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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Should the liberal state help its citizens maintain their voluntary ethnocultural identities, and using what measures? Jackson, Jennifer Ann


This thesis offers a general discussion of the reasons which might be given to justify a liberal state's political affirmation of all ethnocultural identities in its jurisdiction. Although I hope my argument may be pertinent to practical debates about state recognition of ethnocultural identities, I am primarily concerned with liberal theory's ability to provide such a justification. An immigrant society that contains voluntary ethnocultural associations raises important normative considerations of the sort that political theorists address. These associations, perhaps unlike those of the colonial plural society, are to be valued by liberals because they are driven not only by fate but also by choice. In societies made up in part of immigrants from diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, some people choose to express their individuality in this way. However, this choice is not always easy to make. In the historical experience of plural immigrant societies like Canada and the United States, for example, there have been certain periods when ethnocultural association and expression where not affirmed but despised by the majority of people. In circumstances of majority hostility and government indifference such choices can only be made by individuals who possess courage and determination to go against public opinion. People lacking these exceptional traits will, in effect, be denied an essential element of freedom. This seems both unreasonable and unwarranted if something can be done to change it which does not sacrifice a value of equal importance. I conclude that no such sacrifice is necessary in the case of political affirmation of ethnocultural identities. No one will be disadvantaged as a result of this kind of state intervention. In acknowledging all ethnocultural identities to be good and worthy, in no way can the liberal state inadvertently inflict indignity on any individual or group. Nor does this measure involve taking anything away from the political community as a whole. Political affirmation of ethnocultural groups in a plural immigrant society is an integrative--although not assimilative-- principle. Members of such respected and worthy groups would have a stake in the political community that adopted such measures: they would have a significant reason to obey and be loyal to that political community. In sum: the political affirmation of the dignity of all ethnocultural identities in a plural society is integrative, entails no significant costs, and is the right thing for a liberal state to do.

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