Reaching for my gun: why we shouldn't hear the word "culture" in normative political theory

1st Global Conference: Multiculturalism, Conflict and Belonging (2007)
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Abstract
Culture is a notoriously elusive concept. This fact has done nothing to hinder its popularity in contemporary analytic political philosophy among writers like John Rawls, Will Kymlicka, Michael Walzer, David Miller, Iris Marion Young, Joseph Raz, Avishai Margalit and Bikhu Parekh, among many others. However, this should stop, both for the metaphysical reason that the concept of culture, like that of race, is itself either incoherent or lacking a referent in reality, and for several normative reasons. I focus on the following interconnected points: • The vagueness of the term allows a myriad of candidates to claim rights, and typically to the detriment of increased equality and environmental goals . • Cultural capital cannot be regulated in the way that political capital must be regulated without undermining the cultures supposedly being protected. And the possession of cultural capital is almost never democratically regulated. In particular, granting cultures political status creates intergenerational conflict, rewarding the elders and creating incentives to be conservative and restrict cultural mobility of the younger generation. •The notion of a group owning “its” culture is conceptually suspect and corrupted by the foregoing points about unequal cultural capital. In defending a group’s right to preserve its culture we do not defend equally the rights of the individuals that make it up , and we ignore altogether the rights of those who may be unfairly denied recognition as “members” of the culture
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