Political theory and the multicultural society. Bhikhu parekh. Cultural diversity in modern societies takes many forms, of which three are most common. First. Bhikhu Parekh’s Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory sets out to design paths for multiculturalism understood both as political. Kelly, Paul () Situating Parekh’s multiculturalism: Bhikhu Parekh and twentieth-century British political theory. In: Uberoi, Varun and.

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The multiculturaalism s marked the emergence of the multicultural movement at first in Canada and Australia and then in the U. Since the multicultural movement sprang up unplanned in many different political contexts, attracted a diverse cluster of groups, and has so far failed to throw up a coherent philosophical statement of its central principles, it lacks a clear focus and identity. I would therefore like to begin by clarifying what it means and stands for, and then briefly highlight some of the problems facing a multicultural society.

Rethinking Multiculturalism Cultural Diversity and Political Theory

Its central insights are three, each of which is sometimes misinterpreted by its advocates and needs mulficulturalism be carefully reformulated if it is to carry conviction. First, human beings are culturally embedded in the sense that they grow up and live within a culturally structured world and organize their lives and social relations in terms of a culturally derived system of paerkh and significance. This does not mean that they are determined by their culture in the sense of being unable to rise above its categories of thought and critically evaluate its values and system of meaning, but rather that they are deeply shaped by it, can overcome some but not all of its influences, and necessarily view the world from within a culture, be it the one they have inherited and uncritically accepted or reflectively revised or, in rare cases, one they have consciously adopted.

Second, different cultures represent different systems of meaning and visions of the good life. Since each realises a limited range of human capacities and emotions and grasps only a part of the totality of human existence, it needs other cultures to help it understand itself better, expand its intellectual and moral horizon, stretch its imagination, save it from narcissism to guard it against the obvious temptation to absolutise itself, and so on.

Nor does it mean that all cultures are equally rich and deserve equal respect, that each of them is good for its members, or that they cannot be compared and critically assessed. All it means is that no culture is wholly worthless, that it deserves at least some respect because of what it means to its members and the creative energy it displays, that no culture is perfect and has a right to impose itself on others, and that cultures are best changed from within.

T hird, every culture is internally plural and reflects a continuing conversation between its different traditions and strands of thought.

This does not mean that it is devoid of coherence and identity, but that its identity is plural, fluid and open. Cultures grow out of conscious and unconscious interactions with each other, define their identity in terms of what they take to be their significant other, and are at least partially multicultural in their origins and constitution. Each pareekh bits of the other within itself and is never wholly sui generis.

This does not mean that it has no powers of self-determination and inner impulses, but rather that it is porous and subject to external influences which it assimilates in its now autonomous ways.

A culture cannot appreciate the value of others unless it julticulturalism the plurality within it; the converse is just as true.

Closed cultures cannot and do not wish or need to talk to each other. Since each defines its identity in terms of its differences from others or what it is not, it feels threatened by them and seeks to safeguard its integrity by resisting their influences and even avoiding all contacts with them.

A culture cannot be at ease with differences outside it unless it is at ease with its own internal differences. A dialogue between cultures requires that each should be willing to open itself up to the influence of and learn from others, and this presupposes that it is self-critical and willing and able to engage in a dialogue with itself. What I might call a multiculturalist perspective is composed of the creative interplay of these three important and complementary insights — namely the cultural embeddedness of human beings, the inescapability and desirability of cultural plurality, and the plural and multicultural constitution of each culture.

When we view the world from its vantage point, our attitudes to ourselves and others undergo profound changes. All claims that a particular institution or way of thinking or living is perfect, the best, or necessitated by human nature itself appear incoherent and even bizarre, for it goes against our well-considered conviction that all ways of thought and life are inherently limited and cannot embody the pare,h range of the richness, complexity and grandeur of human existence.

W e instinctively suspect attempts to homogenize a culture and impose mluticulturalism single identity on it, for we are acutely aware that every culture is internally plural and differentiated. And we remain equally sceptical of all attempts to present it as one whose origins lie within itself, as self-generating and sui generis, for we feel persuaded that all cultures are born out of interaction with and absorb the influences of others and are shaped by wider economic, political and other forces.


