Dit academiejaar vieren het Hoger Instituut voor Wijsbegeerte van de KU Leuven en het Institut supérieur de philosophie van de Université Catholique de Louvain hun 125ste verjaardag. Ter gelegenheid daarvan vinden er in Leuven (en in Louvain-la-Neuve) een reeks speciale evenementen plaats. Het eerste evenement was het eredoctoraat toegekend aan Professor Will Kymlicka (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada) op vrijdag 6 november 2014. Hieronder vindt u de laudatio voor de eredoctor, uitgesproken door de Leuvense promotor van het eredoctoraat.
Honourable Rector, Your Excellencies, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Professor Will Kymlicka is one of the most important political philosophers in the world today. He is the intellectual father of the political theory of multiculturalism, and he is a key figure in the related fields that have been developed in its wake: the normative study of nationalism, migration, language rights, and federalism.
Given the quality of his work on these themes, and his prominent position in thinking them through, Will Kymlicka’s work is extremely relevant for understanding citizenship in a multilingual state like Belgium. And you can see why it is also helpful for fully grasping today’s event, which is the first of a series of events to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Institute of Philosophy, an Institute that was founded by the brilliant Cardinal Mercier who was certainly not enthusiastic about the possibility of using Dutch at this university, an Institute that like the other faculties experienced the split of the university into two new universities, one in Dutch here in Leuven and one in French in Louvain-la-Neuve, and an Institute, finally, that today in Leuven offers a full Philosophy training in two languages, this time Dutch and English, and that is experiencing the unprecedented spread of English as a language of international scholarship.
So Kymlicka’s work is an important source of inspiration for understanding the challenges of linguistic, cultural and multinational diversity today. That is the case not only in Leuven or in Belgium but in fact in all states of the world as well as at transnational levels such as the European Union. Allow me to elucidate why and how that is the case.
Kymlicka has gained international acclaim for his analysis of citizenship and justice in multicultural societies. In his books he has developed a liberal justification of minority rights. Many liberals, especially after World War II, have rejected any form of minority rights or group-based recognition. But Kymlicka has developed a conception of liberalism that promotes minority rights. His argument is based on the importance of culture for liberalism. If liberals want to realise individual freedom, Kymlicka argues, they should factor in its cultural preconditions. In order to make individual choices, individuals need access to a national societal culture that discloses options they can choose from, and that makes these options meaningful to them. Therefore liberals need to explicitly promote rather than ignore societal cultures.
On the basis of this argument, Kymlicka has defended a policy in which, apart from general individual rights, group-differentiated rights are granted as well. Among these group-differentiated rights, Kymlicka emphasizes two. The first are polyethnic rights, for immigrant groups. These polyethnic rights entail explicit state recognition of immigrant cultures in a way that is consistent with and conducive to their cultural integration in the host society. The second type of group-differentiated rights that Kymlicka advocates are self-government rights, for national-cultural groups. These rights grant sub-state nations like the Flemish, the Catalans or the Québécois political autonomy and territorial jurisdiction. These two types of group-differentiated rights, polyethnic rights and self-government rights, correspond to the two ways in which he has defined multiculturalism: multiculturalism can refer to cultural diversity resulting from recent migration as well as to the coexistence of several nations within one state.
With this theory of multiculturalism, Kymlicka has provided an alternative to several of the major political theories of our era that have continued to work with monocultural premises in a multicultural age. Already in 1989, Kymlicka said that the problem with the theories of such political philosophers like John Rawls or Ronald Dworkin lies in the fact that “they work with a very simplified model of the nation-state, where the political community is co-terminous with one and only one cultural community” (Kymlicka 1989: 177). This model is untenable in a time when immigration is widespread and many states internally contain several nations. The one-state-one-culture assumption is simply wrong. Instead, Kymlicka has initiated a new political philosophy, one that thinks through the principles of justice for polyethnic and multinational societies.
Today the discipline of political philosophy finds itself in a period of transition, not just from a monocultural to a multicultural stance, but also from a purely domestic perspective to a new perspective in which international or supranational phenomena are of high relevance. Political philosophy now also involves questions of global justice, supranational democracy, and attention to regional bodies like the European Union. The next centuries may arguably look back at this time as a pivotal moment during which theories of justice and democracy finally left the exclusive focus on the nation-state behind and entered a new stage. Kymlicka’s analysis of the continued relevance of culture – in the context of situations where the political community is no longer co-terminous with one cultural community – is of central importance to this shift in our intellectual outlook, not only in terms of diagnosing the problem, but also in terms of revising the conceptual tools and the normative principles of our theories of justice. At the same time, Kymlicka never argues that the nation has become obsolete, nor that we should enter a fully post-national world devoid of national attachment. On the contrary, the conclusion he draws from his multicultural liberalism is that the nation continues to be highly relevant, not only as a precondition of individual freedom, but also for projects of social justice and the trust-building they entail. For Kymlicka, in the EU and also in multinational states like Canada and Belgium, the nations making up the multinational union form the primary loci of democratic participation, and they are also important contexts of justice. However, Kymlicka does not advocate secession for nations; he believes federalism and multinational constellations are often possible, and he has taken it upon himself to think through their sources of unity. With this philosophy of multiculturalism, federalism and multinational constellations, which he worked out in his books Liberalism, Community and Culture (OUP (Oxford University Press), 1989), Multicultural Citizenship (OUP, 1995) and Politics in the Vernacular (OUP, 2001), Kymlicka’s work has become exceptionally influential. His books have been translated into 32 languages, and he has received important prizes for his work. His theoretical model, which he illustrated with examples from his home state Canada and from the Spanish and Belgian cases, has subsequently been applied to cases in Eastern Europe (in Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported? Western Political Theory and Ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe, OUP, 2001), Africa (in Ethnicity and Democracy in Africa, OUP, 2004), Asia (in Multiculturalism in Asia, OUP, 2005) and the Middle East (Multiculturalism and Minority Rights in the Arab World, OUP, just published in 2014). Kymlicka’s work has been persuasive far beyond the field of academic political philosophy and has found resonance in most of the humanities, in the internal public debates of diverse multicultural societies, in UNESCO’s 2009 World Report on cultural diversity, in the United Nations’ 2004 Human Development Report on Cultural Liberty, in the 2005 Global Commission on International Migration, and so on.
As you can see, Kymlicka has applied his theories to an impressive number of specific states and regions, and every step in his theoretical model is always accompanied by clear examples from actual cases. His work is far from being abstractly situated in high normative clouds, as theories of political philosophy sometimes are. At the same time Kymlicka’s work is still normative – rather than purely describing situations, Kymlicka evaluates them and formulates guidelines of justice.
Apart from his work on multicultural questions, Kymlicka has also written an introduction in contemporary political philosophy that is used in many universities around the world, including in this university, as a standard handbook for more than two decades now (Contemporary Political Philosophy, OUP, 2002). And very recently he has embarked on a new project on animal rights (Zoopolis, A Political Theory of Animal Rights OUP, 2011), co-authored with his wife Sue Donaldson, which justifies respect for animals’ basic rights, and advocates political obligations towards animals depending on the different relations we have with them, grounded in principles of justice and compassion. This new theory radically redefines our societal relationship with animals, has been impactful already and is bound to continue to be so,– starting in fact right here with the vegan reception following this conferral ceremony, which is most probably the first all-vegan event of its kind in the long history of this university, and to which you are all kindly invited after Prof. Rik Torfs has spoken and after Prof. Kymlicka’s lecture.
For these reasons, honourable Rector, I ask you, on the recommendation of the Academic Council, to confer the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa of KU Leuven upon Professor Will Kymlicka.
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