The multiculturalist perspective

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From distributive justice to the culturalization of politics?[edit | edit source]

Challenging the Liberal Model through Recognition and Multiculturalism Theories[edit | edit source]

All of these elements raised a doubt as to whether it was true that issues of culture, identity and therefore also difference are irrelevant to a theory of justice. This has sparked debate. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the instigation of the communities, but also of liberal culturalists, reflection began on the role that culture and identities play in democratic justice. There has been a movement that can be called a culturization of the debate in political theory. It is an emanation between Liberals and communities. That is in part, and not just because we must not forget all the post-structuralist researchers. The theory was not only between Liberals and communities, there are also neomarxists, a whole bunch of positions. Initially, this began as an extension of the discussion on redistributive justice, and in particular by a fundamental critique that Kymlicka made of John Rawls in Liberalism, Community, and Culture published in 1989 in which he postulated that Rawls was mistaken because he did not consider cultural belonging to his list of prime social goods.[8][9] For Kymlicka, the fact that Rawls did not consider cultural belonging in his list of prime social goods created forms of injustice that questioned the very possibility of supporting the liberal justice that Rawls was aiming for.[10][11][12]

For many, this debate has been an internal quarrel between Canadian philosophers such as Kymlicka, Taylor, Sandel and MacIntyre who live not far from the Canadian border. It is in Canada that this debate was sparked off because there is a favourable condition, particularly with regard to the issue of aboriginal minorities, immigration and nationalism with regard to Quebec's problems.[13] Canada is a very interesting laboratory for thinking about justice and metaethical criteria. Kymlicka wanted to show how John Rawls' theory was incomplete, as his theory did not consider a fundamental element that was that of cultural belonging with the argument that Rawls was wrong because without cultural belonging, individuals could not be free. For him, in order for individuals to be free and autonomous, so that the first principle of justice may be effective, cultural belonging is a basic social good. Kymlicka notes that there are inequalities because some individuals have access to their culture and others do not, or they are being harmed by the state or the state does not recognize them or they are deported. So there is unequal treatment in terms of access to culture. In 1993, Rawls cited Kymlicka in the 1993 issue of Political Liberalism.[14] This means that he recognizes this criticism as important. This may justify a little bit this, namely that in 1993 it comes with a more sociological model of political liberalism.

The question that arose was that we were talking about equality, so is it possible to achieve this equality or forms of equality without referring to notions of identity and its mirror product, which is difference? According to multiculturalists, this is not possible. It is from this debate that the question of recognition, which is one of the dominant themes of the current debate in political theory, became very significant, notably through a book by Taylor entitled Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition published in 1992 on the politics of recognition, where he brought a case in which it is necessary to recognize certain cultural specificities in order to be equal to our conceptions of justice and in particular of freedom. He proposed a definition of recognition that is part of communitarian premises.[15][16] Other authors have done so on the basis of liberal premises such as Kymlicka or post-structuralists.

The entry of identity into the theoretical debate[edit | edit source]

What is interesting is that in this field there are also political conflicts because this debate was not just a philosophical debate. The 1960s were marked by the civil rights movement in the United States, decolonization movements that began in the 1940s and 1950s, feminism, the emergence of social movements that had until then been invisible to homosexuals. We are witnessing the arrival on the political scene of a whole bunch of movements that have posed quite new political problems. In the glorious Thirty, the question of political theory was about distributive justice, in particular how to distinguish oneself from the Soviet Union and the planned model, and how to manage the reconstruction of countries destroyed by war, but at the same time there was a new policy that was created through the new social movements that were postmaterialistic and not necessarily aimed at more wealth, but at more quality of life and more justice. That's when many movements began to want to be recognized.

Tolerance for these criticisms implicitly, at the heart of the approach, as tolerated something that is unworthy. Now, for these movements, philosophers and theorists who worked with them, this social construction of indignity and non-standardism, of being abnormal, was precisely a symbolic construction that did not allow individuals to be equal even in a model of liberal distributive justice that would have worked. There was something that could be summed up here, such as the fact that we give the first social goods to everyone, but if an individual, because he or she is a supposed or real member of a group that is stigmatized or socially devalued, benefits from this distribution, he or she is at high risk of being discriminated against in spite of what he or she receives as the first social goods, he or she is likely to be a second-class citizen. There was the idea of saying that there has been something about identity that needs to be considered in order for justice to be done.

Amy Gutmann published in 1994 Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition" is asked two questions[17][18]:

  • Does a democracy exclude its citizens, discriminate against them in a morally unacceptable way if its main institutions do not take into account their particular identities?
  • To what extent, and why, should cultural identities have a public weight, and thus constitute significant elements of public life in democracies?

These questions remain crucial in order to understand where the moral and normative meaning of multiculturalism or differences in identity and culture has come from and what is inherent in the issue of multiculturalism or differences in identity and culture. The second question is why cultural identities should be philosophically and politically important enough to be given the right to cite both in theory and in public life.

The first thing to address these questions is that these questions give us meaning and at the same time, there are a lot of things that remain vague such as knowing what an identity is, what is meant by "morally unacceptable","ignoring","having public weight". It is possible to imagine that if we look a little at the meaning of these issues, which are at the heart of the meta-question of whether or not identities should and do play a role and they have a moral role in our theory of justice, there are a whole bunch of concepts that, a priori, are not so obvious without a definition.

Whatever the answer to these questions, no matter how we define what constitutes a "particular identity", whether or not this particular or cultural identity should have a public weight, each of the possible answers will have an effect on the meaning of citizenship, each of these answers will give rights, remove rights, create duties or create special statutes for certain identities and, conversely, not for others. It is citizenship as a status of relationship between an individual and a state that will take a different form depending on how we answer these two questions.

Identity has at least three components. There are political rights, civil rights, which are freedoms such as freedom of expression and the rights we have to function in our civil life, and social rights, which are distributed differently according to specific statutes. Having a passport does not mean that every category of the population is constructed as having the same rights, and there are also special or more specific rights that arise from more specific situations. The passport doesn't say exactly if we have all the rights. A third important concept is identity.

