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Lambers, A.M.

Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Will Kymlicka’s liberal multiculturalism and the European Roma

Will Kymlicka’s theory of liberal multiculturalism aims to build a just theory of minority rights on the basis of the principles of individual freedom and liberal autonomy. Kymlicka advocates granting group-differentiated rights on the basis of cultural membership, thus attempting to ensure access to societal cultures for all individuals in multicultural societies. Recently, the European Union has shown a renewed interest in improving the marginalized position of the European Roma people, which are said to constitute Europe’s largest minority group. In this paper, the scope of Kymlicka’s theory is tested by applying it on the case of the European Roma.

It will become apparent that despite Kymlicka’s aim to protect minority cultures, it can do so only for cultures with a structure and basic principles similar to that of the dominant modern liberal societies, as Kymlicka avails himself of several implicit presuppositions. Kymlicka’s image of minorities as identifiable groups with clear membership boundaries does not account for the complex cultural landscape of the European Roma. His ultimate allegiance to individual freedom and autonomy excludes the possibility to value one’s culture for other reasons, like personal identity. His focus on the structure of modern nations leaves hardly any room for cultures with deviant structures, and as the definitions of modern, liberal, democracy and nation are at least partly intertwined, we may ask ourselves to what extent his argument is rooted in circularity.

As a result to these implicit presuppositions, Kymlicka’s theory creates constructive forces that can force Roma cultures that deviate from Kymlicka’s model to adjust themselves according to modern liberal structures. To protect the variety of Roma cultures in Europe, an alternative approach is needed which leaves room for non-modern, non-national cultures.

Last modified:20 June 2014 11.35 a.m.