Liberal multiculturalism and the fair terms of integration


The question of what are the fair terms of integration in contemporary diverse societies arises out of two opposed tendencies. One, towards diversity, is driven by several factors, including the global movement of people, the existence of settler societies and the mismatch between state and nation. The other is the apparent need for some sort of unity within a polity. Liberal multiculturalism offers a particular framework for addressing this central and pressing question. At its most basic, liberal multiculturalism upholds the importance of individual freedom while recognising that culture cannot simply be a ‘private’ matter if this freedom is to be at all meaningful. This means that at least some of the diversity that exists within a polity must be recognised and actions taken that alleviate at least some of the potential disadvantages that would otherwise occur. Liberal multiculturalism thus rejects two extremes: the state should not be entirely difference-blind, and neither should group identities take priority. Accordingly, it rejects two corresponding models of integration: an assimilationist one that grounds civic membership on the internalisation of a common culture (for example, the classical model of republicanism with its holistic emphasis on the ‘people’); and a localised communitarian model that gives precedence to local community allegiances over shared political principles and identity (for example, Kukathas’s ‘archipelago’ with its maximalist account of liberal toleration) (Kukathas, 2003).