Citizenship also expresses a cultural identity, which is why citizenship is often confused with nationality. Citizenship is the logical result of assimilation into the national community. The moral and causal relationship between nationality and citizenship is not always in the same direction. In some models, there is an image that citizenship gives access to a nation. Behind one of the intuitions of the French model, which works less and less, but which is philosophically powerful, in any case for the way the French represent themselves, which is that French and republican citizenship is essentially political, we are citizens and therefore French nation because we adhere to the same values of the republic. It is for this reason that any behaviour that is considered deviant to the values of the republic is the subject of endless debate. In other models, such as the German model or the Swiss model, the idea is that political citizenship is the result of a more ethnic and cultural citizenship which means that before, we assimilate and integrate into the nation and then, thanks to this, we are eligible, we get the right to vote because we know that we will represent the interests of the nation. At one point, if we look at the situation of Algerians in France and the Turks in Germany, out of a hundred Algerians in France, ninety-nine are French, one in a hundred Turks in Germany, one is German; yet they have been there more or less since the same time, and yet they function and act. The models of integration and incorporation into citizenship are different.

The citizenship we learned from the classic rawlsian liberal model of citizenship is that of being a legal status based on a certain conception of individual rights.[19][20] We all have similar rights under our common humanity and from a human rights perspective we must all be treated in the same way, which means having freedoms to make the differences that people make. This conception of a kind of neutrality of laws, of a kind of non-cultural and non-identity bond between individuals and the state expressed through citizenship, is radically challenged by the multiculturalist critique which says that citizenship expresses a very particular conception of identity and this particular conception of identity discriminates against those who are culturally different. Therefore, it is necessary to deconstruct the relations of cultural domination in order to promote a model of citizenship that is more inclusive, more democratic and fairer. Thus, citizenship has become a battleground not only for politics, but also for philosophy. It is for this reason, most likely, that the word "citizenship" over the last twenty years has been one of the most frequently cited concepts. Somewhere, everything from discrimination against women to the issue of global justice is put into it; all of this in one way or another affects the issue of citizenship, but it is not just status or mere belonging. There are rights, there is an identity phenomenon that is crucial when it comes to thinking about justice.

In 1989, Young published Polity and group difference: A critique of the ideal of universal citizenship which is an attack on John Rawls, but from post-structuralist premises.[21] For Young, "In a society where some groups are privileged while others are oppressed, insisting that as citizens, every individual should forget their particular affiliations and experiences to adopt a general viewpoint serves only to strengthen the privilege of some. There is the idea that in the public sphere, we must all act in the same way because we must be neutral.

She adds that "the desire for unity does not eliminate differences and ultimately tends to exclude certain[minority] perspectives from the public sphere". What Young contests is the fiction of egalitarian citizenship, this is not true either sociologically or philosophically, namely that the fact that the rawlsian liberal model allows us to think of a citizenship of this nature is contested. The question it raises is essentially the question of justice in the recognition of difference. What does it mean to think of justice in a world where some are more equal than others? It is an egalitarian principle, but it conceals a number of differences in terms of internal discrimination that somehow prevents individuals from being equal. It is for this reason that this type of author will propose models of differentiated citizenship where it is necessary to think about additional forms of rights given to certain categories of the population in order to rebalance their discrimination.

This raises several questions, including whether the imposition of so-called universal citizenship does not imply second-class forms of citizenship? In order to achieve justice, instead of thinking of egalitarian and universalist citizenship, which we have the same rights, according to them, should we not think of certain forms of differentiated citizenship? We also have a number of rights according to our cultural particularities.

What do we do, as the theorists who come from the feminist tradition say, including all cases of humiliation, contempt, vulnerability, marginalization or discrimination, all those who Rawls quickly excluded because it is based on a very ideal theory characterized by the idea that the general principle and society are in adequacy. But what do we do in a situation of humiliation, homophobic or racist insult, things that go beyond the catalogue of rights? The American racism model is a major explanation for the limitations of the rawlsian conception of what to do with primary social goods and what to do with justice in a deeply racist society. In spite of everything, the egalitarian discourse, the symbolic framing remains. Contrary to what the Liberals were saying, this kind of approach, which gives a predominant place to the phenomenon of identity and cultural difference, the idea that a positive identity of a group can only be defined as subordinate or inferior to a different identity, the valorization of male attributes for example, can only be achieved by devaluing female attributes. For authors who follow this trend. To say that we do not vote for women because we have consciously decided that a male candidate is preferable is pure nonsense for the simple reason that it would be tantamount to attributing a full awareness of choice to situations that are already framed very deeply by a whole bunch of cultural baggage that partly determine this choice. For the idea of equality to make sense, it is necessary that there be a deconstruction not of women, but of the social construction of women's social roles. Then, once this deconstruction has taken place, women decide to continue teaching in education, there is no problem.

Discrimination is not the product of male and female biology, but of a power relationship.[22][23][24][25] We must therefore attack the transformation of the power relationship, and once this is done, people should have the ability to make their choices. This does not mean at all, however, that women continue to adhere to values of femininity and men to values of masculinity. It is clear that we have to make a transformation of gender and gender identities. Discrimination is the product of the fact that the model of citizenship, which is considered universal and just, already incorporates in its hard core principles that already discriminate against certain categories.

The case is, for example, the principle of impartiality. In Justice as Impartiality, published in 1995, Brian Barry argues that justice is impartiality.[26] For Rawls, behind cases of impartiality, there are very strong forms of discrimination because access to impartiality is not fairly distributed. These authors do not have a clear idea of what equality between men and women is. What they show is that, in any case, what seems to us to be an egalitarian idea is not so as long as these inherent discriminations are made. These discriminations are known through statistical monitoring, for example. If one realizes that there are 60% girls for 40% of boys, if one statistically realizes that this 60% of girls do better on average than the 40% of boys, and if one observes that after ten years, in the professional sector in question, there are 90% boys for 10% girls, one cannot assume that all girls have made the choice to be mothers or decided to take care of their companions. It is difficult not to consider this in relation to a whole bunch of symbolic properties that men are supposed to have. There is a framework that needs to be deconstructed. Access to discrimination is the lever that these authors have to demonstrate this idea of citizenship. A positive concept of what women are and what men are is necessarily replaced by a positive concept. What these people think about most is democratic inclusion, inclusion in justice. Multiculturalism is part of this approach.

