Global Ethics and Respect for Culture*
ARENA, University of Oslo
Issues and Dilemmas
A plausible normative political theory must both
explain the value of existing cultures, and defend
toleration within limits set by such standards as human
rights. Consider two recent statements highlighting this
tension: Our Creative Diversity and the Bangkok
Development, addresses how to meet cultural needs in
the context of development. The report stands in need of
a normative political theory addressing the scope of
toleration, evident by considering several norms endorsed
in the document: domestic democracy and fight for equal
status of women, and respect for existing majority and
minority cultures. The report was intended as a
contribution to an ongoing debate, and therefore leaves
important dilemmas unresolved.
The debate about "Asian values" is about
whether universal rights are contrary to Asian culture
(Bauer and Bell 1998). The Bangkok Declaration,
signed by several Asian governments, holds that human
rights do not apply in the same way everywhere, but
... must be considered in the context of a dynamic and
evolving process of international norm-setting, bearing
in mind the significance of national and regional
particularities and various historical, cultural and
Political rights, the protection of minorities'
cultures, and concern for the equal status of women, to
mention only three important issues, require deep
structural changes to social arenas. These documents
therefore pose important questions about the normative
value of existing cultures and the plausibility of
A further central issue is whether such justifications
are suitable as a basis for "global ethics", or
whether they rely on objectionably "Western"
premises. The UNESCO report may be criticized on two
counts in this regard. Firstly, it regards development as
a process that enhances the effective freedom of the
people involved to pursue whatever they have reason to
value. However, non-Western philosophies and worldviews
may find this basis problematic, since it focuses on
individuals' capacities for autonomous choice. A second
point of concern is whether the focus on rights rather
than duties is incompatible with non-Western conceptions
of the relationship between the individual and society.
These challenges are of political relevance both to
non-Western states accused of human rights violations,
and to Western states seeking appropriate policies in
response to multiculturalism.
A normative theory of the cultural rights of
minorities should aid in the resolution of such issues.
Section 1 of the paper lays out a conception of Liberal
Contractualism that does not regard individuals as
fundamentally autonomous. The focus of section 2 is the
grounds and scope of protection of culture, accounting
for the normative significance of local cultural
belonging. Such an account must be defended against
several kinds of criticisms. Section 3 briefly contrasts
this theory with Will Kymlicka's account. Kymlicka's
theory appears to rest on a controversial
Western assumption that gives priority to
individuals' interest in autonomy and personal choice of
values and commitments. Section 4 considers Onora
O'Neill's criticism against theories that focus on rights
rather than on obligations.
If this account is accepted, it provides a normative
basis for UNESCO's report. The normative theory suggests
how further debates regarding democracy, human rights and
culture may fruitfully proceed, without aiming to replace
such debates. Nevertheless, three friendly amendments to
the report emerge:
- The value of culture need not be based on a
conception of persons as autonomous agents.
- Culture and belonging may be valued without
insisting that all must value pluralism, or holding that
all losses of cultural diversity must be regretted.
- The report's endorsement of corporatist arrangements
requires further attention.
1 Liberal Contractualism
The contractualist normative tradition includes the
writers John Rawls (1971; 1993), Brian Barry (1995), and
T. M. Scanlon (1982; 1998). The account developed here,
which I shall refer to as Liberal Contractualism,
addresses the conditions under which citizens have reason
to accept institutions and cultures as normatively
legitimate and hence binding on their conduct..
On this view, institutions are legitimate only if they
can be justified by arguments in the form of a social
contract of a particular kind. The underlying intuition
is a contractualist interpretation of equal respect,
which entails that all individuals must be served by the
Contractualism thus assumes normative individualism:
the ultimate grounds for all arguments are the interests
of the individuals affected by the rules under
consideration. Every individual's interests must be
secured and furthered by the social institutions as a
whole (Dworkin 1978). Of course, relevant interests may
include individuals' interests in social activities,
involving the cooperation of others. Among the interests
recognized in this tradition are peace, stable
institutions, satisfaction of basic needs, and fair
shares of goods and powers.
