Posts tagged Susan Moller Okin

The Passive-Aggressive Freedom-Lover’s Distributed Book Club #1: bringing women from the margins to the center in political theory. From Susan Moller Okin’s Women in Western Political Thought (1979, Princeton University Press). pp. 3-12.

As I was just saying earlier today, I’ve been thinking that my readers might be interested in some of the topics that Susan Moller Okin touches on in her masterpiece, Women in Western Political Thought. The book is published by Princeton University Press. I thought you might enjoy thinking about some material which I’ve quoted here for educational purposes under principles of fair use. Especially stuff like the programmatic material on pages 3-12, where Okin explains how Western political thought has so far been shaped, in part, by the fact that women’s status and women’s concerns have been confined to the margins of political thought. Thus, she writes:

Introduction

The current feminist movement has inspired a considerable amount of scholarship in areas previously unexplored. The recent focus on women in the fields of history, legal studies, anthropology, sociology, and literary criticism has resulted in a number of innovative and important works, such that it is no exaggeration to say that these fields will never look the same again. No one, however, has yet examined systematically the treatment of women in the classic works of political philosophy—those works in which great thinkers throughout history have revealed to us their thoughts about the political and social life of the human race. This book is an attempt to reduce the consequent gap in our knowledge.

It is important to realize from the outset that the analysis and criticism of the thoughts of political theorists of the past is not an arcane academic pursuit, but an important means of comprehending and laying bare the assumptions behind deeply rooted modes of thought that continue to affect people’s lives in major ways. Women, in the course of the present century, have officially become citizens in virtually every country of the Western world and in much of the rest of the world as well. From being totally relegated to th private sphere of the household, they have become enfranchised members of the political realm. However, women are increasingly recognizing that the limited, formal, political gains of the earlier feminist movement have in no way ensured the attainment of real equalities in the economic and social aspects of their lives. Though women are now citizens, it is undeniable that they have remained second-class citizens. Measured in terms of characteristics traditionally valued in citizens, such as education, economic independence, or occupational status, they are still far behind men. Likewise, measured in terms of political participation—especially at higher levels—and political power, they are nowhere near the equals of men. In the past decade, moreover, women have been demanding these more substantial equalities, and an end to their relegation to second-class citizenship. They have been claiming the right to be members of society and citizens of the state on an equal level with men, and, in principle at least, their claims have been getting recognition.

The fact that women have gained formal citizenship, but have in no other respect achieved equality with men, has impelled me to turn to the great works of political philosophy, with two major questions in mind. I have asked, first, whether the existing tradition of political philosophy can sustain the inclusion of women in its subject matter, and if not, why not? For if the works which form the basis of our political and philosophical heritage are to continue to be relevant in a world in which the unequal position of women is being radically challenged, we must be able to recognize which of their assumptions and conclusions are inherently connected with the idea that the sexes are, and should be, fundamentally unequal.

Second, and clearly related to the first inquiry, I have aimed to discover whether the philosophers’ arguments about the nature of women and their proper place in the social and political order, viewed in the context of the complete political theories of the philosophers, will help us to understand why the formal, political enfranchisement of women has not led to substantial equality between the sexes. It is not my purpose to argue any causal connection between the arguments and ideas of the great philosophers, on the one hand, and modern ideas or practices, on the other. However, I do argue that modes of thought about women that closely parallel those of some of the philosophers discussed here are still prevalent, in the writings of modern thinkers, and in the ideologies of modern political actors and institutions. This claim is substantiated in Part V, where we turn to analysis of some crucial contemporary views on women—those of influential social scientists and of the highest courts in the U.S.—and discover striking similarities between them and the ideas of the political theorists analyzed in the preceding chapters. By critical study of the arguments about women conceived by some of the finest minds in the history of Western thought, I hope to add to our comprehension of modern arguments which parallel them in important ways, and which constitute a continuing attempt to justify the unequal treatment of women.

