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I. Introduction

II. Rights of Minorities in Multicultural Society: The Liberal-Multicultural Debate

III. Group-differentiated Rights: Challenges and Prospects

IV. Will Kymlicka’s Views on Accommodation of Diversities

V. Kymlicka’s Liberal Defence of Minority Rights: An Assessment

VI. Bhikhu Parekh’s Multicultural Perspective: ‘Pluralist Universalism’

VII. End Notes

I. Introduction

The question of accommodating diversity in plural society and the related issues of
multiculturalism and toleration have emerged as an outcome of the liberal-
communitarian debate in the 1980s. It is, then, in the fitness of things that the debate
should start with how the liberal notions of rights have been critiqued by the
communitarians on the ground that they take the „individual‟ as the unit for the
distribution of resources. As per the argument of the communitarians the „individual‟ is
not an abstract category but is deeply embedded in her culture. It is argued that the
„community‟ or „group‟ identity of an individual should be taken into account, rather than
the alienated „individual‟. According to this perspective individualism is at the heart of
the problem of liberalism. It is asserted that liberals base their theories on notions of
individual rights and personal freedom. But the fact that individual freedom and well
being are only possible within a community is ignored. In view of this dependence of
human beings on society our obligations to sustain the common good of society are as
important as our rights to individual liberty. Michael Sandal in his book, „Liberalism and
the Limits of Justice‟ (1982) argues that liberalism rests on a series of mistaken
metaphysical and meta-ethical views. They are: that claims of justice are absolute and
universal; that we cannot know each other well enough to share common ends, and
that we define our personal identity independently of socially given ends. Thus,
according to the suggestion of communitarians the liberal „politics of rights‟ should be
abandoned for a „politics of common good‟. The importance of rights and justice is not
ruled out by many communitarians. Their contention is that liberals misinterpret justice
as an ahistorical and external criterion for criticizing the ways of life of every society.
Despite differences among utilitarians, liberals, egalitarians and libertarians as regards
the content of justice they all seem to think that their preferred theory provides a
standard that every society should live up to. It is not seen as a decisive objection that
their theory may be in conflict with local beliefs. Rather it is sometimes seen by liberals
as the point of discussing justice which provides a standpoint for questioning our
beliefs and for ensuring that they are not local prejudices.

In Dworkin‟s (Dworkin, 1985) view importance of the contribution of political theory lies
in the fact that it helps us, as regards to governing ourselves, in fighting against all the
impulses that drag us back into our own culture, towards generality and some reflective
basis for deciding which of our traditional distinctions and discriminations are genuine
and which are spurious. On the other hand Michael Walzer (1983) argues against this
quest for a universal theory of right stating that such an attempt is misguided. On the
contrary, it is argued that the way each particular community understands the value of
social goods is significant so as to identify the requirement of rights and justice. A just
society is one that acts in accordance with the shared understandings of its members,
as embodied in its characteristic practices and institutions. Thus, the identifying principle
of right and justice is more a matter of cultural interpretation than of philosophical
argument. The shared understandings in our society, according to Walzer, require
„complex equality‟. „Complex equality‟ is a system of distribution that does not try to
equalize all goods, but rather seeks to ensure that inequalities in one „sphere‟ do not
permeate other spheres. But, Walzer acknowledges that other societies do not share
this understanding of justice and for some societies justice may involve virtually
unlimited inequality in rights and goods. Charles Taylor, an eminent political
philosopher, ( „The Dynamics of Democratic Exclusion‟ in Journal of Democracy,
vol.9,Number 4,1998) has attempted to show how the „challenge of new arrivals‟ raises
crucial problem for democracy. Under the impact of assimilation pressure the
newcomers to these societies will be constrained to ignore their particular identity with a
view to integrating themselves into the host culture, which is inimical to the spirit of
democracy. For retaining their democratic character Taylor has suggested a thorough
revision of the method of representation of various groups in a democratic polity.

