Justice between Cultures: Autonomy and the Protection of Cultural Affiliation
University of British Columbia Law Review, Vol. 29, p. 117, 1995
LAW IN SOCIETY CANADIAN READINGS, Nick Larsen, Brian Burtch, eds., Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999
Posted: 26 Jul 2011 Last revised: 28 Jul 2011
Date Written: 1995
The reconciliation of the conflicting needs and interests of different racial, ethnic and cultural groups has become one of the most urgent concerns of our time. The greater the contact between groups, the greater the potential for conflict; hence the greater the need for principles to regulate conflict. Two extreme responses to the problem of inter-group relations might be called the philosopher’s model and the extreme nationalist’s model. The former strives to work out a set of principles for the governance of human interaction that is perfectly universal. It eliminates the problem by eliminating distinguishable groups themselves. The latter seeks to eliminate the problem of conflict by leaving the distinctions between groups intact, but eliminating contact between groups.
This article explores a middle ground between these two extremes. I argue in favour of some scope for the autonomy of cultural groups, considering two different contexts within which conflict can arise: when there is solidarity within each of two or more co-existing groups, and when there is conflict within one or both groups about internal practices. We can derive from a sufficiently rich understanding of autonomy and the conditions that make it possible principles to regulate relations between cultural communities as well as between individuals. Concern for personal autonomy dictates that we pay attention to the role of cultural forms in people’s lives, which in turn requires a conception of group autonomy with respect to culture. At the same time, cases of internal disagreement raise questions about the degree of compatibility of some social processes of cultural development with personal autonomy and require a principle of priority between cultural and personal autonomy when they conflict.
Keywords: Multiculturalism, Cultural Groups, Accommodation, Group Autonomy
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