The Role of Consent
The commitment to equal respect is honed by the notion
of possible consent. The reference to hypothetical
consent may give rise to the suspicion that individuals
are regarded as atomistic, only bound by duties they have
voluntarily taken on. This is a mistake.
We have a moral duty to obey the laws of the land,
even in the absence of any consent on our part, as long
as the laws satisfy the appropriate standards of
normative legitimacy. And we have many duties to others
that hold in the absence of our consent. Thus actual,
tacit or hypothetical consent is not the source of moral
obligation to comply. Instead, hypothetical consent is an
expression of one important condition for such duties:
Obedience is required only when the institutions are in
accordance with principles of legitimacy. Our moral
obligation to obey the law of the land is justified,
then, in part by the claim that this social order could
have been the subject of consent among all affected
parties. Appeals to consent thus serve to recognize
legitimate authority. The role of contractualist theory
is partly to delineate the limits to such duties that
hold regardless of actual consent. They include what John
Rawls' theory of Justice as Fairness calls the
'natural duty of justice', "to support and to comply
with just institutions that exist and apply to us"
(Rawls 1971: 115).
Most states contain a variety of religious views and
cultural minorities. Members of these groups hold
partially incompatible views about the good life. Across
states, this value pluralism is even more extensive. Such
disagreements about conceptions of the good increase the
need for political theory, to reduce the fear of
illegitimate use of state power. However, the
disagreements also reduce the scope of arguments that can
be offered and accepted among citizens. The use of force
in establishing and maintaining social institutions among
individuals with different practices and beliefs requires
a justification that does not depend on adopting one
particular religious framework or a particular conception
of the good life (Nagel 1987).
Many worldviews may regard most other conceptions of
humans and the good life as fundamentally mistaken, yet
are committed to accepting them as worthy of respect.
This attitude may for instance be due to the view that
social institutions should not privilege one's own view
over these others. However, this mode of toleration does
not regard diversity as something positive. Rejoicing in
diversity may therefore be more than what is needed for
stable institutions -- respect may suffice.
The Interest in Political Control
For the purpose of justifying social practices and
institutions, we must consider which interests can
reasonably be considered as relevant. Given the pluralism
of conceptions of the good, there will be disagreement
about the absolute and relative importance of various
interests we have. Liberal Contractualism is therefore
led to focus on a limited set of interests and goods.
They include a) goods required for survival, such as
foodstuffs and public health measures -- as well as
money, for instance, in societies where all food is sold
in markets. b) "Strategic goods" -- that is,
all-purpose means necessary for a broad range of life
plans: Income and wealth, social positions, and
educational opportunities. c) Political power to regulate
practices and social institutions. The last of these
require particular attention for our purposes. To avoid
criticisms of undue "Western" premises, it is
necessary to explain how liberal contractualism supports
political rights while assuming that the good life for
individuals is one of self-legislation or autonomy.
The reason for valuing political power is that social
institutions are under political control, and that these
institutions are of paramount importance. They shape our
options and self-perceptions with pervasive effects on
our expectations and our life prospects. For purposes of
arguments about the proper allocation of authority over
social institutions, it seems correct to hold that
individuals have an equal interest in such political
control. The concern is not to secure self-governance,
but rather to avoid domination by others (see Pettit
1997). Liberal Contractualism acknowledges at least two
reasons for democracy. To understand the problems with
corporatism, which Our Creative Diversity
endorses, it is helpful to consider these reasons.
The equal dignity of all can be best safeguarded when
those subject to institutions also have say in how that
force is to be used. Democratic arrangements, including
majority rule among all affected parties, carefully
circumscribed, is the best flawed institutional
arrangement for avoiding domination and for securing the
equal worth and respect of all affected parties.
Firstly, democratic arrangements allow for interest
formation. Through free political discourse in a variety
of associations, citizens affirm their common commitment
to equal worth and respect. Thereby their sense of
justice affects their political agenda, their preferences
and conceptions of the good (Macedo 1995, Bohman and Rehg
Secondly, democracy provides for acceptable interest
aggregation. Citizens cast informed votes for
representatives, who in turn can set the agenda and
decide by majoritarian procedures. This power of citizens
to 'throw rascals out' serves as an important check on
the abuse of power. For instance, we know of no sudden
famines occurring in democracies (Sen and Dreze 1990).
