Illiberal Tolerance: An Essay on the Fall of Yugoslavia and the Rise of Multiculturalism in the United States

48 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2006

See all articles by Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson

American University - Washington College of Law


This article, written on the basis of the author's experiences monitoring Yugoslavia for Human Rights Watch in the years prior to the civil wars and through the beginnings of war to the end of 1992, argues that the Yugoslav federation under Tito's supposedly more liberal communism in fact adopted multiculturalism - group identities and group rights - rather than liberalism, with liberalism's focus on individual rights and identities. The paper analyzes the political theory underlying the breakup of Yugoslavia and argues that the policy of the regime, and particularly its intellectuals, deliberately obfuscated the difference between multiculturalism and liberalism, conflating the two and so making Yugoslavia appear both more liberal and more unified than it actually was. The article treats the breakup of Yugoslavia as a warning to Western democracies not to embrace multiculturalism and the management of difference through the embrace of top down illiberal strategies and urges that, instead, Western democracies should learn from the disasters of multiculturalism in Yugoslavia and adhere to liberal individual rights. Even though published in 1993, it offers an argument relevant today in debates over Islam and modernity, that societies such as that of the United States must choose modernity and liberalism over multiculturalism.

Keywords: liberalism, multiculturalism, ethnic cleansing, civil war, human rights, modernity, just war, international law, group rights, identity theory, Tito, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Human Rights Watch

JEL Classification: K30,K33

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, Illiberal Tolerance: An Essay on the Fall of Yugoslavia and the Rise of Multiculturalism in the United States. Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 33, pp. 385-431, 1993. Available at SSRN:

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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