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The Moralism of Multiculturalism

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Moralism is a frequent charge in politics, and especially in relation to the ‘politics of recognition’. In this essay, I identify three types of moralism — undue abstraction, unjustified moralism and impotent moralism — and then discuss each in relation to recent debates over multiculturalism in liberal political theory. Each of these forms of moralism has featured in interesting ways in recent criticisms of the political theory and public policy of multiculturalism. By ‘multiculturalism’ I mean, broadly speaking, the pursuit of group-differentiated public policies that move beyond the protection of basic individual civil and political rights. Here the charge is not so much that moral judgments have no application in relation to the treatment of cultural and associational minorities, but that the moral claims of defenders of multiculturalism are: (a) appealed to without any sense of the practical realities on the ground (the undue abstraction charge); (b) asserted as if they were self-evidently true (the unjustified moralism charge); which often results in (c) a stifling of reasoned criticism of the orthodoxy surrounding multiculturalism (thus engendering impotent moralism). I assess these charges in the course of defending the democratic character of the most plausible forms of multicultural accommodation in liberal democratic societies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-08-01

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