The Challenge of Multiculturalism: Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism

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1 The Challenge of Multiculturalism: Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism Nazmul Sultan Department of Philosophy and Department of Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY Abstract Centralizing a relational understanding of socio-cultural groups, this paper argues that both liberalism and communitarianism fail to address the profound questions that are being posed by multiculturalism. For both liberalism and communitarianism, socio-cultural groups are something sociologically given, and it is also presupposed that groups exist by virtue of their positive identity. The normative visions of liberalism and communitarianism are conditioned by this rather essentialized idea of groups. If groups are not seen as something self-constituted, but rather as entities that are formed through their relational differences and contests, the limits of liberal and communitarian theories become quite apparent.the primacy of negative group-rights in liberalism ends up reproducing the existing inequality among socio-cultural groups. Communitarianism, on the other, positivizes each (cultural) group in a pre-political manner, while it is also incapable of addressing the inter-group relationality among hegemonic and non-hegemonic groups. Against the negative rights oriented liberalism, I argue that what is needed is the space of a positive political participation that does not begin with an imposition of majoritarian or hegemonic culture. The positive space of interaction should not however be reduced to the institutional level. The political dialogue and contest among groups, whose only condition is the presupposition of equality of all participants (including their cultures), should complement institutional assertion of equality. Over the last couple of decades, normative political theory in the West has extensively grappled with the challenge of multiculturalism. Owing to the growing dissolution of monocultural political imaginary and the proliferation of immigrant groups in the western countries, the question of multiculturalism has been catapulted to the forefront of political horizon. The effects of the multiculturalization of society have resulted into two-folded political directions: on the one hand, the liberal discourses have extended their otherwise individualistic mode of politics to allow group rights of marginal cultures, while the conservative discourses, in various ways, have sought to assert the majoritarian culture as the norm to be adapted by others. More constructive theoretical responses to multiculturalism have been dominated by liberalism and communitarianism, while neoconservatism has led the reaction against multiculturalism. In this paper, I will primarily engage with the former two responses, leaving aside the conservative argument 10

2 against multiculturalism. Considering liberal and communitarian responses to the problematic of multiculturalism, I will argue that both of these approaches provide inadequate solution to the profound questions that are being posed by multicultural phenomenon. Problematizing liberal approach to multiculturalism, I maintain that the strict individualistic liberalism that does not consider group identities as a subject of concern (owing to the professed equality of individuals, regardless of their cultures) is mistaken, precisely because oppression in contemporary capitalist societies takes place around group identities. That is, groups are at the forefront of constitutively unjust social organization, and thus it requires a more robust politicization than that is allowed by the framework of liberalism. Considering a liberal conception of group rights, I argue that the policy of catering certain special rights to vulnerable groups does not address the core problem of inter-group inequality. Although I endorse group-rights to an extent, I think group-rights are not capable enough to address the political questions that multiculturalism poses. 1 Opposing communitarian ontologization of community as a pre-politically decided essence of politics, I will argue that communitarianism is incapable of addressing inter-group inequality, an inequality which marks the central crisis of contemporary multiculturalism. The question of socio-cultural groups 2 and their specific rights should address the relational inequality vis-a-vis hegemonic groups. This position does not necessitate me to oppose-- rather it incentivizes -- the possibility of formulating a new political culture in multicultural political communities. The liberal version of multiculturalism perpetuates existing relations of inequality among groups by delimiting groups to their own spaces, thus not positively enabling them to become empowered and equal. The crisis of liberal multiculturalism requires it to be supplemented with a positive space of equal interaction among cultures. However, the positive interaction should not be formulated according to a paternalistic positive relations, whereby hegemonic groups accommodate minority groups with the aim of eventually assimilating them. To put it briefly, criticizing both liberal and communitarian approaches to multiculturalism, I show that the political response towards multiculturalism requires more than the policy of introducing group-rights; in 1 I agree with Habermas statement that collective rights, hedging collective identities, may become dangerous or even illegitimate as they violate basic individual rights. See Jürgen Habermas, "Address: multiculturalism and the liberal state, Stanford Law Review 47 (1995): 850. Since I posit that group rights matter vis-a-vis hegemonic group, it does not contradict my position when I maintain that an individual must have the legal right to disidentify with groups, even as it is true that whether a person can disidentify with a social group does not primarily depend on her will. 2 Throughout this paper, I will use the term socio-cultural group rather than cultural group (except in regard to communitarianism) in order to denote the concept of group that multiculturalism brings to the fore. Although the question of group is formulated according to their cultural differences, it is inherently a socio-cultural issue. In order to stress this social nature of marginalization that cultural-minority group suffers, I choose the term socio-cultural group over cultural group. 11

