Global Ethics, Culture and Development

The report of the UNESCO World Commission on Culture and Development, Our Creative Diversity, addresses how to meet cultural needs in the context of development. The report includes some questionable premises and leaves some dilemmas unresolved, partly due to its vagueness regarding the normative value of culture. Liberal contractualism is presented and defended as a plausible theory for addressing these dilemmas and structuring further debate. At least three issues in the report require modification: Development should not be based on a `Western` conception of autonomous individuals,  Pluralism should be respected, but need not be applauded, and The value of culture and belonging must be better expressed and argued.  

Biographical Statement

Andreas Føllesdal, born 1957, Ph.D. in Philosophy, Harvard University, is Senior Researcher at ARENA, a research programme on the Europeanisation of the Nation-State, and Professor at the Department of Philosophy, the University of Oslo. He publishes on topics in political philosophy and democratic theory.

Issues and Dilemmas

The UNESCO World Commission on Culture and Development addresses how to meet cultural needs in the context of development. Among its contributions is a conception of development which includes not only survival and basic needs, but also seeks to include human flourishing more generally. Thus the report might shed light on dilemmaes facing more affluent states, including those in Europe. Part of the Commission`s solution, presented in the 1995 report Our Creative Diversity, is to establish a new global ethics. This global ethics has five pillars: human rights, democracy, protection of minorities, commitment to procedures of peaceful conflict resolution, and intergenerational equity. The human rights of women are stressed throughout the report, insisting on the need for protection against gender discrimination. 

While many of us share these norms and values, we may doubt whether such a global ethic is part of a practical and defensible solution. Firstly, it seems an open question whether it is possible, now or in the foreseeable future, to obtain binding and universal agreement on these ethical principles. Even in Europe, this may be difficult. Secondly, and more to the point, it is not clear why current or future acceptance of these pillars by all governments is required to realise the recommendations of the Commission. Thirdly, the report contains several questionable premises and unresolved dilemmas. These weaknesses are not fatal, particularly since the report is intended as a contribution to an ongoing process. But the flaws also make clear why further reflection is required. 

Challenges to `Our Creative Diversity`

The theory sketched in this paper, which I shall refer to as Liberal Contractualism, indicates how the extensive debates regarding development and culture may fruitfully proceed. The main concerns of the paper are the proper grounds and scope of protection of culture. One particular objective is to account for the normative significance of culture. If this account is accepted, three issues in the report Our Creative Diversity require further clarification (Føllesdal, 1997): 

(a) Development - not based on autonomous conception of persons. The report offers a broad conception of development, beyond a narrow economic definition. It focuses on development as a process that enhances individuals` `capabilities`, a term of art associated with Amartya Sen (Sen, 1988 and 1993; Sen and Dreze, 1997). Capabilities spell out the effective freedom of people to pursue whatever they have reason to value. While compatible with much of this approach, the liberal contractualist account suggests that this notion of capabilities is based on a worrisome conception of persons as choosers, appealing to an ideal of autonomy which may reasonably be regarded as unduly `Western`.

(b) Laudatory attitude towards pluralism. The report holds that one should not only tolerate and respect the plurality of cultures, but rejoice in it.  It is unclear from the report why such a positive attitude is needed, be it for the sake of stability or in the name of toleration. Liberal contractualism suggests that respect must suffice.

(c) Conception of the value of culture and belonging. The Commission sometimes gives the impression that all reductions in cultural diversity are to be regretted, including the extinction of languages. The report also seems to endorse a presumption in favour of maintaining cultures. However, this presumption is often set aside in the report. The account presented below suggests that a plausible right to culture should not be so extensive as to regard all reductions in diversity as losses, nor lead to the claim that cultures should not be changed.