The Theory of Multiculturalism: Introductory Elements[edit | edit source]

« Resolving [multicultural] disputes is perhaps the greatest challenge facing democracies today. »

— Kymlicka, Multicultural citizenship, Oxford University Press, 1995.[27]

Multiculturalism: a polysemic and an essentially contested concept[edit | edit source]

Multiculturalism is a bit of a broad subject because it means a lot of things. When we talk about multiculturalism, we talk about many things, de facto, there are different identities, different representations. This means that politically speaking, if we start from the idea that we are a multicultural group, it does not mean that a state is putting in place a system that recognizes this diversity. The French model is that, it is a multicultural society, but at the political level, there is nothing to politically recognize multiculturalism, it is the Republican universalist position that predominates, while Canada, which is a sociologically very multiculturalist model, has put in place a whole set of legislation and charters to manage its cultural differences.[28][29] This is just the state of a given society. There are choices of policy options. Switzerland is very multiculturalist when it comes to thinking about minorities who originate as territorialized, there is a political multiculturalism with consultation procedures, the double majority, direct democracy or even federalism, but not at all when we think of immigrants where there is no system of political recognition. It is a system where institutions are supposed to allow management and accommodate cultural groups. The third sense, which is important, is the normative sense that when we talk about multiculturalism, we are also talking about a philosophical project that is morally desirable for the people who defend it and who want to say that it is morally good or even right to promote, develop or leave the possibility for individuals and groups to live and live up to their cultural differences.

Thus, a normatively and philosophically multiculturalistic model is a model that does not confine itself to sociologically acknowledging the existence of difference, that does not confine itself to giving some specific political rights, but also has a discourse of justification for the well-foundedness of a society in which the free flow of differences is preferable to societies that do not. This means that as a sociologist, one can describe a society as multicultural without saying that it is a good thing. It can be said that Switzerland is multicultural without saying that it is desirable for Switzerland to be multicultural.

Many times, in the public debate, these three senses are put together which does not make the debate readable. It is possible to imagine that the term multicultural can sometimes be used without taking a position on the desirability or otherwise of this social state. On the other hand, from a philosophical point of view, the authors we are going to discuss are people who start from the idea that certain forms of recognition are necessary to achieve justice. There is, however, a huge difference in the reasons for recognizing. There's not a single way to recognize.

Defining the scope of multiculturalism: what is a culture? Three examples[edit | edit source]

To say "multiculturalism" means "multicultural.[30] The question is what is culture? When we say "culture" or "multiculturalism", the problem is that we are dealing with a concept that is de facto contested because there are different ways of defining culture, there is no ultimate agreement on what a culture is. Being a cultural group does not necessarily mean that we share a strong conception of something we share, it may also be the result of the external imposition of a culture. There is a huge palette of what "culture" and "identity" means, but what is certain is that not all authors agree.

Is culture a resource? Is there anything that comes from a specific belonging to what is called Swiss culture or is culture a relationship, or is culture, as Young says, a relationship, the relationship we form is what creates culture and cultural belonging?

In Multicultural Citizenship published in 2001, Kymlicka postulates that it is « a culture that offers its members meaningful ways of life, which modulate the whole range of human activities, at the level of society, education, religion [...] these cultures tend to be territorially concentrated and based on a linguistic community [...]. These cultures are "societal" to emphasize the fact that they do not simply refer to a shared memory or shared values, but also include common institutions and practices ».[31] Kymlicka has a rather substantialist definition of culture, it comes from a history, a language, a tradition, something that has crystallized. In a way, there would be something there, whereas with more critical approaches, culture becomes an essential relationship. It doesn't matter whether that culture exists ontologically or not.

For Young, in Justice and the Politics of Difference published in 1990, what exists is the relationship: « Group differences should be conceived as relational rather than defined by substantive categories and attributes […] Difference thus emerges not as a description of the attributes of the group, but as a function of the relations between groups and the interaction of groups with institutions ».[32] The relationship is built in a discourse that will tend to valorise the attributes of group X and this valorisation, as Foucault thinks in particular, will lead to the devaluation of group Y. If no boundaries are set for any cultural group, this cultural group will dissolve. So, in general, the border will be justified by a negation. The way of saying "they're not like us" is declined and is obviously very variable: either they are sub-humans and we exterminate them or it can be formal relations such as being foreign. These demarcations and boundaries change, they are not all the same. Obviously, what is interesting in this kind of literature is the cultural boundaries, which allows a group to define itself.

For Steven Lukes in Lukes, Liberals and Cannibals. The Implications of Diversity published in 2003,"Cultures are always open systems, sites of contestation and heterogeneity, of hybridization and cross-fertilisation, whose boundaries are inevitably indeterminate".[33] We must not forget that there would not have been the model of the nation-state without culture. What is the Nation-State which is still a model that structures our condition if not the congruence between political and cultural affiliation? When one begins to be allergic to cultural histories, to think critically every time or implicitly one mobilizes cultural categories, but to which one does not give importance, when one speaks of Swiss culture, Swiss morality, when one is talking about the specificity of Switzerland or the Swiss tradition, one is talking about a relationship between a political system and a cultural belonging that one calls a common nation or culture. Every time you are abroad, you realize the power of these stereotypes. When we talk about this, we are not talking about state attributes, we are trying to designate characteristics that belong to a membership or a culture. The nation-state model is based on that.

What is paradoxical is that the concept of nation makes less and less sense in an analytical way, but when we look at the difficulty that Europe has in overcoming the concept of nation, we realise that this concept has dramatic and strong implications. People believe in it and identify with it, they can criticize it, they can question it, but the fact remains that questions of otherness are raised, and suddenly, for good or bad reasons, we discover a sense of what differentiates us.

