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Review: [untitled]

Author(s): Charles Taylor

Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 90, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), p. 408
Published by: American Political Science Association
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June 1996

This is a very important book, one that is indispensable for

the present discussion of multiculturalism. There are two
crucial facts about this discussion. First, it is cropping up in
some variant in a host of different places-being more than
an intellectual fad sweeping across international frontiersbecause the problems of difference and how to live with it
are forcing themselves onto the political agenda just about
everywhere. Future historians will probably identify the
sixties as the moment when things started to change, in this
as in other domains. Formerly, a great many minorities
accepted the conformityformula for democratic states. This
was the idea that the public and political culture of the
state-i.e., what it meant to be a citizen-was laid down
once and for all by the hegemonic majority or the founding
generation. The job of subsequent generations, cultural
minorities, or more recent immigrants was to conform to
this definition without trying to change it. In the last 30
years, however, the rules of citizenship are being progressively rewritten. Not just cultural minorities in the traditional sense, but also groups who feel that the reigning
formula does not reflect them, like women and gays, have
demanded some adjustments. And even voluntary immigrants no longer accept the formula as an unchallengeable
The most spectacular place to observe the contrast is
perhaps France. With a political culture firmly in the grip of
a Jacobin formula, France was extremely successful in
integrating immigrants (e.g., from Poland) between the
wars, so much so that one in four Frenchmen has at least
one grandparent born abroad. Even earlier waves of immigrants from North Africa were substantially integrated. But
the more recent arrivals from the Maghreb have a different
attitude, and the result is social trauma.
The second major fact about this wave of multicultural
challenges is that the problems tend to be different in each
society. They evoke enough common themes that one is
tempted to think there is a single issue being played out in
different places. People can be led to seek some general
formula to solve the problem, but this is a terrible mistake.
The situations are often similar enough that we can learn
from each other. Yet there is not a single problem, but
rather a family of them.
One of the great strengths of Will Kymlicka'sbook is that
it attempts to articulate these differences. It is one of that
too-rare kind, a book written by a philosopher who also sees
the need to integrate a lot of politics and history in his
discourse, and this is in fact the only way such a question
can be tackled.
One crucial distinction made at the beginning runs
through the discussion of the book. It demarcates multinational from polyethnic situations. In one context, a state is
the home of more than one nation, by which is meant an
historical community, "more or less institutionally complete, occupying a given territory or homeland, sharing a
distinct language or culture" (p. 11). In another, various
immigrant groups have entered a society, without either the
intention or the possibility of forming nations in the above
sense, but they seek to avoid discrimination or to contribute
to the evolving social formula.
This is an extremely important distinction-a fact that

situation in Canada, constituted partly by Quebec and the

aboriginal nations, on one hand, while being one of the
world's foremost destinations for voluntary immigrants, on
the other. The confusion between the two contextsattempting to treat Quebecois as immigrants or fearing that
immigrants might demand the same things as Quebecois-has greatly bedevilled the discussion in Canada,
perhaps fatally. It is not altogether an accident that this
book was written by a Canadian.
But important as this distinction is, Kymlicka recognizes
that reality is much more complex. There are contexts, like
those of African Americans, that fit neither of these slots.
The classification is just a help, a way of avoiding the worst
errors. It invites us to go on being careful about the fine
nuances on the ground that that can make all the difference.
Kymlicka argues specifically from a liberal perspective,
which makes the autonomy of all individuals a central value.
He wants to show that the reluctance of many liberals to
allow for any group-specific rights-their clinging to the
principle that all rights must be "difference-blind"-is a
terrible mistake. Not only can such thinking lead to sometimes unworkable policies, but it can also involve denials of
justice. In an interesting chapter (4, "Rethinking the Liberal Tradition"), Kymlicka shows that Liberals were not
always blind to the problems of minorities and that the
advocacy of benignneglect is relatively recent, arising in part
from an overgeneralization from postwar American experience, particularly the Civil Rights Movement.
The crucial argument concerning justice comes in chapter 5. Here Kymlicka takes up and reworks the basic thesis
of his influential Liberalism, Community and Culture (Oxford, 1989). One of the things that makes autonomy such a
crucial value is that it is a condition of our being able to
think out what the good life for us consists in. But this
thinking can only be effective to the extent that we possess
a vocabulary for it. By this is meant not just the words but
also a lively sense of what the different life-alternatives are
which they name. This vocabulary we inherit from our
culture. Cultures are not closed worlds and borrow a lot
from each other. But successful borrowing requires a home
culture in which new ideas are integrated, and without a
functioning home culture people are incapacitated.
Now if liberalism involves treating people with equal
respect, and in particular attempting to ensure equality in
autonomy, then a case can be made for measures that help
to protect and promote minority cultures that may be under
great pressure in the larger society.
Kymlicka makes a crucial distinction here between internal restrictionsand externalprotections. Measures give cultural groups power over their members enabling them to
enforce conformity are proscribed on liberal grounds. But
measures that enhance the resistance of a minority culture
against majority pressure may often be demanded by justice.
There is, alas, no space to go into the interesting detailed
discussions in the book of such matters as "collective rights"
(chapter 3), the demands of justice in polyethnic contexts
(chapter 6), the meaning and limits of toleration (chapter
8), the conditions of shared identity (chapter 9), and a host
of other matters. But this is an immensely rich, informative,
and above all clarifying work, written by a first-class philosophical mind, animated by a humane outlook. It ought to

leaps out at you if you live in a countrywhere both these

contextsprominentlyexist together.This is, of course,the

be compulsoryreadingfor all those who want to carryon

the debate in this area.

Multicultural Citizenship. By Will Kymlicka. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. 280p. $29.95.
Charles Taylor, McGill University