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Does Liberalism Need Multiculturalism? A Critique of Liberal Multiculturalism

1 January 2006


In this paper I will argue that liberal multiculturalism is neither a necessary nor a convincing extension of liberalism. In evaluating the two main strands of liberal multiculturalism, I will first analyse 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. I will then turn to Amy Gutmann and Will Kymlicka as liberal multiculturalists who use the liberal norm of individual equality as a starting point. I will show that the arguments adduced in favour of liberal multiculturalism fail, due to the following shortcomings. Taylor’s approach is underspecified with respect to the relationship between the process of evaluating cultures and its outcome. Gutmann’s theory fails to bridge the gaps between the individual, cultural belonging and positive duties of the state. Parekh’s and Kymlicka’s theories lead back to liberalism. I conclude that the idea of cultural difference has little of substance to add to the liberal view of social justice.


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