TO what extent can multiculturalism be reconcilded with national unity?

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To what extent can multiculturalism be reconciled with national unity and cohesion?
The concepts of national unity and cohesion are more closely related to the ideology of nationalism
than multiculturalism, especially the nationalist traditions on the further right of the political spectrum.
These ideological traditions contrast multiculturalist values in that they claim that culturally
homogenous societies are more stable and therefore more successful in terms of politics, economics
and social cohesion. However, there are some nationalist traditions which support national unity and
cohesion that can be reconciled with multiculturalism through the belief that the cultural identity of an
individual does not inflict on their political life, thus not threatening national unity or social cohesion.
In many respects, multiculturalism cannot be reconciled with the nationalist values of national unity
and cohesion when viewed from the perspectives of extreme nationalist traditions such as chauvinist
and expansionist nationalism. These forms of nationalism argue that the multiculturalism belief of
encouraging diversity based on cultural differences creates a situation in which the establishment and
maintenance of national unity and cohesion impossible. Nationalists argue that multiculturalism
promotes segregation and alienation amongst ethnic minorities by promoting them maintaining their
native culture. By not fully integrating into the culture of the nation in which the minorities inhabit,
they undermine national unity and cohesion. As multiculturalism advocates minorities having special
rights in order to preserve their cultural identity, the ideology cannot be reconciled with national
unity and cohesion. In many respects, this is reflected in the words of Alfred L. Guerard; Nationalism
"is not love of our countrymen: that, which denotes good citizenship, philanthropy, practical religion,
should go by the name of patriotism. Nationalism is passionate xenophobia". This suggests therefore
that to build a nationalist state in which national unity and cohesion are prioritised, it cannot be
reconciled with multiculturalism. Furthermore, the aforementioned nationalist ideological traditions
specify that membership of a nation is based on a cultural and, in the case of xenophobic nationalism,
ethnic criteria and it is this common membership that creates a sense of common identity and
consequently a national unity, which itself implies a level of cohesion.
However, there are less extreme forms of nationalism which can be reconciled with the
multiculturalist doctrine of cultural heterogeneity whilst still promoting national unity and cohesion.
These include liberal and post-colonial nationalism. Liberal nationalism stresses the idea that
membership to a nation is elective and based on an individual basis. Whilst this leaves it open to the
claim that an individual should therefore willingly conscribe to the cultures of the nation they are
electing into, it also leaves open the possibility of reconciliation between the tradition and
multiculturalism. This liberal nationalist perception is espoused by David Miller who claims that
"Although national identities involve elements of myth, this does not show that it is irrational to
embrace them. Nor do they prevent individuals making their own choices about how to live."
Multiculturalism stresses the freedom of choice for people of ethnic minorities, with the possibility
for them to retain their original culture and identity. This suggests that cultural and ethnic groups can
be respected and recognised within the context of a larger nation, therefore individual political
allegiances and civil values do not conflict with the cultural values of minorities. With elective
membership to a nation, this preservation of individual identity does not undermine national unity or
cohesion, thus evidencing the possibility of reconciliation. According to Jabri "Civic nationalism is
based upon citizenship, democracy and inclusiveness", therefore multiculturalism can be reconciled
with nationalism and therefore national unity and cohesion. Furthermore, there is no concrete

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Sir William
Deane actually argues this in the case of Australian national unity: "while recognising and protecting
our diversity of backgrounds, cultures and beliefs, it promotes that identity and unity by building
upon and adding cohesion to what we are."
Therefore, in conclusion, there is the possibility for liberal nationalism and multiculturalism to be
reconciled in certain circumstances.…read more


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