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Radical Multiculturalism versus Liberal Pluralism

Michael Dusche
ABSTRACT
Radical multiculturalism claims that cultural groups, not the individual, should be the yardstick for considerations of
justice, because the group offers the individual the indispensable good of being rooted in a community and since
membership in a culture is not voluntary, abolition of culture would lead to uprooting of individuals. Thus, by taking
this good away on grounds of justice, liberalism perpetrates another injustice. Against this, liberalism upholds the
principle of normative methodological individualism, arguing that groups cannot be defined without recourse to the
individual. Furthermore, the concept of cultural group is notoriously vague and not suitable to replace normative
methodological individualism. Moreover, radical multiculturalism risks falling prey to self-defeating normative relativism.
Since there is also a danger for the liberal to fall prey to culture-centrism, both parties agree on internal universalism.
They also agree on the difference between membership in an association and membership in a cultural community.
However, the liberal concludes that the state must not add its might to cultural dependence, but enable the individual to
grow out of it. Furthermore, liberalism maintains that normative methodological individualism is sufficient for even
group-related needs provided the group conforms to basic principles of justice. To this, radical multiculturalism objects
that even if all cultural groups abide by the principles of justice of the larger society, liberalism still produces injustices
for those whose language is not among the official languages of the polity. Since any democratic polity needs a medium
of debate and deliberation that is universally understood, liberalism has to grant this point. Liberalism can only diminish
its impact through intermediate levels of government and subsidiarity.

KEYWORDS
Multiculturalism; Language politics; Pluralism; John Rawls; India; Liberalism; Subsidiarity

Introduction respectively. This is not to say that some multi-


culturalists would not support individual rights. In
Hindu-Muslim relations in India as well as ques- fact, leading figures in the debate such as Charles
tions of religious pluralism in Europe and other Taylor and Will Kymlicka give individual rights
parts of the West are often discussed from a priority over group rights. This moderate multi-
multiculturalist or liberal perspective. This paper culturalism, however, is not the norm everywhere
takes a deeper look at some of the theoretical in the world. In India, for instance, a far more
problems surrounding those families of theories by radical multiculturalism is the living reality.
pointing to the main concerns of multiculturalists, India is an important example for the adoption
on one hand, and liberals on the other. The former of extensive multicultural policies in the form of
are convinced of the importance, if not pre-emi- legal pluralism, along with other institutional
nence, of the group for the individual, whereas the mechanisms such as federalism, the formation of
latter are primarily concerned with the well-being states largely along lines of language use, and the
of the individual. These concerns are expressed in introduction of preferential quotas for the lower
the demand for group rights and individual rights and the middle castes in education and government

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Michael Dusche, PhD. Assistant Professor-DAAD Lecturer, Centre for German Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Mehrauli Road, New Delhi - 110 067, India. E-mail: dr_m_d_dusche@hotmail.com.

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 238


employment. While the British introduced uniform other hand, maintain that a normative method-
laws governing features of social life such as crime ological individualism is sufficient to account for
and commerce, they recognized distinct family even group-related needs of the individual. This is
laws for different religious groups and some other normally expressed in terms of individual rights to
cultural groups such as Hindus (including Parsis, cultural or community membership. While radical
Sikhs and Jains), Muslims, Christians, Jews, and multiculturalists tend to argue in favour of culture
various tribal groups. These diverse family laws, as an irreducible fact for normative reflection,
also called personal laws, govern features of liberals would warn of the trap of self-defeating
family life such as marriage, divorce, alimony, normative relativism and favour some form of
property division, maintenance, inheritance, adop- universalist ethics. As a mediatory position, I
tion, and guardianship.1 propose internal universalism,3 which is a form of
While pledging in its constitution to eventually meta-ethical relativism (to be explained below).
institute a uniform civil code, modern India has Internal universalism does not rule out the
clung to the principle of legal pluralism thereby possibility of universal norms but insists that these
engendering all the problems in practice that are attained through a process of dialogue and
multiculturalism faces in theory: customary laws negotiation approximating universal consensus.
do not necessarily reflect group practices; the In the discussion of liberal individualism vs.
boundaries of recognized groups are difficult to the group-oriented multiculturalist approach, I am
draw; access to law outside the hereditary custom focusing on two areas in the debate between
is limited, as well as the scope for legal change; radical multiculturalists and liberals that are
caste associations, prayer groups, local churches particularly salient in the Indian context: 1) the
and temples, and obscure community leaders problem of the abolition of unjust cultural
without democratic mandate act as adjudicative practices, and 2) the problem of adequate public
agents; and, most importantly, the equality before recognition of cultures.
the law for every citizen irrespective of gender or 1) To an important degree, the identity of any
community membership is compromised. Some of person depends on culture. However, unlike
the customary laws are particularly discriminatory membership in voluntary associations, member-
of womens rights to inheritance, alimony, and ship in a culture is not normally acquired; one is
unilateral divorce, besides being discriminatory to more or less born into ones culture. Thus, if
women depending on hereditary community certain customs of a particular culture are
membership. Thus, in many cases, women have no dismissed following consideration of justice, its
access to the fundamental right to equality as members suffer a depreciation of their culture,
recognized in the Indian constitution irrespective which members of other, more accepted cultures
of gender and community membership.2 do not suffer. This is particularly disturbing from
It is such radical multiculturalism that poses the a liberal point of view. Since the liberal perspec-
real challenge to liberal conceptions of justice for tive is based on normative methodological
it calls into question its fundamental premise that individualism, the individuals of the dismissed
the individual, not the group, represents the culture count as much as the individuals of the
yardstick for any considerations of justice. I am majority culture. Liberalism, however, has little to
therefore confronting liberalism with this extreme offer them in compensation for the suffered
form of multiculturalism. In the controversy thus devaluation of their culture.4
perceived, the individualism propagated by The example that comes to mind in the Indian
liberalism is the point in question. Radical multi- context is the abolition of certain customs in Hindu
culturalists claim the inadequacy of individualism culture that contradict basic humanistic values.
as a methodological principle. Liberals, on the Thus, the burning of widows (sati) has been