Challenges to Theories on the Right to Development and Culture

The grounds and scope of respect for cultures must be clarified. This issue goes to the heart of one of the central dilemmas which must be resolved if the report is to achieve its stated goal. The report seeks to stake out a course where existing cultures are valued, yet toleration of cultures is restricted: not all aspects of all cultures are respected. Cultures which insist on the complete assimilation of minority cultures are renounced, as are cultures which reject democracy and human rights. The need for a political theory addressing the value of culture is apparent when we consider the conflicts between several norms endorsed in the document: domestic democracy, the fight for equal status for women, and minority protections on the one hand, and respect for existing majority cultures on the other. Two further challenges to an acceptable account may be identified. A commitment to reasonable toleration suggests that this political theory must not rest on contested `Western` premises about the nature of individuals. Secondly, the theory must withstand objections. Let us consider these issues in more detail.

Democracy, the removal of gender discrimination, and protection of minority cultures are incompatible with some existing cultures. Democracy, regarded as universal political suffrage with majority rule, may easily conflict with existing views in some nation-states regarding the proper powers of women. Moreover, Feminist theory has made clear that equal concern and respect for women may require the restructuring of some institutions that prevent women from securing real equal access to positions of power and influence. Examples include the lack of facilities for child care, and criteria for career advancement and pension systems which penalise parental leave. Another standard feature of democratic rule is that majoritarianism must be constrained for the sake of minorities, to allow their cultures to survive majoritarian decisions. The protection of minorities` cultures may require deep structural changes in some societies. So existing cultures may have to be modified for the sake of these other values and goals. To guide this process we need a political theory which can justify majoritarian democracy and human rights, including gender equality, and at the same time explain why culture is to be valued, and laying out the grounds and limits of toleration. In particular, the grounds for human rights and for the cultural rights of minorities must be identified. 

One challenge to such accounts arises from the `global` nature of these issues. It would seem that a theory suited for global justice must avoid controversial, allegedly `Western`, assumptions. For instance, some arguments for human rights and democracy rest on a conception of individuals which gives pride of place to their interest in autonomy and personal choice of values and commitments. The individual is considered as agent, with a strong interest in choice and in voluntary contracts. This assumption seems at odds with world views which do not regard the individual first and foremost as an autonomous agent.

The account offered here, rooted in the tradition of liberal contractualism, seeks to shed light on these issues of human rights, toleration and the value of culture, drawing on a conception of the individual which is not focused on the ability to choose one`s life plan and values free from cultural constraints. 

Section 1 provides a brief sketch of the normative political theory of liberal contractualism. Section 2 provides a brief normative account of democratic governance. Section 3 explicates the conception of `culture` used in the report and gives an account of the value of culture within this political theory. Section 4 returns to the report Our Creative Diversity to suggest where further work is required.

1.  Liberal Contractualism

Under what conditions do citizens have reason to accept institutions and cultures as normatively legitimate and binding on their conduct? Contractualist theories in political philosophy answer that the set of social institutions as a whole should secure the interests of all affected parties to an acceptable degree. According to these views, institutions are legitimate only if they can be justified by arguments in the form of a social contract of a particular kind. The underlying intuition is `equal respect`, which is taken to mean that all individuals must be served by the social institutions. Every individual`s interests must be secured and furthered by the social institutions as a whole (Rawls 1971; Dworkin, 1978). This commitment is sharpened by the notion of possible consent, allowing us to bring the vague ideals of equal dignity to bear on the questions of legitimacy and institutional design.

Normative Individualism

This political theory assumes normative individualism. That is, the ultimate grounds for all arguments regarding the social institutions must be based on the interests of the individuals affected by the rules under consideration. Of course, relevant interests may include individuals` interests in social activities involving the cooperation of others. However, appeals to the value of maintaining a culture or a language are regarded as abbreviated references to the interest of affected individuals in having such a culture or language.

This political theory also has an egalitarian premise, namely that every affected party is worthy of  equal concern and respect. The notion that all affected parties must be served by the institutions is an interpretation of this vague commitment.

The Role of Consent and of the Social Contract

 The principles of legitimacy we use to assess institutions are those that the persons affected would unanimously consent to, under conditions which secure and recognise their status as appropriately free and equal. Hypothetical consent plays a particular role in expressing these moral requirements on the legitimate use of power. Our moral obligation to obey the law of the land is justified in part by the claim that this social order could have been the subject of consent among all affected parties. 

