Kymlicka on Multiculturalism and Liberal Democracy

In Eurozine, an interview with the philosopher Will Kymlicka:

Filimon Peonidis: You were the first person who showed to us the significance of minority protection, cultural membership, and multiculturalism for mainstream Anglo-Saxon political philosophy. In the past all these were regarded as political, sociological or legal issues. A long period separates the publication of your first book on this topic, Liberalism, Community and Culture (1989), and your latest one, Multicultural Odysseys (2007). Have your views on liberal multiculturalism undergone any significant change during all these years?

Will Kymlicka: I’m still very interested in the general question of how the claims of ethno-cultural minorities relate to the basic principles of liberal-democratic theory, but my motivation for addressing this question has evolved over the years. Originally, I chose this topic as a test case for exploring the “liberal-communitarian debate” that dominated Anglo-American political philosophy in the 1980s. In the 1970s, liberals like John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin had developed new theories of liberal egalitarian justice that I personally found very attractive. In the 1980s, however, communitarians like Charles Taylor criticized these theories for being too individualistic and “atomistic”, and his main proof for this critique was the example of ethnic minorities. According to Taylor, a Rawlsian or Dworkinian theory of liberal justice could not defend the sorts of group-specific rights that minorities need to protect themselves from assimilation. And he concluded that this made liberalism particularly inappropriate for my own country – Canada – where a range of minority rights for the indigenous Aboriginal peoples, for the Quebecois, and for immigrant groups are well-established, widely-accepted, and indeed are vital to the survival of the country.

This argument really worried me, because I wasn’t willing to abandon support for Canada’s minority rights, but nor was I willing to shift from liberalism to communitarianism to defend them, since I think that communitarianism has a dangerous tendency to limit the freedom of individuals to question and revise traditional ways of life.

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