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 239


banned, widow remarriage legalized, the concept the mediation between these two contradictory
of untouchability banned, and excessive dowry demands. In any case, it is the cultural domain of
prohibited. Reforms in both Muslim and Hindu language that the liberal state cannot avoid getting
personal law brought a limited amount of homo- involved in, thereby threatening to compromise on
geneity within community law. The so-called its aspiration to cultural neutrality. By choosing an
Shariat Act of 1937 partly homogenized features official language (or a set thereof), the liberal state
of Muslim law while legislation of the 1950s had sets those members of cultures at a disadvantage
the same effect on Hindu law. It made personal whose language is not among the media of politi-
law applicable to most areas of family life while cal negotiation, deliberation, education and similar
leaving the contents, particularly that of Muslim domains that are relevant for the realization of
law, to the discretion of the judiciary. Thus, judges civic rights.
introduced reforms with reference to the Indian As it will turn out, both areas of debate, 1) and
constitution, which, without leading towards the 2), provide grounds for criticism of liberal
secularization or homogenization of family law, individualism. However, it will also become appar-
enabled greater gender equality. In spite of these ent that neither of them helps to establish the case
attempts to have the different personal laws of radical multiculturalism for even radical multi-
converge somewhere near an equal treatment of all culturalism cannot offer any satisfactory solution
citizens irrespective of gender or community to the problems entailed.
membership, the idea of legal pluralism is not As a corollary to 1), we need to know on what
likely to be abandoned in favour of a uniform civil grounds to differentiate between just and unjust
code any time in the near future. A uniform civil cultural practices without falling into the trap of
code, however, would make matters more trans- culture-centrism, on the one hand, by unquestion-
parent that otherwise remain a constant source of ingly universalizing the principles of justice taken
misunderstanding, subject to distortion and from one culture, and, on the other hand, without
demagogy, and indirectly help foster violent falling into the trap of normative relativism, which
tensions between the communities. is demonstrably self-defeating. As a basis, I am
2) Critics of liberalism have pointed out that using an informed liberal conception of pluralism
there is a limit to the cultural neutrality of the lib- by taking Rawlss political liberalism to a more
eral state. I shall embrace this argument in a qual- principled level. Taking Rawlss concept of public
ified way by asking in which domains the liberal reason, I argue that, for good philosophical
state cannot avoid favouring one culture over reasons, we are not to expect any conception of
another. I shall argue that language can be seen as justice, liberal or otherwise culturally grounded, to
representing such an aspect. Language provides be able to decide political matters in lieu of the
the medium of political negotiation and delibera- members of a polity. At some stage, a collective
tion and thereby contributes to making civic rights decision cannot be avoided, which remains
meaningful for the individual citizen. Its success as arbitrary to a certain extent.5 From this fact of
a political medium, however, depends largely on principled plurality follows the necessity, for the
its being universally understood. At the same time, member of each culture, to take into account pos-
language is also the medium of identity formation sible alternatives while construing their concep-
for the individual. In this domain, its effectiveness tions of justice. The effort of taking into account
depends often on its ability to provide the indi- alternative conceptions of justice makes for the
vidual with a sense of difference. This tension reasonableness of that conception. The require-
between universality and difference is difficult to ment of reasonableness in the public use of rea-
balance in a democratic polity. Federalism and the son is a mutual one. A conception lacking reason-
principle of subsidiarity provide limited means for ableness does not meet the criterion of mutuality

