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“The Value of Cultural Membership” by Will Kymlicka Essay


Kymlicka notes that culture is an important aspect since it gives an individual the identity and raises the consciousness of the group. Based on this, he underscores the fact that each group of people has a set of principles, viewpoints, and lifestyles. In his analysis, Kymlicka looks at how groups employ culture to survive in the society, as he suggests that people vote, trade, and associate based on ethnic lines meaning that only those who share language will associate freely. In this article, the issue of political multiculturalism will be analyzed in detail where Kymlicka underscores the fact that each society is faced with the major challenge of handling the issues raised by minorities. The minority group will always demand for representation, recognition, and accommodation of views, but society is reluctant to appreciate their existence since it is claimed that they should adopt the common culture.

Political Multiculturalism

The idea of giving the minorities the opportunity to enjoy their rights and freedoms is referred to as multiculturalism whereby cultural differences are appreciated in the sense that no culture is viewed as superior to the other. However, the term covers several forms of cultural pluralism as Kymlicka observes. Since time in memorial, minority groups have always been incorporated into political communities through various ways, one of them being colonialism and conquest. In this case, minorities are forced to adopt the western culture using force whereby their communal governing institutions are destroyed and the western systems are introduced without consultation.

Apart from this, the minority groups have been forced to adopt the widespread culture through immigration. The mode of incorporation influences the minority groups in various ways meaning that it defines the type of relationship they desire with the wider society. Kymlicka warns that generalizing the aims and objectives of various minority groups is dangerous since each group has unique problems and it is upon the government to identify them.

Based on this, the current studies on multiculturalism cannot be trusted owing to the fact that they generalize the issues facing the various minority groups. Kymlicka gives an example whereby the opponents of multiculturalism often claim that the idea leads to labeling meaning that the minorities are believed to reside in ghetto, which interferes with their normal interaction in the wider society. On their part, proponents of the idea are of the view that labeling is merely a result of cultural imperialism.

Kymlicka dedicates the entire chapter two to the discussion of the issues facing minority cultures. In this regard, he discusses the pattern of cultural diversity in two broad terms. First, he notes that cultural diversity emerges from the incorporation communities with self-governing institutions into a larger state and ends up terming this as national minorities. The problem arises when these national minorities wish to maintain their supremacy and are reluctant to surrender their sovereignty to the governing authority. In this case, such groups are always demanding for self-government and some form of autonomy, as they know that this will help them to survive (Tomlinson, & Young, 2006).

In the United States, minorities were requested to abandon their inferior culture and join the European culture since it was believed to be the best at the time. Unfortunately, minorities are not involved in major societal activities, such as voting and leadership because they numbers do not warrant representation. Additionally, he observes that cultural diversity arises from individual and familial immigration and the author claims that immigrants coalesce into loose associations that he refers to as ethnic groups. Such groups would wish to integrate into wider societies, as well as to be appreciated as full members. As they seek recognition, the main aim of the minorities is to adjust the existing laws and societal perceptions to accept their values and principles.

The author supports the Kantian ethics, which is one of the deontological ethical theories. In his view, people should exercise good will in society whereby the culture of the minorities is respected and all members are given equal opportunities to participate in socio-economic and political development. In this case, an action should be supported if it obeys the principle of maxim, which means a duty to the moral law.

Furthermore, an act should be applicable universally implying that it has to be supported by each person in the wider society. The cultural values of communities believed to be the majority should be sound in the sense that they have to incorporate the values of each person, irrespective of language origin, history, social standing, and education. Just as Kant, the author distinguishes between perfect and imperfect duties as regards to culture and identity where he notes that perfect duties, including telling the truth, are easily made flexible and can be applied in various places across time. Similarly, the best culture and group identities should be applicable across time and places (Miller, 1999).

Since culture has resulted in conflicts in various parts of the world, the author suggests that reconciliation is the only solution since it will encourage cooperation among members of various backgrounds, as well as improve relations among racial groups. For this to happen, it is important for groups to learn the cultures of other people, focusing mainly on the strengths, and understanding the histories of other communities because this will facilitate the appreciation of other people’s ways of lives. The author is critical of the utilitarian ethics observing that it does not aim at helping the minorities since it advocates observe that any course of action has to maximize utility, which is interpreted to mean maximizing pleasure and reducing any form of anguish. Based on the theory, the best option has to be taken in society, even though it might be disadvantageous to others.

For instance, the subjugation and oppression of the minorities, including women and blacks, seems to bring happiness to the majority, but this would amount to serious violation of the rights of these minority groups. Utilitarian ethics supports the application of the best method in realizing the wishes and the desires of the majority, but it cannot be the case when dealing with minorities (Weber, 2012). Kymlicka opposed this view strongly and suggested the utilization of the Kantian ethics in understanding the relationships between various cultures in society.

The Rights of Minorities

In trying to support the vulnerable groups, Kymlicka (1993) employed the ideas of liberalists, which suggest that the democracy should be the only form of government where the majority has their way, but the minorities have their way. This means that the minorities will never have the chance to rule, but this does not mean that they should not be included in government. The author observes that the regime should come up with several measures to ensure that the minorities are effectively represented in government. For instance, only the minorities should be nominated to the parliament to represent the interests of the special groups.

Through this, the society will always coexist and all policies made will be responsive to the demands of each group. Currently, various minority groups exist, including the gays, lesbians, women, the disabled, blacks, and immigrants who are unaware of the geopolitical climate of the foreign state. Without special representation, these groups will never have an opportunity to realize their dreams.

By nominating women, it will mean both genders are involved in economic and political development since they will have an opportunity of providing alterative agendas. In the traditional society, women were never given the chance to enjoy their freedoms since they were pushed to the periphery and relegated to the private domain of the home whereby they were expected to take care of the family.

In fact, the education system was biased in the sense that women were never allowed to take certain courses that were perceived as prestigious, such as engineering, medicine, and law. Currently, the education system is liberal and women have proved that they can do what men have been doing the past several years. In the United States, blacks were never allowed to vote, but the current presidency is under the leadership of a black and he has proved that color is not an issue when as far as leadership is concerned since he will always be considered one of the best American presidents. The author challenges the government to undertake its duty of providing enabling environment that would facilitate individual fulfillment in society.


Kymlicka, W. (1993). Liberalism, community and culture. Oxford: Clarendon. Web.

Miller, D. (1999). Principles of social justice. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press. Web.

Tomlinson, A., & Young, C. (2006). National identity and global sports events: Culture, politics, and spectacle in the Olympics and the Football World Cup. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Web.

Weber, B. (2012). Cultural politics and identity: The public space of recognition. Berlin: Lit. Web.

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