Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship

Societal Cultures and the Boundaries of Nationalism

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Societal Cultures and the Boundaries of Nationalism

Chapter 4
What do Societal Cultures mean?

Societal cultures are central to Kymlicka’s theory and form the brunt of his justification for endorsing minority nationalism. In this Chapter, we will explore the meaning of Kymlicka’s societal cultures, their theoretical implications as well as their practical implications for two major minority groups identified by Kymlicka (immigrants and indigenous peoples) and for his overall treatment of diversity. But first, it is important to understand the significance of Kymlicka’s definition of societal culture and how closely he associates this concept with the concept of nation. Indeed, as I will argue, he intermixes the two throughout his writings in a way that has a profound impact on the outcome of his theory.

Kymlicka uses the concepts of nation and societal culture nearly synonymously. If we place the two definitions side by side, the similarities become evident. Kymlicka defines national minorities as:

Historically settled, territorially concentrated, and previously self-governing cultures whose territory has become [involuntarily] incorporated into a larger state. (1998b, p. 30)

These groups wish for some form of “autonomy or self-government to ensure their survival as distinct societies” (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 10). In a similar vein, societal cultures are defined as

A territorially concentrated culture, centred on a shared language which is used in a wide range of societal institutions, in both public and private life (schools, media, law, economy, government, etc.) I call it a societal culture to emphasize that it involves a common language and social institutions, rather than common religious beliefs, family customs, or personal lifestyles (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 76; 1997b, p. 24; 2001b, p. 25; 2002, p. 18; 2004a, p. 55).

In effect, nation is the more organic outgrowth of the institutional structures which societal cultures provide. Societal cultures are all-encompassing and integrate aspects of the myths and symbols we experience in nearly every aspect of our lives; in Kymlicka’s words, they “[cover] the full range of human activities – social, educational, religious, recreational, economic” (2002, p. 18). The top-down cultural diffusion of societal cultures feeds the nation in a circular motion and in turn is fed by the nation itself as it grows and changes over time.

Minority nations are those groups that have a pre-existing societal culture that was created prior to the advent of the majority nation state and is culturally different from it. Kymlicka describes how the institutional aspect of the cultural diffusion of majority societal cultures is detrimental to minority nations in a manner similar to colonization for it effectively erases or denies their pre-existing cultural structures. Kymlicka makes a strong point in saying that internally colonized peoples (national minorities) have every right to the same repatriation and decolonization that overseas colonized peoples have had under international law.

Kymlicka: Societal Cultures should be Endorsed

To a certain extent, the privileging of the majority societal culture is unavoidable says Kymlicka. After all, we must ultimately choose one language to serve as our lingua franca in our political and educational institutions and by its very nature the national system endorses a particular societal culture. What he deems wrong, however, is for us to continue to disregard the ways that states systematically disadvantaged national minorities, who by living under the control and culture of a majority nation are in a sense cut off from the “cultural-marketplace”. Fairness then requires that the societal cultures of minority nations should therefore be supported by the state; minority nations should be viewed as “distinct societies” and given the necessary powers of self-government to determine their boundaries, immigration, and language rights. Such measures are not needed for the majority, for, as Kymlicka says, the societal culture of the majority is already stable and institutionalised by the state and therefore not under threat in the same way the minority nation’s societal culture is (Kymlicka, 1995, p. 113). More than “shared memories or values” (1995, p. 76), the societal culture that Kymlicka speaks of is an amalgam of institutional settings (such as a common education, economy, media, political and legal systems) that disseminate the national culture, i.e. a uniform language, history, and other cherished cultural trappings to national group members.

Societal cultures promote these institutions and with them a certain shared vocabulary in which public life is conducted. This shared vocabulary is what enables the members of the community to understand and communicate well together. In Kymlicka’s words, it is “the everyday vocabulary of social life, embodied in practices covering most areas of human activity” (1995, p. 76). It is in this shared vocabulary or national language that citizens are best able to communicate their political needs and interests. As Kymlicka neatly phrases it, politics is always “politics in the vernacular”. This is why the best form of politics in Kymlicka’s view is politics from within a common national group.