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 240


and can be dismissed on these grounds. From this is an important constraint, which is meant to
argument certain constraints on cultures can be protect us from relativism since we are not to
inferred allowing us to distinguish (negatively) just expect that there exists an objective moral order
from unjust cultural practices, without being which humans can appreciate through their faculty
forced to single out one practice as the only just of reason. Under this assumption, a conception of
one. Furthermore, the argument allows us to justice would be true if it corresponded with this
distinguish between politically relevant and irrel- given moral order. According to this position,
evant aspects of a culture. which is called rational intuitionism,8 there can
be only one true moral theory. Political liberalism
rejects this position. There can be a plurality of
1. Public Reason and Unjust Cultural Practice
moral conceptions, which can each be true by
Since it was first conceived, liberalism has evolved internal standards. Ultimately, however, only an
into various forms, some of which attempt to overlapping consensus can bridge the gap between
constructively deal with the democratic, socialist possible incommensurable doctrines. Thus,
and pluralist criticism to which it was exposed. A ultimately, truth is not the decisive factor but a
prime example of this sort is John Rawlss politi- decision taken collectively by all concerned
cal liberalism. In the following, I shall briefly citizens. Political liberalism calls reasonable a
outline how Rawlss political liberalism deals with position that takes this fact of ethical diversity
the problem of plurality of worldviews which seriously. The reasonable individual develops her
can also be seen as depending on culture co- moral conception, which can be true internally,
existing in the setting of a modern liberal democ- taking into account that others may have their
racy. Rawls speaks of comprehensive doctrines moral conceptions, which internally may be
pertaining to questions of good life and just social equally valid. After coming to terms with herself
order. These comprehensive doctrines can be based on ethical matters, she enters into negotiation with
on secular parameters or grounded in a religious or other individuals to explore the possibility of an
culturally engendered perspective. Their defining overlapping consensus. Ultimately a collective
feature is that in their attempt to give a foundation decision will be reached and one of the many
to a set of norms and values they refer to concepts equally suitable moral conceptions will be
and truths, which are not commonly shared among validated.
citizens outside this particular community. How- Conceptions which are not, in principle, accept-
ever, the society, in spite of being divided along able to all citizens are called non-reasonable
such lines, is in need of a shared basis of funda- because their becoming law and policy would have
mental norms forming a sort of background to rely on force and thus be perceived as arbitrary
consensus upon which social institutions catering and illegitimate by those who do not share the rea-
to all citizens alike can rest. Since Kant, the realm sons behind the conception. A public conception
in which such a background consensus is sought is of justice is reasonable to the extent that it takes
called the realm of public reason.6 into consideration all reasonable positions as
In his various publications on public reason,7 defined above. Reasonableness in the defined
John Rawls has developed a normative theory of sense thus involves a momentum of adequacy
politics for a plural environment where reasonable (appreciation of the fact of reasonable pluralism)
citizens who follow diverse religious and non-reli- and preparedness to co-operate in building an
gious belief systems demand that their worldviews overlapping consensus between several equally
be respected equitably and the pursuit of their suitable conceptions of justice. The implied
religious practices protected by the state principle of compatibilization of reasonable
provided that they are reasonable. Reasonableness positions could be called the categorical

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 241


imperative of political reason. In Rawlss terms, is left undefined, the liberal will object with the
we have to differentiate between the scopes of observation that culture matters for persons in a
public reason as opposed to non-public reason. variety of domains, that the state, however, is not
Public reason is a matter of politics; ethics a matter meant to provide or substitute for whatever culture
of non-public reason.9 gives a person. This follows from the above
The concept of political or legal ethics has delineation of the realm of the political. A state
traditionally been defined in terms of material that takes upon itself the guardianship of the full
propositions as if the difference between public range of affairs usually associated with the term
and private matters would lie in the material norm culture would become authoritarian. It would not
itself. Rawls now suggests a Copernican turn in discriminate between the private affairs of its
moral theory by formalizing the concept of the citizens a domain where citizens have the
political. It is no longer implied in the material freedom to make individual choices, to embrace
norm itself whether it is to be subsumed under the or reject certain parts of their tradition and pub-
domain of legal ethics or virtue ethics. The lic affairs the domain proper of the state where
distinction between legal matters and ethical it can legitimately apply its right to enforce certain
matters is carried out by reference to form alone norms independently of the momentary choice of
and dynamically by recourse to the criteria of the person concerned. The liberal democratic state
reasonable disagreement. The realm of the politi- cannot take upon itself the tasks that the various
cal and the scope of legal ethics are solely defined actors of civil society are to accomplish by them-
by the scope of reasonable disagreement. The selves.
domain of politics corresponds to the domain of The actors of civil society, unlike the state, are
reasonable disagreement in ethical matters as they voluntary associations. The individuals right of
occur in a particular society. Politics is about the exit prevents associations from infringing on indi-
peaceful settlement of conflicts regarding matters vidual liberties and becoming authoritarian.
of justice. It has to mediate between divergent Cultures, as we have noticed earlier, lack this
views of justice in groups of individuals. particular feature. Their membership is not volun-
How can the concept of public reason and the tary in the same way. If the state were to add its
normative concept of politics help us to tackle the might to the inescapable character of cultures, then
two aforementioned puzzles of multiculturalism: being part of a culture would become a fate. To
the abolition problem and the recognition prevent this, the state has to steer clear, to a certain
problem? If the multiculturalist agrees on the extent, of the procreation of culture. Its job is to
criterion for reasonableness, i.e. that from within shield the polity from external threats and prevent
each culture an attempt is made to propose a internal strife so that the polity can negotiate its
conception of justice that is at least in principle internal affairs through peaceful and democratic
acceptable also to non-members of that culture, means.10
then a culture which does not permit its members The radical multiculturalist maintains that
to conform to this very basic criterion of reason- culture is a necessary condition for any individual
ableness would not be called reasonable since all to preserve a sense of identity and belonging. The
reasonable cultures would converge on the fact of political community, in turn, depends on individ-
its unacceptability. Thus, even in the absence of uals who are rooted in their respective culture and
any universally accepted conception of justice, the who have a sense of justice and ethical value to
concept of an unjust culture is not vacuous. strive for. This however does not imply the reverse.
Moreover, much depends on how the radical The political community, while depending on
multiculturalist defines the central term in her individuals generally being rooted in some culture,
critique of liberal democratic pluralism. If culture does not depend on any particular culture for their