Note that this does not entail that such hypothetical consent creates moral obligations or duties, in the same way as free and adequately informed consent binds those who so consent. Liberal contractualism is not committed to a view that individuals only are bound by commitments voluntarily entered into. We have a moral duty to obey the legitimate laws of the land, even in the absence of any consent on our part. We have many duties which we have not explicitly or tacitly consented to. But actual, tacit or hypothetical consent is not the source of moral obligation to comply. 

The idea of possible consent in the contractualist tradition does not provide the source of moral duty, but is an expression of one important condition for such duties. Obedience is required only when power and benefits are distributed fairly. Appeals to consent thus serve to identify legitimate authority, but consent is not held to generate the binding claim of institutions (Murphy, 1994). Rather: actual voluntary obedience on the part of individuals can at most be taken as evidence of their belief about the legitimacy of institutions, and not as a justification of these institutions (Raz, 1994: 338). The existing legitimate institutions are binding on us not because we actually consent, or participate in a daily tacit plebiscite (pace Renan, 1939). Even though we usually act according to the practices we find ourselves part of (Walzer, 1977: 54), we do not have, and have never had, a real freedom with regard to the social institutions. Indeed, ordinarily we cannot choose to reject them, and not even the act of voting expresses a morally binding tacit consent to be governed.

It is important for our purposes to stress that this view does not entail that individuals are only bound by obligations voluntarily taken on. Contractualist theory serves to delineate the limits to these duties that hold regardless of actual consent. These duties include what Rawls in his theory of `Justice as Fairness` calls the natural duty of justice, "to support and to comply with just institutions that exist and apply to us." (Rawls, 1971: 115; cf. Klosko, 1994). 

Our moral obligation to obey the law of the land is justified, then, in part by the claim that this social order could have been the subject of consent among all affected parties. But this does not entail that such hypothetical consent creates the moral obligation or duty in the same way as free and adequately informed consent binds those who so consent. 

Acknowledging  Pluralism

Every state contains a variety of religious views and cultural minorities, whose members hold partially incompatible views about the good life.  Across states, this value pluralism is even more extensive. 

Disagreements about conceptions of the good increase the need for political theory, to reduce the fear of illegitimate use of state power. However, disagreement about the ends of life also reduces the scope of arguments which can be offered and accepted among citizens of different views. In a state, the government uses force to establish and maintain social institutions among individuals with different practices and beliefs. This use of force requires a justification that does not depend on adopting one particular religious framework or a particular conception of the good life (Nagel, 1987). A theory of human rights and the significance of culture should not rely on an ideal of the individual as an autonomous chooser of life plans, as this premise is contested by some religious and philosophical traditions. Respect for those of other religious and philosophical convictions prohibit assumptions that are deeply at odds with those views. 

This notion of respect for others is compatible with a broad range of world views and religions which regard most other conceptions of humans and the good life as fundamentally mistaken. However, these world views must also include a commitment that social institutions should not benefit their own views over the views held by others. Thus rejoicing in diversity may not be required for stable institutions among individuals who profoundly disagree -- respect may suffice.

Relevant Interests  

For the purpose of justifying social practices, institutions and regimes, contractualism requires that we find suitable descriptions of the interests we are prepared to offer as premises in the arguments. When comparing particular rules or principles, contractualist arguments must therefore appeal to their impact on recognisably important interests.  

Given the variety of views about the good life and given the number of divergent world views, there will be disagreement about the absolute and relative importance of the interests we have. Reasonable disagreement is therefore to be expected about the value of a wide variety of goods under institutional control.  Nevertheless, some goods may be recognised as forming the bases of reasonable claims:

(a) Security goods, required for survival and basic security. Our interest in survival can, I submit, fruitfully be expressed in terms of Amartya Sen`s concept of `Basic Capabilities`. Basic capabilities are abilities to do certain basic things: "the ability to meet one`s nutritional requirements, the wherewithal to be clothed and sheltered, the power to participate in the social life of the community" (Sen 1982: 367). In order to ensure security and survival, spelled out in terms of basic capabilities, individuals must have command over foodstuffs, public health measures, and other goods. In societies characterised by extensive division of labour and market economies, some amount of money and a certain level of education are instrumental goods required to obtain food and other necessities. I submit that a broad range of human rights can be regarded as demands placed on institutions, ensuring that such security goods and instrumental goods are available to all. 