With the very pure logic of the Rawls and Liberal model that everything is in the private sphere and everything else is just a matter of our common rights, we lose that. What these approaches put back into it.

On February 4, 2012, Claude Guéant, then French Minister of the Interior, said: "Contrary to what left-wing relativist ideology says, for us, not all civilisations are the same. Those that defend humanity seem to us to be more advanced than those that deny it. Those that defend freedom, equality and fraternity seem to us superior to those that accept tyranny, the minority of women, social or ethnic hatred. [...] In any case, we must protect our civilization.".[34] What Claude Guéant is saying is that there are civilizations that live up to these values and civilizations that do not. Claude Guéant can implement a whole host of public policies that will give content to this civilizational struggle that he has in mind to ensure, perhaps rightly so, that there are no perverse effects. The problem is that he forgets that France was in Algeria, where the notion of second-class citizens, the notion of unequal citizenship, was created, where the fact that some people are more French than others was created. The problem here is that Claude Guéant does not recognize very well that, in general, the cultures that wanted to export these values in the name of civilization have been wrong. There's something in these ideal appeals that doesn't mean much if it's not translated into a clear understanding of what the problems are. This sentence pronounced in 2012 is of exactly the same nature as Huntington's famous phrase about the clash of civilizations, which has been the subject of anthropological, political, philosophical and sociological criticism, which showed that this thesis was based on nothing, that the very concept of civilization means nothing. This is a type of framing of the debate.

For the Liberals, these questions should not be asked because, for the Liberals, the very fact that this question is being asked means that we are moving away from Liberal justice. That may be true, but the problem is that in public spaces, there is that. The question is what to do with it. Do we pretend not to see it and say that it is a question of the relationship between majority and minority, or is it necessary to think about the fact that political acts in terms of rights, duties, resources, real or effective equality are redistributed? According to John Stuart Mills, we have a duty to follow the law, not to believe that it is fair. As long as there are these representations, neutral and impartial principles do not work. There will always be some who are more impartial than others. Even within liberalism, there are different positions. The political correctness that is always seen as a kind of emanation of American puritanism is actually an attempt to clarify language to avoid these performative effects. It gets ridiculous in the end, but the idea is that from this point of view, social relations will not change if the language that defines them does not change.

The actors considered in the theoretical debate on multiculturalism (Kymlicka 1995)[edit | edit source]

When we talk about multiculturalism, we have in mind the idea that there is a plurality of cultural groups which, from a sociological point of view, nurture relationships. Generally speaking, the problem of multiculturalism is raised by the fact that a minority is less minority than the others, namely that there are minorities, but in a context marked by the presence of a cultural majority. The relationship between majority and minority is the problem.

When we speak of a cultural minority, for Kymlicka, we refer to three broad sets of possible actors:

  • National minorities (ethnolinguistics)
  • minorities of immigrant origin;
  • Socially disadvantaged groups such as people with disabilities, gender minorities, the poor or the working classes for some.

In Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, published in 1995, Kymlicka talks mainly about the first two minorities, in part because he has such a restrictive view of culture that it does not allow the third group to be seen.[35] Another reason is that in general, the broader liberal conception of justice should be able to provide a solution to the socially disadvantaged group defined as groups with unequal distribution of resources. The first two categories are affected by what the cultural difference marker is.

Why has the category of cultural groups acquired such political and normative relevance? For Kymlicka, the problems of culturalism are the fundamental challenges for democratic systems.

The function of democracy has always been to manage differences. Somewhere, the whole question of democratic systems has been that of thinking about political systems capable of managing differences, especially religious and subsequently cultural differences. There is not much at the level of multiculturalism that should be frightening, that should be seen as a risk for democratic systems. Today, however, multiculturalism is seen as a risk. In general, when the term "multiculturalism" is used in Switzerland and in Europe, except in the English and perhaps Dutch context, it is rarely as if it introduces a positive argument for something. Some authors have even suggested removing the term "multiculturalism" from the vocabulary because it has a symbolic universe that leads us to believe that multiculturalism is by definition conflictual. In this multiplicity of cultures, there can only be one problem. This thesis has been largely corroborated at the linguistic and symbolic level by Huntington's clash of civilizations thesis, which represented a fairly strong restructuring of the debate with the idea that there are independent and, above all, rather hegemonic civilizations that can only enter into tension and conflict. The most important clash would be between Islamic and Western Christian civilization. In the post-Charlie debates, the reactivation of this very binary vision appears.

The question that arises more analytically is why a democratic system that has been honed to manage differences should suddenly be threatened by the multiplicity of cultures. What is at stake are interests, but also identities that are considered to have anthropological and ontological depth in relation to the way they constitute us, that are thematized and empirically much thicker than an interest. The democratic system has been designed a little bit to deal with things that can be negotiated and accepted by compromise. The problem that has arisen for some multiculturalists and the arrival on the public scene of groups claiming much thicker forms of identity that are part of a certain understanding of the self and the good. Depending on how we construct a case, we will orient our normative judgment on the issue at stake.

The question that arises is that if interests have been partly supplanted by identities, the question is to say that there has been an acceptable pluralism as for Rawls, for whom everything participates in the fact that this pluralism is basically the basic ontological condition of our societies. We are pluralistic societies. The absence of pluralism would mean the absence of democracy. Pluralism is somewhere part of the whole liberal and democratic tradition. This pluralism was considered to be negotiable, whereas behind the word "multiculturalism", because of the identity phenomenon that is perceived to be thick and non-negotiable, the question that arises is how to deal with identities that do not lend themselves to negotiation. It is possible to come up with solutions that may be rational or reasonable, but if two groups have positions that are completely non-negotiable and that would take the choice of one group as an insult to their group, then certainly the political resolution would be a little more complicated. The question that arises is whether democracy is made for that. For some "no", that's why many times in the political debate there are many positions that there is a need to diminish multiculturalism and to assimilate more members of the community in order to protect democracy. Therefore, cultural and identity complexity must be reduced in order to prevent the presence of those identity groups considered more or less to have non-negotiable identities from calling into question the oiled system of the democratic regime.