It must be recognized at once that the great tradition of political philosophy consists, generally speaking, of writings by men, for men, and about men. While the use of supposedly generic terms like man and mankind, and of the allegedly inclusive pronoun he, might lead one to think that philosophers have intended to refer to the human race as a whole, we do not need to look far into their writings to realize that such an assumption is unfounded. Rousseau, for example, tells his reader at the beginning of the Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men that It is of man that I am to speak. It subsequently becomes very clear that it is only the inequality between males that is the subject of his investigation, and the inequality between the sexes is assumed in passing.1 Past and present feminists, only too aware of such practices, have pointed out the dangerous ambiguity of such linguistic usage in a patriarchal culture.2 For it enables philosophers to enunciate principles as if they were universally applicable, and then to proceed to exclude all women from their scope.

Even when philosophers have used words which in their respective languages refer unambiguously to any human being, they have felt in no way deterred from excluding women from the conclusions reached. Aristotle, for example, discusses at length what is the highest good for a human being (anthropos). He then proceeds to characterize all women as not only conventionally deprived of, but constitutionally unfitted for, this highest good. Again, Kant uses the most inclusive terms of all for the subjects of his ethical and political theory; he even says that he is not confining his discussion to humans, but that it is applicable to all rational beings. Subsequently, however, he proceeds to justify a double standard of sexual morality, to the extent that a woman is to be condoned for killing her illegitimate child because of her duty to uphold, at all costs, her sexual honor. He also reaches the conclusion that the only characteristic that permanently disqualifies any person from citizenship in the state, and therefore from the obligation to obey only those laws to which consent has been given, is that of being born female.3 Thus, even words such as person, human, and rational being, apparently, do not necessarily include women.

This phenomenon, made possible by the ambiguity of our language, is not confined to political philosophy. The grand statements of our political culture, too, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are phrased in universal terms, but, as the chapter on women and the law will make clear, they have frequently been interpreted in such a way as to exclude women. Thus when the Founding Fathers declared it to be a self-evident truth that all men are created equal, not only did they intend the substantial slave population to be excluded from the scope of their statement, but they would have been amused and skeptical (as indeed John Adams was to his wife’s appeal that they not forget the ladies) at the suggestion that women were, and should be considered, equal too.4 Similarly, though the Constitution is phrased in terms of persons, there was clearly no idea in its framers’ minds that this word might be interpreted so as to include women on the same terms as men.5

Human nature, we realize, as described and discovered by philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and many others, is intended to refer only to male human nature. Consequently all the rights and needs that they have considered humanness to entail have not been perceived as applicable to the female half of the human race. Thus there has been, and continues to be, within the traditions of political philosophy and political culture, a pervasive tendency to make allegedly general statements as if the human race were not divided into two sexes, and then either to ignore the female sex altogether, or to proceed to discuss it in terms not at all consistent with the assertions that have been made about man and humanity.

In spite of this general neglect of women, however, several of the most important and most interesting of political philosophers have had a considerable amount to say about them. The first four parts of this book comprise an analysis of the arguments of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, and Mill, on the subject of women, their nature, their socialization and education, and their proper role and station in society. It would be fruitless, if not impossible, to treat such a subject in a vacuum. What I have done, therefore, is to analyze these philosophers’ ideas about women in the context of their entire theories of politics and society, and with particular reference to each philosopher’s conception of the role of the family. Throughout the study, I have examined the various ideas about women and the arguments which sustain them, with a concern both for their internal logic and for their consistency with each philosopher’s argument and conclusions about men, and about politics and society as a whole.

Clearly, in choosing four philosophers I do not pretend to have covered the treatment of women within the entire tradition of political philosophy. Apart from the omission of the socialists, which requires explanation, however, I have chosen those four who of all political theorists have made the most substantial, most interesting, and most thought-provoking contributions on the subject.

