Synoptic Outline of Charles Taylor's Multiculturalism

Prepared by Thomas Wren

CHAPTER ONE: The Historical Emergence of the Discourse of Identity, Authenticity, and Recognition (25-37)

Thesis of book: Our identity (as individuals or groups) is partly shaped (or misshaped) by recognition (or non-recognition) (25). Hence "due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need" (26).

Ch. One is mainly historical. Its question is: How did the current "discourse of recognition" arise? Its answer is: As a result of two major changes over the last two or three centuries.

I. First change: collapse of social hierarchies (26-27).

A. BEFORE: Honor was linked to inequalities (préférences). People receive unequal recognitions.

B. AFTER: Dignity is universally shared, either because we are all human beings or because we are all "citizens." People receive equal recognition (hence no honorific titles).

II. Second change: the subjective turn (28-31).

A. BEFORE: Adequacy (moral sense) was a means to the end of knowing how to act rightly, i.e., in accordance with the objective nature of things (28).

B. AFTER: Authenticity is an end in itself, since the only way to live rightly is to discover one's own way of being human (one's "own measure" -- for individuals and also for a whole people) (30).

III. Converge of I-B and II-B:

A. Both of these new ideals (dignity and authenticity) are offshoots of decline of hierarchical society (31).

B. Therefore these ideals "cannot be socially derived, but must be inwardly generated" (32).

C. FIRST PROBLEM: This "inward generation" seems "monological," but it is not.

1. "The crucial feature of human life is its fundamentally dialogical character" (32).

2. "The monological ideal seriously underestimates the place of the dialogical in human life" (33).

D. SECOND PROBLEM: How could something as basic as "recognition" (also called "dependence on others") have been missing in earlier times?

1. It was indeed always there, but not unnoticed, since "in the earlier age recognition never arose as a problem" (34). One's socially derived, hierarchically specified identity always received recognition.

2. Now it is a problem. One's inwardly derived, personal identity is often not recognized. One must prove oneself, "and the attempt can fail" (34-35).

IV. All this holds for groups as well as individuals. At the group level, we have "the politics of equal recognition" (36).

A. Recognition is a "political/problem because (1) part of the meaning of politics is the way power is distributed, which is to say who oppresses whom, and (2) "withholding recognition can be a form of oppression" (36).

B. This understanding of identity and authenticity introduces a new dimension into the politics of recognition. (37).

CHAPTER TWO: The Two Kinds of Politics of Recognition (37-44)

I. First Change (described in ch. 1) produced politics of universalism.

A. Emphasis is on equal dignity of all citizens

B. Content of this politics: rights and entitlements (37-38).

II. Second Change produced politics of difference.

A. Emphasis is on uniqueness of identities

B. Universalist theme operates here too, but as "basis" rather than as explicit theme. (39).

III. Converge of I and II: "The politics of difference grows organically out of the politics of universal dignity..." (39).

A. PROBLEM: This seems (incorrectly) to be a betrayal of the original politics of dignity.

B. Partial Solution: Reverse discrimination measures, to level the playing field. (40).

C. More Radical Solution: Preserve differences as part of our intuition that each individual person deserves respect. (41).

D. Most Radical Solution: Extend this line of reasoning (C) to groups as well as individuals. (But are all cultures equal?) (42)

1. NEW PROBLEM: The two modes of politics come into conflict (43).

a. The reproach the first makes to the second: It (second) violates principle of nondiscrimination.

b. The reproach the second makes to the first: It (first) negates identity by forcing people into modes that are not only untrue to them but also reflective of the hegemonic (i.e., dominant) culture (43).

2. Restatement of the problem: Very idea of liberalism as a politics of equal dignity seems to be a pragmatic contradiction, "a particularism masquerading as the universal" (44).

CHAPTER THREE: The Politics of Equal Dignity and Rousseau (44-51).

I. Rousseau contrasts freedom-in-equality and other-dependence (hierarchy).

A. Paradox: Conditions of inequality leave everyone "equally" dependent on others: master needs slave as much as slave needs master (45).

B. This (paradoxical) equality of being dependent leads Rousseau to examples of public games, etc. (47).

1. Public festivals of a true republic vs. modern theater, churches, etc.

C. Resolution of paradox: "A perfectly balanced reciprocity takes the sting out of our dependence on opinion, and makes it compatible with liberty" (48).

II. Ways of thinking about honor and pride (49):

A. Discourse denouncing pride (Forget honor!)

B. Ethic of honor (Demand honor!)

C. Rousseau's new way: Care about esteem, but don't strive for preferences; have a social/political system conducive to EQUAL esteem

III. Crucial flaw in Rousseau's solution:

A. "Equality of esteem requires a tight unity of purpose that seems to be incompatible with any differentiation" (50).

B. Three things are inseparable: (1) freedom, (2) nondifferentiation, (3) common purpose (general will).

C. Doctrine of general will (3) can lead to homogenizing tyranny.

D. But even when (3) is set aside in our political thought, "the margin to recognize difference is very small" (51).

CHAPTER FOUR: The Politics of Difference and Kant (51-61).