These arguments for democracy thus must rest on empirical
premises, but they do not rest on views about the good
life as one of self-legislation.
A narrow focus on the mechanisms for interest
aggregation misses the significance of preference and
option formation, the importance of defining the
problems, and the role of bargaining within the
democratic procedures. These features explain why
contractualism is more concerned about the proper limits
to corporatism than the UNESCO Commission appears to be.
Corporatism is a system of representation of organized
interests, often involving labor unions, capital owners
and government. The state grants some of these organized
units a privileged role in defining the political agenda
and in identifying legislative and policy solutions.
Corporatist agreements thus shape the formal
parliamentary debate (cf. Dahl 1956, Schmitter 1974;
1979: 13). From the point of view of arguments about the
allocation of political power, it is by no means clear
that such permanent representation of organized interests
is always an improvement. What matters is whether such
arrangements secure the interests of all affected parties
better than alternative systems. The political agenda is
easily skewed to the disadvantage of those whose
interests are not represented. Furthermore, the lack of
transparency and accountability associated with
corporatism pose greater risks than more democratic
2 The Interest in Culture
The UNESCO report recognizes that
individualsndividuals have a strong interest in culture
and in protecting one's culture against rapid change.
Some authors hold that minority rights regarding culture
and religious practices should be institutionalized as
universal human rights.
Only if collective ethnic minority rights are
recognized as such, and specifically as human rights, can
such communities survive in environments which are often
hostile to their very existence and survival.
Stavenhagen 1996: 142-43.
Yet the presumption in favor of maintaining cultures
must sometimes be set aside, for instance to end
oppression or secure just development. Responsible
resolution of such dilemmas may be guided by a
contractualist account of the value of culture, of what
is at stake for people who share culture (cf. Follesdal
Culture as Social Practices
We must get some better sense of what 'culture' means.
Our Creative Diversity talks of culture as
"ways of living together", as "patterns of
daily behaviour". Culture "shapes all our
thinking, imagining and behaviour", and
"cultural factors shape the way in which societies
conceive their own futures and choose the means to attain
these futures." Moreover, "culture gives
meaning to our existence".
Without seeking more precision than is needed for our
purposes, let us consider culture to be practices,
that is: rule-regulated patterns of behavior. We may talk
of a social practice existing when people conduct
themselves in accordance with public rules, be they rules
of etiquette or law. These rules are public, and shape
our actions. When we decide how to act, the existence of
practices enable us to predict the actions of others.
This account seems to fit well with the role of culture
often recognized by political theorist: of providing a
structure within which individuals form and revise
their aims and ambitions (Kymlicka 1989).
Interest in Forecasting the Future
Intuitively, changes in culture pose a challenge to
coherence and continuity. Among the interests individuals
have is the ability to forecast correctly about their own
future, including likely options, attainments and needs.
Changes in values, norms, institutions, history and
language cause new opportunities appear, while others
disappear. Culture understood as practice plays an
important role in facilitating such forecasts about
others' behavior. However, awareness of the rules
governing social practices aid in prediction only the
rules will be followed in the future. If cultures change,
forecasts and expectations are thwarted. Cultural changes
should therefore not be too abrupt. On this basis, I
submit that members of a culture have an interest in
having their expectations met, and a claim to be able to
revise their plans as options and consequences change.
Claim to Control Cultural Change
Individuals form expectations on the basis of the
cultures they are part of. These expectations are prone
to influence by social institutions. It does not seem
that the interest in having expectations met supports a
claim to maintain cultures unchanged. Still, this
interest may justify claims to be able to affect the
changes that take place in social institutions, perhaps
concerning both the speed and mode of changes. Moreover,
our interest in forecasting supports claims to be
informed about changes, and to participate in the
adaptation of one's culture. This is because information
and participation reduces the risk of false expectations.
These claims are based on our interest in forecasting,
and do not rest on the view that individuals value the
ability to continually change their plans and values
independently of others.