II.Rights of Minorities in Multicultural Society: The Liberal-Multicultural Debate

The issue of reconciling the aspirations to political equality with the fact of social and
cultural differences within liberal democratic states is one of the central theoretical and
practical challenges of our age. The ideal of universal citizenship in which each person
is treated with „equal concern and respect‟ can no longer be easily identified with a
programme of uniform rights. This view point is being presented in an effective and
powerful way by theorists of democratic equality and by political movements to
increasingly challenge the liberal democratic state.
Iris Marion Young

Iris Marion Young, an American philosopher, is a strong critique of the concept of

universal citizenship based on the ideals of the American and French revolutions
(Marion Young, 1999). The Anglo-American conception of rights, justice, equality, good
life, value system and meanings has been problematized by the multicultural
perspective by questioning the „universals‟ in that conception. She argues that there is
nothing like universalism. „Universalism‟ is nothing but „disguised particularity‟. The
assimilationist model falsely projects the norms of one group (the dominant one) as
standard and universal norms while treating the other groups as deviant and the „other‟.
Young insists on the „politics of difference‟ to secure the rights of disadvantaged cultural
groups. In view of diversities of people belonging to different cultural groups, universal
citizenship would lead to exploitation and discrimination. So in place of universal
citizenship she has suggested „differentiated citizenship‟, which gives due consideration
to the differences of cultural groups. Marion Young was not very specific as to who the
dominant groups were except very brief references to white males whereas Will
Kymlicka was much more systematic in his approach to such questions and regarding
his theory of minority rights in multicultural societies.
It is asserted that the ideal of universal citizenship is based on the conception of
equality as „difference blindness‟. But this, according to multiculturalists, is „formal‟ and
not „real‟ in nature. The theorists of multiculturalism argue that real equality is ensured
not through „uniformity of treatment‟ but by keeping in mind their social and cultural
location. It is necessary that all cultural groups get due recognition and enjoy due
respect and rights as equal citizens. By implication it also means they get due
representation in decision-making bodies. Thus multiculturalism is an attitude and a
policy of accommodating diverse cultural groups within a nation. So as to realize this
objective it is required that different cultural groups of the country, especially the
dominant cultural group, should cultivate an attitude of toleration and accommodation
toward other cultural groups for providing them with a sense of security and dignity. At a
political level it is also required that the state should secure the members of such
cultural groups their equal rights as citizens and provide for their due representation in
decision-making bodies. Consequently, this puts a question mark on the existing
method of representation of individuals at political level which needs to be replaced by
some method of representation of groups, particularly the cultural groups.

According to the multiculturalists the liberalisms of the distributive paradigm do not take
diversity seriously enough. Parekh feels that Rawls, like many liberals, „is sensitive to
moral but not cultural plurality‟. Consequently they take little account of the cultural
aspirations of such communities as the indigenous peoples, national minorities, sub-
national groups, and the immigrants. In the same vein Kymlicka also argues that liberals
like Rawls and Dworkin have falsely assumed that members of a political community
are members of the same cultural community. In the political community individuals
exercise the rights and responsibilities entailed by the framework of liberal justice. As
members here they are fellow citizens. But on the other hand, people within the same
cultural community by virtue of their sharing a culture, a language and history defining
their cultural membership form and revise their aims and ambitions.

Multicultural societies include people belonging to diverse cultural as well as ethnic

groups. A wider range of diverse groups including immigrants, foreign settlers and
various kinds of social groups, who depart from the accepted beliefs or behavior, are
also included in the multicultural ambit. Apart from traditional cultural differences some
of these groups have also evolved certain non-conventional intellectual and sexual
perspectives. Black aesthetics, lesbian and gay pride movements are some such
examples. It is in the fitness of things that all these groups demand due recognition as
normal components of society. What is significant here is that the principle of
multiculturalism not only extends due recognition to these groups but also concedes
that none of the cultural perspectives can be treated as inherently superior or inferior to
others. A multicultural perspective by creating a situation where different cultures within
a community flourish and treat each other with equal respect builds the necessary
condition of individual‟s freedom. Joseph Raz („Multiculturalism: A Liberal Perspective‟,
Dissent; 1994) has linked individual‟s autonomy very closely with her access to her
culture. The sense of one‟s identity is intimately connected with one‟s self-fulfillment.
Access to one‟s culture which is flourishing and getting respect and recognition from
others enables a person to make good choices befitting a good life.