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 242


individual citizens. This is true from the perspec- requires us to depart from normative methodolog-
tive of the state: the state should not engage in the ical individualism and to stipulate collective rights.
promotion of particular cultures; and from the per- I shall call liberal the position that maintains that
spective of the individual: the state should not limit we can account for the individual need for attach-
the individual to any one culture. ment and belonging within the limits of normative
Moreover, we have to limit ourselves to those methodological individualism. In this sense, the
aspects of culture which the liberal democratic state positions of Taylor, Kymlicka and others still count
cannot avoid getting involved in. It is here that as liberal positions. Radical multiculturalists, on
Rawlss concept of the realm of the political can be the other hand, claim the need for a departure from
of use. It provides us with a formula for discerning that premise. They advocate collective rights (i.e.
which cultural aspects fall into the domain of politics human rights for groups) on the same or even on
and which do not. Formally, the realm of the politi- a more fundamental level as individual human
cal is defined by a consensus on what constitute rights. Of course, intermediate positions exist.
public reasons in a given political argument. Public Bhargava, for instance, differentiates between
reasons, according to Rawls, have to be based on republican and liberal individualism, political and
what is uncontroversial between the followers of cultural communitarianism, and democratic,
various incommensurable comprehensive doctrines. authoritarian, liberal, and even boutique multi-
What exactly this is cannot be determined a priori culturalism.11 All these distinctions are valid. How-
but depends on the comprehensive doctrines actually ever, to quote a liberal position,
existing in a given polity. For any polity, however, it
Included in the set of human rights are rights to cul-
should be safe to assume that consensus should
tural membership. Everybody has the same right to
prevail about the practical prerequisites for any func-
develop and maintain her identity in just those inter-
tioning political institution. Some of these practical
subjectively shared forms of life and traditions from
prerequisites involve aspects of culture, language for
which she first emerged and has been formed during
example. Any democratic polity needs a medium
the course of childhood and adolescence.12
through which it negotiates and by the help of which
the democratic right to political participation From such membership rights follow almost all of
becomes meaningful. Certain aspects of education the immunities, protections, subsidies, and policies
may provide further examples since only adequately which communitarians demand for cultural
educated citizens can be expected to become active minorities in the liberal state. These rights need
and fully co-operating members of a political not be conceptualized in terms of collective
community. There are certain aspects of culture, rights.13 I am therefore not interested in those
however, which clearly need not be carried into the kinds of multiculturalism that do not challenge
realm of politics. A political community need not normative methodological individualism.
take a uniform stance on religion, science, architec- By the term normative methodological indi-
ture, literature, theatre, music, etc. Those matters are vidualism, I mean any approach that uses the
not directly relevant as prerequisites for the process individual as the basic unit for normative consid-
of political debate and deliberation. erations. On this level, lest it fall into the trap of
the naturalist fallacy, liberalism does not make
any claim as to how people really are, how they
2. Normative Methodological Individualism vs.
develop and what they need for a good life. Nor-
Group Rights
mative methodological individualism grants that
For the remainder of this paper, I shall focus on the individuals, seen from an empirical perspective,
question whether doing justice to the individuals grow up in families and possibly in communities.
need for cultural or community attachment It grants that much of the material normative input

