chapter  5
40 Pages

Complex adaptation and the culture of welfare

In the previous chapter we saw that, along with multiculturalism and conservative nationalism, liberal nationalism misunderstands society’s cultural knowledge problem. More specifically in its defence of national identity as a means of securing social justice and of the deliberative democratic negotiation of national identity’s content, liberal nationalism is open to the charge that it assumes that the cultural knowledge problem has already been resolved. Instead, we have argued that rather than place the negotiation of national identity or the quest for social justice at the heart of politics, politics should be concerned with securing the equal individual cultural liberty that allows for the continual complex adaptation of society’s diverse identities and the more specific norms, values, conventions and practices that constitute them, including the relative standing of those norms that ground the commitment to securing a social minimum for the less well-off. Having rejected liberal nationalism on the grounds that it misunderstands the cultural knowledge problem, however, it does not follow that we have dispensed altogether with social justice. In this chapter I wish to examine the egalitarian liberal response to diversity that, similarly to liberal nationalism, seeks to defend social justice. In doing so we will see that egalitarian liberalism is characterised by a significant fissure with respect to the question of identity and justice, for it is with respect to our proper reaction to cultural diversity that one of the principal theorists to be considered in this chapter, Brian Barry, calls into question the liberal credentials of one of its other important contemporary defenders, Will Kymlicka. Interesting as these ruptures may be, however, my concern in this chapter will not be primarily with what divides egalitarian liberals on this issue but rather with what unites them.