„Politics of recognition‟ based on the concepts of identity and difference, instead of the
principle of equal citizenship, is very close to the hearts of multiculturalists. Like the
politics of equal citizenship the politics of recognition also has a universal basis but it
does not mean that everyone should be treated the same; rather it requires that
everyone should be recognized for his or her unique identity. In other words the
universal demands an acknowledgement of specificity. However it should also be kept
in mind here that multiculturalism is not about difference and identity per se but about
those that are embedded in and sustained by culture. These are a body of beliefs and
practices in terms of which a group of people understand themselves and the world and
recognize their individual and collective lives. It is in this context that the supporters of
group rights for ethnic and national minorities insist that such rights are needed to
ensure that all citizens are treated with genuine equality. Since in a multi-cultural society
accommodation of difference holds the key and constitutes the very essence of true
equality, group specific rights are very basic to the entire project. On the contrary, the
proponents of individual rights contend that individual rights already allow for the
accommodation of differences. They also argue that true equality requires equal rights
for each individual regardless of race or ethnicity. The emphasis here, obviously, is on
absence of discrimination of any kind. However, the argument that the provision of
some minority rights will go a long way in eliminating inequalities, which are evident in a
multi-cultural society, simply cannot be brushed aside. Since some groups are unfairly
disadvantaged in the cultural market place, political recognition and support are
required to rectify this disadvantage. Will Kymlicka (1989a, 1989b) cites the example of
the national minorities and argues that the viability of their societal cultures may be
undermined by economic and political decisions made by the majority. These minorities
could be outbid or outvoted on resources and policies that are crucial to the survival of
their societal cultures. In view of the importance of cultural membership, this is a
significant inequality which becomes a serious injustice if not addressed. Thus it is
argued that recognizing the fairness of protection for the minorities should form a part of
any plausible theory of rights.

III.Group-differentiated Rights: Challenges and Prospects

With a view to eliminating the disadvantages faced by the members of minority cultures
group-differentiated rights-such as territorial autonomy, veto powers, guaranteed
representation, land claims and language rights are recommended. But this situation is
not free from problems. The questions that arise here are many. Is it not against the
idea of equality if some people are provided with special rights? Should all the minorities
be given these rights or only a chosen few to be shortlisted for the purpose? In the latter
case what should be the bases for making other minority groups ineligible for group-
differentiated rights? There may also be a problem of reconciling some special rights
such as territorial autonomy or self-government rights with national integration. In this
context multiculturalism may pose a challenge to the liberal notion of nation-state by
fanning secessionist movements.

Another problem area for multiculturalism is regarding women‟s rights. In view of most
of the cultures endorsing and permitting control over women by men it may prove to be
much more problematic and controversial than it appears. There will be arguments
both in favour as well as against as to where to set the limit for minority groups not to
insist on such practices or customs in the name of their special cultural rights which are
derogatory to women. While conceding special rights to minority communities to
preserve their culture it is equally important to analyse whether all existing practices
are crucial for preserving a particular way of life. A very pertinent question that arises
here is –should there be some minimum conditions that all cultures must adhere to? It
is also important to consider the issue of intra-group equality in this context.

In multicultural societies cultural communities generally demand various kinds of rights

which they think they require for maintaining their collective identity. It is not easy to
accommodate some of these rights (group, collective, etc.) within liberal jurisprudence.
Because difficult questions can be raised here such as whether the concept of
collective rights is logically coherent and what kind of collectivities may legitimately
claim what kinds of rights (Bhikhu Parekh, 2000). In Parekh‟s view human collectivities
are the bearers of collective rights as individuals are bearers of individual rights. For
him there can be several kinds of human collectivities, ranging from groups united by
transient or long-term common interests to historical communities based on a shared
way of life.

The significance of the contribution of multiculturalism lies in its revealing the other side
of the so-called neutral politics of liberal democracies as being biased against
minorities. If liberal democracies are compelled today to analyse the implications of
their socio-cultural policies in terms of discriminations against minorities much of the
credit must go to multiculturalism. In multicultural perspective a society with strong
collective goals can be liberal if it is capable of respecting diversity, especially when
dealing with those who do not share its common goals. Besides it must also offer
adequate safeguards for fundamental rights. Despite difficulties and tensions in
pursuing these goals such a pursuit is not impossible. The central thrust of
multiculturalism is to fight against forced assimilation of cultures howsoever tiny their
size may be or imposition of some cultures (dominant cultures/ majoritarian cultures)
on others.

IV.Will Kymlicka’s Views on Accommodation of Diversities

Will Kymlicka

Kymlicka by advancing a theory of „mirror representation‟ has sought to address to the

problem of representation of diverse groups in a democratic society. In this scheme of
representation different cultural and ethnic groups would be represented in the
legislature by the members of their own groups. However other members of the
legislature not belonging to these groups shall also be accountable to represent them
along with the groups of their origin.