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 243


constitutive of any individual personality stems in the definition of the community or culture in
from these allegiances, and that families and com- which it wishes to be included.
munities are crucial in the maintenance of a All these problems are set aside, in this section;
healthy (empirical) individual. In isolating an indi- I am asking whether radical multiculturalism does
vidual for the purpose of moral reflection, the lib- succeed in demonstrating a fundamental flaw in
eral does not pretend that the resulting abstraction the liberal approach. The identity of the individual
is a realistic image of a human being in this person, according to the radical multiculturalists
anthropological sense. That is not the purpose. claim, is rooted in something bigger than the indi-
Moral thinking has to abstract from certain givens vidual, namely its culture. The conclusion is that
in order to reach the counterfactual realm of nor- cultures need to feature somewhere prominently
mativity. Thus, the question is not how realistic in the normative account of just social institutions.
the concept of the individual would be after this The liberal answer to this could be swift. Cul-
abstraction but the reverse: how much anthropo- tures do feature in the liberal account of just insti-
logical flesh do we have to add to an abstract tutions. They are part of what Rawls had called
individual in order for our counterfactual consid- the basic structure of society and they are one
erations to remain relevant for real-life pur- among many institutions under scrutiny in a nor-
poses?14 mative account of social justice. Thus, a culture
For the radical multiculturalist, culture is an whose customs conform to the basic principles of
irreducible level of analysis when it comes to justice for the basic structure of any society would
questions of identity and belonging. However, the be called a just culture and would occupy its right-
moral-theoretical and legal status of groups, ful place in the overall scheme of things in that
defined as communities or cultures, is problem- particular society. Cultural practices that violate
atic. Firstly, many questions arise regarding the basic principles of justice would reasonably be dis-
definability of cultural groups: what carries the missed, as any association of individuals would
moral or legal status of a group if the boundaries have to be dismissed if it violated basic principles
between groups cannot be drawn easily and groups of justice. Liberalism grants every individual a cat-
within groups cannot be limited to a manageable alogue of basic rights including the right to form,
number? Moreover, there is no easy one-to-one or be part of, any association provided that this
correspondence between individuals and groups. association respects the same basic rights of all the
Each individual may belong to a number of dif- other members of the society.
ferent groups simultaneously and over time. Thus, Here the radical multiculturalist can object that
the group allegiances of any individual cannot eas- the analogy between cultures and associations in
ily be defined objectively but have to depend on the liberals account is flawed, for while individu-
the self-ascriptions and preferences of any indi- als can join associations voluntarily, people are not
vidual at a given point in time. An individual can free in choosing their culture. Cultures are some-
change its identity over time and/or have several thing into which one is born. People cannot easily
identities simultaneously depending on the con- renounce their culture or assimilate to another cul-
text. Identities can overlap and mutually depend ture. Thus, how to deal with a person who hap-
on one another in a variety of ways. Ultimately pens to be born into a culture deemed unjust in
only the individual person can inform us about her some of its practices by liberal principles of jus-
various allegiances and their preferential order. It tice? The liberal will dismiss the persons culture.
seems that thereby, again, the individual gains cen- Will he dismiss the person along with it?
tral importance. From the point of view of the the- At this point, the liberal faces a problem. On
orist and more so from the point of view of the one hand, by force of normative methodological
policy maker, the individual cannot be bypassed individualism, she is committed to treat each

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 244


person alike, indiscriminately of any non-chosen political forum, people belonging to a linguistic
circumstance, which includes culture; on the other minority are at a disadvantage with respect to
hand, principles of justice compel her to deliber- others who are native speakers of the official lan-
ately set a group of individuals at a disadvantage guage. This disadvantage can be practical (fol-
since these principles mark some of their practices lowing and participating in political processes,
as unjust. An ideal society conforming to a given standing for office); it can also be subtler. Rajeev
set of liberal principles of justice will not leave Bhargava, for instance, gives an account of how
any room for unjust cultural practices. A less than personal identity relates to culture and links it to
ideal society progressing towards more justice will intentionality (beliefs, desires) and thereby lan-
thus have to work towards the abolition of unjust guage:
cultural practices within its cultural groups. How-
To have an identity, a person must consciously be
ever, abolishing the stipulated unjust customs, the
able to identify with some of his / her beliefs, desires
society cannot offer any compensation to those
and acts... [O]n the assumption of the centrality of
whose culture and thereby identity it has to tamper
beliefs, desires, and acts to the whole issue of per-
with. It cannot give them a new culture to make up
sonal identity, the identity of persons is constituted
for the loss in identity and belonging, if our
in large measure by the language... Identification
assumption is correct that cultures in a certain deep
with beliefs and desires is impossible without lan-
sense cannot be voluntarily acquired. The individ-
guage because a person would not know what these
uals concerned, i.e. at least one or two generations
beliefs and desires mean... Since entry into a world
from those who used to belong to the dismissed
of meaning is crucial for the formation of beliefs and
culture, will suffer the consequences of feeling
desires; the identity of humans is related to a world
uprooted until their offspring eventually grow up
of meanings... a culture.17
among equals in the majority culture.
Moreover, the radical multiculturalist could Thus, language becomes a central point for
claim that even in a polity that consists only of practical reasons as well as for more subtle rea-
cultural groups that do conform to the basic sons in connection with personal identity.
principles of a conception of justice that the lib- Language being an important expression of
eral might advance, members of some cultures culture, multiculturalism has a point here. How-
will be at disadvantage compared to members of ever, multiculturalism does not normally focus on
other cultures, since the political culture of a language but speaks of culture in a very broad and
given society is bound to reflect the preferences often undefined sense.18 For practical purposes, the
of those who form the majority culture. Being the problem can often be narrowed down from cul-
standard culture, their culture normally receives tures to linguistic communities. Thus, what I had
more public recognition than minority cultures. called the recognition problem is sometimes sim-
The people belonging to the majority culture are ply a problem of equal recognition of different
thus at a greater advantage in terms of public linguistic communities. In a wider sense, however,
recognition of what forms their identity than peo- all cultural production is in some way related to
ple belonging to any minority culture. As Kym- the production of symbols and therefore meanings.
licka15 Menke,16 and other critics of liberalism In this broader sense of language, the recognition
have pointed out, there is a limit to how neutral problem can be made to apply to almost every
a liberal state can be with respect to culture. In cultural domain. Art, dress, architecture, music,
many existing nation-states, which language is to etc. may be seen as contributing to a world of
become the official language is a divisive factor. meaning whose official recognition may enhance
The problem is that with a secondarily acquired the self-esteem of those so benefited and whose
language being the official language in the lack thereof may lead to a sense of deprivation.