The problem regarding Marx, the Marxists, and other socialists, is that, taken together, they had so much to say, and such insight to offer, on the subject of women in society, that their ideas warrant a separate study. It was the utopian, Charles Fourier, who first both used the status of women in a society as the fundamental measuring stick of its advancement, and considered the progress of women toward liberty to be a fundamental cause of general social progress. Other events influence these political changes; he asserts, but there is no cause which produces social progress or decline as rapidly as a change in the condition of women…. The extension of the privileges of women is the fundamental cause of all social progress.6 Fourier’s initiatives were not ignored by subsequent feminists and/or socialists, including Flora Tristan, Marx and John Stuart Mill. Marx developed the idea of the relationship between the equality of women and general social progress, in the 1844 Manuscripts:

The relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It indicates, therefore, how far man’s natural behavior has become human, and how far his human essence has become a natural essence for him, how far his human nature has become nature for him…. From this relationship man’s whole level of development can be assessed.7

Though Marx himself did not develop this as a major theme in his works, Engels, Bebel, and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School have developed further the socialist criticism of woman’s position in society, and of the traditional family.

Socialist writings on women require separate study because of two features which are characteristic of, though not unique to, socialist modes of thought. First, socialist theorists have been far less inclined than most other political theorists to regard the family as a necessary and fixed human institution, and have been very much aware of the relationship between various forms of family organization and different forms of economic structure, particularly property relations. This has meant that most, though not all, socialists who have written about women have taken a critical and questioning view of woman’s role within the family, rather than accepting it as a given. Second, socialist thought is noticeably lacking in the tendency to idealize nature and the natural, and is inclined to replace these criteria for social excellence by the specifically human and cultural. It is largely because of the importance of both these modes of thought for the subject of women, that the contribution of the socialists to the subject is so considerable. The study of that contribution is a task I hope to undertake, and for which the present work constitutes an essential foundation.

From my analysis of the arguments and conclusions of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau and Mill, concerning women and their proper social and political role, two interconnected themes emerge. First, the most important factor influencing the philosophers’ conceptions of, and arguments about, women has been the view that each of them held concerning the family. Those who have regarded the family as a natural and necessary institution have defined women by their sexual, procreative, and child-rearing functions within it. This has lead to the prescription of a code of morality and conception of rights for women distinctly different from those that have been prescribed for men. The assumption of the necessity of the family leads the theorists to then regard the biological differences between the sexes as entailing all the other, conventional and institutional differences in sex role which the family, especially in its most patriarchal forms, has required.

Second, as a consequence of the above, the constricted role in which woman has been placed has been regarded as dictated by her very nature. Thus, where philosophers have explicitly discussed women, they have frequently not extended to them their various conceptions of human nature. They have not only assigned women a distinct role, but have defined them separately, and often contrastingly, to men. They have sought for the nature of women not, as for the nature of men, by attempting to separate out nature from the effects of nurture, and to discover what innate potential exists beneath the overlay which results from socialization and other environmental factors. The nature of women, instead, has been seen to be dictated by whatever social and economic structure the philosophers favor and to be defined as whatever best suits their prescribed functions in that society. Philosophers who, in laying the foundation for their political theories, have asked What are men like? What is man’s potential? have frequently, in turning to the female sex, asked What are women for? There is, then, an undeniable connection between assigned female nature and social structure, and a functionalist attitude to women pervades the history of political thought.

The conclusions drawn here are, first, that women cannot simply be added to the subject matter of existing political theory, for the works of our philosophical heritage are to a very great extent built on the assumption of the inequality of the sexes. In the case of theorists for whom equality, in some form or other, is an important value, the unequal treatment of women tends to be concealed by the adoption of the male-headed family, rather than the individual adult, as the primary unit of political analysis. Indeed, the thoroughly equal treatment of women, involving far more than the right to vote, requires the rethinking of some of the most basic assumptions of political philosophy—having to do with the family and woman’s traditionally dependent and subordinate role within it.

Second, as we examine some twentieth-century perceptions of women and analyze legal discrimination against women, it becomes clear that these findings should be of interest not only to historians or students of political theory. The functionalist treatment of women—the prescriptive view of woman’s nature and proper mode of life based on her role and functions in a patriarchal family structure—is still alive and influential today. Giant figures in modern sociology and psychology present arguments about women that parallel those of Aristotle and Rousseau. Moreover, when we examine the opinions handed down by the highest courts of the land in cases involving sex discrimination, we find, here too, that judges have used functionalist reasoning of a strikingly Aristotelian character in order to justify their treatment of women as a class apart. Thus, there is no doubt that a thorough understanding of this mode of argument can help us to see why women, in spite of their political enfranchisement, are still second-class citizens.