The Risk of Monoculturalism

Despite Kymlicka’s theoretical elegance, his definition of societal cultures is highly problematic. Indeed, in this book I argue that Kymlicka’s definition of societal cultures is at the heart of the inner tension that works its way throughout Kymlicka’s theory: the contradiction between his professed commitment to polyethnicity (or simply put, multiculturalism) on the one hand, and on the other hand, his commitment to nation (a particular cultural community). Ultimately, the multicultural citizenship that Kymlicka seeks to advance is hindered by a form of monoculturalism that is a direct result of his definition of societal cultures. Indeed, two conditions of this make it narrowly limited to a model of static mono-culture:

  1. Societal cultures are inherent

  2. Societal cultures are discrete

While the former condition leads Kymlicka to emphasize that we are rooted in history (and ethnicity), the latter condition leads him to emphasize that we are rooted to our land.

By incorporating these two conditions into his definition of culture, Kymlicka narrowly escapes the ‘blood and soil’ argumentation typical of nationalism. Kymlicka ignores such associations and insists that membership in a societal culture is linked to liberalism and choice and that by supporting societal cultures into the “indefinite future” (Kymlicka, 1997b, p. 35; 2001b, pp. 210, 228, 269, 271, 284, 312; 2007, p. 69) we are in fact supporting liberalism and greater overall equality. What Kymlicka does not adequately address however is how protection of inherent and discrete societal cultures can remain at the level of pure commitment to a liberalism of equality and not descend into ethnic preferentialism. Let us examine these two conditions in further detail and the complications they entail.

Inherent Cultures

Kymlicka says that that our societal culture provides us with options and makes them meaningful for us54 and that culture should not be considered rigid because it can always be changed by its own members. Indeed, Kymlicka argues that Dworkin has an overly rigid view of cultures when he speaks about “cultural structures” (Kymlicka, 1995, pp. 82-3). Despite Kymlicka’s avowed commitment to dynamic cultures however, Kymlicka contradicts himself by describing culture too rigidly. Kymlicka says that national rights are to be “enduring” and regarded as “inherent” because we depend on a rich and secure cultural structure and need stable institutional structures to diffuse and protect that culture – in the case of national minorities, into the indefinite future.

This inherent aspect of societal cultures is reflected in Kymlicka’s insistence on the link between group membership and group history. As Kymlicka says, “cultural narratives” are what provide meaning in our lives,

Whether or not a course of action has any significance for us depends on whether, and how, our language renders vivid to us the point of that activity. And the way in which language renders vivid these activities is shaped by our history, our ‘traditions and conventions’ (1995, pp. 82-3)(italics mine).

Or in another area he similarly emphasizes the importance of a shared history:

Our language and history are the media through which we come to an awareness of the options available to us, and their significance; and this is a precondition of making intelligent decisions about how to lead our lives (1989, p. 165).

For Kymlicka, societal culture is rooted in the history of its people, which in turn shapes the future development of this societal culture55. Kymlicka’s emphasis on the importance of cultural membership for human freedom appears to be rooted in assumptions such as: 1. Cultural homogeneity leads to stability and 2. The nation must have strong historical ties between its members, both of which in turn serve to reify otherwise intangible abstract identities.

William E. Connolly, author of The New Pluralism (2008), in a volume on Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says that this “imagination of unity or wholeness” with regard to nation paradoxically “has never been actualized…[the nation] never simply exists in the present; it is always represented as something from the past that has been lost or something projected into the future yet to be realized” (Connolly, 2000, p. 184). Yet, Kymlicka states that membership in a stable, discrete (i.e. bounded) cultural community is essential to our human freedom. This argument closely matches the communitarian one in that our cultural/social environment is considered constitutive of our identity. Embracing the communitarian argument, Kymlicka agrees that without the protection of a stable cultural community, we are unable to make meaningful choices about how to lead our lives. Cultural membership for Kymlicka is belonging to a community that is both “stable and historically continuous” (Parekh, 1997, p. 56).

Although Kymlicka affirms that anyone who wishes to join a particular societal culture may do so (nations should be both multinational and multicultural), by adding this historic dimension to culture, he risks overly attaching societal culture to a specific ethnicity. As Gans points out, societal cultures are “not entirely unrelated to ethnicity, for, at least empirically, it so happens that ethnic groups usually share a societal culture so that many cultural nations are also ethnic groups or have such groups as their core” (Gans, 2002, p. 49). When history is a defining part of one’s collective identity, those who have only “learned” this history but whose ancestors were not a part of it, will consider themselves (or be considered by others) a step back from “authentic members” of the group, when history and culture are built into the definition of membership. Even Charles Taylor has conceded that with respect to accommodation of difference in Quebec, that newer waves of immigrants in Quebec face exclusion from “policy questions in their electronic media and newspapers as though immigrants were not a party to the conversation” (1998b, p. 146). Newcomers are referred to as “them”, something outside of and definitely not a partner to the debate. The difficulty lies in the fact that extreme nationalists believe that the aspirations of “old-stock Quebecker’s”56 cannot be conceivably shared by newcomers and hence “it is only natural that this part of the Quebec ideological spectrum should have greater difficulty in opening itself to outsiders” (Taylor, 1998b, p. 146). This is further compounded by the fear that immigrants will prefer to adopt the majority culture although living in minority territory, further distilling the fragile nationalist fabric of the already threatened minority culture.

