Dr. Ganesh Nathan, Social Freedom in a Multicultural State: Towards a Theory of Intercultural Justice

Dr. Ganesh Nathan, Professor
Social Freedom in a Multicultural State: Towards a Theory of Intercultural Justice”. BSL Professor Dr. Ganesh Nathan argues that it is possible to defend intercultural justice and freedom without entrenching culture, groups and identity, and its importance to do so.

“In this wide-ranging book, Ganesh Nathan sets out a normative theory of multiculturalism intended for ‘post-immigrant ethnic minorities’ (p. 246). Nathan is alive to the dangers of essentialism and the corresponding tendency of multiculturalists such as Will Kymlicka and Bhikhu Parekh to defend positions that amount to a plural monoculturalism. To avoid these pitfalls, he turns to Dilthey’s sociology to provide a theoretically nuanced account of ‘how culture matters to individuals without ossifying individuals within culture’ (p. 240). Nathan’s theory of ‘intercultural justice’ is grounded on a concern for individual well-being, understood in terms of whether or not a person is able to lead a ‘meaningful life’ (p. 66). Leading a meaningful life has mainly to do with being able to engage in activities that accord with one’s ethical convictions, where those convictions are formed under the right circumstances. In turn, these circumstances are defined primarily by the absence of misrecognition and domination. This move allows Nathan to connect ‘intercultural justice’ to the republican conception of freedom as nondomination. To do this, he widens the usual republican view, arguing that non- or misrecognition can undermine freedom in much the same way as domination, because of the impact of each upon self-respect.

One of the most admirable features of this book is the nuanced analysis of the dynamics of social interaction, and Nathan is consistently sensitive to the complex circumstances of multicultural domination and misrecognition. For instance, as well as covering many of the standard examples found in the recognition literature, he supplies an innovative analysis of the German accreditation of ‘kebab diplomas’ as a form of positive recognition (p. 196) and an illuminating discussion of the ways in which majority stereotyping can frustrate the formation of an authentic world view (p. 93). Another welcome feature of Nathan’s treatment is the attention he pays to challenges of democratic equality under conditions of pluralism and domination, which pays off in his sensitive reconciliation of civic virtue theory and deliberative theories of recognition. I have two minor quibbles. First, I would have appreciated a clearer account of the characteristics of domination within a post-immigrant society. Second, I wondered about the implications of Nathan’s approach for many of the contemporary controversies of multiculturalism. In particular, it is not clear to me what his position implies for cases such as the headscarf affair and the Danish cartoons case, in which people’s ethical convictions are formed under non-ideal circumstances.”

Andrew Shorten (University of Limerick)

Political Studies Review, 2012 Vol. 10; see page: 444-445