As regards the basic question which groups should be represented Kymlicka suggests
that only those groups should be considered fit for this which fulfill one of the two
criteria: (i) if the members of the group are subjected to systemic disadvantage in the
political process; (i) if the members of the group have a claim to self government.

Will Kymlicka presents a liberal defence of the self- government rights of national
minorities. He argues that the unusual powers and rights given to the aboriginal
population in Canada and the United States are not inconsistent with liberal theories of
justice. The self-government rights permit aboriginal communities to restrict the mobility,
property and voting rights of non-aboriginal people. Kymlicka has developed his liberal
defence of these self-government rights in two stages. In the first stage he argues that
cultural membership has a more important status in liberal thought than is explicitly
recognized. Values of autonomy and self-respect are attached a great deal of emphasis
by liberals; for example they attach a lot of importance to one‟s deciding what life to
lead. Individuals should be free to choose for themselves in this regard. However, this
should also be kept in mind here that one‟s choice of options is not infinite; rather it is
determined by one‟s cultural heritage. It is the cultural structure of a society that
determines the context of choice which autonomous individuals can choose from while
deciding what life to lead. The list of occupations is determined by the cultural
characteristics and resources of one‟s society. According to Kymlicka since cultural
heritage is inextricably linked to an individual‟s autonomy and self-respect, liberals
ought to give much attention to it. Thus Kymlicka‟s suggestion is for treating cultural
membership as one of Rawls‟ primary goods. In the second stage of his argument
Kymlicka brings out the point that members of minority cultural communities may face
particular kinds of disadvantages which require and justify the provision of minority
rights. Kymlicka, here, makes a distinction between unchosen inequality and chosen
inequality on the basis of which he hierarchises minorities. The inequality which national
minorities suffer from is not the result of their voluntary choices as they have not chosen
to be the minority culture. Kymlicka then feels it to be proper within the principles of
liberalism to compensate the members of this minority culture for this unchosen
inequality. According to Kymlicka the appropriate compensation for this kind of
inequality is not money but special political rights such as the rights of self-government.
He then goes on to argue that justice only requires to give these special rights to
national minorities and not to immigrants as the latter suffer from a very different kind of
inequality i.e. chosen inequality. Hence justice does not require compensation for this
inequality as it does in the case of national minorities. Kymlicka does not ignore the fact
that immigrants, whose cultural identity is different from the dominant culture of the
country to which they have emigrated, will face an inequality. Further he also concedes
that this inequality may be of equal measure to the inequality which members of
national minorities face. What actually separates the two is the fact that when national
minorities were forced to be incorporated into a larger state immigrants have chosen to
leave their own culture while deciding to emigrate to a new country. The pressure to
integrate which the immigrants experience is not the result of circumstances beyond
their control; rather it is the result of the voluntary choices they have made. It could be a
„culturally expensive taste‟ and the inequalities thus created could not ask for any
compensation as per the principles of justice.

Kymlicka , however, understands that the case of refugees is different but with no better
results for them than the status of immigrants. Refugees do not have the option of
staying in their original culture without jeopardizing their safety. Due to this the cultural
inequality which refugees experience in the host country arises from circumstances
beyond their control. Even then in Kymlicka‟s view justice does not require that refugees
be treated as national minorities. The reason which Kymlicka gives for this is that the
injustice which refugees suffer from is committed by their home government. So it is not
clear that the host governments can be realistically asked to redress it. At best refugees
could hope to be treated as immigrants. There could be some concerns against
Kymlicka‟s argument for minority rights from liberals as well as multiculturalists on the
basis that „minority rights‟ could be used as a ploy to conceal unjust racist policies.
According to Kymlicka racial discriminations such as segregation in washrooms,
swimming pools or restaurants etc., could not be justified on the basis of his concept of
minority rights as such measures do not aim at cultural security but they are based on
blatant racism. Liberals feel uneasy as regards endorsing self-government rights for
national minorities for their fear that this could encourage secession and threaten
stability and national integration. But for Kymlicka the important question is what poses
the greatest threat to instability granting or refusing self-government rights? His answer
to this is refusing self-government rights.

