The moralism of multiculturalism

Journal of Applied Philosophy 22 (2):171-184 (2005)
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Moralism is a frequent charge in politics, and especially in relation to the ‘politics of recognition’. In this essay, I identify three types of moralism — undue abstraction, unjustified moralism and impotent moralism — and then discuss each in relation to recent debates over multiculturalism in liberal political theory. Each of these forms of moralism has featured in interesting ways in recent criticisms of the political theory and public policy of multiculturalism. By ‘multiculturalism’ I mean, broadly speaking, the pursuit of group‐differentiated public policies that move beyond the protection of basic individual civil and political rights. Here the charge is not so much that moral judgments have no application in relation to the treatment of cultural and associational minorities, but that the moral claims of defenders of multiculturalism are: appealed to without any sense of the practical realities on the ground ; asserted as if they were self‐evidently true ; which often results in a stifling of reasoned criticism of the orthodoxy surrounding multiculturalism. I assess these charges in the course of defending the democratic character of the most plausible forms of multicultural accommodation in liberal democratic societies.



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Duncan Ivison
University of Sydney

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