Culture, Autonomy, and Nationhood

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Watson, William
Multiculturalism , Political Philosophy
This thesis is intended as a critique of Will Kymlicka’s groundbreaking and elegant defense of a liberal theory of minority rights. It argues that although Kymlicka has succeeded in showing that a minority nation may seek and exercise minority rights while still respecting, and even furthering, the ability of its members to live autonomously, Kymlicka is mistaken when he contends that liberalism’s commitment to individual autonomy requires the liberal democratic state to provide minority nations with the self-government and language rights necessary to allow them to sustain their “societal cultures.” Specifically, it is argued that Kymlicka’s autonomy-based argument for according self-government and language rights to national minorities fails to pay sufficient regard to both the fact that the personal costs associated with leaving one’s culture will vary depending on the individual and the cultures involved, and the fact that some national minorities, in order to sustain themselves as distinct societal cultures, will require not only external protections from the actions of the cultural majority, but also the ability to impose liberty-infringing preservationist measures against their own members. Further, since, as I argue, individual autonomy does not actually require that one has continued access to one’s societal culture, it is suggested that both granting and refusing a minority nation the means to sustain its societal culture could be in keeping with a liberal conception of justice, depending on the particular circumstances of the groups at issue. Consequently, the thesis concludes that the question of how to accommodate national minorities should be determined on a case-by-case basis.
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