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Avishai Margalit and Moshe Halbertal Liberalism and the Right to Culture SETTING UP THE PROBLEM HUMAN BEINGS HAVE A RIGHT TO CULTURE— NOT JU S T ANY CULTURE, but their own. The right to culture has far-reaching implications for the liberal conception of the state. A culture essentially requires a group, and the right to culture may involve giving groups a status that contradicts the status o f the individual in a liberal state. The right to culture may involve a group whose norms cannot be recon­ ciled with the conception o f the individual in a liberal society. For exam ple, the group may recognize only arranged m arriages and not those resulting from the free choice of the partners. Protecting cultures out of the human right to culture may take the form of an obligation to support cultures that flout the rights of the individual in a liberal society. And this is not the only difficulty—there is also the problem that this right may be used to protect cultures within a state that reject the “civil religion,” the “ethos,” the “narrative” or the “metanarrative,” or any other appellation you may choose for the shared values and symbols o f the state’s citizens. But these shared values and symbols are meant to serve as the focus for citizens’ iden­ tification with the state, as well as the source of their willingness to defend it even at the risk o f their lives. A central problem for the liberal society’s protection of the right to culture—especially if the culture involved is not itself liberal—is ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 6 l, NO. 3 (FALL 1 9 9 4 ) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 200 4 529 that protecting it often requires the state to use illiberal means. For exam ple, granting a particular cultural group the opportunity to preserve its cultural homogeneity in a given region under certain circumstances may exact the price of preventing outsiders from living there, even if they are willing to pay the going price for homes in that area. Another problem is posed by the prevalent view among liberal thinkers that the state m ust be neutral with respect to its citizens’ way of life. The right to culture demands that the state abandon its neutral position and actively assist needy cultures, even when these cultures preach their own view of the good life that conflicts with other views within the state. In our opinion, the right to culture in a liberal state permits the state to be neutral, if at all, only with respect to the dominant culture of the majority, on the assumption that the dominant culture can take care of itself. But a liberal state may not be neutral with respect to the cultures of minorities, especially those in danger of dwindling or even disappearing. The state is obligated to abjure its neutrality, in our view, not for the sake of the good of the majority, but in order to make it possible for members o f minority groups to retain their identity. Kymlicka’s discussion of the rights of minority groups in a liberal state has become well known (Kymlicka, 1989). One of the reasons this discussion is so powerful is that it uses the concrete example of native Canadians. We, too, will use two concrete examples to illustrate our principled discussion—two minority cultural groups in Israel: Israeli Arabs and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Both of these groups are comprised of Israeli citizens living within the borders of Israel proper. We are not discussing the case of the Palestinian Arabs who have been living under Israeli occupation since 1967 and are not Israeli citizens. This group of nearly 2 million people living against their will under military occupa­ tion presents a much harder problem for Israel’s aspiration to being a liberal state. Some background inform ation about the Ultra-Orthodox is in order: Ultra-Orthodox culture is essentially antiliberal. There is no 530 social research aspect of its m em bers’ lives in which it does not actively interfere, som etim es to the extent o f compulsion. This includes aspects...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 529-548
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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