3 so doing, I argue that the question of socio-cultural groups should be politicized in such a way as to address the relational inequality 3 between hegemonic and non-hegemonic groups. Addressing the political problematic that has been foregrounded by the advent of multiculturalism, Jurgen Habermas formulates the question posed by multiculturalism in this manner: Should citizens' identities as members of ethnic, cultural, or religious groups publicly matter, and if so, how can collective identities make a difference within the frame of a constitutional democracy? 4 During the early period of multicultural politics, as Kymlicka notes, liberalism was generally considered to be against multiculturalism, while communitarianism appeared to accommodate it. 5 This, however, has been a false dichotomy, for it has become established that liberalism is capable in its own way to accommodate grouprights. Of course, the process in which liberalism justifies group rights as a necessary component for enabling individual autonomy presupposes the primacy of individual rights over group rights. As argued by some liberals, the autonomy of individuals their ability to make good choices amongst good lives is intimately tied up with access to their culture, with the prosperity and flourishing of their culture, and with the respect accorded their culture by others. 6 In other words, group rights pertain to liberalism insofar as it is necessary for enabling individual rights of those individuals belonging to minority groups. Habermas thinks that liberalism, owing to the centrality of culture in the formation of individual, is normatively necessitated to grant equal coexistence of all cultures. This position entails that the state not only should remain neutral vis-a-vis both minority and majority cultures (in principle), but also should intervene to safeguard a culture when it is violated or endangered (but, as Habermas specifies, liberalism cannot save a culture in the way one saves an endangered species; only when a group of citizens deem a culture worth safeguarding, liberalism can conceive the possibility of allowing special rights to that group). This approach to multiculturalism, by and large, remains confined within the framework of negative rights. The non-hegemonic minority cultures are allowed certain rights only insofar as it considered to be essential to the reproduction of that culture. Even the policy of affirmative action -- the policy by which liberal democratic states supposedly seek to address the problem of under-representation of minority groups -- is only concerned with a balanced representation of the minority group in the 3 Later on the paper, I will show (following Iris Young) why groups are essentially relational entity, and thus the inequality among them needs to be seen as a relational one i.e. the inequality does not primarily follow from the internal constitution of groups. This idea of relational inequality presupposes the structural form of oppression, while maintaining that structural oppression is most acutely manifested in the relational aspects of society. 4 Jürgen Habermas, "Address: multiculturalism and the liberal state," Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy 339. This is originally a point made by Joseph Raz that Kymlicka paraphrases. 12

4 institutions. As for some of the special rights given to the minority groups, these rights are justified on the basis of their essential place within particular groups. Without those rights, it is argued, the specific groups will be unable to reproduce themselves. In this conjuncture, the critics of group rights argue that liberal policy of allowing special rights to certain groups ends up bolstering the practice of violating individual rights within those groups. Susan Okin, for example, argues that liberal multiculturalism aids misogyny of certain immigrant groups that are culturally misogynist i.e. women do not experience equal rights within those groups. 7 Such an approach to the problematic of multiculturalism fails to realize the deeper root of the problem. To begin with, Okin s argument reduces the complex formation of sociocultural groups to a defect particular to specific group. The cultural exclusion of the immigrants -- perpetuated by liberal multiculturalism (which Okin fails to recognize) -- generates inwardness and conservatism within immigrant community. Group rights merely seek to alleviate the problem that resides in the structural formation of multicultural society. The argument that recognizes certain minority culture as the force responsible for the violation of individual rights (within those groups) only manifests its own failure to see structural roots of violence and inequality. The centrality of negative group-rights in liberal approach to multiculturalism ends up reproducing existing inequality among groups. The value of Slavoj Zizek s critique of liberalism lies in his discerning of this larger effect of liberal multiculturalism. Zizek attacks the negative separation of each cultural group from another, as if liberal multiculturalism allows differences only insofar as they do not challenge the existing state of unequal hierarchy of socio-cultural groups: [M]ulticultural tolerance and respect of differences share with those who oppose immigration the need to keep others at a proper distance. "The others are OK, I respect them," the liberals say, "but they must not intrude too much on my own space. What is increasingly emerging as the central human right in late-capitalist societies is the right not to be harassed, which is the right to be kept at a safe distance from others. 8 Extending Zizek s argument, one could say that liberalism s preoccupation with walling out one cultural group from another not only reproduces existing hierarchies, but also makes it difficult for minority communities to go through a process of positive development. Likewise, the hegemonic culture evades encounter with non-hegemonic ones, thus failing to reconsider its deeply embedded biases. The biases of hegemonic culture do not remain confined within its private sphere, since its political principles and actions (which, 7 Susan Okin, Is multiculturalism bad for women? (Princeton University Press, 1999). 8 Slavoj Zizek, "Liberal multiculturalism masks an old barbarism with a human face," The Guardian, October

