The need to ensure every human being enjoys his or her rights has pushed societies to establish institutions that promote the realisation of this goal. Some people argue that evolution has pushed people from living in jungles to civilized societies.1 This essay is an assessment of Will Kymlicka’s argument that protection of rights implies protection of cultures.
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Will Kymlicka defines a society as a group of people that live together and share various social, economic and political aspects. He argues that every society has a distinct culture that differentiates it from others and claims that members of the society can interact freely even if they are from different cultural backgrounds. However, he argues that they must respect the beliefs and practices of each other to enable them to live in peace.2
He defines rights as privileges that are constitutionally granted to individuals to ensure they live comfortably. This gives them the power to get public services without discrimination. In addition, he defines culture as a set of rules, beliefs, practices and traditions that bring people together to form an ethnic group, community or nation. Therefore, people share various issues and this makes them to belong to a particular culture. Kymlicka argues that the rights of minority groups must be protected to ensure they enjoy them and live peacefully with others. He following reasons explains why Kymlicka argues that there is a close relationship between rights and cultures and when one is protected the other enjoys the privileges of its predecessor.3
Will Kymlicka’s Arguments
First, he claims that people have different cultures and communities vary in sizes. Nations have established ways of protecting marginalised people in the community through accepting and recognising them as disadvantaged members of the society. This has led to the establishment of special regulations that ensure nobody violates or interferes with their traditions. For instance, India records a high number of motorbike accidents and this led to the formulation of rules that ensure all riders wear helmets. However, this regulation is not applicable in all regions because Sikhs are allowed to ride motorbikes without wearing helmets because their culture does not allow them to cover their turbans.4
On the other hand, protection of human rights does not guarantee that some practices will be tolerated. People have rights to worship any god and belong to a religion of their choice provided they do not interfere with the rights of other people or break the laws of their countries. Some communities practice some religious beliefs that do not allow them to take their children or family members to seek medical aid when they are sick. For instance the Akorino community is a minority group that lives in Kenya and does not allow its members to seek medical help when they are sick. However, the Kenyan government is opposed to this belief and efforts are in place to ensure this practice abolished. This means that this government places a lot of emphasis on protecting human rights than propagating religious beliefs that violate its laws.
Some people believe that their traditions are superior to the laws of their nations but Kymlicka disputes this idea. He claims that there must be a just rule that allows marginalised groups to coexist with other members without interfering with their rights and freedoms.5 It is necessary to explain that education is a basic requirement in both developed and developing nations; therefore, all parents must take their children to school regardless of their traditions. He claims that the Red Indians living in America were once nomadic pastoralists and it was very difficult to domesticate and force them to live a sedentary lifestyle. However, the need to get formal education pushed this community to start living near urban centres to ensure their children go to school.
Kymlicka claims that the need to integrate with other communities leads to the establishment of middle grounds that promote peaceful interactions among them. This means that the government acts as an arbitrator between communities that have difficulties interacting with others. This argument proves that cultures and human rights have various issues in common and there is the need to establish a middle ground between them.6 However, this does not give communities an express right to violate the rights of others just because they want to promote their cultures.
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In addition, he claims that most nations encourage their citizens to inter marry and engage in practices that will ensure they interact with others. Therefore, inter marriages promote cultural exchange and at the same time encourage national integration among communities. Kymlicka argues that nations and politicians are in the forefront in promoting peace among communities and this means that they encourage people to disregard their ethnic backgrounds and inter marry. Therefore, he claims that these marriages ensure that the culture of a dominant community is propagated in new families. However, he fails to explain that the culture of weak communities will fade and thus there will be no effect in cultural development if inter marriages do not recognise the value of all cultures.6
On the other hand, he is right in claiming that rights and cultures are usually promoted by states and individuals. Most laws are derived from practices of people within a given boundary. For instance a pastoral and nomadic community will be guided by laws that govern their relationships with others regarding grazing fields, water holes and migration corridors.7 Members of these communities may decide to establish rules that ensure people have rights to graze their animals where they want. This means that everybody will have the freedom to move freely from one region to another in search of pasture and water.