This undercuts the very basis of Afrocentrism, Eurocentrism, Indocentrism, Sinocentrism and other kinds of centrisms, multiculfuralism of which isolate the history of the culture concerned from that of others and credit its achievements to its own genius. From a multiculturalist perspective, no political doctrine multicuturalism ideology can represent the full truth of human life.

Each of them — be it liberalism, conservatism, socialism or nationalism — is embedded in a particular culture, represents a particular vision of the good life, and is necessarily narrow and partial. Liberalism, for example, is an inspiring political doctrine stressing such great values as human dignity, autonomy, liberty, critical thought and equality.

However, they can be defined in several different ways, of which the ghikhu is only one and not always the most coherent. A multicultkralism it also ignores or marginalizes such other great values as human solidarity, community, a sense of rootedness, selflessness, deep and multiculturalksm humility and contentment.

Since it grasps only some aspects of the immensely complex human existence and misses out too much of what gives value to life, liberalism, socialism or for that matter any other political doctrine cannot provide the sole basis of the good society. Political doctrines are ways of structuring political life and do not offer a comprehensive philosophy of life.

And even so far as political life multiculturalis, concerned, they need to be interpreted and defined in the light of the wider culture and the unique history and political circumstances of the community concerned.

From a multiculturalist perspective the good society cherishes the diversity of and encourages a creative dialogue between its different cultures and their moral visions. If some groups in it wish to lead self-contained lives and avoid interaction with others, it should respect their choices so long as they meet the consensually derived multiculturslism conditions of the good life.

A multicultural society should not repeat the mistake of its monocultural counterpart by requiring that all its communities should become multicultural. Indeed, it is precisely because it cherishes cultural plurality that it accommodates those that do not share its dominant cultural ethos.

A multicultural society cannot be stable and last long without developing a common sense of belonging among its citizens. The sense of belonging cannot be ethnic and based on shared cultural, ethnic and other characteristics, for a multicultural society is too diverse for that, but must be political and based on a shared commitment to the political community.

Its members do not directly belong to each umlticulturalism as in an ethnic group but through their mediating membership of a shared community, and they are committed to each other because they are all in their own different ways committed to a common historical community. They do and should matter to each other because they are bonded multkculturalism by the ties of common interest and attachment. This is why, although they might personally loathe some of their fellow-members parkeh find their lifestyles, views and values unacceptable, their mutual commitment and concern as members of a shared community remain unaffected.

Bhikhu C. Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism Cultural Diversity and Political Theory – PhilPapers

The commitment to a political community is highly complex in nature and easily misunderstood. It does not involve commitment to common goals, for members of a community might deeply disagree about these, nor to a common view of its history which they may read very differently, nor to its form of government about which they might entertain very different views, nor to its dominant cultural ethos which some might strongly disapprove of.

The commitment to the political community involves commitment to its continuing existence and well-being, and implies that one cares enough for it not to harm its interests and undermine its integrity. It is a matter of degree and could take such forms as a quiet concern for its well-being, deep attachment, affection, and intense love.

While different citizens would develop different emotions towards their community, what is necessary to sustain it and can legitimately be expected of them is a basic commitment to its integrity and well-being, what one might call patriotism or political loyalty.

Guided by such loyalty, they might criticise their form of government, institutions, policies, values, ethos and dominant self understanding in the strongest possible terms if they think that these harm its survival and well-being. Their criticisms need not arouse unease or provoke charges of disloyalty so long as their basic commitment to the community is not in doubt. Patriotism is not the monopoly of the conservatives, and the socialists, the radicals and the communists can be loyal to their community just as much as and even more than they are.

C ommitment or belonging is reciprocal in nature. A citizen cannot be committed to her political community unless it is also committed to her, and she cannot belong to it unless it accepts her as one of it.

The political community therefore cannot expect its members to develop a sense of belonging to it unless it in turn belongs to them. It must, therefore, value and cherish them all equally and reflect this in its structure, policies, conduct of public affairs, self-understanding and self-definition. This involves granting them equal rights of citizenship, a decent standard of living, and the opportunity to develop themselves and participate in and make their respective contributions to its collective life.