I. Main question: Does politics of equal respect necessarily homogenize rights? Taylor's answer: No.

II. Liberalisms: most models adopt a Kantian solution to problem raised at end of Ch. 3, by setting aside BOTH (2) and (3), leaving only equal freedom (1). This is a "restrictive view of rights" (52).

III. Canadian Case: Quebec government places restrictions on individual Quebeckers (signage, etc.) in name of collective goal of survival of French Canadian culture.

A. Meech amendment: proposed that Quebec be recognized as a "distinct society." This proposal was rejected by the rest of (liberal) Canada for two reasons, corresponding to the two basic grounds set in the Canadian Charter (their constitution) for any judicial review:

B. Canadian Charter provides for individual rights (52). But it was feared the Meech amendment would require restrictions that would violate basic rights of individuals, e.g., forbid certain kinds of signage (55).

C. Canadian Charter also provides for equal treatment: no discriminatory treatment on irrelevant grounds such as race or sex (53-54). But it was feared the Meech amendment, which espoused collective goals of a distinct subgroup (the Quebeckers), would be inherently discriminatory to those not in that subgroup (55).

D. Summary of (B) and (C): Liberals (such as R. Dworkin) following the Canadian Charter (or US Constitution) believe individual rights (and the principle of nondiscrimination) always take precedence over collective goals. (The Meech amendment violated this model.)

IV. These liberals (e.g., Dworkin) distinguish between

A. substantive views: what constitutes the good life, what ends should be pursued, etc. (these are typically associated with a group's cultural heritage), and

B. procedural views: how people should be treated regardless of their substantive views, how individuals' autonomy should be respected, including their autonomy in determining their own substantive views of what the good life is, etc. (56).

C. Summary of (A) and (B): "A liberal society must remain neutral on the good life, and restrict itself to ensuring that however they see things, citizens deal fairly with each other and the state deals equally with all" (57).

V. In contrast to procedural liberals such as Dworkin, substantive liberals (who include Quebeckers as well as Taylor, Sandel, and most modern communitarians) opt for a different conception of liberal society. They believe

A. a society can be organized around a conception of the good life (e.g., survival of a Francophone culture), and yet

B. minorities in this society can be respected and their liberties preserved, even though they do not share the dominant view of the good life (59).

C. Convergence of these two forms of liberalism. In their pure forms they are incompatible, since a procedural liberalism/liberalism of rights (section IV) embodies a politics of equal respect, whereas a substantive liberalism/liberalism of collective goals embodies a politics of difference.

1. Taylor's own view is "a hospitable variant" of procedural liberalism that recognizes differences. It is a blend of the two pure forms of liberalism; in his version some rights are inviolable and some less central rights are sacrificed in the name of collective goods or cultural differences.

2. He concludes that this quasi-procedural, quasi-substantive model is the one needed in multicultural societies such as ours: "The rigidities of procedural liberalism may rapidly become impractical in tomorrow's world" (61).

CHAPTER FIVE: Multiculturalism and Liberalism as a Fighting Creed (61-73).

I. Although Taylor's "hospitable variant" successfully avoids the mistake of homogenizing differences (61), it does not pretend to satisfy "difference-blind liberals," since it does not provide a neutral ground on which different cultures can coexist (62).

A. Taylor rejects the distinction, drawn by "difference-blind liberals," between public sphere (where liberal politics rule) and private sphere (where religion and other culture-specific norms are invoked).

B. Taylor uses Rushdie case to show how wrong the public-private distinction is. Since the distinction simply does not exist for mainstream Islam, he concludes the distinction itself is culture-specific. Even more importantly, he concludes that liberalism (including his own "hospitable variant" of liberalism) is culture-specific. "Liberalism is not a possible meeting ground for all cultures but is the political expression of one range of cultures, and quite incompatible with other ranges" (62).

C. Therefore liberalism does not, AND SHOULD NOT, have complete neutrality. It is a "fighting creed," especially when it must defend itself or draw the line against assassination, murder, etc. When it does draw the line, it says (as do nonliberal cultures), "That is not the way we do things here."

II. PROBLEM: In a multicultural society such as Canada or USA, liberalism also finds itself saying "That is not how we do things here" to people within our own national borders. How can these words be said without contempt, without oppressing or marginalizing these nondominant cultures? How can they be said without violating the principle that other cultures are entitled to "recognition"? (62-63) ANSWER: Let us look more closely at the concepts of recognition and nationalism.