(b) Strategic goods -- that is, all-purpose means necessary for a broad range of life plans: Income and wealth, social positions, and educational opportunities are prime candidates. 

(c) Political power, to regulate practices and social institutions, must also be considered an important good for allocating goods and burdens fairly among equals. Note that the reason for regarding political powers as goods is not, according to this view, that individuals have a fundamental interest in self-legislation or autonomy. Rather, it is because social institutions shape options and self-perceptions in ways that affect our expectations, and in turn our life prospects. We must accept, for purposes of arguments about legitimacy, that individuals have an interest in influencing social institutions - particularly when alternative arrangements would place such authority with others.

The Case for Development

Liberal contractualism can endorse the claim to development stressed in the report Our Creative Diversity. Development there appears to be defined largely in terms of Amartya Sen`s notion of basic capabilities explained above: the ability to secure certain states or do certain things. Development policies must aim to ensure that individuals are able to enjoy the basic capabilities central to survival and security. 

Let us, however, note a challenge to the capability approach to development.  It is not clear that everyone`s capabilities are actually valued by all plausible world views or conceptions of the good. Sen`s theory has an individualistic and voluntaristic slant, which is incompatible with the constraint of Pluralism. His account seems to rely heavily on the choices of individuals`, since benefits voluntarily foregone are regarded as equal to those capabilities actually achieved by the individual. There are two problems worth mentioning.  

Insofar as Sen is concerned with the individual`s genuine choice, the approach must not merely focus on capabilities but also explore whether the conditions for informed choice are secured.  For instance, the individual must perceive the alternatives as feasible, and understand the consequences. Christine Korsgaard (1993:60-61) expresses this concern succinctly:

We may believe that a human being is free, if ever, when she not only has a range of options but an education that enables her to recognise those options as such and the self-respect that makes her choice among them a real one.  Ignorance, lack of imagination, and lack of self-respect are not just external constraints on the range of your options: they can cripple the power of choice itself.  The possession of freedom of the will may itself be lucky.

I assume that the notion of capabilities can incorporate the conditions which make informed choice plausible. In operationalising this standard, we might ask whether individuals are aware whether they have certain options available, as has been done in some questions posed by the Scandinavian research on "Quality of Life" (Allardt, 1993: 93).

There is a second problem with Sen`s view. Focus on the individual`s range of choice is worrisome insofar as this view is not shared by some quite reasonable world views. Why, some may object, should the theory be concerned at the fundamental level with the individual`s freedom to choose, and not the lives actually lived and the things actually achieved? Sen`s account thus seems to reflect an inappropriate bias towards conceptions of the good life which value choice. Many individuals are often not interested in freedoms, but in the functionings they achieve. Again, this does not seem to be an insurmountable problem, but suggests that more needs to be done when drawing on the notion of capabilities in defining development.

2.  The Case for Democracy

Standard accounts of democracy regard it as procedures whereby the preference of the majority of the electorate determines laws and public policies, on the bases of deliberation and competition among candidates (Dahl, 1989: ch. 10, 11). 

The contractualist justification of democracy and majority rule must draw on the central moral norm to be treated with equal respect and concern. However, the move from `equal respect` to "equal political power under majoritarian arrangements" is complicated. The arguments must show that such distribution of political control, carefully circumscribed, is, to our knowledge, the most reliable mechanism for securing and promoting the interests of all affected parties to an acceptable degree. Empirical evidence of the efficacy of democratic rule suggests that the ability of citizens to "throw the rascals out of office" serves as an important check on the abuse of power. For instance, we know of no sudden famines occurring in democracies (Sen and Dreze, 1990). Thus there are empirical grounds for insisting that the equal dignity of all requires that those subject to state force must also have a say in how that force is to be used, to ensure that it is used in just ways.