This role of cultural membership grounds claims based
on the interest of members to influence the institutional
causes of cultural change. Members of traditional ethnic
national groups, as well as other minorities, often
suffer from lack of resources and authority to develop
their culture to cope with and exploit new modes of life.
Members of the majority culture, on the other hand, often
have the power to cause drastic changes in both majority
and minority ways of life. Given these threats to
minorities, it seems plausible to insist that they should
have the means to affect, if not control, the development
of their culture insofar as this is possible. This
interest in controlling cultural change supports claims
to some institutional powers, namely those that
facilitate the maintenance and development of one's
This account may aid in the resolution of some
conflicts between culture and fundamental needs. The main
concern is to maintain expectations. However, other
interests may clearly be of greater weight, particularly
the interest in satisfying basic needs. Thus insofar as
there are conflicts between maintaining cultural
practices and survival, both long term and short term,
contractualism will tend to favor the latter. Thus human
rights and development needed for securing basic needs
may require cultural change. The interest in culture does
not prevent such changes, but supports claims about how
such changes should be brought about. Participation by
those who share the culture seems important to ensure
that expectations are adjusted and respected as much as
possible. This is consistent with the view that the
environment, certain forms of development, and human
needs are of paramount importance.
Claims to Cultural Rights
A theory of cultural rights should shed light on
claims to rights, and to human rights. This account of
the significance of culture supports some rights
concerning culture. Such rights may include legal
immunities, material means, cultural support, or legal
powers of political autonomy. However, it is not obvious
that human rights are at stake. We need to understand the
appropriate connections between individuals' interests
and sound claims to rights, including human rights. The
following comments indicate what kind of arguments may be
- Rights may provide a necessary threshold of legal
protections. Legal immunities may enable members of
minority cultures to explore, share and convey their
culture to each other.
- Rights may also protect a culture from unacceptable
outside interference. For instance, minority
representation in political bodies may prevent unforeseen
damages and conflicts.
- Transparency regarding the use of government
discretion is often important. Valuable legal protections
may include a stated policy regarding minority treatment,
or impact statements to discover harmful effects of
policies on minorities' culture. Such obligations provide
domestic minorities with leverage against governmental
abuses. International audiences can reduce the risks even
Three aspects are relevant for the discussion
regarding culture and toleration.
Even though cultural membership is of value, and
individuals have an interest in controlling cultural
change, it is not clear that institutions must ensure equal
cultural contexts for all citizens. Equal capabilities or
opportunities of this kind are extremely difficult to
measure, and the grounds for such claims are unclear.
Secondly, the argument laid out does not show that
these rights protecting minority cultures should be
regarded as human rights. Let us provisionally use
the concept 'human rights' to include certain legal norms
within the UN and regional organizations. Human rights
may be regarded as universal conditions on the legitimate
allocation and exercise of sovereignty within and across
borders (Follesdal 1995). Consider the situation in the
Netherlands, where there are minority cultures, but no
easily identifiable majority. There, minorities do not
face the risk of being assimilated into one dominant
culture, while they face other risks under the Dutch
consociational mode of government (Lijphart 1995). Thus,
it is not clear that the same rights are appropriate
Consider the consociational system of government. It
is characterized by insulated groups enjoying cultural
autonomy for instance in the area of language, religion
or education by virtue of certain immunities against
majorities at large. Coalitions of elites representing
these groups decide by unanimity, in effect granting each
of these groups veto power. The groups are also
represented in major institutions and the civil service.
Such systems of group rights serve to protect the culture
of each group.
However, several problems arise, somewhat reminiscent
of corporatism. The arrangement embeds the founding
minorities, to the possible detriment of later groups
that will also need protection of their culture. The
system grants the elites of the privileged minorities
power of agenda setting and veto, without clear limits
concerning the issue areas. There is therefore a real
risk that the elites may abuse these powers,
intentionally or not.
These comments suggest caution concerning whether
minority cultural rights should be regarded as human
rights. The need for, and kind of, institutional
safeguards may differ drastically among minorities in
different states. This is not to deny that such rights
may be required by liberal contractualism, but that
universal requirements applicable to all states seem
3 Kymlicka: Culture provides Choice Structure
Several authors suggest that we must acknowledge an
interest in maintaining one's own culture, most
prominently perhaps Will Kymlicka. They are also
concerned with the great impact of social institutions on
individuals' opportunities to develop and maintain a
comprehensive worldview, and on the conditions facing
majority and minority cultures regarding survival and
change. The following brief discussion of Kymlicka's view
is not intended to indicate differences in conclusions.
Rather, it seeks to show that Kymlicka's account rests on
a conception of individuals which is susceptible to
criticism as unduly "Western".
Will Kymlicka argues that cultural membership is
valuable as a precondition. Cultural membership provides
the necessary structure for individuals' meaningful
pursuit of their various conceptions of the good life:
it's only through having a rich and secure cultural
structure that people can become aware, in a vivid way,
of the options available to them, and intelligently
examine their value. (Kymlicka 1989: 165; and see 1995
Cultural membership helps the individual identify
available options for choice. Membership in a culture
make options appear valuable by indicating possible
patterns and unity among options, thus making one's plan
of life appear worth carrying out and providing grounds
for self respect (cf. Tomasi 1995: 584 and
Buchanan 1991: 53-54 for friendly developments of this
argument). Kymlicka sees this account as compatible with
a liberalism "grounded in a commitment to freedom of
choice and (one form of) personal autonomy"
(Kymlicka 1995: 7). What liberalism has overlooked, he
claims, is the need for cultural membership to allow
This need for culture may support three different
kinds of claims to rights to ensure individuals' ability
to regard their lives as meaningful and structured. Some
groups may need rights of self-government, other groups
may require "Polyethnic rights" to support and
immunity, and some groups may require "Special
representation rights" granting them guaranteed
seats within the central institutions. He argues that
national groups should be able to maintain their culture
over time, if they so desire. "This ensures that the
good of cultural membership is equally protected for the
members of all national groups" (1995: 113).
Kymlicka's valuable contributions to these complex
issues should not be underestimated. In this context, my
concern is only to identify two issues where the two
Kymlicka explicitly grounds the constitutive value of
culture on a liberal ideal of the autonomous individual.
One might, following Rawls' definition, hold that
Kymlicka thus provides another sectarian doctrine, that
of "comprehensive liberalism" (Rawls 1987: 6
and 24, cited in Kymlicka 1995: 164). The implications of
this observation go beyond the scope of this paper,
though Kymlicka's arguments might be reconstructed so as
to avoid this premise. For the project pursued by the
UNESCO Commission of developing a "Global
Ethics", Kymlicka's premise may render that theory
less attractive than the contractualist theory sketched
The second difference between the two theories is the
support offered to groups seeking to maintain their
culture unchanged. Recall that contractualism does not
justify such claims, instead arguing for the interest in
controlling such cultural changes. As mentioned,
Kymlicka, on the other hand, argues that national groups
should be enabled to maintain their culture if they want.
The reasons for this stronger claim are not clear. The
interest in participation in a community for the sake of
securing a context of choice does not ground a claim to
maintaining a particular community, nor a claim to the
resources needed to preserve a culture indefinitely
without change (cf. Buchanan 1991: 55; Tomasi
1995: 594). The culture may change, and individuals may
successfully shift cultural affiliations, without
endangering their ability to regard their lives as
meaningful and structured. So the character of a culture
may change, without threatening extinction neither of the
culture nor of the meaning of individuals' life plans
(Kymlicka 1989: 167). Indeed, on Kymlicka's view the
constitutive interest in culture allows drastic changes
in culture brought about by government or others, as long
as the individuals face "no danger to their ability
to examine the options that their cultural structure had
made meaningful to them" (Kymlicka 1989: 167). Thus,
the right to maintain national cultures that Kymlicka
seeks to justify must be bolstered by other arguments not
easily apparent in the texts.
4 O'Neill: Critical of Rights
In several influential books Onora O'Neill has
developed an account of justice and other aspects of
ethics, with particular attention to issues of global
justice (1986 and 1996). She has warned against focussing
on rights rather than obligations, and some of her
objections would appear to apply to the present defence
of rights concerning culture.
By way of introduction, two differences between
O'Neill's approach and this version of liberal
contractualism seem worth mentioning. Like Kymlicka,
O'Neill's account draws on a conception of an autonomous
person, whose central characteristic is the "the
actual capacities and capabilities for action"
(1986: 167). The account of liberal contractualism
sketched here, on the other hand, avoids such
assumptions. The relevant interests include the
satisfaction of basic needs required for survival,
regardless of the individual considered as an agent.
Interest in democratic control, likewise, is not
justified by an ideal of self-governance, but rather
based on arguments that alternative allocations of such
controls threaten individuals' important interests.
Secondly, O'Neill appears to hold that normative
theories are of two kinds: they either regard obligations
or rights as fundamental. Her view is that obligation,
rather than rights, should be the fundamental notion in
moral arguments (1996: 4-5, 127-9, 140). In contrast,
liberal contractualism presents a third option, starting
neither with rights nor obligations. It focuses on the
rules of practices and institutions, which in turn
specify both rights and obligations. Arguments
regarding such rules are based not on rights or duties,
but on appeals to individuals' interests. No appeal is
made to natural or self-evident rights. Instead,
arguments are of the form that certain institutional
allocations of powers and controls are required to secure
individuals' interests against threats in a system of
These differences notwithstanding, since liberal
contractualism as sketched defends certain rights and
human rights, it is appropriate to consider whether this
approach can stand up to O'Neill's objections to the
emphasis on rights.
Rights Ignore Needs
Many rights-theories are said to overlook need, and
thus have difficulty determining obligations towards
those with unmet needs (O'Neill, 1986: 142, 161).
Rights-based theories instead only recognise universal
obligations of respecting liberty owed to all
others. An obligation to provide food to strangers, for
instance, can at best have a subordinate status (1986:
101-03). If this criticism applies to liberal
contractualism, social and economic human rights may not
stand well defended.
In response, I suggest that while O'Neill's
description might hold for some libertarian views,
accounts such as liberal contractualism explicitly
include certain basic needs as grounds for claims on
social institutions. Human rights are safeguards
vis-�-vis institutions, to ensure the satisfaction of
important interests. These institutional protections may
include access to food, which places obligations on
governments to ensure fair agricultural and income
substitution policies (Alston and Quinn 1987). The
content of rights may thus include "positive"
obligations, even including obligations of international
assistance (see Follesdal 1991). Similarly, rights
concerning culture may require transfers and assistance
by governments, if minorities must have such support in
order to control cultural change.
Rights Ignore Institutions
Contractualist arguments might be criticised because
such arguments cannot address institutions (O'Neill 1986:
119). Her argument is complex: Since institutions and
collectivities are not rational choosers, arguments based
on the outcome of choice -- hypothetical or otherwise --
cannot apply to the actions of organisations and groups.
Again, this criticism does not apply to the liberal
contractualism sketched here. The subject of deliberation
is precisely the rules of institutions, practices and
regimes. Normative theory is relevant for such rules
because rules are under some control by agents, and
because they have drastic effects on individuals'
interests. The role of hypothetical choice within this
kind of contractualist argument, as indicated above, is
best regarded as a shorthand for appeals to individuals'
interests. No assumption is made that institutions per
se choose, or that all practices are chosen.
Rights Fail to Place Responsibility
O'Neill seems to hold that the focus on rights leaves
obligations dangling in the air (1996: 134). Her main
concern is that only liberty rights have clearly
specified duty-bearers, while
Without institutions, supposed universal rights to
goods or services are radically incomplete. ... Whereas
liberty rights and their corresponding universal
obligations fall on all if on any, universal rights to
goods and services can only be realised by establishing
one of many differing possible sets of burdensome special
relationships. ... All that could be known in advance is
that, should a (just) scheme be devised, somebody or
other will need to bear yet-to-be specified obligations
O'Neill laments this lack of specificity on two
grounds. Starting with obligations would make one more
realistic and honest about burdens. Secondly, the lack of
focus inherent in rights-based theories diffuses the
motivation to respond to needs, while obligation-bearers
will be motivated to construct institutions (1996: 135).