A. Recognition: The previous chapter talked about "survival," not "recognition." (There the question was whether the survival of a culture was a legitimate political goal, one that could be ensured by special laws, etc.) But in this chapter we confront the question, Should we recognize all cultures equally? (By "equally" Taylor means: "of equal worth.") (64)

B. Nationalism: Feelings of nationalism, e.g. the Quebec separatist movement, are fueled by sense that other cultures don't respect us. However:

1. In previous times, the demand for recognition was implicit. What was explicit were the grievances, discussed by nationalist leaders, such as inequality, exploitation, and injustice.

2. But now, the demand for recognition is explicit. The rhetoric of its spokesmen (e.g., Fanon) shows this, and it is generally felt that "nonrecognition" is a grievous harm, of the same order as the other three harms just mentioned, i.e., inequality, etc. (64).

3. The struggle of oppressed people includes "a struggle for a changed self-image" (65). This idea has also been applied to feminism and multicultural education.

a. University-level debates over the canon

b. School-level debates over Afrocentric curricula

C. Logic of "The Equal Respect Premise": Demands for multicultural curricula, etc., are often based on premise that we owe equal respect to all cultures.

1. Designers of traditional curricular are accused of (a) narrowness, (b) insensitivity, and worse, (c) desire to downgrade the excluded (66).

2. Implication of this accusation is that true judgments of value would place all cultures and the products of those cultures on equal footing (unless one followed Nietzsche and simply denied that we can make any such value judgments at all).

3. Taylor's view: "Equal Respect Premise" is not an a priori truth but rather a starting hypothesis, an act of faith, which in some cases might turn out to be incorrect (66).

a. To test this hypothesis, one must make a concrete study of the other culture in question. This is done by "fusion of horizons" (Gadamer), which consists in developing new vocabularies for understanding the contrasts between cultures (67).

b. In a fusion of horizons, what happens is that one takes a new look at one's own culture, including the background assumptions that give rise to our value judgments.

c. If at that point we discover that the other culture does indeed have value, "we have reached the judgment partly through transforming our standards" (67).

4. Withholding the presumption of worth (the Equal Respect Premise) is arrogant, and is not the same as judging a priori that all cultures are of equal worth.

a. Can other cultures "demand" this presumption as a "right"? Taylor is not sure, but seems to think they can.

1. Can other cultures demand to be included in the canon? Probably, but

2. this demand is logically separable from a claim of (a priori) equal worth (68).

b. Value judgments, like factual judgments, are not things that one demands. In general (not only in multicultural contexts), "if the judgment of value is to register something independent of our own wills and desires, it cannot be dictated by a principle of ethics" (69).

1. Note that Taylor has an objective theory of value judgment, in which we don't create values but instead discover them.

2. In contrast, subjectivist theories replace value judgments with expressions of dislike, solidarity ("I'm on your side"), etc. These noble sentiments are expressions but not "judgments" (69).

D. Respect vs. Condescension: Judgment that a culture has worth is respect. Act of declaring oneself on a culture's side is (often) merely patronizing condescension (70).

1. Subjectivist theorists (neo-Nietzscheans such as Derrida, Foucault) claim all judgments of worth are expressions of power. In this case, the power is that of the ruling class or dominant culture.

2. These neo-Nietzschean view are profoundly illogical, for reasons just given concerning the nature of value judgment. Why then, are they so common? Why do they "proliferate" (70)?

a. As we have seen, a priori "judgments of equal worth" are not only illogical but also hypocritical and condescending.

b. The neo-Nietzschean theories try to avoid being condescending, by replacing the demand for respect with the demand for solidarity. They thereby "hope to escape from this whole nexus of hypocrisy" (70).

c. They do this by changing the issue from one of cultural worth into a raw political issue of power and counterpower.

3. This "solution" forgets that the driving force of these political struggles is the desire for recognition and respect (70).

E. Homogenizing: Judgments of worth that aren't based on a fusion of horizons are homogenizing since they praise the other for being like us. Hence (ironically) they are fundamentally ethnocentric (71).

1. Bellow's Zulu quote shows depth of our ethnocentricity, by assuming:

a. all excellence must take forms familiar to us, and

b. other cultures have not yet succeeded.

2. Taylor: seeks something midway between demand for equal recognition on the one hand and ethnocentricity on the other. His answer: the above-mentioned presumption of equal worth (72).

a. Can this presumption be grounded? Herder thought it could, through religion. Taylor takes a different route.

b. Instead of epistemologically "grounding" this presumption, Taylor makes the moral argument that not to make the presumption would take supreme arrogance (73).

c. In contrast to such arrogance, we should admit that we are very far away from having any master standpoint (ultimate horizon) from which "the relative worth of different cultures might be evident" (73).

3. The illusion that we now have such a standpoint is shared by many multiculturalists as well as their bitterest opponents (73).