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  • Kymlicka, Liberalism, and Respect for Cultural MinoritiesAuthor(s): John TomasiSource: Ethics, Vol. 105, No. 3 (Apr., 1995), pp. 580-603Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2382143 .Accessed: 21/02/2015 00:46

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    Kymlicka, Liberalism, and Respect for Cultural Minorities*

    John Tomasi

    Do liberalism's foundational principles call for the recognition of group rights to protect minority cultures? According to Will Kymlicka, those principles do. Kymlicka has developed a novel and sophisticated argument to show that, in conditions of cultural pluralism, the liberal principle of equal respect for persons sometimes requires the recogni- tion of collective rights for the protection of cultural groupings.' Be- cause Kymlicka's argument for cultural rights appeals to widely held liberal principles, his argument has strong intuitive appeal for liberals and is already gaining influence among them.2 However, it is not clear that Kymlicka's argument can bear close examination.

    This article begins with an evaluation of Kymlicka's argument for cultural rights. In Sections I and II, I shall argue that Kymlicka's argument, while highly instructive about liberalism's foundational commitments, cannot provide a justification for the cultural rights he wants. By uncovering the motivational roots of Kymlicka's argument, however, we will discover a different and more powerful justification for a liberal recognition of special rights. Indeed, as we will see, much of the intuitive appeal of Kymlicka's argument may come from his own unrecognized reliance on this (different) pattern of justification. This is surprising: for this stronger pattern ofjustification, the pattern

    * For comments on earlier versions, I thank Bernard Williams, Jerry Cohen, Brian Barry, Sam Freeman, Amy Gutmann, Tony Laden, George Rainbolt, Susan Okin, the members of my Political Philosophy 171 class at Stanford (especially Mac Beal and Stanley Kim), and the editors and readers at Ethics.

    1. Kymlicka's most complete presentation of this argument is in Liberalism, Commu- nity and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). All page references are to that work, unless otherwise indicated.

    2. Allen Buchanan, for example, relies explicitly on Kymlicka's argument for some of his most interesting and important arguments for a liberal recognition of secession rights. See Secession (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1991), pp. 39, 53-54, 79. I say more about Buchanan's argument below at n. 31.

    Ethics 105 (April 1995): 580-603 ? 1995 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0014-1704/95/0503-0006$01.00


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  • Tomasi Kymlicka, Liberalism, and Cultural Minorities 581 on which I say Kymlicka actually relies, does not itself rely on liberal- ism's foundational principles. In Section III, I'll say what this nonlib- eral pattern is and show why liberals should adopt it.

    I. CULTURAL MEMBERSHIP AS A PRIMARY GOOD Kymlicka says that in many modern nation-states there is an important discontinuity between the scope of two different sorts of community: political community and cultural community. The political community is the grouping "within which individuals exercise the rights and re- sponsibilities entailed by the framework of liberal justice." The cultural community, by contrast, is the grouping "within which individuals form and revise their aims and ambitions" (p. 135). People within the same cultural community share a culture, a language and history; these define their cultural membership. But in many modern nation- states these two types of community are not coextensive. For example, in the United States, Canada, and Australia there are aboriginal group- ings that are distinct from the main cultural groupings; similar situa- tions obtain in Western European states with culturally distinct sub- groupings, such as those in Belgium and Switzerland.

    Kymlicka says the lack of coextensivity between the political and cultural communities in many modern nation-states has an important implication: it suggests two different ways by which individuals may be incorporated into a liberal state. People may be incorporated univer- sally, so that each person is taken to stand in the same direct relation to the state. Or, they might be incorporated consociationally, so that the nature of each person's rights varies with the particular cultural community to which he belongs. For example, in Canada some aborigi- nal leaders have been able to enact laws that prohibit the selling (or even the renting) of traditional aboriginal lands to outsiders: a Cana- dian citizen who is Inuit may buy (or rent) a piece of this land from another Inuit, bat a Canadian who is white may not. Similar measures have been adopted in Canada regarding language instruction in schools and, especially, regarding certain political rights. In northern Canada, for example, some aboriginal leaders have proposed imposing long residency requirements on white Canadians (of up to ten years) before they can vote on local matters. Kymlicka groups all such mea- sures loosely under the heading "group rights" (pp. 138, 146-50).3 Significantly, as Kymlicka says, "the justification for these measures focuses on their role in allowing minority cultures to develop their

    3. This heading is troublesome, as Kymlicka notes (p. 139). Buchanan suggests that such measures are not rights but legal authorizations to cancel certain immunities from interference (pp. 39-40). Like Buchanan, however, I shall follow Kymlicka's usage.

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  • 582 Ethics April 1995 distinct cultural life, an ability insufficiently protected by 'universal' modes of incorporation" (p. 137).

    A warning may be in order. Many liberal countries from their very inception have recognized systems of exclusion, especially in political matters, by which individuals gain an especially important role in local matters. Under systems of democratic federalism, like that in the United States, each citizen is politically incorporated both universally and consociationally: all citizens have equal standing regarding consti- tutional and legislative matters on the national level; each citizen has special standing regarding constitutional and legislative matters con- cerning his own locality, whether township, county, or state. Like the restrictive measures Kymlicka means to justify, democratic federalist measures-on their consociational dimension-protect the autonomy of local groups by restricting the powers and privileges of (fellow national) outsiders.4 The project of showing the foundations of liberal democratic federalism is a difficult and, I believe, a timely one.5 But that project should not be confused with the project Kymlicka is under- taking here, which is to argue that liberalism itself sometimes calls for a very extreme set of consociational measures-such as those that would allow local legislatures to restrict property sales between citizens on the basis of race or cultural background. In the liberal context, the distinction between arguing for federalism and arguing for cultural rights is no little one. I shall return to it below.6

    4. This partially explains why, for example, the traditional political culture of Vermont can be so unlike that of its neighbor New Hampshire. (Can one imagine New Hampshirites electing a Socialist to the U.S. House of Representatives?)

    5. What's more, the project of giving foundations to liberal federalism seems prior, both strategically and conceptually, to that of justifying the special cultural-protecting measures Kymlicka discusses. That project is strategically prior since until we know precisely what protection federalist measures can or cannot provide to cultural minori- ties, we have no clear reason to begin a search for specialized collectivist measures like those Kymlicka insists are needed (no reason unless it is the mistaken belief that some choice must be made between universal and consociational principles, simpliciter). The project of finding foundations for federalism would also appear to be conceptually prior since, for one thing, the principles of self-government that apply on the local level (which a theory of federalism would supply) are themselves formulizable as universal principles.

    6. Kymlicka, of course, never suggests that his argument is meant to provide a foundation for liberal democratic federalism. (Indeed, in the index of Liberalism, Commu- nity and Culture the word "federalism" does not even appear.) But nor, I think unfortu- nately, does he make clear precisely how he sees his project as differing from that one. The consociational measures he calls "group rights" seem to differ from the consocia- tional measures associated with traditional democratic federalism in two ways. Fir