chapter  1
10 Pages

Liberal democracies, national pluralism and federalism

We know that the abstract and universalist language that underlies the liberal values of liberty, equality and pluralism has contrasted, in practical terms, with the exclusion of a number of voices with regard to the regulation of specific liberties, equalities and pluralisms of contemporary societies. Historically, this was the case of those who did not own property, women, indigenous people, as well as ethnic, linguistic and national minorities, etc. In fact, most of the first liberals – until the end of the nineteenth century – opposed the recognition of democratic rights such as universal suffrage or freedom of association. These rights, which today seem to be almost “obvious”, had to be wrested from liberal constitutionalism from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards following decades of confrontations by, above all, the political and trade union organisations of the working classes. This would later be followed by the generalisation of rights of a social nature which form the foundations of the welfare states that were created after the Second World War. In recent years, new political voices have emerged that have pointed out their lack of recognition and accommodation in terms of equality and liberty in democracies. Among these, it is necessary to highlight the cases of minorities or minority national and cultural groups; that is, those national and cultural identities that do not coincide with the identities of majority and hegemonic groups within democracies. This has meant that liberal democracies must now deal with the accommodation of their own internal national and cultural pluralism in the institutional and collective decision-making spheres, despite the fact that these issues have been largely ignored by traditional democratic liberalism and other political ideologies, such as the different variants of classic socialism, republicanism and conservatism. The most significant cases are those relating to immigrant peoples, minority nations (or stateless nations), and indigenous groups. Each of these movements gives rise to specific questions regarding the recognition and political accommodation (group rights, self-government, defence of particular cultural values, presence in the international arena, etc.) faced with which classic political ideologies often reveal themselves to be resistant, puzzled or disoriented. In general terms, it can be said that national and cultural pluralism has introduced a “new agenda” of issues into the democratic debate which can no longer be dealt with by the main concepts and legitimising discourse that these ideologies use. These issues include individual rights, the principle of nondiscrimination before the law, popular sovereignty, the public virtues of the republican tradition, the emancipation of productive relations, etc. With regard to specific questions of a cultural nature, what seems increasingly untenable is not what traditional democratic liberalism and other classic ideologies say, but what they do not say because they take it for granted: a series of theoretical assumptions and common practices of a “stateist” nature that characterise the nation-building processes that impregnate the symbols, language, institutions, collective decision-making processes, the territorial distribution of powers, etc., in addition to the practical concretion of the values of liberty, equality and plur-

alism of liberal democracies. In fact, all states have been and continue to be nationalist and nationalising agencies. Unfortunately, too often the official responses have treated national and cultural differences within democracies as “particularist deviations”. But in clear contrast to the versions that defend a supposed laissez-faire attitude to cultural matters, or an equally questionable superiority or modernity of the values of the majority, experience indicates that the state has never been, nor is, nor can ever be neutral regarding cultural matters. Too often the practical development of the majority of liberal democracies has been to promote the cultural assimilation of minorities in the name of their political integration. In other words, the practical consequence has been the undermining and marginalisation of state national and cultural minorities in favour of “universalist” versions of “equality of citizenship”, “popular sovereignty” or “non-discrimination”. These versions have acted in a highly unequal, discriminating and partial way by favouring the particular characteristics of the culturally hegemonic or majority groups of the state (which do not always coincide with the hegemonic groups or sectors in the socioeconomic sphere). Today we can say that we are faced with a new national and cultural element of the political equity that theories of justice talk about. This is an aspect that is essential when one attempts to move towards democracies with a greater degree of ethical quality. Or, in other words, the idea is currently gaining ground that uniformity is the enemy of equality, and that cosmopolitanism means establishing an explicit and wide-ranging recognition and accommodation of the national and cultural pluralism of democracies (of both majorities and minorities). Among the elements that characterise the weaknesses and national and cultural biases of the liberal-democratic tradition (and of other political ideologies which we do not deal with here) and condition both the concretion of the values and organising principles of democracies and their institutional regulations, we will highlight the following:

• The absence of a theory of the demos in the theories of democracy of these traditional ideologies (whether they be of a more liberal or a more republican nature). Neither have these theories developed any conceptions regarding legitimate demarcations (borders).