Indeed, Taylor was at the head of a $5 million Quebec Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (CCAPRCD) that concluded in 2008. The report issued by the commission indicated that one of the main societal rifts in Quebec is that between “French-Canadian Quebecers” and growing immigrant and ethnic communities, which of all the divisions mentioned in the report the authors say we must “fear the most” (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008) as ownership over the identity of who is an authentic Quebecer and the meaning and values associated with the term is challenged. Despite these rifts, the report identified that Quebec society is one of “considerable diversity from the standpoint of religion, ideology and customs” and that there are numerous points for accommodation and rapprochement between societal members (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 206). The authors state, for example, that Quebec collective memory should be emphasized for its universal aspects, with respect to human struggle against colonization and oppression – key messages that all Quebecers can relate to as opposed to strictly ethnic/cultural markers (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 212).

Indeed, Kymlicka’s writings do not adequately take into account the extent of the ways people change “societal cultures”. Though born into a specific culture or ethnos, we are able to navigate and adapt or adopt new cultures. This dynamism in culture is overshadowed by Kymlicka’s insistence on a secure societal culture as basis for our value formation, inadvertently undermining his avowed commitment to a dynamic, pluralistic state. In other words, Kymlicka describes societal culture as if there is an innate membership in it, while forgetting his otherwise professed belief that culture is mutable.

As Yael Tamir, acclaimed author of Liberal Nationalism says of Kymlicka’s theory, in a twofold critique: (1) It creates a tie between the right to culture and the innate nature of membership, and thereby has no explanation for converts; (2) His position fails to acknowledge that, though we have reasons to protect cultural choices, these should not be isolated from “the market of preferences” (Tamir, 1993, p. 38). Tamir points out that culture is more mutable than what Kymlicka describes and that Kymlicka fails in his justification of group rights on the basis of the culture “inhering” in the member. Tamir disagrees, in her view, culture should not be protected because it is something that “inheres” in us but because of the meaning it provides for our lives (Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, 1993, p. 40). Rightly, Tamir is hesitant about how Kymlicka ties choice to circumstance and feels that Kymlicka overestimates the need to secure the right to culture57.

Discrete Cultures

Kymlicka further undermines the adaptable nature of cultures by insisting not only on their constancy through time but also on their constancy across peoples. Kymlicka reifies identity by defining societal cultures as having both clearly defined symbols and clearly defined members. The societal culture Kymlicka speaks of is the singular source of our primary identity which all other sources of identity refer back to. As Carens points out, Kymlicka’s concept of societal culture “homogenizes culture, obscuring the multiplicity of our cultural inheritances and the complex ways in which they shape our contexts of choice” (2000, p. 56). Waldron also attacks Kymlicka’s monocultural standpoint, he says that Kymlicka’s theory rests on a fallacy of composition. Waldron says that Kymlicka demonstrates the value of culture in our lives and then goes on to infer that this culture is in the singular. Pointing out the circularity in Kymlicka’s reasoning, Waldron brings to our attention that the importance of “membership in a culture” simply does not follow from Kymlicka’s insistence on the importance of “access to a variety of stories and roles” (1995, pp. 106-7). Waldron sums this critique as such: “We need culture, but we do not need cultural integrity” (1995, p. 108). In other words, Kymlicka eloquently describes the need for rich culture in our lives, but this culture need not be uniform or structured in the way that he assumes (but does not prove) it should be. These discrete and inherent societal cultures are to be preserved, says Kymlicka, by the endowment of national cultural rights.

Despite Kymlicka’s commitment to a “thin” national culture, when he begins speaking about intergenerational history, language, and heritage with respect to land, he inevitably leads us towards a much thicker conception, pointing more towards a substantialist conception of a “community of fate” (Schicksalsgemeinschaft) as opposed to membership based on voluntarism (Benhabib, 2006, pp. 167-8). Under Kymlicka’s system of apportioning rights based on national identification, we can run into immeasurable difficulties when it comes to intercrossings between two national cultures. In the name of protecting a certain culture, national group rights may easily descend to ethnic prohibitions or regulations discouraging intermarriage. Although Kymlicka does not sanction such measures, his theory does nothing to prevent this and may even encourage such difficulties to protect the culture from external interference, which he claims are acceptable cultural restrictions.

A further difficulty with Kymlicka’s use of group rights to protect societal cultures is that often the groups that need their cultural choices preserved are not a society or a single “societal culture” at all, but are an amalgam of diverse groups looking for the same rights. If we are to limit our view to Kymlicka’s societal cultures, we will have a myopic view of most societies and will be unable to see the nuanced pattern of cultural interactions and various cultural formations within the society.

Territorially Rooted

Kymlicka’s discrete societal cultures are linked with another concept of modern nationalism reinforced implicitly by his writings (particularly in his emphasis on the restriction of mobility and of territorial sovereignty): the idea that the borders around states should coincide with borders around cultural nations. As Helder De Schutter says of Kymlicka, “in making the case for the rights of nations to autonomy in self-governing mononational territories, Kymlicka drastically reduces the complex cultural hybridity that structures today’s multinational cultural diversity” (2005, p. 18). De Schutter’s own home territory Belgium is a case in point for the complexities behind clearly demarcating national borders, it’s own capital city, predominantly French-speaking, lies in the midst of Flemish territory. But this is not even the most complicated of Belgian’s borders. A fine example of the peculiar circumstances around bordering nations is in the city of Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands, which consists of twenty-six separate pieces of land, including twenty-two Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands, which within them contain further enclaves of Dutch inhabitants. Because the borders run, at times, straight through buildings, the nationality of the inhabitant of the building is marked, quite extraordinarily, by the location of its front door (Chittenden, 2009)

Fig. 1. Baarle-Nassau’s borders.

Source: UC Santa Barbara Geography

Linking rights to territory has negative implications for the normative strength of Kymlicka’s argument. As Meena K. Bhamra, author of The Challenges of Justice in Diverse Societies (2011) says, following Kymlicka’s theory “territorial connections lead to a stronger claim of belonging and thus result in stronger rights, such as self-government rights” (2007, p. 23). However, Bhamra cites the example of the Jews in Britain, who - despite their long history in Britain - are not considered by the British government to have “national origins in this country”, as an example of precisely why such a linkage between territorial affiliation and rights “masks a potential malevolent form of thinking”, which she says coming from Kymlicka is “regrettable” (2007, p. 23).

McCorquodale and Pangalangan argue that international law on territorial sovereignty is “largely trapped within the framework of nineteenth-century colonial concepts” (2001, p. 867). Many claims from minorities have arisen precisely because of the unjust imposition of barriers through territorial sovereignty. McCorquodale and Pangalangen argue that such borders need to be reconsidered, and a “more flexible system…devised” (2001, p. 880). Borders have become barriers they say, and ownership of territory in international law has been grounded in a colonial mindset that is “exclusive, partial and silencing”. Even stronger wording is given by Appadurai who calls nationalism “the ideological alibi of the territorial state…[and] the last refuge of ethnic totalitarianism…[whose discourses are] deeply implicated in the discourses of colonialism itself” (1993, p. 796). Yet, in today’s world, identities need not be confined and restricted to boundaries of the state. As former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said:

The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty…has passed; its theory was never matched by reality. It is the task of leaders of States today to understand this and to find a balance between the needs of good internal governance and the requirements of an ever more interdependent world (as cited in McCorquodale & Pangalangan, 2001, p. 880).

Kymlicka himself refers to the OSCE High Commissioner’s statement that “territorial autonomy should be viewed not as a best practice but as a last resort” in an attempt to stem further destabilization of an already insecure post-communist Europe (2007, p. 213). Yet Kymlicka feels that Europe has, “not surprisingly” been too weak in embracing models for articulating the “distinctive characteristics and aspirations of national minorities” which he defines as “their sense of nationhood and claims to a national homeland” (2007, p. 213).

While Kymlicka’s theory to a certain extent promotes disaggregating territory through providing minority territorial jurisdiction (most probably in the form of a federal system), his stance on territory nevertheless remains awkward for a number of reasons. On a note that partly acknowledges his own awkward stance on territory, Kymlicka admits that, “territorial boundaries are a source of embarrassment for liberals of all stripes, and particularly for liberal egalitarians” (2001c, p. 249). Indeed, by including territorial contiguity in his definition of both national minorities and societal cultures, Kymlicka problematizes his definition and again pushes it in the direction of “blood and soil”. As Smith says,

Collective attachments to sanctified homelands have been a source of cohesion and conflict in all ages. Once a particular homeland has become sacred in the eyes of its inhabitants and identified with a particular community, it requires constant vigilance to maintain its status and character (2000, p. 21).