The liberal contractualist defence of democracy is comparative and cautious. Two different arguments may be discerned when we move beyond the narrow focus on constitutional allocation of powers. We must also consider the significance of democratic arrangements in providing a backdrop for bargains and co-ordination, preference and option formation, and for defining the parliamentary agenda (cf. Dahl, 1956). These processes are crucial for both interest formation and aggregation. The formal allocation of powers, for instance that of putting issues on the political agenda, may well shape the form, content and results of such informal arrangements. 

Interest Aggregation

Democratic rule provides for acceptable interest aggregation among all affected parties. The citizens vote on the basis of information about the alternative candidates. They in turn have the power both to set the agenda and decide by majoritarian procedures. Under certain conditions, this appears to be a more reliable procedure than any alternative for ensuring that the interests of all are secured, when certain conditions are met. Such conditions include protection of minorities, as well as safeguards against permanent minorities. 

Interest Formation

Democratic forms also allow for interest formation. Through the political discourse preceding voting, citizens affirm their common commitment to equal worth and respect, and let that sense of justice affect their preferences and conceptions of what is good. Thus the preconditions for majoritarianism include a general acceptance by individuals that democratic modes of decision-making are appropriate for settling conflicts (Macedo, 1995; Bohman and Rehg, 1997). Other social preconditions include public arenas for scrutiny and criticism of politicians, secured by freedom of speech.

Thus the broader effects of democratic elections are important. Democratic elections require and foster transparency to show how institutions work, so that citizens can determine that justice is done, hence whether they have a moral obligation to obey.

3. The Interest in Culture

Our Creative Diversity talks of culture as `ways of living together`, and as `patterns of daily behaviour`(1995: 24, 7). Moreover, `culture gives meaning to our existence` (23). Nevertheless, while insisting on the value of culture, the report entails drastic changes to many existing cultures for the sake of development, environment and a global ethic. 

To shed light over these dilemmas, I shall start by noting that liberal contractualism recognises the individual`s interest in culture and the risks involved in changes in one`s culture (Føllesdal, 1996). 

Without seeking more precision than is needed for our purposes, let us consider culture  to be practices, that is, rule-regulated patterns of behaviour. We may talk of a social practice existing when people conduct themselves in accordance with public rules, be they rules of etiquette or rules expressed by law. 

The rules of a practice regulate behaviour: we act on them, generally abide by them, and often take them for granted. Furthermore, when we decide how to act, we take account of the rules, and hence of the likely though not certain compliance by others. Some such practices are laid down as laws, with legal enforcement, while others are maintained and changed through more informal means. This account seems to fit well with the role of culture often recognised by political theorists: of providing a structure “within which individuals form and revise their aims and ambitions” (Kymlicka, 1989). 

We must determine what is at stake for people who share culture - including norms of practices at various levels of generality, among both national groups and minorities. Why is cultural membership of such great value? Indeed, some authors hold that minority rights regarding culture and religious practices should be institutionalised as universal human rights: "Only if collective ethnic minority rights are recognised as such, and specifically as human rights, can such communities survive in environments which are often hostile to their very existence and survival" (Stavenhagen, 1996: 142-43). There are some international conventions to this effect, including the 1989 ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.  The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is currently considering a Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adding to the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities of 1993.

What aspects of culture can justify claims to social resources? Such claims must be supported by showing that an important interest is furthered, and that any losses incurred by affected parties must be worth it. So we need to understand the appropriate connections between individuals` interest in culture, claims to rights, including human rights, and claims to development. The liberal contractualist account offered below focuses on the impact of culture on individuals` opportunities to develop and maintain a comprehensive world view, and on the conditions facing majority and minority cultures regarding survival and change.

Kymlicka: Culture Provides Choice Structure

Several authors suggest that we must acknowledge an interest in maintaining one`s own culture.

Will Kymlicka argues that cultural membership is valuable as a precondition: it provides the necessary structure for individuals` meaningful pursuit of their various conceptions of the good life. It is "only through having a rich and secure cultural structure that people can become aware, in a vivid way, of the options available to them, and intelligently examine their value" (Kymlicka, 1989: 165; cf. 1995: ch. 5; and see Buchanan 1991: 53-54 for similar arguments). Cultural membership helps the individual identify available options which appear valuable. Culture can indicate a unity among options, thus making one`s plan of life appear worth carrying out and providing grounds for self respect (Tomasi, 1995: 584).

