Liberalism & internally illiberal minority cultures : a plea for a substantive exit rights strategy
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This dissertation seeks to answer the following question: does a commitment to liberalism require state remediation of illiberal practices of illiberal minority cultures that only affect their own members? Put differently, it asks: should the state deny illiberal minority cultures such as those of the Amish, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Pueblo Indians, et cetera the freedom to be internally illiberal from a liberal viewpoint? The answer proposed by this dissertation is a qualified ‘no’. Assuming that liberalism is fundamentally committed to the protection of individual freedom, I argue that states should allow illiberal minority cultures to be internally illiberal in order to respect the individual freedom of citizens with illiberal conceptions of the good. At the same time, I propose limits to this toleration in order to protect the individual freedom of (more) progressive-minded citizens, as well as to guard children from severely harmful cultural practices. Whether the state should tolerate illiberal practices of illiberal minority cultures that only affect their own members, I claim, should depend on whether the following conditions are met: (i) Their adult members are guaranteed substantive exit rights, i.e. rights to a realistic ability to change cultural affiliations. (ii) The cultural communities in question do not engage in illiberal practices that inflict severe harm on children. To realise condition (i), which forms the core of this dissertation’s ‘substantive exit rights strategy’, I argue that the state should take five measures. These include making an autonomy-facilitating education compulsorily for children, providing particular groups of defectors with financial assistance, and ensuring that the liberal majority culture is open to ex-members of illiberal minority cultures. By contrast, condition (ii) is not considered to be central to this dissertation’s substantive exit rights strategy, the reason being that it is dubious whether liberalism’s core commitment to the protection of individual freedom alone can justify a ban on cultural practices that severely harm children. Even so, it will become clear that adding this condition renders this approach more plausible. My central claim is that this dissertation’s substantive exit rights strategy better protects the individual freedom of members of illiberal minority cultures than the main rival liberal strategies, as proposed by Will Kymlicka and Chandran Kukathas. Whereas Kymlicka gives members of these groups too little liberty to engage in illiberal practices, I argue that Kukathas makes the opposite mistake of granting them too much liberty. In both cases, we will see that the individual freedom of some members of illiberal minority cultures is not appropriately protected. This holds true, I conclude, regardless of whether individual freedom is construed as personal autonomy or in a less demanding way, namely as ability to live (autonomously or non-autonomously) in accordance with one’s conception of the good.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy