Liberalism and the politics of cultural authenticity

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 1 (2):213-236 (2002)
In this paper, I consider one possible defense of the presumption, common among liberal legal and political theorists, that we should respect culture. Specifically, I examine the view, forcefully articulated by Joseph Carens, that we can identify those attachments or practices that are candidates for one or another form of legal protection by determining whether they are `authentic' in the sense that members of some relevant group accept or embrace them as an integral component of their culture. I first sketch in detail Carens's view and show that despite appearances his position is central to liberal arguments that we should respect culture. Next, I recapitulate the empirical case (the complicated cultural politics on the islands of Fiji) that Carens uses as a vehicle for his argument. I then challenge the implications that Carens draws from the Fijian case. In particular, I argue that claims to `authenticity' are themselves artifacts of strategic political processes, that they and the institutions they purport to justify are in fact morally arbitrary, and, therefore, that `authenticity' cannot afford a basis for justifying policies aimed at protecting culture in Fiji or elsewhere. I suggest in conclusion that by invoking authenticity in this regard Carens courts a brand of relativism that is especially pernicious in that it erodes the terrain of democratic representation and deliberation. This is ironic to the extent that Carens seeks to defend democracy as well as difference. On this basis I recommend that, for purposes of justifying social, political or economic arrangements, we abandon the language of authenticity altogether. Key Words: liberalism • authenticity • culture • strategy • justification.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1177/1470594X02001002003
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
Edit this record
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Mark as duplicate
Request removal from index
Revision history
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 30,370
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Added to PP index

Total downloads
10 ( #441,278 of 2,193,768 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #290,980 of 2,193,768 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads
My notes
Sign in to use this feature