Monday, 1 August 2011

Liberalism, Not Multiculturalism


In last Friday's editorial, it was implied that the prescence of "hundreds of thousands" of foreigners in Taiwan was sufficient to refute Anders Breivik's claim that Taiwan, along with South Korea and Japan, were relatively "monoculturalist" societies.

Aside from its conflation of culture with nationality, I think your editor's claim is problematic because it seems to share Breivik's dubious premise. What matters is not the number of foreigners, or whether the society is "monocultural" or "multicultural". What matters is fidelity to the Liberal principle of tolerance for others who may sometimes think and act in reference to somewhat different cultural standards. I think this principle is fairly strong among ordinary people in Taiwan. Whether that makes Taiwan "monocultural" or "multicultural" is of no ethical importance whatsoever, unless one chooses to evaluate according to nationalist, ethnic, racial or other equally shallow and collectivist criteria.

The principle of extending tolerance is limited only to those who are themselves prepared to do the same. What is indefensible is to tolerate those people who are themselves intolerant - which means those people who are prepared to violate the lives and property of others in pursuit or maintenance of their own values.

Assuming that this principle is sound, then just as it is indefensible to tolerate Muslim protestors who publicly called for the actual beheading of "those who insult Islam" (such as those who merely drew a cartoon of Mohammed), it is likewise indefensible to tolerate a government which insists on "expropriating" the private property of farmers who merely happen to stand in the way of the expansion of a science park. Both cases are instances of intolerance, and though the former may appear more obviously barbaric than the latter, they are yet identical in principle as they both pertain to the violation of the freedom of the individual.

Yours freely,
Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Tuesday 2nd August 2011. Unpublished by the Taipei Times: I guess I'm banned now.)

Note: It did cross my mind to tone down the final paragraph as the equation of government expropriation to Islamic militancy does cut across several other significant differences and as such will likely (but incorrectly) be regarded as a category error by the TT editors. It isn't a category error because the comparison is held in place by stipulation to a particular context: the violation of those rights of the individual necessary for freedom. Yet the reason I haven't toned it down is because, on the weight of recent experience, I suspect the TT eds are just as likely to refuse to publish a principled criticism of government expropriation powers with or without a comparison to Islamic militancy.

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