To what extent do multiculturalists support diversity and the politics of difference?

All forms of multiculturalism support diversity and the politics of difference but the extent to which they are supported by each sub division differs, leading to tensions within multiculturalism. Nevertheless, all the sub-branches agree that diversity can be positive as it can create greater social cohesion through cultural recognition, and can benefit society by bringing a vigour and vibrancy, similar to that which biodiversity brings ecosystems.

All forms of multiculturalism support diversity and the politics of difference but the extent to which they are supported by each sub division differs, leading to tensions within multiculturalism. Nevertheless, all the sub-branches agree that diversity can be positive as it can create greater social cohesion through cultural recognition, and can benefit society by bringing a vigour and vibrancy, similar to that which biodiversity brings ecosystems.

The cornerstone of liberalism is a commitment to toleration and to upholding freedom of choice in the moral sphere. John Rawls argued that liberalism strives to create conditions in which people can establish the ‘good life’ as each defines it. Liberalism is thus difference-blind, as all factors like gender, race and religion are considered to be irrelevant because people should be treated as morally autonomous individuals. However, toleration is only a limited endorsement of cultural diversity, as it only extends to views and practices that are themselves tolerant (i.e. ideas that are compatible with personal freedom and autonomy). Therefore, due to this absolute and non-negotiable approach, liberal multiculturalism cannot accept ‘deep diversity’, meaning that they would be unwilling to accept practices such as female circumcision and arranged marriages because the freedom of the individual must come before the rights of the cultural group, even if it is argued to be vital for the maintenance of the cultural identity of the group. Thus, for liberal multiculturalists there is a distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ life, with the former being a realm of freedom but the latter being a bedrock of shared civic allegiances. Liberal multiculturalists are unwilling to compromise upon the principles of liberal democracy, which means that their form of diversity can therefore be seen to be a form of ‘shallow diversity’.

Pluralist multiculturalism provides a firmer foundation for the politics of difference than liberalism. This is because they see all cultural identities as being of equal merit. This is most clearly expressed in Isaiah Berlin’s concept of value pluralism, which holds that there is no single, overriding conception of the ‘good life’, with all conceptions being equally legitimate. Thus, liberal beliefs have no greater moral authority than illiberal beliefs. Parekh expanded upon this by arguing that any culture expresses only part of what it means to be truly human, thereby implying that western liberalism only gives to expression to certain aspects of human nature. Therefore, it can be seen that pluralist multiculturalists support a form of ‘deep diversity’, which counters group oppression because all cultural identities are believed to be of equal moral importance. This creates a situation of cultural embeddedness.

Cosmopolitan multiculturalists have also developed a distinctive approach to diversity and the politics of difference. This approach celebrates diversity on the grounds of what each culture can learn from other cultures and the prospects this holds for self-development. Furthermore, diversity is seen as a way of providing cultural exchange and mixing, which leads to moral sensibilities being broadened and to the development of a ‘one world’ perspective. Waldron described identity as being incapable of being explained in terms of a single cultural structure, and instead is rather a ‘melange’ of commitments and affiliations. This leads to an emphasis on hybridity and the idea of multiple identities. However some multiculturalists have criticised the cosmopolitan approach on the grounds that it emphasises unity other diversity, and also that by encouraging unity you threaten to weaken any genuine sense of cultural belonging. Therefore, cosmopolitan multiculturalism supports diversity and the politics of difference but as a way of promoting cultural mixing rather than cultural embeddedness.

In conclusion, it is clear that multiculturalism is split by the idea of diversity and the politics of difference. Whilst all branches of multiculturalism believe that diversity is important, they disagree about how important it is. Liberal multiculturalists support a weaker form of diversity, which is not allowed to be prioritised over other elements within liberalism, whilst pluralist and cosmopolitan multiculturalists support a stronger form of diversity, which identifies that all cultures are equally important. However, these two branches disagree over how this should be applied, with cosmopolitan multiculturalism suggesting that cultural diversity is a transitional state towards the establishment of a global perspective.

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