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 245


While all this is certainly true and has to be intermediate levels of political deliberation. A
negotiated within the framework of a liberal demo- communal or regional government deliberating on
cratic constitution, we have seen that there are behalf of a linguistic community can mediate
certain cultural domains which are more intimately between the central government and the citizens
connected to the preconditions of the working of without infringing on the priority of individual
any participatory democracy than others. This rights over collective rights. Of course, federalism
would be any cultural skill that enables a person to and decentralization cannot solve, but only reduce
become a fully participating member of a democ- the problem that people belonging to some
ratic polity. Such domains would be, for instance, linguistic communities have an advantage over
the medium in which to engage in political debate, individuals belonging to other linguistic commu-
as well as the education and the access to nities because their language happens to be among
information required to this end. Both of these the working languages of a local or central gov-
examples point to the mastery of a common lan- ernment. But this is a problem faced by liberal
guage as a crucial prerequisite for any effective pluralism and multiculturalism alike. The radical
engagement in politics. Language, like no other multiculturalist seeking greater autonomy for
cultural domain, is at the same time the medium certain linguistic communities faces the same
for the negotiation of separate cultural identities problem. Within the domain of that linguistic
and the medium for the negotiation of common community there will again be minorities who
political deliberations. This is why liberal democ- would fall under the hegemony of the main
racy, with its promise of universal participation, language of that area. There can only be an
has an inherent penchant for a uniform national approximate solution, never a principled one if one
language which, however, can get in the way of wants sovereign political entities to exceed the size
other guarantees such as respect for cultural dif- of a village.
ference a dilemma unknown in pre-democratic A related idea that can help us to cope with the
multi-ethnic constellations where the accommo- impasse is the principle of subsidiary government,
dation of cultural minorities was sometimes easier which is available to the liberal and the radical
because no room existed for their participation in multiculturalist alike. The concept of subsidiary
government affairs and therefore there was no government has one root in the imperial German
need for a universal medium of political debate legal tradition, meaning the prevalence of the local
and deliberation. As examples, one may think of customary law over the imperial law. The former
the empires of the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans, or used to be Germanic; the latter emerged as an
of Al-Andalus. adoption of Roman law. Roman law was used to
In a democratic polity, linguistic majoritarian- supplement Germanic law where it was not
ism seems inescapable to a certain extent. In the sufficiently specific. Today, of course, as in other
paradigmatic, largely monolingual nation-states of federal states, the law of the Bund breaks the law
Europe this does not pose much of a problem any of the Land and the law of the Land prevails over
more. A state can afford to have two or more Gewohnheitsrecht (customary law); common law
working languages. However, in larger states like is used to supplement codified law where it is not
India and in conglomerations of states like the specific enough. Thus, in the continental legal
European Union the number of autochthonous tradition, but not necessarily in India, subsidiary
linguistic communities is simply too large to be government has come to mean almost the inverse.
accommodated through a multi-language formula. The idea is that matters should be decided as far
One solution already at hand for this problem, and as possible by the people concerned: local matters
well within the boundaries of democratic liberal- by local legislative bodies, regional matters by
ism, is federalism, i.e. the establishment of regional ones and so forth. Following its inherent

