nationalism becomes banal - the use of the term nation for example – to describe the “Queer nation”, “deaf nation” or “Nation of Islam”, which are far from the original meanings of the term– nation becomes more and more disassociated with the political unit, the nation-state. Moreover, “blood and soil” nationalism is highly discredited136 within the current discourse of human rights. As rights as “universalistic personhood” come to the fore, the limitations of the old national model “become inventively irrelevant” (Soysal, 1998, pp. 210-1).

Contrary to Kymlicka’s model of societal culture, there are many circles of belonging in today’s world. Nationalism, although still present as a source of identity, has less legitimacy and less prevalence in our lives. Many Canadians would say their primary identity is Catholic. Many Quebecois would say that their primary identity is Secular. Many Belgians would say their primary identity is European. Many other Europeans would say their primary identity is Female. All of these different spheres of belonging overlap with one another and form a picture of who I am.

Indeed, when we look beyond the national system, the minority/majority dichotomy begins to disappear. The international system is, after all, premised on the very idea of differences. It is a starting point that many cultures of various natures and orientations will meet in a single space; it is not presumed that this international order should be culturally similar or homogenous. The very idea of unity in difference is encapsulated by the attempts of the different worldwide communities to meet together and decide their common futures. While there are sure to be disagreements in addition to agreements, the outcome of the process is in fact not as critical as the process itself, a continual striving to meet, to listen and to learn.

So why do national minorities cling to national identity so strongly? Why does it seem that majorities are less attached to national culture than minority groups are? There are no clear answers to this question, nor does Kymlicka say he knows entirely either, but certainly the answer lies in the realm of minority groups feeling underrepresented or inadequately given access to the power structures of the society. As long as national rights are the only legitimate way of gaining a degree of autonomy or political legitimacy, minority groups will continue to formulate themselves in these terms. As Kymlicka himself says,

The only legitimate basis for demanding a new state is to appeal to the idea of national liberation or national self-determination, that is, to argue that a new state is needed to embody and express the will of a distinct nation (2003, p. 283) (italics mine).

So long as legitimacy remains rooted in nationalist norms, minority groups will continue to use nationalist rhetoric as a means of seeking recognition and rights. Indeed, counter to Kymlicka, Anna Stilz argues that we should drop all nationalist normative claims, and that when we do the lack of value associated with the nation will become all the more apparent, as being useful for anything apart from some “motivational problems in democratic states” (Stilz, 2009, p. 149).

Indeed, the liberal nation has been unable to respond to the challenging questions and issues that have been increasingly arising in connection with rising pluralism and globalization. Kymlicka himself acknowledges that national minorities cling to the older paradigms of nationalism instead of embracing more recent ones centred on multiculturalism. They appeal to the “older and more well-established norms and vocabularies of nationalism and of “the self-determination of peoples,” which long predated the current discourse of multiculturalism” (Kymlicka, 1998a, p. 185). When we begin to see nation in this way, it is easy to understand Seyla Benhabib’s conclusion, that we are travelling using an outdated normative map, drawn from a different time in response to different needs from those which our societies face today (Benhabib, 2005, p. 674).

Thinking inside the Box

Kymlicka himself recognizes outright that the former nation-state model is clearly dead. His theory makes a strong attempt to provide us with a new paradigm to challenge the conventional understandings of state-nation relationships. In his writings, he continually emphasizes the need for polyethnicity and that he hopes to re-invent the national imaginings as a way to open them up to recognizing more groups who as yet, have had no mechanism for finding an adequate protection of their culture. While these steps have the right motivations, in practice they fall short of Kymlicka’s ideal of an increasingly pluralist, accommodating society. To address the needs of minority groups, we cannot remain bound to the same language and normative frameworks that created their problems in the first place137.

“Nation-speak” requires that we define who are the members and non-members of the nation. This has always been and always will be, a problematic issue – indeed it is precisely this problematic issue surrounding qualifications of membership from which the difficulties of minorities living within the nation-state arise. Kymlicka’s prohibition on internal restrictions is intended to prevent members from oppressing other members, as he states, “a liberal theory of minority rights cannot…accept the idea that it is morally legitimate for a group to oppress its own members in the name of group solidarity, religious orthodoxy, or cultural purity” (1995, p. 8). This of course is important, but what Kymlicka needs to now address is the stance of the group towards “non-members”. Upon which basis is membership to be defined? If we define nations in cultural terms, then it would seem that those members who share all of the same cultural-ethnic traits upon which the societal culture is founded, would then qualify. Internal and external restrictions means having a clear definition of who belongs and does not belong to the definition of the group – who is to be considered in the “in” club, and who is on the external “outward” front from which interference can be restricted. Treatment for non-members within this state is an issue that is not addressed by Kymlicka, though we can gain a glimpse of his views on this if we look to his support of restricting languages and a few “illiberalisms” in order to secure greater complacency of those who are full-fledged ethnic members so that they do no feel threatened and resort to ethnic extremes.

