Liberal recognition for identity? Only for particularized ones
Communitarian writers argue that social identity is deeply important to individual autonomy and thus liberal societies have an obligation to recognize identity. Any liberal view that attempts to account for this charge must specify a procedure to recognize identity that also ensures that the liberal sense of autonomy is not weakened. In this article, I develop such an account. I argue that liberals must distinguish an identity that belongs to particular persons (particularized identity) from the collective form of that identity. For instance, Naisha will have her own particularized way of being Indian in addition to the collective form of the culture that she shares with others. To determine which acts would be about recognizing the particularized form, I provide a counterfactual test. One major implication of the test is that special collective rights would not be endorsed. At the same time, the test is not equivalent to the liberal positions of insisting either that rights belong to individuals or that individuals are not harmed. Because identity is almost always viewed in terms of groups, valuing identity seems to be at odds with the principles of liberalism and democratic theory in which individual persons are the ultimate source of value. I show that there is a significant way to recognize identity that is harmonious with these principles.
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