The chapters that follow require one more word of explanation. Obviously, there are many types of inequality both in the real world and in political theory. Only one type of inequality is dealt with here—the unequal treatment of women. As will become evident, the positions taken by political theorists about other types of equality and inequality are by no means necessarily parallel to, or even consistent with, their views about the equal or unequal treatment of the sexes. Those who have argued that there should be complete or virtual equality between the sexes have sometimes been distinctly inegalitarian in other respects; on the other hand, some philosophers who have made strong arguments for equality amongst women have been just as strongly opposed to equality for women. I have not undertaken to discuss this except insofar as a philosopher’s more general egalitarianism or inegalitarianism affects his arguments about distinctions betwen the sexes, or clarifies the presentation of these arguments. This is not because I consider other types of inequality unimportant. It is, rather, because the unequal treatment of women has remained for too long shamefully neglected by students of political thought. Other types of inequality—class inequality in particular, but also inequalities based on race, religion, caste, or ethnicity, have not been so consistently ignored.

In one sense, this book might be compared with the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In that play, building on the foundation of Hamlet, Tom Stoppard emphasizes this originally elusive pair, and makes them, instead of the traditional hero, into the principal focus of the drama. As a result, the play, all its characters, and their relations to each other take on an entirely new perspective. Similarly, when women, who have always been minor characters in the social and political theory of a patriarchal world, are transformed into major ones, the entire cast and the play in which it is acting look very different.

1 The First and Second Discourses, p. 101.

2 One of the earliest feminsits to point out this anomaly was Mary Wollstonecraft, whose A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a pioneer work in the correction of the language and orientation of liberalism, exemplified in her time by Thomas Paine and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. For two recent discussions of the sexism inherent in our language, see Elizabeth Lane Beardsley, Referential Genderization, and Sheila Rowbotham, Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, pp. 34–38.

3 Kant’s Political Writings, trans. H. B. Nisbet, ed. Hans Reiss. Cambridge, 1970, pp. 43–47, 78, 158–159.

4 Excerpts from the Adams Family Correspondence, in Alice Rossi, The Feminist Papers, New York, 1973, pp. 9–11.

5 See for example the beginning of Chapter 11 below, for Jefferson’s views on this issue.

6 The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier, pp. 195–196.

7 Karl Marx, Early Writings, p. 154.

— Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton University Press, 1979). 3–12.

Update 2008-12-04: If you were interested by the topics raised in Okin’s programmatic introduction, you may be interested to know that text from the first chapter of her book, Plato and the Greek Tradition of Misogyny, has been posted over at the Fair Use Blog ….

Have women been shoved to the margins of political philosophy? Have male political philosophers reduced women’s nature and status to their perceived functions within the family? Are political philosophers stances on social equality between men and women so often inconsistent with, or simply determined independently of, their express views on egalitarianism as a general principle? What else from Okin’s work might help illuminate the points she touches on here? Discuss.

How Intellectual Protectionism promotes the progress of science and the useful arts

… by using the force of law to try to prevent Georgia State University students from accessing works of science and the useful arts unless they pay $50–$100 a pop to go through an academic publishing racket for obscure books with little resale value.

(Via Roderick Long @ Austro-Athenian Empire 2008-05-21.)

Please note that in the real world, outside the fever-dreams of academic publishers, sharing books and articles is an essential part of the life of a research university. Besides lending the book itself, every department has a copy machine, and every professor uses it, quite often, to run off paper copies of articles or chapters that they give away to their students. I have a file box with easily several thousand pages worth of xeroxed articles that I accumulated over the course of my college career. Or, if the professor doesn’t have the book herself, or doesn’t want to put the xeroxes on her tab with the department, every University library has self-serve xerox machines and a book-reserve system, where the professor can ensure that a copy of the book is always available for students to share with each other, and to xerox the relevant sections out of if they want to take it back to read on their own time. And all this is available even though professors could have forced each and every student to go down and pay for the $50-$100 anthology at the University bookstore.