V.Kymlicka’s Liberal Defence of Minority Rights: an Assessment

Multicculturalists are critical of Kymlicka‟s liberal defence of minority rights. Bhikhu

Parekh‟s contention is that how can immigrants abandon their right to their culture any
more than their right to life or liberty when they leave their country of origin? It is
implausible to think that particularly when Kymlicka considers culture as a „primary
good‟ in Rawlsian sense. Parekh also feels that Kymlicka‟ liberal justification of minority
rights is not fair to nonliberal cultures as it does not respect them in their „authentic
otherness‟. Similarly when Kymlicka observes that it is important for governments to
make the children of immigrants „feel at home‟ why can not the same policy be followed
for the children of national minorities? Barry‟s (Culture and Equality) main complaint is
that multiculturalists abuse culture when they maintain that it is some sort of defence of
a practice which forms an element in the culture of the group whose practice it is. This
kind of reasoning provides grounds for justifying even inhuman and unjust practices. It
is also based on the wrong assumption that human beings do not have a capacity for
cultural adoption. Kymlicka shares this concern and builds it into his defence of
multiculturalism. He does not believe that culture itself is intrinsically valuable and he
would agree with Barry that culture itself cannot be a defence of a practice. Kymlicka
pleads that cultures are valuable and need protection because they contribute to some
more basic human interest. So when cultural practices are in conflict with these basic
human interests the justification for protecting these practices stands dissolved.
According to Kymlicka the liberal principles impose two fundamental limitations on
minority rights namely, „internal restrictions‟ and „external protections‟. The former deals
with the relationship between the group and its own members whereas the latter
involves the claims of a group against the larger society. As regards „internal
restrictions‟, the basic civic or political liberties of all citizens, including members of the
minority culture, cannot be compromised. Thus groups cannot, in the name of group
rights, seek to place such restrictions on members of their groups which undermine
individual freedom and autonomy and therefore they are not compatible with liberal
principles. However such groups are entitled to seek external protection to shield their
members from the economic and political power of larger society. Such rights to
external protection may place restrictions on the rights of members of the majority.
However, they may be weighed against the benefit of a secure societal culture for the
members of the minority. This must be kept in mind here that liberal justice cannot
accept any such rights which enable one group to oppress or exploit other groups as it
happened in the case of the practice of apartheid. Thus, a minority culture‟s demands
for „external protections‟ are legitimate only in so far as they promote equality between
groups, by correcting disadvantages or vulnerabilities experienced by the members of a
particular group. Barry also criticizes multiculturalism on the ground that a politics of
recognition undermines the politics of redistribution. The politics of multiculturalism,
because of its divisive character, undermines the commitment to social equality. It is
wrong to assume that all group disadvantages must stem from its distinctive cultural
attributes. The socio-economic inequalities are the most pressing social issues facing
capitalist societies today. But because of its preoccupation with cultural inequalities
multiculturalism detracts from such important issues. Feminist critics Such as Susan
Okin argue that the degree to which a culture supports an individual‟s self-respect
depends to a considerable extent upon the role the individual occupies within that
culture. This may turn out to be extremely problematic for women who have not been
highly valued in many traditional cultures. Neither liberals nor the advocates of diversity
are satisfied with Kymlicka‟s scheme of group rights. While liberals are critical of the
impact of group rights upon individual autonomy, advocates of diversity have
questioned whether Kymlicka‟s commitment to autonomy is compatible with genuine
diversity. The promotion of individual freedom and autonomy at once provides the
rationale for and sets limits to cultural rights. So advocates of diversity fear that this
emphasis upon liberal values will threaten the long- term viability of cultural groups who
value autonomy and individual liberty much less than liberals. These critics argue that
Kymlicka‟s belief in the overriding value of autonomy is ultimately incompatible with the
aim of neutrality.