The question for normativists is whether this demand is legitimate, whether it is legitimate to ask people who have identities, be they religious, identity-based or otherwise, to diminish the public hold or the way in which these groups live their conception of the good in order to conform to liberal principles, which for multiculturalists, in general, have been created by a different cultural majority. The problem is not only one of diminishing the identity hold, but also one of equal treatment. For multiculturalists, it is possible to treat others as others, but then one cleans up any cultural affiliation; or else groups must be protected in the same way as members of minorities, which implies rethinking the idea of a neutral and arbitrary state.

Behind this debate there is a lot of complexity. The idea, for Kymlicka, is that behind this issue, there is good reason to believe that the problem is not so much how to redefine it. Multiculturalism does not necessarily imply a redefinition of basic principles. It is a matter of interpreting the principles in a different way so that particular identities and minorities are treated fairly.

Neutrality in relation to identities and the recognition of identities?[edit | edit source]

The policy of recognition is the policy that seeks to ensure that the state recognizes a number of distinctive identities." Recognizing "means different things; in Quebec, it means recognition by rights. These would be constitutional rights that protect forms of cultural minorities. The idea is to recognize the existence of multiculturalism is to intervene politically in order to accommodate and protect this diversity. What is interesting is that behind the policy of recognition, there are forms of recognition that are necessary to increase democratic quality and to achieve justice.

What is important is that the inequalities that would imply forms of recognition could be the product of historical trajectories, colonization, war or various forms of violence. What is important is that for some authors, it is not that people today are more culturally different than before. For some, and especially for sociologists, from the 1960s onwards, they dared to expose themselves more and challenge their position.

It is possible to list several examples of recognition modalities:

  • empowerment : representation quotas, veto, affirmative action;
  • symbolic recognition: official apology, charters, public presence, history teaching, etc..;
  • redistribution: resources to improve socio-economic status, etc;
  • external protections: against the vulnerability of groups, etc..;
  • exemption: differences in treatment to avoid penalizing certain cultural practices;
  • assistance: public funding, promotion of minority languages, affirmative action; etc..;
  • political autonomy: self-government, secession, federalism, etc.

Theories for or against multiculturalism[edit | edit source]

When we talk about multiculturalism, then, about the existence of groups claiming to consider an identity, we do not sufficiently distinguish between two types of groups. The first concerns disadvantaged groups with the idea of having the same rights as others. There is a form of recognition being sought that would seek to ensure that the minority is enhanced by rights to the same treatment enjoyed by the majority. There is another form of demand for recognition that is much more problematic for liberalism because, for the first group, it is easy to think of a liberal solution because liberalism is based on the idea that everyone should be treated as equals, so there is no reason to have different rights. There are groups that do not ask for recognition of equality with others, but for recognition of their differences.

Very often, in order for a State to have or be aware of the discrimination that awaits a group, this group must express and make its difference visible. Often, the state and public opinion take as a request for differentiation something that in reality is a form of request for equitable treatment. Expressing a difference is seen as an integration problem. By expressing a difference, we are claiming a difference.

Often, behind multiculturalism and strong identities, there is the idea of differential treatment, but generally behind differential treatment, not always because there are cases of willingness to explicitly recognize differences, but there are also demands for greater consideration of differences in order to have equal treatment. The most obvious case is women. Feminists have disagreed and still disagree on the strategy to be treated more equally in the political arena. For some feminists, gender must be deconstructed. For others, it is precisely the fact of being different that must be emphasised, this difference in order to make it compatible in the name of equality with others. In one strategy there is a denial of difference and in the other there is a consideration of difference, but in reality the goal is the same, but with two different strategies that raise a great deal of normative and political questions.

As much as liberalism does not have a great deal of difficulty in dealing with requests for integration or the achievement of equality, liberalism in many versions has difficulty in dealing with requests for differentiation, in dealing with requests that the state should recognize the common equality of citizens, but our particular differences.

Liberal egalitarianist criticism of multiculturalism (B. Barry, Culture & Equality, 2001)[edit | edit source]

Brian Barry.[36]

Barry's 2001 book Culture and Equality is a book that attacks multiculturalists.[37] Barry maps out the main elements of a rigid Rawlsian position towards multiculturalism.

The Liberals do not dispute the importance of culture at all, but attribute an instrumental role to culture. Cultural belonging is important as an instrument of freedom, but it has no moral value. Liberals like Barry do not deny culture, but there is no moral value attached to any collective entity. For the Liberals, the only moral issue is the individual and not a collective or a group. A culture has no moral rights or obligations. Culture cannot be an excuse or a reason for differential treatment. If one considers that justice, in the sense of Rawls, for example, implies principles of justice for redistribution, the cultural argument cannot challenge this, leaving matters of culture essentially to the civil sphere.

The problem that is often raised and which is peculiar to the multiculturalist critique is that multiculturalism is seen as a form of essentialization of cultures. It is clear that as long as women have a representation quota of thirty seats in parliament, it is possible to say who are the women represented, this will essentialise women's identity and this will imply that someone who does not fit into these criteria could not recognise themselves in this cultural belonging.

What is worse for the Liberals and Barry in particular is that, in general, requests for exemption or consideration by forms of recognition of cultural practices hide the desire to protect practices that go against liberal values. This is the idea that recognizing Islam or religious groups as state religions would imply, through state policy, rights or resources that could protect practices that are inconsistent with liberal doctrine. For example, publicly acknowledging and institutionally protecting the Muslim religion is to entrench Muslim women in a status of heteronomy or domination. For this reason, on the contrary, religious affiliation must be fought to ensure that liberal justice applies to everyone.