Are these godless commies and lying, thieving mutualists that infest the Academy stealing from poor, innocent academic publishers by passing around xeroxes? No; all it is is that they aren’t insane, and they are aware that supporting some particular academic publisher’s business model is not their students’ responsibility.

Yet as soon as the University eliminates the paper medium, and facilitates exactly the same thing through an non-commercial, internal University course pack website — which does nothing at all more than what the xerox packets did, except that it delivers the information to pixels on a monitor instead of toner on a page — the publishers’ racket can run to court, throw up its arms, and start hollering Computers! Internet!, send their lawyers to try to shake down have a discussion with the University administration for new tribute to their monopoly business model, and then, failing that, utterly uncontroversial decades-old practices of sharing knowledge among colleagues and students suddenly become a legal case raising core issues like the future of the business model for academic publishers, while even the most absurd protectionist arguments are dutifully repeated by legal flacks on behalf of sustaining the racket. (Thus: It’s difficult to argue that this is a truly noncommercial use [even though Georgia State receives no money from students for the course packs]. Georgia State may be a nonprofit institution, but its students pay a lot of money for course materials, and would presumably pay money for the materials being provided to them by the university.)

A few years ago, when I was living in Ypsilanti, I sat in on a seminar over at the University of Michigan on Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein. There were a few textbooks to buy at the University bookstore (most of which I already owned), but a lot of the reading consisted of articles collected into a xeroxed course pack of anthologized articles. To get the course pack you went down to this copy shop in downtown Ann Arbor where the professor had left the master copy for the course pack. You paid Excel a fixed fee for the course pack; they took down the folder with the masters from the shelf, and then escorted you to a self-service copy machine where you had to mash the Copy button in order to make the copies yourself. Then you gave the copied sheets back to them at the counter, where they would take the copies you made back and bind them for you.

The reason that you, personally, had to push the copy button is because xeroxing articles out of books for the purposes of a class is legally speaking, completely non-controversial, but if you paid exactly the same amount of money, and the copy shop did exactly the same thing, except that an employee mashed that Copy button at your behest instead of making you do it yourself, the elimination of that minor inconvenience to the student would instantly convert the transaction from non-commercial to commercial copying, and thus expose the copy shop to a crippling lawsuit, as actually happened to Michigan Document Services in Ann Arbor back in 1992.

So, to be fair, I suppose you can credit the Intellectual Protectionists with fostering knowledge and innovation in one respect: by relentlessly attacking any sharing practice that they can get away with attacking, and exploiting any technological change in order to chip away and obliterate as much of traditional fair use protections as they can manage, have produced an absurd dynamic in which basically identical transactions are treated as radically different from one another, in courts of law, such that, in order to avoid lawsuits, academics, libraries, and copy shops have been forced to invent all kinds of creative new ways of splitting hairs and engaging in the most ridiculous sorts of casuistry just to keep on doing what teachers normally do, while covering themselves from the threat of a ruinous lawsuit.

Thanks, Intellectual Protectionism!

Oh, and by the way.

Incidentally, in case you are interested, the academic publishers currently suing Georgia State University to try and force their students back into the academic publishing racket are Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Sage Publications. The publisher that went after Michigan Document Services in 1992 was Princeton University Press. Wouldn’t it be interesting—a funny sort of coincidence, you know, one of those weird things that just happens in life when you were least expecting it—if bloggers committed to free minds and free culture just happened to start posting large quotes (of about 10-15 pages) from Cambridge, OUP, Princeton, and Sage books on their public, Google-searchable websites, under principles of fair use? All strictly for the non-commercial purpose of educating interested readers, of course. Wouldn’t it be interesting if it turned out that there was so much interest in talking about the topics covered in one of Cambridge’s, OUP’s, Princeton’s or Sage’s books that the whole book ended up getting posted, by a crazy series of coincidences, in protected bits and pieces on different websites, at the same time that those publishers are trying salvage their broken business model by mounting this massive screwjob on identifiable targets like innocent students at Georgia State?