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 246


logic, human rights, since they concern everyone, and that therefore even in the liberal state, absolute
would fall into the domain of a global legislative neutrality with respect to cultural matters is not
body, which so far does not exist. The people conceivable. As a consequence, some groups of
concerned should be in a position to deliberate on individuals have an advantage over others in that
their own affairs. The principle of subsidiary gov- their access to political participation is facilitated
ernment tends to maximize the autonomy of local by the fact that their culture is part of the official
and regional institutions thereby leaving a culture. Those whose cultures are marginal in the
maximum of questions to be decided within the state find it more difficult to profit from the oppor-
bounds of the respective linguistic community. tunities that a state offers to its citizens.
Which matters can legitimately be decided on a
supra-regional or central level has to be negotiated
Conclusion
between local political entities. I have argued else-
where that a nation-state consisting of a variety of Radical multiculturalism poses a challenge to
linguistic communities should conceivably be the liberal conceptions of cultural plurality without,
result of a hypothetical process of deliberate however, being able to offer viable alternatives.
convergence of local political entities on a Radical multiculturalism claims that culturally
common ground of shared fundamental values.19 engendered groups not the individual should
Any multiethnic or multinational union where such be the yardstick for considerations of justice,
deliberate joining together is inconceivable would because, firstly, the group, even if it violates the
be regarded as illegitimate. principles of justice of the wider society, offers the
The radical multiculturalists argument rests on individual an indispensable good, namely that of
the assumption that cultures thrive better when being rooted in a community and of forming an
they are officially recognized.20 Specifically, identity accordingly; and secondly, since member-
cultures gain from being state cultures. ship in a culture, unlike membership in an associ-
Conversely, cultures are said to wither away when ation, is not voluntarily acquired, abolition of a
they are pushed into the domain of the unofficial. culture would lead to an irreversible uprooting of
(I am not saying private because I believe that the individual. Thus, by taking this good away on
there is a third realm between the private and the grounds of justice, liberalism perpetrates another
official that is the public sphere.) The liberal could injustice.
simply deny that these assumptions are correct. Against this, liberalism upholds the principle
There are numerous examples of cultures that have of normative methodological individualism,
failed to wither away in spite of never having been arguing that groups cannot be defined without
official in any way. A prime example is the Jewish recourse to the level of the individual. Further-
diaspora that has maintained its cultural and more, the concept of a cultural group is notori-
religious distinctness over centuries in spite of not ously vague and is thus not suitable to replace nor-
only being not official but even officially mative methodological individualism. Boundaries
suppressed. There are also examples of cultures of cultural groups cannot be defined, there is no
that have disappeared in spite of being state limit of sub-cultures within cultures and individu-
cultures, and not only because their states have als may belong to several cultures simultaneously
vanished. One may think of the polytheistic and over time. Moreover, radical multiculturalism
Roman civilization that gave way to a monotheis- risks falling prey to self-defeating normative rela-
tic Christian civilization even before the Roman tivism. Since there is also a danger on the liberal
Empire fell apart. side to fall prey to culture-centrism, both parties
However, the liberal cannot deny that states do should agree on internal universalism as a common
have to make a choice in some aspects of culture basis. Both also would agree on the fundamental

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 247


difference between membership in an association of justice of the society of which they form a part,
and membership in a cultural community. How- liberalism still engenders injustices for those
ever, the liberal concludes from this that the state groups whose language is not among the official
must not add its might to the limiting force of cul- languages of the polity. Since any democratic pol-
tural dependence but, in the contrary, enable the icy needs a medium of debate and deliberation that
individual to grow out of the confines of its cul- is universally understood, liberalism has to grant
ture. Furthermore, liberalism maintains that nor- this point to multiculturalism. Liberalism can only
mative methodological individualism is sufficient diminish the impact by introducing intermediate
for even group-related needs provided the group levels of government (local, state) and by adhering
conforms to basic principles of justice. to the principle of subsidiarity.
To this, radical multiculturalism objects that
even if all cultural groups abide by the principles

Notes
1
Narendra Subramanian, Family Law and Cultural Pluralism. Basic Features and Directions of Family Law Policy
in India, in Encyclopedia of India, ed. Stanley Wolpert and Raju G. C. Thomas (New York: Charles Scribners Sons,
forthcoming).
2
Ibid., Hindu daughters have rights to shares equal to those of sons in intestate succession to their parents self-earned
property, in contrast with Muslim daughters having rights to only half the shares that Muslim sons do. However, the
succession rights of Hindu daughters are restricted to intestate cases, i.e. cases in which the parent did not leave a will.
Hindu parents are free to will self-earned property as they wish, and typically will all or most of such property to their
sons and perhaps other male kin. Besides, male coparcenaries control ancestral Hindu property in much of India and
daughters do not have the right to demand the partition of such property so that they may control their shares... Muslim
daughters have the right to half the shares of sons in all forms of parental property. One may will only up to a third of
ones estate under Muslim law, and that too not to a legal heir. The rest of ones estate is divided among ones children,
spouses and kin according to prescribed shares. So, Muslim parents cannot deny their daughters rights to inherit shares
in their property by willing self-earned property to male kin alone, or by effectively presenting more of their property
as being of ancestral origin... From 1973 onwards, indigent Hindu women (and other non-Muslim women) had the right
to alimony until their remarriage or death. Many courts did not recognize the right of divorced Muslim women for main-
tenance from their ex-husbands beyond a three-month period after divorce... [until] the Supreme Court... recognized the
alimony rights of Muslim women and placed conditions for the validity of unilateral Muslim male divorce in two
landmark judgements of 2001 and 2002. The courts allow Muslim men to marry up to four wives while not permitting
Muslim polyandry, in contrast with the statutory ban on Hindu bigamy. The ban on Hindu bigamy is however not very
effective as courts set high standards to recognize the validity of Hindu marriages in bigamy cases...
3
See the authors Der Philosoph als Mediator. Anwendungsbedingungen globaler Gerechtigkeit (Vienna: Passagen
Verlag, 2000), 5, where the term is introduced, and the same Experts or Mediators? Philosophers in the Public Sphere,
Ethical Perspectives 9, no. 1 (2002): 21-30, where the concept is further developed.
4
In India, compensation is often sought on the basis of communities as the smallest unit of reckoning based on a
conception of collective and trans-historical responsibility. A positive expression of this are the many affirmative-action
programmes that attempt to make good the historical discrimination against outcasts and under-casts, tribals and women.
A negative expression of this sense of collective responsibility is the justification given for acts of violence against
members of a community somewhere on accounts of some transgressions by some elements of that community elsewhere
(this was the recurrent explanation of the recent pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat as voiced by the Hindu right).