Anthony D. Smith describes the passionate attachment that is formed with respect to territory that has been marked off for exclusive ownership by a particular community, and its continual “reassertion of the bond with [the] ancestral homeland. Even the secular language of nationalism reaffirms a connection to the ‘ancestral habitat’ as its natural and immemorial homeland” (Smith, 2000, p. 21). Smith says that nationalism had two “clear-cut territorial attachments: mass national education and collective self-sacrifice in defence of the homeland” (2000, p. 21). When the land is lifted to the status of sacred, those who fight for the land are similarly raised to the status of heroes and martyrs (Smith, 2000, p. 22).

Apart from its murky closeness to the subject of state violence (particularly towards competing minorities or fringe groups on the periphery of the national territory), the issue of territory marks a further continuation of the theme of contradiction that pervades Kymlicka’s work, for while on the one hand Kymlicka says that “cultures do not have fixed centres or precise boundaries” (1995, p. 83). He nevertheless describes societal cultures as territorially concentrated and speaks of national rights in terms of establishing (or reifying) these already existing boundaries (1995, p. 83). He maintains that national systems, which indeed by their very definition associate cultural borders with political borders, are the best political system for liberal multiculturalism (Kymlicka, 1995, pp. 82-3). Yet for Anne Philips, Kymlicka’s definition of societal cultures,

conjures up a group of considerable solidity. It has its own institutions, territories, language and history, and by implication, its own potentially extensive claims on the loyalty of its members (Phillips, 2007, p. 19).

“It is not surprising”, therefore, says Philips, “to learn that such groups are in conflict with one another” (2007, p. 19). Certainly, when linking cultural rights to territory, we face the problem of putting stress on already difficult land disputes (Kymlicka himself admits that “existing boundaries are largely the product of historical injustice” in the form of colonization and conquest (2001c, p. 250)).

Certainly it is much easier to describe the national cultures of Canada as territorially concentrated than it is to do in the majority of other divided states worldwide which lack the vast geographical spaces and relatively concentrated cultural population centres that Canada enjoys. The Canadian situation upon which Kymlicka bases his theory, with two large “discrete”58 territorially separate populations, is the exception – not the rule – worldwide, where the majority of split populations are living intermixed and generally in tight vicinity to one another, such as Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, etc. The task becomes more difficult as well when facing disputes over granting territorial rights from “primacy in a given territory” (asserting the historical priority of the group, as in “first occupancy”) to what Gans calls a shift towards, “the primacy of this territory for a given people” wherein a particular territory is marked off as having key significance for the meaning and cultural identity of a certain people (2001, pp. 58-9).

Even Belgium, which according to Kymlicka is one of the most stable “multi-nation” states in the liberal western world, has similar difficulties in terms of scrabbles over which territory belongs to whom. This is true with regard to its capital, the international city and very heart of Europe – Brussels, among other similar segregation disputes59. Indeed, Belgium has no shortage of difficulties posed by the divisions between its national groups, and continues to waver back and forth on the brink of dissolution over the inability of these groups to reach a compromise in devolving powers to the regions.

Even in the Canadian example, the territorial attribution is not altogether unproblematic. Within Quebec for example, there are large tracts of land that aboriginal populations claim belong to them. The Quebecois government however stakes its claim to these lands. Apart from the strong economic considerations underlying these claims (these disputed areas are some of the most resource-rich in all of Canada, not to mention the Quebec GDP is the 15th largest in the world and the sixth in the Americas (Lisée)), each group claims that ceding land over to the other would diminish their group’s right to cultural flourishing. For the aboriginals this would mean losing more of their land leading to a fear of being erased from the map, for the Quebecois this would mean diminishing their size and resources against an already larger English Canada.

