A brief review of W. Kymlicka’s article “Equality for Minority Cultures”

The reading ‘Equality for Minority Cultures’ deals with the set of issues that are common to societies where there are a few dominant cultural groups and numerous minority groups.  In the case of Canada and the United States, the Native American population (also called the aborigines) comprise one such group.  Kymlicka analyzes the contentious issue of ‘special’ rights and privileges provided to aboriginal people by law.  Kymlicka argues that such ‘affirmative action’ is a breach of principles of equality, which is such an integral part of the Constitution of these democratic nations.  The author criticizes the basis of such entitlements, which are founded upon an “abstract egalitarian plateau” that provides inadequate justice to minority communities.  Citing the views of prominent legal thinkers such as John Rawls and Dworkin, the author states that such special entitlements would not be effective as long as “the effect of market and political decisions made by the majority may well be that aboriginal groups are outbid or outvoted on matters crucial to their survival as a cultural community”.  Real emancipation of historically disadvantaged minority communities will only come about when “instead of subsidizing or privileging their choices, the special measures demanded by aboriginal people serve to correct an advantage that non-aboriginal people have before anyone makes their choices”.  In effect, Kymlicka’s contends that simply making legal provisions and compensations for past injustices does not do justice to the present times, as it undermines membership in the larger social community.  Again, as in some of the other readings, the author approaches a complex problem in a constructive way.  The issue being discussed is not just confined to Canada and United States, for every modern nation-state is a conglomerate of multiple cultural strains.  This makes the reading all the more relevant to contemporary world politics and the problems confounding it.

Reference:

Kymlicka W., Liberalism, Community and Culture, Clarendon, Oxford, 1989, Ch.9, “Equality for Minority Cultures”.