Kymlicka presents that when this situation occurs a nation will ensure no community is armed and establish ways of solving disputes at the local level. However, he fails to explain that some of the disputes that arise within these communities are never settled in formal courts. Marginalised groups prefer solving their problems using the hierarchies established within their communities and do not have faith that formal courts will help them. This explains why some people continue to suffer because they do not seek assistance from local authorities due to harsh penalties established by communal courts.
He claims that collective rights are selfish and meant to advance the needs of some members of the society that are driven by greed to satisfy their needs. He claims that every person has unique needs that must not be swallowed by collective interests that are capitalistic.7 His argues that states must protect the rights of individuals without giving blanket covers to their needs and assuming that they have similar problems. He claims that communities are very different and each has unique practices that cannot be tolerated by others. Therefore, he recommends that there is the need to treat communities as individuals and people should avoid generalising their needs.
However, this argument is invalid because it fails to explain why the law should treat people as equals. He contradicts his earlier stand that nations should respect the rights of every citizen and accord them equal opportunities. His argument that encourages differentiation of human rights fails to appreciate the need for equality and this means that there is no way communal needs will be reduced to individual preferences. He fails to realise that when people are given the freedom to choose what they want they will always go for that is best for them. This means that he does not have a firm stand as to whether capitalism is a good or bad idea.
People have always wanted to have control over others and even marginalised groups will not reject this offer. Therefore, it is not wise to protect their cultures in the name of promoting respect for human rights. Culture should be differentiated from laws that govern human relations because there are glaring differences between these issues. Kymlicka argues that the origin of most powerful laws is from cultures and thus they support traditions that have the practices highlighted in constitutions.
However, he does not seem to grasp the need to integrate communities irrespective of their cultures. Laws are meant to protect people and give them equal opportunities to do what they want. Kymlicka assumes that all cultural practices are good and that they should be included in laws. This assumption is a serious threat to communities that do not recognise women, men and children as equal members.8 These communities believe in male chauvinism and this denies women and children opportunities to enjoy their rights. There is a lot of domestic violence in these communities because the perpetrators know that their cultures give them immunity.
Nations cannot support these practices and this is why there is a difference between culture and laws. There is no way men can continue enjoying their rights while women and children suffer under their feet. This will lead to the establishment of an oppressive society that gives power to men to control what their family members should or should not do.
Racial and communal equality must be observed in all nations but this should not be give people the right to oppress marginalised groups. This means that there is the need to ensure people live happily and in harmony despite the differences in their cultures. Kymlicka fails to realise that both small and large communities have different cultures and that there are no superior or inferior cultures.
Asimow, M., Law and Popular Culture (Politics, Media, and Popular Culture), New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 2004.
Cole, J., Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture, W. W. Norton and Company, 2011.
Donlan, W., A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Ertman, M., Rethinking Commodification: Cases and Readings in Law and Culture, New York, New York University Press, 2005.
Kymlicka, W., Liberalism, Community, and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991.
Nader, L., Law in Culture and Society, California, University of California Press, 1997.
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Sarat, A., Imagining Legality: Where Law Meets Popular Culture, Alabama, University of Alabama Press, 2011.
Walsh, A., Law, Justice, and Society: A Sociologic Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
- John Cole, Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture, W. W. Norton and Company, 2011, p. 38.
- Martin, Ertman, Rethinking Commodification: Cases and Readings in Law and Culture, New York, New York University Press, 2005, p. 71.
- Maurice Asimow, Law and Popular Culture (Politics, Media, and Popular Culture), New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 2004, p. 86.
- Linda, Nader, L., Law in Culture and Society, California, University of California Press, 1997, p. 29.
- Abraham, Walsh, Law, Justice, and Society: A Sociologic Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013. p. 129.
- Ann, Sarat, Imagining Legality: Where Law Meets Popular Culture, Alabama, University of Alabama Press, 2011, p. 81.
- William, Donlan, A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 43.
- Will, Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community, and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 145.