Political Liberalism and the Politics of Race: Beyond Perfectionism and Culture
Abstract: It is a commonplace to suggest that liberal theory should construct principles which are race-neutral, that policies should be ‘color-blind1. This study criticizes the description of race neutrality in recent theories of political liberalism. The author begins by addressing recent writings on political liberalism by John Rawls, and explores the assumptions about racial practices which support Rawls1 description of race in public deliberation. Particular attention is given to the conceptions of toleration and slavery, as these are central to a discussion of race in liberal theory. Through a discussion of the works of several other liberal scholars, including Will Kymlicka, J. Donald Moon, and Ronald Dworkin, several problems with the neutral conception of race in general are described. One solution proposed recently by scholars to resolve some of the difficulty in adequately addressing the complexity of race politics is to adopt a position of cultural pluralism, or ‘multiculturalism1. The study considers the work on cultural pluralism of Charles Taylor, criticizing both the conception of authenticity and equal recognition that Taylor develops in contrast to the work of Bonnie Honig, William Connolly, and Paul Gilroy. The study next uses a discussion of pragmatism, particularly that described in the work of Richard Rorty, to argue for the importance of the experience of race practices, and the creation of the scope for individual agency when determining the description of race in public deliberation. The inability of political liberalism, as described in traditional approaches to the subject, to account for the ongoing character of race practices in society is described as requiring a reconsideration of the distinction between private and public spheres of relations. The author argues that this is demonstrated by considering the importance of protest and the use of autobiography as found in the works of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cornel West, and Derrick Bell in changing existing descriptions of race in political liberalism.
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