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 248


5
See Der Philosoph als Mediator, 3, and the authors Conceptions of Justice: Relevance, Adequacy, & Universal-
ity, in Justice: Political, Social and Juridical, eds. Rajeev Bhargava et al. (New Delhi: forthcoming).
6
Cf. Immanuel Kant, Was ist Aufklrung? in Ak. VIII: 33-42.
7
See John Rawls, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited, in The Law of Peoples, 129-180, for his latest discussion
of the topic. Earlier publications on the same include his Justice as Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical, Philosophy
and Public Affairs 14 (1985): 223-251; The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus, New York Univer-
sity Law Review 64 (1989) 233-255; the introduction to the paperback edition of Political Liberalism, xxxvii-lxii; Reply
to Juergen Habermas, Journal of Philosophy 92 no. 3 (1995): 109-131; and Das Ideal des oeffentlichen Vernunftge-
brauchs [The Ideal of the Public Use of Reason], in Zur Idee des Politischen Liberalismus. John Rawls in der Diskus-
sion, ed. Wilfried Hinsch (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997), 116-141.
8
John Rawls, Kantischer Konstruktivismus in der Moraltheorie, in John Rawls: Die Idee des politischen Liberalis-
mus. Aufsaetze 1978-1989, ed. Wilfried Hinsch (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1992), 137f.
9
See John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 220.
10
Cf. Human Rights, Autonomy, and Sovereignty and the authors Ethik in der internationalen Politik zum Recht
auf nationale Souveraenitaet, in Die Autonomie des Politischen und die Instrumentalisierung der Ethik, eds. Ulrich
Arnswald and Jens Kertscher (Heidelberg: Manutius, 2002), 77-99.
11
Rajeev Bhargava, Introducing Multiculturalism, in Multiculturalism, Liberalism, and Democracy, ed. Rajeev
Bhargava et al. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 48ff.
12
Cf. Juergen Habermas Multiculturalism and the Liberal State, Stanford Law Review 47 (May 1995).
13
Ibid.
14
The relationship between normative and empirical theory has been elucidated by Habermas in his discussion of
Kohlbergs moral psychology. While Kohlbergs six-stage model of moral development admittedly presupposes a
normative theory whose direct justification has to rest on independent normative grounds to avoid natural fallacy, it
nevertheless contributes indirectly to the justification of the normative theory by proving its usefulness and relevance to
real-life matters. Thus, multiculturalism can attack normative methodological individualism for two reasons. It can call
into question the normative validity of normative methodological individualism or it can attack liberalism on the ground
that normative methodological individualism renders it irrelevant to real-life affairs. Cf. Juergen Habermas Rekon-
struktive vs. verstehende Sozialwissenschaften, in Moralbewusstsein und kommunikatives Handeln (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1983), 29-52.
15
See Will Kymlicka, States, Nations, and Cultures (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1997).
16
See Christoph Menke, Spiegelungen der Gleichheit (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000); Grenzen der Gleichheit,
Deutsche Zeitschrift fr Philosophie 50, no. 6 (2002): 897-906.
17
See Rajeev Bhargava et al., eds., Multiculturalism, Liberalism and Democracy (Delhi: Oxford University Press,
1999), 4-9.
18
I have criticized this in my review of Kymlickas States, Nations, and Cultures in Ethical Perspectives 5, no. 3
(1998): 227-229. For a theory on propositional attitudes (the ascription of beliefs and desires involves propositional-atti-
tude sentences, i.e. that-clauses) emphasizing individual autonomy in belief ascription see my Signification in Opaque
Contexts, in Signification in Language and Culture, ed. Harjeet Singh Gill (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
2002), 161194, as well as my Interpreted Logical Forms as Objects of the Attitudes, Journal of Logic, Language, and
Information 4, no. 4 (1995): 301-15.
19
See authors Human Rights, Autonomy, and Sovereignty, in Ethical Perspectives 7, no. 1 (2000): 24-36.
20
See Kymlicka, States, Nations, and Cultures.

Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004)4, p. 249