Will Kymlicka lecturing at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, 19 June 2007
London, Ontario, Canada
|Main interests||Political philosophy, multiculturalism, citizenship, minority rights|
|Notable ideas||Multicultural citizenship, societal culture|
Will Kymlicka (//; born 1962) is a Canadian political philosopher best known for his work on multiculturalism and animal ethics. He is currently Professor of Philosophy and Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen's University at Kingston, and Recurrent Visiting Professor in the Nationalism Studies program at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
Kymlicka received his B.A. (Honours) in philosophy and political studies from Queen's University in 1984, and his D.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University in 1987, under the direction of G. A. Cohen. He has written extensively on multiculturalism and political philosophy, and several of his books have been translated into other languages. Kymlicka has held professorships at a variety of different universities in Canada and abroad, and has also worked as an advisor to the Government of Canada.
One of his main concerns throughout his work is providing a liberal framework for the just treatment of minority groups, which he divides into two basic categories: polyethnic or immigrant groups, and national minorities (such as the Canadian Québécois, or the Māori of New Zealand). He lists criteria for national minorities or "minority nations":
- present at founding;
- prior history of self-government;
- common culture;
- common language;
- governing selves through institutions.
By these criteria, the two "minority nations" in Canada are the First Nations population and the Québécois. Kymlicka argues that such minority groups deserve unique rights from the state by the nature of their unique role and history within the national population. ("Group rights" are also a recent innovation in Western democracy, which, from the American Revolution up to the enfranchisement of women, emphasized individual rights as fundamental, and avoided assigning rights to particular groups, geographic, religious, linguistic or ethnic.)
Polyethnic groups are less deserving of such rights since they come to the state voluntarily and thus have some degree of responsibility to integrate to the norms of their new nation. This does not mean that they are not entitled to any rights as Kymlicka argues that all cultural minorities have a right to choose their own lives, but it does mean that they are not entitled to the same level of group rights which minority nations would be entitled to. Kymlicka makes various exceptions such as the problems faced by refugees, whether from conflict or poverty, and by such minority groups such as African-Americans (whose heritage in America clearly did not begin voluntarily) and argues that their needs with regards to cultural group-specific rights should be considered on a special basis.
In Multicultural Citizenship (1995), Kymlicka argues that group-specific rights are consistent with liberalism, and are particularly appropriate, if not outright demanded, in certain situations. He defines three such group-specific rights: special group representation rights (such as affirmative action policies in politics); self-government rights; and polyethnic rights (such as the policy exempting Sikhs from having to wear motorcycle helmets).
A distinction that Kymlicka draws, which is crucial to his liberal defence of group-specific rights for minorities, is between external protection and internal restrictions. Kymlicka argues that external protections between groups may be justified in order to promote equality (but they must not allow for oppression or exploitation, as in apartheid in South Africa). Internal restrictions, however, cannot be justified from a liberal perspective, insofar as they restrict a person's autonomy, though they may be granted in certain cases to national minorities.
Thoughts on human rights
The standard liberal criticism which states that group rights are problematic because they often treat individuals as mere carriers of group identities rather than autonomous social agents is overstated or oversimplified. The actual problem of minorities and how they should be viewed in liberal democracies is much more complex. There is a distinction between good group rights, bad group rights, and intolerable group rights.
- Bad Group Rights (internal restrictions) are rules imposed by the group upon intra-group relations. Most often take the form of the group restricting the liberty of individual members in the name of group solidarity. Indigenous groups try to protect themselves from women's movements on the basis that they threaten the social and traditional role of indigenous populations. He contends this raises the danger of individual oppression. Internal restrictions can be used to uphold violent, dominant, absolutist systems. Legally imposed internal restrictions are thus bad and almost always unjust. Not to mention they go against liberal ideals.
- Good Group Rights (external protections) involve inter-group relations. Indigenous groups need protection in terms of their nationals identities by limiting the vulnerability of that group to the decisions of external groups or society. Therefore, they should have the right to their own taxation, health care, education, and governance.
Thoughts on animal rights
In his book Zoopolis, Kymlicka explores the state of animal rights.
Will Kymlicka believes that abolitionism is an inadequate response to both the ethical and practical challenges of living fairly and constructively with other animals.
Kymlicka suggests that animals should be characterized through three categories, serving to determine the nature of the laws that should protect those animals. Domestic animals should be given a kind of adjusted co-citizenship in which their best interest and preferences would be taken into account. Wild animals should be granted sovereignty on their land enough so that they can sustain their way of living and prosper. "Liminal" animals (such as mice, pigeons and insects) should be treated as denizens of cities.
Awards and honours
- In 2004, Kymlicka was awarded the Killam Prize by the Canada Council for the Arts
- Multicultural Citizenship was awarded the Macpherson Prize by the Canadian Political Science Association, and the Ralph Bunche Award by the American Political Science Association
- He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
- From 2004-6, he was the President of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy
- "Immigration, Multiculturalism, and the Welfare State" (Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 20.3 Fall 2006)
- Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, Citizenship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-19-924098-1
- Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ethnocultural Relations in Canada (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). ISBN 0-19-541314-8
- Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). ISBN 0-19-829091-8
- Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990/2001). ISBN 0-19-878274-8
- Liberalism, Community, and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989/1991). ISBN 0-19-827871-3
- "Biography", Will Kymlicka's Homepage. Accessed 17 February 2011.
- Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka
- Will Kymlicka's home page, where he discloses that he is married to co-author Sue Donaldson.