In response, we can agree with O'Neill that unless
precise obligations are firmly placed on individuals and
institutions, rights talk becomes a sham. If "it is
not clear where claims should be lodged, appeals to
supposed universal rights to goods and services,
including welfare, are mainly rhetoric, which proclaim
"manifesto" rights against unspecified
others" (1996: 132). However, this lack of precision
is neither avoidable nor regrettable, given the limited
aspirations of normative political theory. Contractualist
moral theory aspires to put some constraints on what
kinds of world individuals should acquiesce in, without
even seeking to generate a blueprint of the ideal world
order. Indeed, this is a view shared by O'Neill (1986: 48
The practical aim of normative theory is not to
provide a complete description of the best institutional
arrangements, but to resolve conflicts among considered
judgments, and clarify our views on areas where more
determinate answers are needed. We may note that
O'Neill's preferred alternative, to focus on obligations,
likewise seems to underdetermine the precise content of
agents' obligations. Often all that can be done by
normative theory is to identify some social worlds as out
of bounds, as unjust or immoral. Since the aim of the
normative theory is not to provide or fully determine the
content of the ideal world, but to settle conflicts and
dilemmas, no more specificity may be needed. Several
different rules or practices may be equally
unobjectionable from the moral point of view, permitted
or preferred to a range of alternatives. It seems
appropriate to regard the selection and implementation of
one such permissible arrangement as an important task of
sRights Fail to Motivate Actual Agents
O'Neill once feared that a focus on rights perpetuates
a self-conception of holders of rights as passive
claimants rather than active citizens (1986: 117, 131).
She now acknowledges that rights can also galvanise the
rights-holders (1996: 119, 133). The crucial issue is
whether the 'rhetoric of rights' will mobilise those with
power to affect institutional change. I submit that even
those in power may be reached by a focus on rights
abuses. The mobilising effects of human rights in Poland,
South Africa and India suggest that rights talk may
stimulate organisations and activism by the oppressed.
Their protests force those in power to invest more
attention and effort to these issues. Protests are
sometimes required when those in power are not moved by a
diffuse sense of obligation. Likewise, rights to
development and to control cultural change can mobilise
those whose interests are trampled upon. Such rights
provide the oppressed with concepts, arguments and
international attention to influence the powers that be
(Chayes and Chayes 1995).
Liberal contractualism may provide the UNESCO report
on Our Creative Diversity with the political
theory needed to account for the value of culture without
succumbing to unrestrained toleration, while minimizing
the dependence on objectionable "Western"
values. Contractualism may thus aid the further
development and resolution of the issues identified in
Nevertheless, there are at least three issues where
liberal contractualism is somewhat at odds with the
report, requiring further attention.
The Commission offers conceptions of culture and
development that appear to be based on the value of
individuals' effective freedom to pursue whatever they
have reason to value. The present account would suggest
that culture, as well as development, may be justified
without appealing to a conception of persons centrally
interested in autonomy.
The understanding of why culture is of value
appears to require further reflection, possibly along the
lines sketched above. For instance, the report gives the
impression that all reductions in cultural diversity are
to be regretted, including the extinction of languages.
But to hold that maintenance of languages is a cultural
right on a par with human rights seems unwarranted, at
least according to the account of culture offered above.
Furthermore, the report holds that one should not only
tolerate and respect the plurality of cultures, but also rejoice
in it. However, it is unclear that such a positive
attitude is required, or needed, for the sake of
toleration and stability.
The third point concerns the endorsement of
corporatist modes of decision making. The report fails to
give due attention to the strengths and weaknesses of
such models of governance - which may be regarded as a
mode of group representation. This lack of attention to
possible, and avoidable, risks may be due to the
apparently plausible view that group interests should be
given influence. The report lauds the tripartite
representation in ILO of governments, management and
labor. However, the report does not address the standard
concerns about corporatist governance, particularly as it
is applied to issues beyond the workplace. Placing
political power with organized interests may violate
democratic ideals. However, which interests should count,
and how they should be secured, remain important issues
for further reflection.
