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Sorin Sabou

Letter to the Romans, Nicomachean Ethics, and more

Kukathas On Cultural Rights

Kukathas argues that we need to ‘reassert the fundamental importance of individual liberty or individual rights and question the idea that cultural minorities have collective rights’ (Kukathas 1992, 107). Groups matter but there is no need to ‘depart from the liberal language of individual rights to do justice to them’ (Kukathas 1992, 107). Kukathas argues for his thesis by focusing on the way are groups are formed. They are ‘not fixed and unchanging entities in the moral and political universe’ (Kukathas 1992, 110), their boundaries shift with the political context; their formation is ‘the product of environmental influences’ especially political institutions (Kukathas 1992, 111).
Culture is not fundamental for the formation of group identity. There is no such thing as ‘natural priority’ about one group or community; these groups are ‘mutable historical formations’ (Kukathas 1992, 112), their composition changes over time. Liberalism should see ‘cultural communities more like private associations’ that are ‘the product of a multitude of factors’ (Kukathas 1992, 115).
When some cultural community wants to live according to the practices of their own culture that has to be respected not because the culture has the right to be preserved but because individuals should be free to associate (Kukathas 1992, 116). Another important fact here it is that an individual has to be free to dissociate from a community. According to Kukathas we have to see the cultural communities as ‘voluntary associations’ (Kukathas 1992, 116).
Taking an example from history, the problem of the Pueblo Indians in which some members following conversion to Christianity, choose to withdraw from certain communal functions while continuing to demand their share of community resources (Kukatha 1992, 121), Kukatha says that the converted Pueblo Indians to Christianity are free to forsake their old ways, but if they want to continue to be part of their community and to assert rights recognized by the wider society but not by their culture, they receive no recognition (Kukathas 1992, 126).
I tend to go with Kukathas on this difficult issue; you cannot have it both ways: benefit of the rights given by the wider society to a specific community, but you choose to change some of the most important aspects of the life of that community, namely its religion. By seeing a cultural community as a voluntary association Kukathas was able to come with this solution.
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