What precisely is meant by “territorial concentration”? If societal culture is supposed to be about choice and basic freedoms, why limit access to these to only those who live within the territorial concentration (such as denoting Quebecois those living within the province of Quebec and English Canada those living outside, despite the huge numbers of Francophones living outside the province of Quebec). Defining a national minority as being territorially concentrated does injustice to the many French communities living outside the province of Quebec, and who also wish to have their historic contribution and struggles receive proper recognition and who also care about access to language rights and their own unique cultural communities – and neither to be lumped together with the Quebecois, nor forgotten entirely and thus subsumed into Anglo-culture (Carens, 1997, p. 46). My sentiments on Quebec sovereignty echo Carens who says point blank, with reference to Kymlicka: “Please do not misunderstand. I do think that Quebec’s demands for self- government rights are justifiable. I do not think that the concept of nation helps us very much to see why” (Carens, 1997, p. 47).

If we follow Kymlicka’s definition to the letter, lack of territorial contiguity may be turned into a constraint against providing rights for groups such as francophone communities living outside of Quebec, and similarly a constraint against according self-rule to aboriginal peoples. In justifying tying rights to territory, Kymlicka himself says that is very difficult to provide the dispersed indigenous tribes with self-rule in a way that it is not for national minorities who form a majority in a federal subunit like Quebec (2001b, p. 83). Norman echoes these concerns and points out that with federal systems were power is devolved to provinces, smaller non-concentrated minorities who are unable to form territorial majorities may be worse off, as is the case of indigenous bands and anglophones in Quebec (as cited in Bauböck, 2000, p. 370). Further, through his strong link between sovereignty and territory, Kymlicka ignores a wealth of other existing non-territorially defined solutions for sovereignty. Choudhry outlines a number of them, which include everything from granting Aboriginal peoples in urban areas control over their own social services and local councils, to the institutionalization of separate familial law for religious minorities (Choudhry, 2002, p. 71).

In somewhat of a concession to the difficulties posed by his stipulation of “territorial contiguity”, Kymlicka admits that there are lessons to be learned from non-territorial solutions for cultural autonomy, from Europe for example, which can offer “lessons for western democracies” (2002, p. 69). A further example Kymlicka mentions is how a Canadian government commission made a recommendation that off-reserve (those who moved outside the reserve into unrestricted Canadian territory) Indians be entitled to a system of cultural autonomy. Adding the condition of territoriality in assessing whether a people is in fact a “nation” with a “societal culture” may work against numerous groups who lack a contiguous territory but who nevertheless demand special group protection and rights. Kymlicka himself points out numerous obvious and important exceptions to this rule, like the Catholics in Northern Ireland, or others who also do not fall under his category of distinct nations such as the Roma or the pre-war Jews in Europe or Blacks in America (Kymlicka, 2002, p. 95).

Kymlicka emphasizes the issue of territoriality to alert us to the threat that national minorities can be disempowered through actions led by national governments seeking intentionally to harm minorities. These nefarious majority governments aim to fragment minority territory and infuse it with majority members in order to reduce their potential for collective action and overtake their distinct society (Kymlicka, 2001b, p. 75). Yet, to address this problem, we can apply the same panacea Kymlicka uses to prevent abuse of his minority rights, by insisting that the majority government should be “liberal” and that its actions towards the minority should be ones to improve their standing not diminish it. It would seem that whether we give the minority separate group rights or do not give them separate group rights, it is not the bestowal of group rights itself that secures equality, but the beneficence of the ruling power (unless full separation between the groups occurs).

Further, nationalist-led agendas are often at the root of those very strategies used against minorities to fragment and disempower them territorially. While giving national group rights may in some special cases help to empower minority groups, quite often national strategies are employed against the minority in the name of nationalism. Kymlicka does not provide us with a framework to direct national governments away from this dangerous latter direction. National minorities themselves may similarly use such agendas and “land rights” against other various groups viewed as a threat by them (including putting constraints to muscle out majority nationals who are already living long-settled within the minority territory) (Kymlicka, 2002).60 The very real and dangerous threat of ethnic transfer in most parts of the world should make the international community very nervous about any arguments about “territorial concentration”.

Indeed, Kymlicka avoids speaking of the issue of land conflict altogether, despite its obvious importance with respect to minorities (as Carens succinctly puts it, “borders have guards and the guards have guns” (1995, p. 331)). What happens when we have two groups fighting over the same land, both of which view the land as critical for their cultural survival? What if these two groups are not separate as Kymlicka projects national groups to be (and which most often they are not) but have great pockets of both populations dispersed between one another, how are we to resolve the differences?61 Nationalism, with its emphasis on drawing lines and walls between populations offers few solutions. Focusing on national identities as Kymlicka does may lead to a web of cantons and isolated fragmented communities, without really addressing the needs of or providing security for either society.62

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