Our interest in culture is important, yet it is only
one of several interest which sometimes conflict. Rights
can be justified on the basis of culture, but such claims
require careful attention to the kind of powers and
immunities that are appropriate, to ensure that the
social institutions secure all important interests of all
paper was written under the auspices of ARENA - Advanced
Research on the Europeanisation of the Nation-State, a
program funded by the Research Council of Norway. I am
grateful for fruitful comments and incisive criticism
from participants at a workshop at the Center for
Environment and Development (SUM) at the University of
Oslo, from the audience at the Fifteenth International
Social Philosophy Conference at North Adams, MA, and from
Alston, Philip and Gerard Quinn. 1987. "The
Nature and Scope of States Parties' Obligations under the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights" Human Rights Quarterly 9 (2):
Barry, Brian. 1995. Justice as Impartiality.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bauer, Joanne R., and Daniel A. Bell, eds. 1998. The
East Asian Challenge for Human Rights. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Bangkok Declaration. 1993. Report of the
Regional Meeting for Asia of the World Conference on
Human Rights (Bangkok, March 29 - April 2, 1993), UN Doc.
Bohman, James, and Rehg, William. 1997. Deliberative
Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics Cambridge,
Mass: MIT Press.
Buchanan, Allen. 1991. Secession: The Morality of
Political Divorce from Fort Sumter to Lithuania and
Quebec. Boulder: Westview.
Chayes, Abram and Antonia Handler Chayes. 1995. The
New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulatory
Agreements. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Dahl, Robert. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory.
Chicago: Chicago University Press.
------. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Dworkin, Ronald. 1978. "Liberalism". In
Stuart Hampshire, ed.: Public and Private Morality.
Cambridge University Press 113-143.
Follesdal, Andreas. 1995. "Justifying Human
Rights: the Challenge of Cross-Cultural Toleration".
European Journal of Law, Philosophy and Computer
Science. 6: 37-48.
------. 1996. "Minority rights: a Liberal
Contractualist case." in Do we Need Minority
Rights? Conceptual Issues. Juha Raikka, ed. 59-83.
The Hague: Kluwer Law.
Kymlicka, Will. ed. 1989. Liberalism, Community and
Culture. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
------.1995. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal
Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Oxford University
Lijphart, Arend. 1995. "Self-determination Versus
Pre-determination of Ethnic Minorities in Power-sharing
Systems." In The Rights of Minority Cultures,
ed. Will Kymlicka, 275-88. Oxford: Oxford University
Macedo, Stephen. 1995. "Liberal Civic Education
and Religious Fundamentalism: The Case of God V. John
Rawls?" Ethics 105 (April):468-96.
Nagel, Thomas. 1987. "Moral Conflict and
Political Legitimacy", Philosophy and Public
O'Neill, Onora. 1986. Faces of Hunger: an Essay on
Poverty, Justice and Development. London: Allen &
------. 1996. Towards Justice and Virtue: A
Constructive Account of Practical Reasoning.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pettit, Philip. 1997. Republicanism: A theory of
Freedom and Government. Oxford: Oxford University
Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
------. 1987. "The Idea of an Overlapping
Consensus." Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 7
------. 1993. Political Liberalism. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Scanlon, T. M. 1982. "Contractualism and
Utilitarianism", Utilitarianism and Beyond,
eds. Amartya K. Sen and Bernard Williams. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 103-128.
------. 1998. What We Owe to Each Other.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Schmitter, Philippe. 1974. "Still the Century of
Corporatism?" Review of Politics. 36: 85-121.
Sen, Amartya K., and Jean Dreze. 1990. Hunger and
Public Action. Oxford University Press.
Stavenhagen, Rodolfo. 1996. "Indigenous Peoples
and Other Ethnic Groups." In Conditions for
Civilized Politics: Political Regimes and Compliance with
Human Rights, eds. Asbj�rn Eide and Bernt Hagtvet.
Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.
Tomasi, John. 1995. "Kymlicka, Liberalism, and
Respect for Cultural Minorities." Ethics 105
World Commission on Culture and Development.1995. Our
Creative Diversity. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
[Date of publication in the ARENA
Working Paper series: 15.08.1999]