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Liberalism, Tolerance and Multiculturalism: The Bounds of Liberal Intervention in Affairs of Minority Cultures


Raphael Cohen-Almagor


University of Hull

Marco Zambotti


Johns Hopkins University - Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

May 13, 2009

ETHICAL LIBERALISM IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETIES, Krzysztof Wojciechowski, Jan C. Joerden, eds., pp. 79-98, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009

Abstract:     
One of the most pressing issues facing liberal democracies today is the politicization of ethno-cultural diversity. Minority cultures are demanding greater public recognition of their distinctive identities, and greater freedom and opportunity to retain and develop their distinctive cultural practices. In response to these demands, new and creative mechanisms are being adopted in many countries for accommodating difference. This paper discusses some of the issues raised by these demands, focusing in particular on the difficulties that arise when the minority seeking accommodation is illiberal.

It is increasingly accepted that common citizenship rights are not sufficient to accommodate all forms of ethno-cultural diversity. In some cases, certain “collective” or “group-differentiated” rights are also required. And indeed there is a clear trend within liberal democracies towards the greater recognition of such group-differentiated rights. Among the pertinent questions are: How are these group rights related to individual rights?; What should we do if group rights come into conflict with individual rights?; Can a liberal democracy allow minority groups to restrict the individual rights of their members, or should it insist that all groups uphold liberal principles?; Can a liberal democracy allow minority groups to restrict individual rights of members of other groups? To address these questions, controversial cultural norms will be considered, as well as the relationships between state and religion in Israel. Helpful distinctions will be made between self- and other-regarding conduct, and between inter-group and intra-group relationship. Furthermore, we probe the relations between various Western liberal democracies and minority cultures, most notably analyzing the headscarf controversy in France and Europe at large.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 20

Keywords: ethno-cultural diversity, group rights, cultural identity, individual rights, self- and other-regarding conduct, headscarf controversy

JEL Classification: Z0

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Date posted: May 13, 2009 ; Last revised: May 20, 2009

Suggested Citation

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael and Zambotti, Marco, Liberalism, Tolerance and Multiculturalism: The Bounds of Liberal Intervention in Affairs of Minority Cultures (May 13, 2009). ETHICAL LIBERALISM IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETIES, Krzysztof Wojciechowski, Jan C. Joerden, eds., pp. 79-98, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1403790

Contact Information

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Contact Author)
University of Hull ( email )
Cottingham Road
Hull, Great Britain HU6 7RX
United Kingdom
HOME PAGE: http://www.hull.ac.uk/rca
Marco Zambotti
Johns Hopkins University - Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) ( email )
1740 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1984
United States
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