5 in turn, largely influence political institutions and practices) are conditioned by putative private beliefs and biases. If liberal multiculturalism remains caught up within an ideal of negative group rights, then the communitarian approaches positivize groups almost pre-politically. 9 This ontologization of cultural groups as only meaningful site and condition of political practice leaves communitarian approaches unable to address contemporary crisis of multiculturalism. Since justice is imbricated with the common good that every society internally possesses, the politics of communitarianism is primarily concerned with safeguarding the autonomy of each community from externalities. In other words, communitarianism argues in favor of positive rights of each groups. However, when it comes to inter-group relationship, it defends positive dissociation between groups in order to safeguard their internally coherent positivity. In addition, the claim that the state should advance common good poses a particular problem: if the state is to advance common good of all cultures, what should be its own culture (since communitarianism does not admit the possibility of a group-independent political culture )? If the state adopts a particular common good, it necessarily ends up in a hierarchical order of state-sponsored and state-abandoned cultures. For both liberalism and communitarianism, socio-cultural groups are something sociologically given, while it is also presupposed that groups exist by virtue of their positive identity. The normative visions of liberalism and communitarianism are conditioned by this rather essentialized idea of social groups. If, however, we see groups as relational and mutually reproducing entities, the political approach to multiculturalism takes a different turn. The methodologically individualist notion of groups conceptualizes socio-cultural groups either in terms of common attributes of a certain group of people (e.g. an ethnic group) or in terms of the contracts by agreeing with which a certain group of people come to form a social group. The social ontology that underpins methodologically individualist conception of groups puts individuals as ontologically prior to the social. 10. Iris Marion Young, one of the foremost theorists of groups, contests individualist conception of socio-cultural groups, arguing that groups are formative of the self, and one cannot understand it according to exit-entry policy. However, her account 9 Pre-political in the sense that communitarianism ascribes political meaningfulness to each cultural groups prior to their any political contestations and decisions. Of course, communitarians argue that only through political association encumbered selves can realize themselves. In the words of Michael Sandel: It is only as participants in political association that we can realize our nature and fulfill our highest ends. Michael J. Sandel, Democracy's discontent: America in search of a public philosophy (Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1998), 7. But, I would argue that such a notion of politics is still pre-political in the sense that the possibility of meaningful political existence is already embedded within community, and thus the location of the political is prior to any political contestation. 10 Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011),

