Why have some multiculturalists criticised liberalism?

Some multiculturalists, notably pluralist multiculturalists, have been critical of liberalism as a basis for ensuring cultural diversity. The arguments against liberalism center around the issues of the private-public divide, deep diversity, liberal democracy and the politics of recognition.

Some multiculturalists, notably pluralist multiculturalists, have been critical of liberalism as a basis for ensuring cultural diversity. The arguments against liberalism center around the issues of the private-public divide, deep diversity, liberal democracy and the politics of recognition.

Liberalism believes in the politics of rights. This comes from the liberal belief in republicanism, which advocates the principle of universal citizenship. All members of society should enjoy the same status and entitlements. Thus, liberalism is difference-blind and proposes that difference be abolished. Multiculturalists criticise this view because they see that cultural marginalisation has deeper origins. Marginalisation is seen to be a cultural phenomenon that operates through stereotypes that structure how people see themselves and how other people see them. Thus, egalitarianism conceals deeper structures of cultural marginalisation. Liberal societies are said to be constructed in line in line with the values and interests of the dominant group. Minorities are either consigned a demeaning stereotype or are forced to assimilate into the dominant culture by adopting the values and interests of the dominant groups (men, whites, the wealthy etc.). Critics therefore describe this as liberal imperialism.

Liberals argue that cultural diversity should be celebrated only in the private sphere. For liberals, public life must be characterised by a bedrock of shared civic allegiances. Thus, citizenship is divorced form cultural identity, which is seen to be a private matter. Integration, rather than diversity, is encouraged in the public sphere. This can be seen in the way in which proficiency in English and a knowledge of US political history are preconditions for gaining citizenship in the USA, and the way in which the full-face veil has been banned in France and Belgium, along with other symbols of Islam. Multiculturalists criticise this because it prevents the minority group from expressing their distinctiveness. Marginalised groups should be able to celebrate their distinctiveness publicly because this is the only way in which their authentic sense of cultural identity can be reclaimed and stereotypes can be abolished. As Charles Taylor put it ‘the failure of recognition’ harms citizens by trivialising or ignoring their cultural identities. This causes ‘offence’, which in this case amounts to hurt and humiliation at having one’s sacred beliefs insulted or ridiculed.

Liberals have also rejected the multiculturalist idea of ‘deep diversity’, a type of diversity that rejects the idea of objective standards. Liberals only tolerate views that are themselves tolerant (ideas that are compatible with personal freedom and autonomy). They are therefore unwilling to endorse practices such as female circumcision, arranged marriages and female dress codes even if it is argued that these are crucial for the maintenance of the cultural identity. Therefore, for liberals, individual freedom is more important than the group’s cultural identity. Some multiculturalists have criticised this view because firstly it prevents the group from expressing their cultural distinctiveness, which is so important for liberating individuals from oppression, but also because it arrogantly suggests that liberal ideas superior to any others. Isaiah Berlin advocated the principle of value pluralism. Berlin argued that it is impossible to demonstrate the superiority of one system over another. Therefore, liberal views such as a support for personal freedom, toleration and democracy have no greater moral authority than illiberal beliefs. This type of multiculturalism has been described as the ‘politics of indifference’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>