The question is whether cultures have moral rights and whether cultures that are not liberal have moral rights. Of course, in that case, there are fundamental questions for democratic justice, which is what to do. In the name of cultural affiliations and values, is it possible to question the equal treatment that we owe to every citizen? Do people from different groups have more reason to accept being dominated or discriminated against than members who are not in those groups in the name of protecting their culture? A Liberal in the Rawlsian sense could never agree to that. There is nothing that can be done to question the rights of individuals, so any cultural form that does not respect the rights of individuals cannot be publicly recognized and should be changed.

The liberal-nationalist approach by Kymlicka (Liberalism, Community and Culture, 1989; Multicultural Citizenship, 1995 [2001])[edit | edit source]

Kymlicka at the Universidad de Guadalajara in 2007.

For Kymlicka, cultural belonging is necessary for the achievement of liberal autonomy, because culture is a context of choice with a fundamental instrumental value for adopting a conception of the good: "Freedom implies the possibility of choosing between several options, and our societal culture not only offers us these options, it also gives them meaning for us... the availability of meaningful options depends on access to a societal culture and our understanding of the language and history of that culture".[38]

So the societal culture allows us to make choices, which makes us autonomous and therefore free. For Kymlicka, cultural belonging is important because it gives an anthropological content to his normative thesis that a state is liberal if it protects freedom, to protect freedom, we must protect autonomy, we cannot be autonomous without being in a culture that gives us the options that will allow us to choose. What gives us options is being part of a societal culture. For Kymlicka, cultural belonging must therefore be considered as a primary good.

Why must cultural belonging be part of a theory of justice beyond the normative thesis to the crucible of the empirical-normative link, namely that it is by being part of a societal culture that one can be autonomous? He notes that individuals are treated unequally in liberal and democratic systems under this principle. There are people who can choose according to their cultural affiliation, that is, they live under the aegis of a state that recognizes their membership and therefore gives them options, while there are others for whom the options are not necessarily available or treated equally to others. Therefore, the minority for Kymlicka, can be recognized by rights that aim somewhere to secure a minimum context of choice, that aims at the possibility offered to individuals to be able to make choices because this possibility is not equally distributed to everyone.

Kymlicka's argument is very liberal and egalitarian. For him, if you start from the idea that culture is important, and you find that belonging is not equally distributed to everyone, then you have to rectify it. He added that we have to stop thinking that the state is neutral; the state is not neutral by definition. The state embodies particular cultural options. For example, if we do not work on Sundays, for Kymlicka, it is because there are a number of values which, in the name of a certain neutrality, are still there and allow us to give cultural content to the state's options. The fact that states are not neutral adds a grievance to equal treatment. As long as states are not neutral, they cannot say that they must comply with the practices of the majority on behalf of the majority. For Kymlicka, the practice of the majority is not neutral, so you have to compensate.

Kymlicka has a different argument for two types of minorities.

There are national minorities, with the case of Quebec. He wants to have a normative argument in order to put an end to this historical polemic about Quebec's place in the Canadian federation. In his view, ethnolinguistic minorities, which are institutionalized nations with a more or less shared culture, historical traditions, education system and beliefs, as well as a given territory, must be subject to the most extensive political rights, namely the right of self-government. The idea is, in his view, that there is no reason why a national minority, if it meets a number of criteria, at a certain point in time, if one continues to accept the principle of the nation-state, should not have the right to become autonomous through secession.

A second group that is problematic for him is immigrants, who have an interesting characteristic. They have left their societal culture. The immigrant by definition has left his societal culture. The question Kymlicka is asking himself is whether these people have the same rights as national minorities. For him "no", because these people have voluntarily left their national culture, and therefore, at that point, they lose the possibility of recreating a national culture in the host territory. Somewhere, he says, states must provide immigrants with the widest range of polyethnic rights, which are rights that aim to protect the rights and freedoms of immigrants to the maximum extent possible. For example, for Kymlicka, banning the veil is absolute nonsense, saying that as long as the veil does not cause problems for others, there is no reason to ban it, it should be recognized as a matter of fundamental rights.

It does, however, set a limit that clearly distinguishes between external protections and internal constraints. For Kymlicka, there is no possibility, if one wants to be liberal, to recognize through constitutional rights, laws or otherwise, cultural forms that will involve internal constraints on the minority of minorities. In other words, for Kymlicka, it is out of the question to give rights to groups that would discriminate against women, that would imply corporal punishment of children or forms of discrimination of minorities. In his view, this runs counter to liberalism. On the other hand, if his argument is correct, it is necessary for the state to put in place external protections that are limits to the perimeter of the national community that allow that community to survive. According to Kymlicka, one cannot reproduce a culture by sacrificing the rights of individuals. It is out of the question to make an exception for liberticidal groups to keep their practices and in addition with state subsidies. On the other hand, we have to be consistent, as long as the Swiss have the right to determine who is part of the country or not, others may have rights to protect their sphere of freedom, it is just a matter of fairness.

The communitarian approach of Taylor (Multiculturalism and democracy, 1994)[edit | edit source]

Taylor in 2019.

Taylor says something similar. In his 1994 book Multiculturalism and Democracy, he adds that recognition is a vital human need.[39][40][41] The fact that we are recognized in our otherness, the fact that we are recognized in our specificity and authenticity, is a necessary condition of social esteem in order to ensure that minority individuals can function in a democratic space. We are leaving the Rawlsian vision. With Taylor, we enter into more psychological considerations, namely how people can feel in a condition where they have been despised and recognized by members of a majority.

Rawls had already put self-respect in the first goods, but he had not thematized it as with the narrative and dialogical entity of the communitarians. The idea is that one cannot decide one's identity and respect oneself alone. It is possible to respect oneself according to the dialogical identity relations that one constitutes with someone else. For Taylor, if, for various reasons, individuals are confronted with forms of indignation or contempt and disregard for their identity specificity, somewhere along the way, the possibilities of recognizing themselves harmoniously may disappear, and this may cause multinational corporations to implode. In Belgium, for example, we can see how the construction of otherness between Walloons and Flemings can call into question the foundations. It is something that would be tantamount to asking how to manage constructions of otherness that are not properly managed, and therefore the question of finding identity mechanisms that allow these values to be transcended somewhere.