6 of groups are significantly different from the communitarian approach, since she opposes the claim that groups exist by themselves and are internally positive. Rather groups are essentially relational: A person s group identities may be for the most part only a background or horizon to his or her life, becoming salient only in specific interactive contexts. 11 Women, for example, are defined and oppressed as women in relation to men. 12 Group-based oppression is relational at its core, and hence politics of equality must be concerned with the relational aspects of inter-group relations. Since the structural nature of oppression is manifested in social relationality, the emphasis on the latter does not overlook the structural basis of group-oppression. The implication of such an understanding of social group is rather profound. Merely affirming the difference is not enough, for differences among groups are molded precisely by the hierarchy of groups. While it is important that minority groups have rights that enable them to exist, it must be complemented by the simultaneous politics that addresses the relational sphere between two groups. Could that be done institutionally? I am not persuaded by the argument that representative equality in institutions eventually results into an inclusive society, since the political culture that institutions embody is not necessarily challenged by the physical inclusion of the nonhegemonic minority group members. Indeed, as Jurgen Habermas points out, it is essential to decouple the majority culture from the political culture with which it was originally fused, and in most instances still is 13 The institutional articulation of inter-group equality is structurally incapable of overcoming such an extra-institutional sources of inequality. The hierarchical political culture should thus be challenged even at the extra-institutional level. Insofar as the challenge of multiculturalism denotes not only an institutional problem but also a problem embedded in social organization and in political culture, we need to look beyond rights-oriented approach to the problematic of multiculturalism. The rights-oriented approaches merely concern themselves with the juridical moment of politics, while leaving aside the cultural (and even social) production of inequality. My discussion so far has asserted that neither the negative-rights oriented liberal multiculturalism nor the ontologically positivized communitarianism provides adequate solution to the problem. My disagreement with these approaches lies in the relationality-based understanding of sociocultural groups. Owing to a relational understanding of groups, I approach the problematic of 11 Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, The term relationality of group-oppression does not denote that for every oppressed group there is a correlate oppressing group, since oppression is structural, there need not always be a dyadic relationship between two groups. Young rather means that for every oppressed group there is a group that is privileged in relation to that group (42) -- this is a form of relationality that recognizes hierarchy of groups, while keeping in mind the structural nature of exploitation. 13 Jürgen Habermas, "Address: multiculturalism and the liberal state," Stanford Law Review 47 (1995):

7 multiculturalism slightly, if not radically, differently from Jurgen Habermas, who is equally concerned with moving beyond the constraints of liberal and communitarian approaches. I share Habermas position that we neither should presuppose ethical unity of a preexisting community nor should we solely remain concerned with formal institutions. The proceduralist approach of Habermas does nt depend on a collectively acting citizenry but on the institutionalization of the corresponding procedures and conditions of communication. 14 Habermas Goldilocks solution retains the intersubjective kernel of communitarianism, while negating its principle of ethical unity, and yet aspires to institutionalize the conditions of communication. However, how the conditions of communication are to be decided? Habermas himself acknowledges the necessity to extricate political culture from hegemonic culture. Prior to the institutionalization of conditions of communication, it is necessary to lay the ground for unconditional ground of communicative interaction (which either can be dialogue-oriented communication or more agonistic contestation) among groups. The sole condition of inter-group communication should be an unconditional presupposition of equality. 15 That is necessary for counteracting the relational inequality that lies among groups. The presupposition of equality need not efface the differences -- only through political interaction and contest among groups can we democratize the formation of the conditions of communication, not to mention institutions. 16 The practice of equality needs to encompass both institutional and extra-institutional moments of political life. But the terms of political communication and contest should not solely be decided by institutions, since that would foreclose the possibility of contesting over the conditions of communication. While political institutions must reflect the outcomes of equality-presupposed interactions, the political culture of equality must not be codified and rendered into a rigid set of practices if we want to keep it open to continual possibility of equality in political interactions. Centralizing a relational conceptulization of socio-cultural groups, I have argued that liberal and communitarian approaches to multiculturalism fail to address the crux of the problem. The primacy of negative group-rights in liberalism, despite its limited efficacy, ends up reproducing the existing inequality among groups. Communitarianism, on the other, positivizes each (cultural) group in a pre- 14 Jürgen Habermas, "Three normative models of democracy," Constellations 1 (1997): Equality-as-Presupposition is a concept that has been theorized by Jacques Ranciere. For Ranciere, equality should not merely be posited as an end of institutional process, nor should we understand it as an end of political procedures (as in Rawlsian theory of redistributive justice). Equality is rather axiomatic -- that is, instead of taking equality as an end, political actions and procedures must start with the presupposition of equality. 16 What should be the site of contesting political communication among groups though? The public sphere seems to be the proper site of such interaction. However, given the historical and culturally loaded formation of public spheres, the spaces themselves should be distinguished from their cultural and political particularity. 16

8 political manner, while it is also incapable of addressing the inter-group relationality among hegemonic and non-hegemonic groups. Against the negative rights oriented liberalism, I argued what is crucial for the political challenge that multiculturalism poses is the assertion of a positive political participation that does not begin with an imposition of majoritarian or hegemonic culture, while I also maintain that institution-oriented approach is not enough. The political dialogue and contest among socio-cultural groups, whose only condition is the presupposition of equality of all participants (including their cultures), should complement institutional assertion of equality. 17

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