In a multicultural society different communities have different needs, and some might be structurally disadvantaged or lack the skill and the confidence to participate in the mainstream society and avail of its opportunities.

Both justice and the need to foster a common sense of belonging then require such measures as group-differentiated rights, culturally differentiated applications of laws and policies, state support for minority institutions, and a judicious programme of affirmative action. A lthough equal citizenship is essential to fostering a common sense of belonging, it is not enough.

Citizenship is about status and rights; belonging is about acceptance, multiclturalism welcome, a sense of identification. The two do not necessarily coincide.

One might enjoy all the rights of citizenship but feel that one does not quite belong to the community and is a relative outsider, as do some groups of African-Americans in the United States, Afro-Caribbeans and Asians in Britain, Arabs in France and Israel, and Muslims and, until recently, Sikhs in India. It is caused by, among other things, the manner in which the wider society defines itself, the demeaning ways in which the rest of its members talk about these groups, and the dismissive or patronizing ways in which they treat them.

Although members of these groups are in principle free to participate in its public life, they often stay away for fear of rejection and ridicule or out of a deep sense of alienation. When the dominant culture defines the minorities in a demeaning way and systematically reinforces it by all the institutional and other means at its disposal, they consciously or unconsciously internalize the negative self-image, lack self-esteem, and feel alienated from the mainstream society.

He seems to take the rather naive liberal view that the dominant group can be rationally persuaded to change its view of them by intellectual arguments and moral appeals. This is to misunderstand the dynamics of the process of recognition. M isrecognition has both a cultural and a material basis.

The American Whites, for example, take a demeaning view of Blacks partly under the influence of the racist culture, partly because this helps them justify the prevailing system of domination, and partly because the deeply disadvantaged Blacks do sometimes exhibit some of the features that confirm White stereotypes. Misrecognition, therefore, can only be countered multicjlturalism undertaking a rigorous critique of the dominant culture and radically restructuring the prevailing inequalities of economic and political power.

Since the dominant group generally welcomes neither, recognition is not given willingly as a gift or an multiculturallism of grace. The wisdom bhikhi a multicultural society consists in its ability to anticipate, minimize and manage such demands.

M ulticultural societies in their current form are new to our age and throw up theoretical and political problems that have no parallel in history. The political theories, institutions, vocabulary, virtues and skill that multiculturaoism have developed in the course of consolidating and conducting the affairs of a culturally homogeneous state during the past three centuries are of limited help, and sometimes even a positive handicap, in dealing with multicultural societies.

Situating Parekh’s multiculturalism: Bhikhu Parekh and twentieth-century British political theory

The latter need to find ways of reconciling the legitimate demands of unity and diversity, of achieving political unity without cultural uniformity, and cultivating among its citizens both a common sense of belonging and a willingness to respect and cherish deep cultural differences. This is a formidable theoretical and political task and no multicultural society has so far succeeded in tackling it. The erstwhile Soviet Union and Yugoslavia lacked the requisite imagination and wisdom and met their doom.

Even such affluent, stable and politically mature democracies as the U. Thanks to the wisdom of its founding fathers, and the judicious balance between unity and diversity embodied in the Indian Constitution, India has managed to persist for five decades as a territorially intact and moderately successful polity.

T he political context in which the Constitution was drafted has however altered considerably. The Constitution presupposed a much higher rate of economic growth and a much greater degree of equitable distribution of resources among the diverse communities than has proved to be the case.

Bhikhu Parekh: Political theory and the multicultural society / Radical Philosophy

It took full account of religious and a rather limited account of cultural diversity, but none of ethnic self assertion. It also assumed a culturally neutral and socially transcendental state, able to ensure political impartiality, and did not anticipate that a determined majority might culturally monopolise the state and use it to enforce a narrow vision of India. Now that these and other possibilities have materialized, we need to undertake a radical reconsideration of some of the constitutive principles of the Indian state, and find a historically more sensitive and realistic way of evolving political unity out of the newly emergent forms of diversity.

There is little sign that we have even begun to grasp the enormity of the problem facing us, let alone explore ways of tackling it.