Does Liberalism need Multiculturalism?

What is the risk that the promotion of pluralist politics actually increases the potential for conflict?

Anke Schuster concludes that the idea of cultural difference has little of substance to add to the liberal view of social justice. Anke Schuster argued that liberal multiculturalism is neither a necessary nor a convincing extension of liberalism. In evaluating the two main strands of liberal multiculturalism, Mr. Anke first analyzed the approaches of Charles Taylor and Bhikhu Parekh as the main proponents of the version that focuses on the cultures themselves and raises the issue of the value of cultures in connection with public discourse. Mr. Anke Schuster stated that the arguments adduced in favor of liberal multiculturalism fail, due to the following shortcomings.

According to Essays in Philosophy A Biannual Journal Vol. 7, No. 1, January 2006, the argument suggest that, liberal multiculturalism is neither necessary nor a convincing extension of liberalism.

In a speech at the Global Centre for Pluralism, Kofi Annan discusses the challenges of governing plural societies, promoting inclusive democracy in Kenya, and the moment at which Syria’s deadly conflict could have been averted. He said, “If diversity is seen as a source of strength, societies can become healthier, more stable and prosperous.”

Mr. Kofi Annan further added that, “Globalization has brought us closer together. In the 21st century, we live for the first time in one global community. But it is a community composed of many strands which must be carefully woven together into a whole”.

If diversity is seen as a source of strength, societies can become healthier, more stable and prosperous. But there is another side of the coin if we fail to manage the conflicting pressures that pluralism inevitably brings.

Without the institutions and policies to manage diversity, whole communities can feel marginalized and oppressed, creating conditions for conflict and violence. This is why pluralism is a key challenge for the 21st century.

Political pluralistic or pluralistic political system is a core issue in democracy but that does not necessarily mean it is confine with the policies and strategies which the state or government prefer and have chosen for their system.  Multiple factors could play dominant role to influence state decisions and can challenge the policies. Stronger judicial institutions and law enforcement agencies that deals and have impartial interactions could be a positive and healing response. To avoided discrimination and to ensure a fair transparent check and balance system so that, law is above all and is equally implemented.

What do we need deliberate policies of cultural recognition when the institutions of democratic representation can already do that job?

According to Brenton Holmes Politics and Public Administration Section 22 July 2011, the theory and practice of public administration is increasingly concerned with placing the citizen at the center of policymakers’ considerations, not just as target, but also as agent. The aim is to develop policies and design services that respond to individuals’ needs and are relevant to their circumstances. Concepts such ‘co-creation’ and ‘co-production’ have emerged to describe this systematic pursuit of sustained collaboration between government agencies, non-government organizations, communities and individual citizens. The Australian Government’s report Ahead of the Game—the 2010 ‘blueprint’ for the reform of the Australian Public Service (APS)—is cast in this light.

The APS has been involved in ongoing reform since the 1976 Coombs Royal Commission from which emerged a whole-of-government approach to public administration. This New Public Management invoked entrepreneurialism, outputs and metrics, the cutting of red tape, and a view of the public as ‘consumers’. Over the past decade, this view has been reframed to regard the public as ‘citizens’, whose agency matters and whose right to participate directly or indirectly in decisions that affect them should be actively facilitated. Such an approach honors the fundamental principle of a democratic state—that power is to be exercised through, and resides in, its citizens.

In many democracies, citizen participation in policymaking and service design has been debated or attempted, but too infrequently realized. There have been some notable achievements, in both advanced and developing countries, and there is abundant public policy literature advocating thoroughgoing collaboration. But genuine engagement in the ‘co-production’ of policy and services requires major shifts in the culture and operations of government agencies. It demands of public servants new skills as enablers, negotiators and collaborators. It demands of citizens an orientation to the public good, a willingness to actively engage, and the capabilities needed to participate and deliberate well. These are tall orders, especially if citizens are disengaged and certain groups within the population are marginalized.

Most especially, effective engagement by a citizen-centric public service requires political support for the genuine devolution of power and decision-making to frontline public servants and professionals—and to the citizens and stakeholders with whom they engage. Ministers and agency heads have a major leadership responsibility here.

Do you agree with the conclusion of Anke Schuster that the idea of cultural difference has little of substance to add to the liberal view of social justice for which there already is an abundance of theories?

Democracies are socially and culturally distinctive, developing traditions, conventions and structures that reflect the values and habits of their citizens. All its political institutions, such as the legislature, the government and bureaucracy, the courts and all the statutory bodies of the ‘public sector’, should conduct their procedures according to the traditional ideals of democracy—in particular, justice, liberty, equality and community. The whole political structure should rest on a pluralistic, participatory society, which maintains a vigorous group life. The executive government should be counterbalanced by a constitutional opposition, to probe, question and help the community control the power of government.

Liberal multiculturalism differs with liberalism on how they interpret differences. For liberalism, each individual differ on how they perceive goodness so each human differ on their goals and values and thus government has to dictate principles that respect each individual and consider them equals. But for the liberal multiculturalist, a group intrinsically shares certain characteristics and this culture goes beyond the individual differences, “cultural difference is more fundamental than individual differences of interest and in some way transcends them. Justice is, then, primarily a matter of recognizing cultural differences”. Thus liberal multiculturalism affirms that recognizing cultures is necessary to equality.

According to Taylor and Parekh “equality for (members of) cultural communities is not merely a formal requirement or a set of standardized measures, but can only be properly realized by understanding other cultures. From this point of view recognition is a necessary condition for truly realizing liberal norms under conditions of multiculturalism. Cultural belonging, it is argued, is essential for properly understanding and promoting individual equality”. Taylor argues that we need to learn about and judge other cultures with the purpose of questioning to see if it has value but we have to do so with an open mind. Anke rejects that notion by asking what is the point and based on what criteria are we to judge a culture specially when Taylor also say not to rely on the prevalent cultural norm to do so. Anke said: “Taylor would hardly approve of actual policies that discriminate between cultures according to our judgment of their different worth. Yet if studying cultures has no impact on public policy – and thereby on public recognition – why do it in the first place?”

Anke states that studying culture with no clear goal will not result in change in policy and those changes would be questionable. Is it an issue of public opinion instead of equality?

Parekh add another layer to Taylor’s view by recommending intercultural dialogue where each group try to understand the other’s culture and try to assess their point of view. Anke said, “One might object that public dialogues on contested cultural issues have actually had at least some positive effect on the occurrence of practices like female circumcision. Still, some adherents of cultural practices will always remain unconvinced.”

Anke wrote, “Equality is not about recognizing cultural difference as such, but rather about ensuring that individuals are treated equally, regardless of the cultural group they belong to”. How can we be aware of the difficulties that others (meaning individuals and communities) might have to access opportunities? And how do positive discrimination policies work? Let’s refresh our discussion area with this debate. 





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