Kymlicka does not agree that group rights are incompatible with the liberal emphasis on
individual freedom, autonomy and equality. On the contrary, he argues that these liberal
ideas actually imply certain group-differentiated rights. Individual freedom is very closely
tied to group membership. In Kymlicka‟s view societal culture encompasses the full
range of public and private human activities and therefore it is a „precondition of making
intelligent judgements‟ about how to lead one‟s life. It is, indeed, through one‟s culture‟s
language and history that an individual becomes aware of the options available to her
and their significance. Having argued that a stable societal culture is vital to individual
well-being Kymlicka stresses that members of a cultural community should be free to
modify the character of the culture with the pace of changing times and circumstances
as they deem fit. Kymlicka makes a distinction, here, between the underlying cultural
structures and the specific cultural character of a community. It is the distinctive
ordering of the roles within the culture which is referred to as the cultural structure of a
community. On the other hand the character of a culture is a reflection of a culture‟s
norms, values and their attendant institutions. Thus it is to be noted here that changes
in a culture‟s character do not undermine the stability of its structure. A stable cultural
structure can go hand in hand with the freedom of members to revise a culture‟s norms,
values and traditions. In Kymlicka‟s opinion unlike the liberals of the earlier tradition the
contemporary liberals have failed to appreciate the complex relationship between
political and cultural community. In the political community fellow citizens „exercise the
rights and responsibilities entailed by the framework of liberal justice‟. In the cultural
community, on the other hand, individuals form and revise their aims and ambitions.
According to Kymlicka, it is wrong to assume, as contemporary liberals implicitly do, that
the boundaries of the political and the cultural community coincide. So in culturally
diverse societies, liberals committed to the idea of equality of respect will need to
balance between claims for cultural recognition and a commitment to equal rights. In so
doing they have to take into consideration the vulnerability of minority cultures to the
decisions of the majority. Kymlicka argues that in view of the liberal commitment to
equality of respect minority cultures deserve to be compensated for this disadvantage
by granting them special group differentiated rights. Kymlicka firmly believes that his
conception of multicultural citizenship is sensitive to the demands of a wide variety of
cultural and ethnic minorities. Even then doubts have been cast whether his account
can accommodate the profound diversity associated with thick multiculturalism. There
can be groups whose conceptions of the good do not match with the liberal vision of
individual freedom and autonomy. Such groups may well regard Kymlicka‟s conception
of group rights as a threat to their long-term viability. Kymlicka has attempted to respond
to these fears by drawing a distinction between a defensible liberal theory of minority
rights and imposing that theory upon non-liberal minorities. Kymlicka is of the view that
unless the minority commits gross and systematic violations of human rights, liberals
should not impose liberal principles upon reluctant minorities. Such attempts are liable
to backfire as minorities may well perceive them as a form of aggression. Besides,
internalizing of liberal beliefs by the members of the self-governing society is the key to
the successful working of liberal institutions. Liberal Principles, then, by their very
nature, can not be imposed externally. But Kymlicka‟s liberal critics, such as Okin,
suggest that many liberals will view such a reluctance to interfere with illiberal practices
as incompatible with a commitment to the principles equality and autonomy. For many
liberals the state is justified in interfering in the private sphere to stop seriously illiberal
practices which discriminate against relatively powerless groups such as women and
children. Will Kymlicka‟s conception of multicultural citizenship remains problematic
from both these perspectives.

VI.Bhikhu Parekh’s Multicultural Perspective: ‘Pluralist Universalism’

Bhikhu Parekh(Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural and Political Theory,2002) pleads

for a pluralist perspective on cultural diversity in place of the perspective of „moral
monism‟ associated with much of the traditional moral philosophy, including
contemporary liberalism which regards only one way of life or one set of values as
worthwhile and dismiss the rest as misguided or false. Similarly „relativism‟, another
important philosophical stream, goes to the other extreme of trying to overemphasize
the cultural part while taking a very inflexible and one-sided view of culture in the
process. In Parekh‟s view one should neither overemphasize difference nor similarity.
After identifying the faults of these stand points Parekh lays the ground for an argument
about nature and importance of culture to human existence and pleads for a politics
based on intercultural dialogue. Thus in Parekh‟s multicultural perspective the norms
governing the respective claims of different cultural communities, including the
principles of justice, cannot be derived from one culture alone but through an open
dialogue on equal terms between them. It is very clear then that Parekh‟s theory of
multiculturalism promotes a dialogue between diverse cultural groups. In the process he
engages with the very thorny issue of intercultural evaluation of disputed practices such
arranged marriages, polygamy and many other which have aroused different degrees of
concern and anxiety over the years. The relationship between minority cultures and the
„operative public values‟ of society is also addressed by Parekh in this context. Parekh
considers Rawls‟ work as deeply „inhospitable‟ to cultural plurality. In his view Rawls‟
political liberalism unduly restricts political discourse. If people are allowed entry into
society on the condition that they leave their moral and religious baggage at the door, it
is going to ignore important resources from political debate. Parekh is also not satisfied
with Kymlicka‟s liberal multiculturalism. He does not agree with Will Kymlicka‟s definition
of multiculturalism as it largely coincides with that of the nation. Kymlicka‟s theory of the
minority rights is based on the concept of national units as the most complete cultural
achievements. In Kymlicka‟s scheme it is only a national minority which remains a
discrete cultural and social unit and it would be much better placed than an individual in
defending its rights against the assimilationist pressures of the dominant groups. The
basis on which immigrants are denied access to their culture in Kymlicka‟s scheme is
unacceptable considering the fact that he himself concedes the claim of culture being a
primary good as it is a necessary condition for the good life. Thus Parekh is against
accepting Kymlicka‟s theory as a universal theory of multiculturalism. There are no
general or undisputed principles that explain his hierarchy of national minorities‟ and
immigrants‟ minority rights. Parekh feels that Kymlicka „absolutises liberalism‟. His
suggestion for national minorities to be given self-government rights provided they
govern themselves within certain liberal parameters does not take cultural diversity
seriously enough.