For Taylor, recognition goes beyond tolerance. Forms of recognition presuppose social preconditions; they are the product of social relations that are oriented towards recognition involving a whole range of public policies. What is interesting about Multiculturalism and Democracy is that the idea of recognition is not anti-liberal, but it is one of the liberal traditions. Taylor has published a book called The Sources of the Self in which he tries to reconstruct the different forms of identities that have come through our historical times and the way in which they were thought.[42][43][44][45][46] Taylor shows that the liberalism that we have in mind is very much rooted in the Kantian tradition, which is the idea of the recognition of equal dignity, which is that we are going to recognize among ourselves the most fundamental thing that we share that could be something that is part of our common humanity or our human potential. For Taylor, there's another tradition that's as much a part of liberalism, but which comes from the Romantics, which is the idea of authenticity. Liberalism was what allowed individuals to think of themselves as authentic, to think of themselves not as embedded in castes or in given orders, but as the realm of self-definition, the realm of our possibility of discovering who we are. Both paths are the politics of equal dignity that asks us to recognize ourselves in relation to the common denominator we share. The politics of authenticity or the recognition of difference asks us to recognize in the other his or her ultimate specificity, which is his or her authenticity. Obviously, this is a source of tension. When, in the one, we have to be universalist and find general principles applicable to everyone, on the other, we have to leave room for particularity, authenticity and specificity, there comes a time when we have to decide. We cannot have both policies, we cannot defend the same principles in the same way. For him, Quebec, by being a form of culture to be defended, which has the right to survive, we can, in the name of Quebec's survival and without prejudicing fundamental rights, partially qualify individual rights in the name of protecting culture.

The theory of recognition by Axel Honneth[edit | edit source]

Axel Honneth.[47]

Recognition is seen here as the word that structures much of the normative debate on the management of multicultural societies and on justice more generally, but is also found in empirical observations. There is a great deal of empirical research by anthropologists and ethnologists who study collective group phenomena, whether in the French suburbs or in other countries, and when questioned, very often they refer in their discourse to the issue of recognition, which very often goes hand in hand with respect. Respect is a discursive category that goes hand in hand with recognition. It is clear that in the public debate there are many social situations that reason with this understanding.

Honneth is part of the Frankfurt School, which has developed theoretical tools to make sense of empirical situations. On the other hand, their empirical tools do not exist outside of a strong empirical analysis of social practices. For a long time, the Frankfurt School had as its critique that of capitalism with a certain neo-Marxist inspiration that Habermas corroborated with his critique of public space and capitalism. With Honneth, there is a rather important change in this logic, namely that for him, recognition is a moral question. He posits a theory of recognition according to which recognition is the basis of the moral grammar of social conflict.[48] For Honneth, if there is social conflict, if there are groups that position themselves in conflict with the state or other groups, if there are phenomena of violence or political apathy, this is not due to a problem of redistribution of resources as the neo-Marxists or social democrats said, but to forms of denial of recognition that translate into forms of humiliation, contempt or social misconceptions that hurt people and lead individuals into struggles for recognition.

In The struggle for recognition published in 1995, Honneth posits recognition as a moral theory. For him, a society will be morally integrated when everyone benefits from some form of recognition.[49] For him, recognition is the basis for all other injustices. For Honneth, recognition is the fundamental category. For him, forms of injustice that one might imagine as arising from unjust policies are the product of forms of recognition because certain categories of the population are not recognized for their true worth, and this is the justification for distributing fewer socio-economic or other resources. It really puts the recognition at the grassroots level.

There is the idea of social contempt for groups, which means that there are individuals or groups that do not judge a fair basis of social esteem. There is a group that is regarded for various reasons as not living up to a certain conception of social merit or moral quality. For Honneth, this situation of subordination implies conflict, which these groups activate in order to seek some form of recognition. He explains the social confrontations as a Hegelian form with the idea of the master and the slave with one being the antithesis of the other which will produce something else where basically the slave is part of the master because there is no master without a slave. It is Hegel's dialectical idea that there is a group that denies recognition to the other who is going to enter into a struggle to produce a new social entity that will subsequently be a path of recognition. In intuitive terms, it's an idea that is very powerful because you can easily imagine a whole bunch of cases.

For Honneth, conflict is precisely the dialectical moment that allows us to overcome situations that are blocked by structures of non-recognition. This conflict must be resolved by democratic law.

Honneth attempts to address recognition as a moral issue by asking how one can respect the person without recognizing the uniqueness and irreducibility of the person's identity. That is what the person is, what he or she thinks, and why that person is frozen in a relationship of domination. He shares the dialogical conception of recognition with Taylor and she comes from Hegel. The dialectic of master and slave is in phenomenology dialectically a bit one of the keystones for thinking about the paradigm of recognition.

In this theory, recognition has an origin which is the feeling of life and humiliation. For Honneth, there is no point in giving resources if the causes at the root of these phenomena of exclusion, namely humiliation, contempt or non-recognition of identity, are not addressed beforehand. The problem is that people who are confronted with situations of contempt do not have access to autonomy and are therefore second-class citizens, so one is not free.

Where Honneth makes an important difference and one that the Liberals do not appreciate at all is that for him this is an ethical conception. For him, the moral of recognition is an ethical conception and a conception of the good. One cannot recognize in the sense of avoiding humiliation and undervaluing only by procedures. It is necessary to recognize something more substantial. It has a teleological conception in the sense that what counts is the promotion and achievement of moral progress, and this implies an ethical conception and a conception of the good that goes very badly from a liberal point of view where the state has to do everything but embody a conception of the good in order to become sectarian.

What is interesting is the three levels of recognition mentioned by Honneth. Honneth is not a thinker of multiculturalism, he is a thinker of recognition. He is a thinker of recognition. He is going to analyze all the relationships that are not worthy of moral consideration, that is to say all the relationships that are based on non-recognition. What interests him is the non-recognition of the characterization of recognition that characterizes these actors.