Looking beyond the nation state, Kymlicka does spell out global social conscience by saying that we ought to improve the lot of nations lacking stable societal cultures, yet he remains rooted in the classical notion of citizenship which does not fully capture the changing sense of global responsibility which has arisen in international human rights laws. Because of his rootedness in the national model, he fails to adequately address in his theory the case of international refugees, guestworkers and other stateless individuals. Indeed, Kymlicka takes a wary stance on international law and human rights. He is afraid that too often these are tools for governments backing their own agenda instead of being used to empower minorities (1989, p. 215). As Barry says, he “clearly buys into the idea that human rights are a form of ‘cultural imperialism’” (2001, p. 138). While Kymlicka admits the rise of Human Rights law after the war era was “one of the great moral achievements of the twentieth century” intended precisely to combat the sorts of abuses minorities faced under previous minority schemas; nevertheless, Kymlicka paradoxically claims this development “reflected a desire to control and disempower minorities.” (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 30) As he says, “for post-war statesmen, it was essential to find an approach that would weaken the capacity of minorities to challenge state power, either domestically or internationally…The human rights approach seemed to fit the bill” (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 30). Hence, Kymlicka links the rise of human rights and international law with a desire to control minorities and remove them as legitimate actors. Yet, universal rights such as the UN Declaration of Human rights did not disempower minorities, at the very least it gave them a legal context for their protection. Hence, Kymlicka fails to take into account in his theory shifts towards international justice and a reconfiguration of sovereignty beyond the national model, as we will explore further in Chapter 7.

The Need for Creative Imaginings: Dworkin’s Ship Example Revisited

It is up to the creative imaginings of political philosophers to look beyond the nation-state model and imagine new ways to secure our identity and rights suited to the changing times, before those times quickly outstrip out systems of justice and leave us wondering what is participatory government that is limited to a vote – when we can destroy, create, and build entire civilizations through virtual worlds.

If we return to the ship example mentioned earlier in Chapter 3, originally proposed by Dworkin and then later modified by Kymlicka, I believe we can already find clues to moving forward the sought-out protections behind Kymlicka’s theory. If you remember, in Kymlicka’s modification of Dworkin’s shipwreck story, two boats arrive on an deserted island and through a computer system on board they are able to calculate in advance of landing how they will spend their clamshells (currency). Only after landing do they realize that they are from different cultural groups, and the majority cultural group is able to secure more clamshells to capture more of the things valuable to their cultural structure on the Island.

Yet, today, these two boats would not just be equipped with two boxy computers with rigid programs for sheer economic calculations of how they will intend to use their clamshells. No, instead, individuals on that boat will be equipped with cell phones, 3G tablets, and a variety of social media sites for interaction. Before they even arrive on the island, individuals on the boats will have formed their own groups online, often intersecting ones (some within a single boat and some drawing from members of both boats), such that, when they arrive on the Island, although they may have originally perceived that they belonged to two separate boats, indeed they will find that there are multiple groups intersecting across both of them. Instead of having a few individuals or institutions controlling how the Island is set up, there will be a multiplicity of groups engaging in its formation, with some interest groups working on providing recycling services and organic products and other small teams interested in basket weaving or fire-throwing. Upon landing, the new inhabitants will realize that the two ships (and indeed, the two cultures), were merely vessels, and that the waters they shared and the common destination they charted were more important than the separate starting points of their journey.

Net freedom offers an interesting simile for the ultimate triumph of the individual and perhaps, what one could call – the democratization of culture. While in the past, music, news, and other cultural media could only be sold and purchased through large establishments which relied on mass consumers, today every individual is both a direct consumer and a seller of media, a trend which is set to increase only further with time. From open access journals to Wikipedia, online translators, to international head hunters and online outsourcing, the web is increasingly opening new avenues of sharing and distribution.

Indeed, the biggest divide between those who have access to cultural choices will be between those who have access to the tools of connectivity, such as mobile phones or home internet, and those who do not. Referring back to our ship example, the greatest divide between the inhabitants of the new island will not between separate communities divided between the two boats, but between those who had access to the mobile phones and tablets and those who did not and who therefore find that when they get to the island, they are isolated from the rest of the pre-formed and rapidly evolving groups already claiming access to the Island and its resources therefore unable to adequately advance their choices and cultural preferences or connect with others to collectively work towards them.

This divide between those experiencing cultural sharing is on the one hand a question of access and on the other hand a question of allegiance. In addition to those who lack access, fundamental divides between cultures are marked less by an intrinsic incompatibility between various cultural structures so much as a divide between extreme cultural adherents (in the form of preferentialism for my “group” or a refusal to leave the protection of my “ship”) and those who are willing to look across the waters and see the benefits of cultural exchange, of living together in difference.