Bhikhu Parekh‟s theory takes the form of „pluralist universalism‟ in place of relativism,
monism and the attempts of liberals such as Rawls and Kymlicka to develop a
„minimum universalism‟. In view of the importance of culture in Parekh‟s perspective and
also considering the fact that culture is, by definition, a social or group concept it is
necessary to conceive of people not merely as individuals but as part of a collective
group or groups. In Parekh‟s view the rights of cultures are „primary collective rights‟.

Parekh also criticizes Charles Taylor‟s understanding or advocacy of the need for social
recognition. According to him Taylor seems to think that the dominant group can be
rationally persuaded to change its attitude towards the minority groups by intellectual
argument and moral appeal. Parekh makes a very strong point that no cultural
recognition will be successful without a „just share of economic and political power‟.
Parekh takes a middle ground between two extreme philosophical positions- „naturalism
and culturalism‟. Naturalism is of the view that human nature is the same everywhere. It
is universal, fixed and unchangeable and it remains unaffected in its essentials by
culture and society. Culture is only incidental. Culturalism, on the contrary, holds the
view that human beings are socially and culturally constructed varying from culture to
culture with only a minimal set of species-derived properties in common. As against
these two extreme and biased views Parekh pleads for a dialogue and interplay
between human commonalities and cultural differences. He expresses his optimism of
arriving at a body of moral values which deserve the respect of all human beings.
„Recognition of human worth and dignity, promotion of human well-being or fundamental
human interests, and equality‟ are some such moral values which are central to any
form of good life. They can be defended with very sound reasoning and Parekh feels it
is very desirable as well as possible to consolidate global consensus around them.
According to Parekh there is an inner momentum in this body of moral values which
must be allowed to generate a movement towards an increasingly higher level of
consensus. Assimilationist politics of equal citizenship of contemporary liberalism
ignores this cultural plurality. As they believe that their theory is „culturally neutral‟ they
are blind to the fact that they unfairly privilege the interests of the cultural majority over
the interests of cultural minorities. The logical conclusion of liberal principles of justice,
observes Kymlicka, seems to be a „colour blind‟ constitution. All attempts are made to
remove all legislations differentiating people in terms of their race or ethnicity except for
some temporary measures so as to reach the goal of a colour- bind society. But such
aspiration for a colour- blind society has been viewed as ill-founded by multiculturalists
as they argue that it is not possible to separate the state and ethnicity. They also insist
that when the liberal state attempts to do this it unfairly privileges certain ways of life
over others.

VII.End Notes:

The question of identity is intimately connected to an urge to link inner world of the
individual with the outer world. It is a link between individual‟s self and the community.
We are passing through a state of „normlessness‟ or „anomie‟ as would be evident from
the developments in many parts of the world in contemporary times when the sense of
shared community is seen to be largely eroding. The modern society is increasingly
marked by a kind of absence, breakdown, confusion or conflict of the norms.
Consequently, people by and large, are left without a clear sense of identity in our
contemporary society.

