Multiculturalism and the problem of “authenticity”
“‘There is a certain way of being human that is my way’, wrote the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in his much discussed essay on ‘The Politics of Recognition’. ‘I am called upon to live my life in this way… Being true to myself means being true to my own originality’. This sense of being ‘true to myself’ Taylor calls ‘the ideal of “authenticity”’. . . .—Kenan Malik, “Identity Is That Which Is Given”
For the Enlightenment philosophes, equality required that the state should treat all citizens in the same fashion without regard to their race, religion or culture. This was at the heart of their arguments against the ancien regime and has been an important strand of liberal and radical thought ever since. For contemporary multiculturalists, on the other hand, people should be treated not equally despite their differences, but differently because of them. ‘Justice between groups’, as the political philosopher Will Kymlicka has put it, ‘requires that members of different groups are accorded different rights’. . . .
One expression of such equal treatment is the growing tendency in some Western nations for religious law – such as the Jewish halakha and the Islamic sharia – to take precedence over national secular law in civil, and occasionally criminal, cases. Another expression can be found in Australia, where the courts increasingly accept that Aborigines should have the right to be treated according to their own customs rather than be judged by ‘whitefella law’. . . .
The demand that because a cultural practice has existed for a long time, so it should be preserved . . . is a modern version of the naturalistic fallacy, the belief that ought derives from is. For nineteenth century social Darwinists, morality - how we ought to behave - derived from the facts of nature - how humans are. This became an argument to justify capitalist exploitation, colonial oppression, racial savagery and even genocide. Today, virtually everyone recognises the falsity of this argument. Yet, when talking of culture rather than of nature, many multiculturalists continue to insist that is defines ought. . . .
[T]here is something deeply inauthentic about the contemporary demand for authenticity.”