Kymlicka on interculturalism vs. multiculturalism

We’ve had some discussions on this blog about whether there are any real differences between so-called “interculturalism” policies and “multiculturalism,” correctly understood. Now Will Kymlicka weighs in with a very good paper on the topic:

Defending Diversity in an Era of Populism: Multiculturalism and Interculturalism Compared

One of the things that I’ve always admired about Will’s work is that, not only does he have an unparalleled mastery of both normative theory and empirical detail, but he also has very good political and rhetorical instincts. He is not interested in doing “ideal theory” in this area, but is concerned to develop normative theories that can directly guide the practice of nation-states, right here and now.

I was reminded of the importance of this the other day, in the department, chatting with a few colleagues about current debates in just war theory. One of them, who has made rather substantial contributions to this literature, said “well of course, the problem is that the mainstream position in the philosophical literature is so far removed from the actual practice of any nation-state ever, that nothing anyone says has any relevance to the real world.” At which point I said, “yeah, the environmental ethics literature is exactly the same,” and another colleague chimed in and said, “yeah, the global justice literature is exactly the same… actually come to think of it, the whole egalitarianism literature is the same.” Thinking about it, I realized that this list could be extended quite considerably — of areas where philosophers have simply written themselves out of any and all policy discussions, by abstracting away so many features of the real world that there is nothing left to prevent the adoption of extremist views.

Anyhow, it occurs to me that, to the extent that current debates over minority rights and multiculturalism remains firmly anchored in actual practice, Will deserves a great deal of the credit. This paper provides a pretty good example of why.


Kymlicka on interculturalism vs. multiculturalism — 2 Comments

  1. This is a very short and seemingly innocuous post that actually makes some very ambitious and interesting claims. I’ll try to spell them out.

    The suggestion is that academics working on issues like “just war” or “global justice” have adopted positions so far removed from the median political point of most countries that these scholars have effectively elected to have no substantive impact on public policy. As a consequence, “there is nothing left to prevent the adoption of extremist views”.

    So the implication is that academics working on multiculturalism (1) have focused more on dealing with the “real world” of politics, and have therefore (2) been able to influence public policy and (3) have helped to prevent the adoption of extremist views in political debates concerned with these issues.

    Each of these claims ought to be unpacked and scrutinized, especially since the paper by Kymlicka linked to in the post doesn’t actually seem to support them (it’s all about how everyone is knocking multiculturalism these days).

    For what it’s worth, claim (1) seems very plausible to me. But the most interesting issue is claim (3), and that seems like the most questionable claim to me.

  2. Thanks for drawing our attention to Kymlicka’s paper. I think that your analysis is by and large correct. It reminds me of Habermas’ repeated criticism of the global justice discourse as being too far removed from the actual functioning of international institutions (which explains his focus on problems of the European Unions’s monetary union and on the constitutionalization of international law). On the other hand, many human rights theorists (Beitz, Buchanan, etc.) pay a lot of attention to the actual practice of international human rights law in their recent books.
    Also, in Germany, Nida-Ruemelin (LMU Munich) initiated recently a national policy discussion by arguing that due to the excessive approval of university education there are too few people who are interested in technical apprenticeships. Last week, for example, he gave an interview in the evening news (see here