If the drawbacks of contemporary liberal democracies have been brought to the

forefront much of the credit must go to the multicultural perspective. Democracy can
truly be substantive and real only when the cultural traits of diverse groups, especially
the interests of the minorities in a multicultural society, be duly recognized and
protected. India is the classic example of a society making it abundantly clear as to how
culture is formed in a dialogical process which is democratic, fair and on equal terms
amongst diverse cultural groups. It is well understood in India through her experience as
a nation how important it is to maintain and protect the identity of various groups
irrespective of their size for the realization of democracy and social justice. India is
replete with such rich and healthy tradition when, on innumerable occasions, the
majority itself could absorb the cultural heritage of other groups with due recognition
and respect. The same can be said about the other cultural groups as well. It has been
happening through out in an atmosphere of a truly free and fair and a mutual give-and-
take basis. Thus no culture remains static; rather every culture is subject to change and
transformation with the passage of time and circumstances and also as a result of its
interaction with other cultural groups. It is worthwhile then to note here that „mainstream‟
culture is not always the dominant culture. It could well be the product of interaction
between different cultures over a period time in a very subtle way. In view of a
widespread mixing of people from different cultures in countless situations of conflict
and cooperation the situation in contemporary society is much more complex today than
ever before.

Moving within and between cultural assumptions and boundaries people are capable of
revising their conception of the good. If they have the freedom to do this it must also be
ensured that they respect the basis of political interaction. While for Rawls it is to ensure
that the groups are themselves responsible, Kymlicka , on the other hand, would
assume them to be able to respect autonomy and pluralism. Parekh, on the contrary,
has problem with this answer. For him, to assume the value of autonomy is to privilege
liberalism from the outset and to prejudge the question of the value of different cultural
perspectives. Two arguments can be raised here: one, the moral argument regarding
the relative importance of individual freedom or cultural freedom and how to strike a
principled balance between them; two, the political argument regarding in case of a
dispute about the moral question how principles of the public political culture in question
can be solved? Should there be a compromise formula i.e. a practical arrangement
which allows conflicting people, groups, or ideas to coexist? Should we go for fostering
of intercultural dialogue and embrace the change this brings? Engaging with such
urgent and difficult questions requires patience, sensitivity, the ability to make informed
normative judgements and the willingness to subject those judgements to the scrutiny of

Glossary of Key Terms:

Multiculturalism it refers to cultural diversity arising from the existence of two or more
groups within a society due to their racial, ethnic or language differences whose beliefs
and practices generate a distinctive sense of collective identity; implies a positive
endorsement of communal diversity.

Individualism a belief in the supreme importance of individual rather than of any

social group or collective body.

Citizenship it refers to membership of a state and a relationship between the

individual and state based on reciprocal rights and responsibilities.

Assimilationist a tendency or an attitude to falsely project the norms of the dominant

group as standard and universal and impose them on other groups which are
considered as „deviants‟.

Discrimination an act of unequal or unfair treatment where certain groups or

individuals enjoy privileges or distinct advantages while others are exploited and treated

Cultural Plurality refers to diversities in people‟s attitudes, beliefs, symbols and

values etc. which are acquired through learning, rather than through inheritance.
Self-government rights they are rights of the people to rule themselves i.e. to form
the machinery for making and enforcing their collective decisions.

Intra-group equality refers to equality among the members within the same group not

Monism a belief in only one theory or value; it is implicitly totalitarian.

Naturalism it holds human nature to be the same everywhere irrespective of culture

and society; projects human nature to be universal, fixed and unchangeable.

Culturalism puts forth the view that human beings are socially and culturally
constructed varying from culture to culture.

Pluralism refers to a belief in or commitment to diversity or multiplicity; it also

champions a theory that power in modern societies is widely and evenly distributed.


(I) What is multiculturalism? Examine its nature and significance in the light of
the contemporary liberal-multicultural debate.
(II) In the light of the views of Iris Marion Young critically examine the notion of
universal citizenship.
(III) Critically evaluate the views of Will Kymlicka with special reference to his
liberal defence of minority rights.
(IV) In the light of the challenges and prospects of group-differentiated rights
discuss Bhikhu Parekh‟s multicultural perspective which is also known as
„pluralist universalism‟.

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5. Nozik, Robert (1974) Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books,


6. Dworkin, Ronald (1977) Taking Rights Seriously (London: Duckworth,


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Citizenship‟ Citizenship Studies Vol.3, Issue 2,1999, 237-252

14. Raz Joseph „Multiculturalism: A Liberal Perspective‟, Dissent; Vol.41,



15.Parekh, Bhikhu (2000), Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and

Political Theory (Palgrave Macmillan,2000)

16. ------------------------ (Harvard University Press, 2002)