What claims follow from this? This interest in participation in a community does not ground a claim to maintaining any particular community, but only that each individual should belong to some cultural community. And this interest does not justify a claim that the culture should be maintained indefinitely without change (cf. Buchanan, 1991: 55; Tomasi, 1995: 594). Individuals may successfully shift cultural affiliations while maintaining their ability to regard their lives as meaningful and structured. So the character of a culture may change, without threatening extinction of the culture or the meaning of life plans (Kymlicka, 1989: 167). In Kymlicka`s view the constitutive interest in culture allows drastic changes in culture brought about by government or others, as long as the individuals face "no danger to their ability to examine the options that their cultural structure had made meaningful to them" (Kymlicka, 1989: 167).  

While liberal contractualism accepts Kymlicka`s conclusions, one of the premises is unsatisfactory. Kymlicka explicitly grounds the constitutive value of culture on an ideal of the autonomous individual, as a chooser of a life plan. One might be able to reinterpret Kymlicka`s argument avoiding this premise. However, in the following I pursue a different strategy for recognising the interest in culture without relying so heavily on the interest in choice.

Interest in Forecasting the Future

There is another reason for valuing culture and cultural membership which support the demands of minorities to control changes to their cultures. 

Minorities` cultural rights are legitimate insofar as such legal powers and immunities prevent great sacrifice or promote important interests. Such interests include the ability to pursue meaningful lives, to form and pursue life plans alone or in joint deliberation with others, and maintain some control over changing expectations. This account of the interest in controlling changes in one`s culture does not rest on an assumption of the value of autonomous choice.

Intuitively, changes in culture pose a challenge to coherence and continuity. Individuals have an interest in being able to forecast correctly about their own future, including their likely attainments and needs. Culture understood as practices plays an important role in facilitating such forecasting, but only if the rules of the practices are followed in the future.  Changes in values, norms, institutions, history and language causes shifts in what can be expected. Cultural changes should therefore not be too abrupt, since members of a culture have an interest in revising their plans as options and consequences change. 

This interest is not based on an autonomous conception of the person, in the sense that the individual values her ability to continually change plans, commitments and values independently of others. Rather, the claim is that expectations formed on the basis of one`s culture are prone to influence by social institutions. Our interest in forming correct expectations requires that we are informed and able to participate, directly or indirectly, in the changes and adaptation of our culture in ways that reduce the risk of false expectations.  

Given the threats of alternative allocations of such control, it seems plausible for minorities to insist that they should have the means to influence, if not control, the development of their culture insofar as this is possible. Their interest in control over cultural change supports claims to hold institutional powers which influence the maintenance and development of one`s culture. These powers should be placed with the affected individuals rather than with agents of the state at large.

Note that this interest in influencing or controlling cultural change does not constitute a claim to maintaining a variety of cultures, nor does it override interests in securing basic needs. Insofar as the right to development is based on individuals` interest in securing basic needs, this right may override any conflicting claims to controlling cultural change. However, many such apparent conflicts may be alleviated, both because drastic cultural changes often threaten basic needs, and by noting that the interest in culture does not require that cultures remain unchanged. Instead, this interest has implications for the speed and the authority to change a culture. These considerations may constrain development strategies, without preventing all forms of development.  

Cultural Rights - Human Rights regarding Culture?

The implications of this account for human rights regarding culture may be worth noting. 

Let us provisionally use the concept `human rights` to include certain legal norms within the UN and regional organisations. I suggest that human rights are conditions of legitimacy for institutional arrangements. The general justification for such human rights is that they prevent many of the threats to individuals` most important interests -- including their basic needs -- which may stem from the actions and omissions of governments. Human rights are universal conditions on the legitimate allocation and exercise of sovereignty within and across borders (Føllesdal, 1995). They entail obligations for states and the system of states, serving a critical role with respect to domestic legislation. It falls beyond this sketch to provide an account of the complete set of such rights (cf. Føllesdal, 1991).