Indeed, the new generation is making cultural leaps, overcoming international and national boundaries, becoming more detached from history and tradition and more used to world in flux. Yet, the further we are pushed towards the brink of change, the more people step back from the ledge. There are still growing numbers of adherents of orthodoxies and traditionalists and loud voices of opposition to multiculturalism – even from liberal camps (often masking deep-rooted xenophobia and a fear of both change and of the Other). How can we protect multiculturalism and minorities in a climate of increasing hostility towards change? How can we be sure that an international order will not become as hegemonic as the national order has been? We cannot be sure. However, there are certain checks and balances in place that have never existed on a national level that may give us more hope. Indeed, taking some of the considerable weight out of the hands of particular national actors, and balancing it by the interests of the rest of the regional or international community through a growing multilateralism, may indeed be our best hope for ensuring de-escalation of violence and better treatment of minorities.

At bottom, recognition claims are not about providing stable pre-formed cultures, but about giving space to creatively imagine new futures and human freedom. As Cornell and Murphy correctly say, those seeking recognition are truly desiring “affordance of the psychic and moral space necessary for groups and individuals to engage with and recreate their multiple identifications” (2002, p. 422). I believe that Cornell & Murphy have captured something important here, not adequately covered in the writings of Kymlicka. To some extent, Kymlicka mirrors these reflections in his writings about the need for dynamic cultures and poly-ethnic societies, yet Kymlicka becomes too bogged down in the institutionalization of culture and considers less the creative imaginings of it, the continual re-inventing of cultures, and the risks institutionalization may pose for such freedom to move. So long as we adhere to a notion of securing diversity, through the need for secure institutionalized cultural structures, we concede an open victory to the traditionalists who would restrict freedoms in the name of cultural protection, and give – opposite to the wishes of Kymlicka, the intolerant an unintended pretext for their intolerance.

Political issues in the new world are international and require international solutions. There are issues that simply no single state can deal with on their own; a solution must be arrived at jointly. Kymlicka’s liberal culturalism is marred by his holding on to the conception of groups as territorially and historically bound communities of fate. He remains at the level of nationalism and thus fails to make a transition to a truly post-nationalist, cosmopolitan form of trans-national governance.

The Tolerant Society

Walzer describes a different form of state from the “nation-state” that is characterized by a more tolerant form of society: what he calls the “immigrant society”. In this form of tolerant society, no particular cultural group has a monopoly over state power; it is a “political identity without particular claims” (Walzer, 1997, p. 172). His example of a positive immigrant society is of course in the New World in America, uprooted from the past, and hence more open to the waves of immigrants who fed its culture and incorporated their views into its own ideals and system. While America was originally similar to the Old World in its having a majority imprinting itself on public affairs; however, newer waves of immigration have produced neutrality says Walzer. This neutrality is assured because the “state addresses itself to individuals rather than groups, and so creates an open society in which everyone is required to tolerate everyone else” (Walzer, 1997, p. 173). Walzer claims that this tolerance has been achieved by liberal atomism, “good fences make good neighbours” (1997, p. 174), all are members living side by side but separately.

The next level of toleration beyond this is in a new, more “post-modern” model which Walzer proposes, where the walls and the fences drop down: a “life without boundaries” (1997, p. 174). Difference is not just between people, but experienced within our own selves, in all aspects of our lives. “The result is constant intermixing of individuals, intermarriage, and literal multi-culturalism” (1997, pp. 174-5). When we reach this level, we are at a point where “tolerance begins at home” and in our own selves (Walzer, 1997, p. 175). The intolerant ways of the national model and understanding our identities in reified ways no longer tenable; nation-building simply does not make sense in our newly hyphenated/intermixed global societies.

As Appadurai tells us, “the formula of hyphenation (Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans, and African-American) is reaching the point of saturation in the United States, and the right hand side of the hyphen can barely contain the unruliness on the left hand side” (1993, p. 803). Appadurai sees the United States as the ideal “laboratory” for experimentations in trans- and post-nationalism, where “diasporic diversity” and parallel/criss-crossing loyalties can form a new notion of belonging, beyond “whiteness” and colonialist conceptions (1993, pp. 803-7).

Walzer describes a distinction between the new world and the old world as the difference between what characterizes Europe and the new Americas (1982, pp. 6-11). The old world consisted of “intact and rooted communities” (1982, p. 9) whereas the new world is a result of “individual and familial migration” (1982, p. 6). The new world was built out of those who were “susceptible to cultural change, for they were not only uprooted; they had uprooted themselves” (Walzer, 1982, p. 9). In this new context, waves of immigrants to the Americas had no reason to reject the culture to which they now became a part; their resistance to conformity took a new form, “not a demand that politics follow nationality, but rather that politics be separated from nationality…not a demand for national liberation, but for ethnic pluralism.” (Walzer, 1982, p. 10).

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