The three axes of recognition are love, rights and social solidarity. For Honneth, there are three spheres of recognition which are all very important:

  • love and friendship, allowing the development of self-confidence: by love, he means the constructions of socialization that children endure and which must be structured in a minimum form of love so that the individual can develop in a morally upright manner. The role of parents should be to enable children to form a meaningful emotional network that recognises the child's potential to develop self-confidence.
  • rights and justice, allowing the development of self-respect: there are forms of non-recognition that have important results on the fact that we do not have the same rights depending on how we construct ourselves as a social group.
  • solidarity and belonging to a social and political community, allowing the development of self-esteem: the wider society must reflect an image of self-esteem.

Ideally, all three would be needed to ensure that everyone's emotions and human needs are sufficiently satisfied to function as an autonomous human being and thus function in modern societies.

A whole bunch of questions remain hanging around the Honneth question. These three axes help to define a moral grammar of human emotions and needs that complements the liberal conception of justice and equality: "[...] In modern societies,[...] the conditions of individual self-realization are only socially secured when subjects are able to experience intersubjective recognition not only of their personal autonomy, but also of their specific needs and thair particular capabilities".[50] The psychological dimension is highly contested at Honneth. For many authors, Honneth overemphasizes the psychological dimension of the subject.

For many authors, Honneth opens the door for us to say that we seem to be misunderstood and that we need help. The question that arises is how to set criteria, from what point in time there are forms of misunderstanding that engage the responsibility of the State, from what point in time there are forms of misunderstanding at the subjective level for which there is a risk of falling into a society of psyches where everyone will thematize and narrate their wounds, but from what point in time the State is engaged. Honneth has rejected this criticism, but the fact remains that the criticism is important because the question that arises is that of the finality of Honneth's theory.

Any teleological theory that is a good theory asks the question when the higher purpose will be achieved. Honneth, as a good dialectical Hegelian, answers that it will probably never be reached. Nonetheless, it is the mechanism by which we can explain and make sense of the social conflicts between us. For Honneth, there is a wound in the public space and in the consciousness of individuals marked by a form of otherness that the conflict allows to be overcome, but which also engages the attitude of the majority. It is a cycle that does not stop.

Honneth paradoxically allows us, being a thinker of moral harmony, to think that the idea of social harmony which is a bit of a filagram behind Rawls' position which is that once the right rules are applied that social peace will be guaranteed. This idea is not tenable because there will always be a group that for various reasons will thematize its wound in terms of recognition that will involve a political conflict that will have to be settled.

There is the idea that social recognition and the imposition of norms hurts if it is perceived as going against its deep identity, which is otherwise justified in relation to very classical theories of political theory, namely in relation to criteria of equality, but also of freedom. Multiculturalism groups will all argue for recognition without arguing the vocabulary of equality, tolerance, freedom and justice. Quite simply, they interpret it differently and give different content to these categories. That is why, for Kymlicka, the problem is not one of principle, but one of interpretation of these principles. Agreement on the principles does not mean that there is only one way to implement them and to think about them. There is this cascading descent which means that these problems of misunderstanding can occur at different levels.

There are calls for the universal, there are calls for these principles, and the idea of the course was to bring up these principles because they are too much seen as mere opinions. The problem today is the drift that makes any normative position a valid form of opinion. Some opinions are stronger than others at least in terms of their consistency. We are in a pragmatic society. There is a question of political culture in which certain discourses are more or less easy to push.

The dilemma of "recognition - redistribution" according to Nancy Fraser (What is social justice?, 2005)[edit | edit source]

Nancy in Fraser 2008.[51][52][53]

Fraser tries to reconcile distributive justice and recognition in a theory called bifocality. She finds it frustrating that it's all about multiculturalism and recognition, it's all about going back to distributive justice, but at the same time it's important to look at the recognition issues in their proper light and in their proper importance.

Attention to recognition tends to obscure distributive injustices. There is therefore a need for a theory of social justice that can articulate both socio-economic injustices (exploitation, marginalization or economic exclusion) and injustices in the cultural sphere (cultural domination through the imposition of social models): "we are thus faced with a complex dilemma, which I shall call the redistribution/recognition dilemma: people who are simultaneously objects of cultural injustice and economic injustice need both recognition and redistribution; they need both to claim and to deny their specificity".[54]

Unlike Honneth (who has a monistic moral theory of recognition), Fraser proposes a bifocal theory of social justice that overcomes the impasses of the politics of recognition as identity politics[55]:

Recognition aims at the affirmation of differentiation, while redistribution aims at the disappearance of social differences, thus tending towards equality. How can these two postures be reconciled, especially when they have effects at the same time, as in the case of gender and race?

The crowding out of redistribution (because this model approaches recognition only as a response to the problem of cultural depreciation or, like Honneth, states that revaluing depreciated identities is a way of addressing distributive injustices)[56];

The reification of identity (thinking of the politics of recognition as identity politics tends to obscure the differences within cultural groups and the power struggles within them).[57] It proposes a logic centred around status. Thus, it is no longer the specific identity of an individual or a group that requires recognition, but rather the status as a full partner in social interaction.

The denial of recognition translates into a relationship of social subordination or statutory subordination, in the sense of an impediment to participating as a peer in social life that results from an institutionalized set of cultural codes and values.[58]

For Fraser, denial of recognition should not be seen as psychic harm/deformation, or autonomous cultural harm, but as an institutionalised relationship of social subordination, produced by social institutions and the 'meanings' / power relations inherent in them[59][60];

Thus, the normative criterion to which social justice must be directed is parity of participation: "An institutionalized model of cultural values constitutes some actors as something less than full members of society and is an obstacle to their participation on an equal footing. Repairing denial of recognition means replacing institutionalized value models that are a barrier to equal participation with models that enable or promote it".[61]

Annexes[edit | edit source]

  • Barbara Ritz, « C. Taylor. Les Sources du moi-La formation de l’identité moderne », L'orientation scolaire et professionnelle [Online], 32/1 | 2003, Online since 06 May 2011, connection on 02 July 2015. URL :

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