Liberal contractualism recognises the value of cultural membership, and in particular realises that individuals have an interest in controlling and influencing the modes of cultural change. But there is an argumentative gap between the interests of individuals and any institutional implications of these interests, e.g. in the form of rights. 

An interest in controlling cultural change may in principle establish rights of several kinds.  Rights may be needed to provide a threshold of legal protections enabling minorities to explore, share and convey their culture to each other. Rights may be needed to protect a culture from outside forces with regard to change and development. Minority representation on political bodies may be appropriate, particularly because the conflicts can arise in  unpredictable ways. Transparency regarding the use of government discretion is often important. The concern for minorities thus support a requirement that governments develop a public policy regarding treatment of minorities, or that governments actively seek to determine potentially harmful effects of their policies. Such obligations provide domestic minorities with leverage against governmental abuses.

This liberal contractualist account also reveals a gap between rights and human rights. A case has not been made for these rights protecting minority cultures to be regarded as human rights. Note that the reason for this hesitation is not based on the argument that only individual rights are human rights, while minority rights are group rights. Liberal contractualism as presented is in principle prepared to grant a variety of collective rights to groups and collectives, as long as interests that justify such rights are interests of individuals. This is because individuals may have sound claims to rights to act jointly, based on their interest in acting together with others.  Hence they may legitimately insist on rights to religious practice, rights of association and so forth. Minorities may sometimes claim collective rights to be enjoyed by a collection of individuals or their representatives. Such an allocation of rights may well provide the best sort of guarantee for minorities, for instance to ensure that they influence cultural changes (Green, 1994; Sohn, 1982). Thus there may well be a case for human rights regarding the protection of minorities, but such a right must be supported by the complex kinds of arguments indicated above. 

The reason for caution regarding minority cultural rights as human rights is that the need for such institutional safeguards may differ drastically among sovereign states. Consider the situation in the Netherlands, where there are minority cultures, but no easily identifiable majority. Minorities do not face the risk of being assimilated into one dominant culture, but they may face other risks under the Dutch "consociational" mode of government (Lijphart, 1995). The appropriate minority rights may therefore be different in different states, making it difficult to call for universal human rights regarding minority cultures. 

4. Conclusion

The paper has presented and defended a sketch of liberal contractualism which can account for the value of human rights, democracy, toleration, and cultural rights, without relying on assumptions about autonomous individualism. Liberal contractualism thus would seem a strong candidate as a political theory supporting the report Our Creative Diversity. However, liberal contractualism also suggests that there are areas where the report is marred by flaws and inconsistencies. Three issues have been noted:

(1) Development, when expressed in terms of basic capabilities, should preferably not be conceived as based on autonomous conception of persons, but on the claims of satisfying basic needs and security. As it stands, the report seems to draw on a contested, allegedly `Western` conception of the individual. Once development goals go beyond satisfying basic capabilities, the choice of indicators is not obvious. Thus, for the dilemmaes between culture and development in Europe, much conceptual and normative work remains to be done.

(2) Respect for pluralism need not require that all must rejoice in it, as claimed in the report. It seems sufficient that individuals and communities accept as a fact that others have divergent religious or philosophical views, and that forceful attempts at changing these views are incompatible with a shared commitment to equal respect. 

(3) The report notes, correctly, that culture and belonging are valuable elements in our lives. However, it does not follow that all reductions in cultural diversity need be regretted, as the report infers. It would seem that the interests at stake require that those whose culture it is, maintain control over changes in the culture. Losses of cultural diversity need not be bad, and cultural changes are not always contrary to the important interests of individuals. This has implications for our assessment of the consequences of globalisation and Europeanisation of cultures.

Liberal Contractualism provides a much needed argumentative framework for the systematic defence of much of the report Our Creative Diversity. Such a theory is needed for the important tasks remaining: to resolve the dilemmas found in the report, and to implement the recommendations of the report in ways consistent with the equal dignity of all.


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