The funny thing is, I was just thinking the other day that my readers here might enjoy learning some ordinary language philosophy, which might be illuminated by appropriate fair-use quotations from Stanley Cavell’s Must we mean what we say? (Cambridge University Press, 1976/2002), and some ancient moral philosophy, for which an absolutely essential source of appropriate fair-use quotations is Terence Irwin’s masterful study on Plato’s Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1995), and also some feminist political theory, which obviously demands taking a look at some key passages from Susan Moller Okin’s Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton, 1979). If you have a blog yourself, maybe you might find that your readers would be interested in discussing other key passages from those same books. Who knows? Or perhaps they’d be interested in discussions that other fine books from Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton and Sage happen to touch on.

I’m just sayin’.

Feel free to let me know what books you’re talking about with your readers about in the comments.

Over My Shoulder #38: Yael Tamir, “Siding with the Underdogs” in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Yael Tamir’s essay, Siding with the Underdogs, in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?, an anthology based on the title essay by Susan Moller Okin.

Why do group rights serve best the interests of those members of society who are powerful and conservative? To begin with, the notion of group rights as it is often used in the current debate presupposes that the group is a unified agent. Rights are bestowed upon the group in order to preserve its tradition and defend its interests. Identifying the tradition and the interests of the group becomes a precondition for realizing these rights. Consequently, internal schisms and disagreements are perceived as a threat to the ability of the group to protect its rights. Group leaders are therefore motivated to foster unanimity, or at least an appearance of unanimity, even at the cost of internal oppression.

Attempts to achieve unanimity are particularly dangerous in those communities which lack formal, democratic decision-making processes. Under such circumstances it is the elderly of the tribe, members of councils of sages, who determine the groups’ norms and interests. Members of such bodies are commonly men, who endorse a rather orthodox point of view. Social norms and institutions place these individuals within a dominant position, and group rights consolidate this position even further. Granting nondemocratic communities group rights thus amounts to siding with the privileged and the powerful against those who are powerless, oppressed, and marginalized, with the traditionalists (often even the reactionary) against the nonconformists, the reformers, and the dissenters.

The conservative nature of group rights is reinforced by the justifications adduced in their defense. The group is granted rights in order to preserve its culture, language, tradition. These are described, by most defenders of group rights, in nostalgic, nonrealistic terms. They are depicted as authentic, unique, even natural. Those who attempt to consolidate the conservative way of doing things are therefore portrayed as loyal defenders of the group, those who strive for social transformation and cultural reformers are perceived as agents of assimilation who betray the group and its tradition. The former are depicted as virtuous individuals who dedicate themselves to the common good; the latter are suspected of being motivated by narrow self-interest—of giving priority to short-term preferences for personal comfort and prosperity over long-term commitments to the welfare of the community.

Agents of social and cultural change are portrayed as feeble-minded individuals who are tempted by the material affluence of the surrounding society, as those who sell their soul to an external devil in exchange for some glittering beads. It therefore seems legitimate to criticize, scorn, even persecute them. This is the fate of Reform Jews who are often portrayed by the Orthodox establishment as irresponsible, weak-minded, pleasure-seeking individuals who wish to escape the burden of Judaism in order to adopt a less demanding lifestyle. Reform Jews, Orthodox argue, are swayed by the external (and superficial) beauty of Christian architecture and ceremonies. The reforms they offer are seen as grounded in mimicry, as an attempt to be like the Gentiles rather than as a call to reevaluate Judaism and offer ways in which it can answer the needs and challenges of modernity. Reform Judaism is therefore portrayed as a threat to the survival of Judaism rather than as an attempt to save it.

The use of the term survival in the context of the debate over group rights is common, yet alarming. It misdescribes what is at stake, intensifying the cost of change and fostering the belief that any violation of social and religious norms, any reform of traditional institutions and the group’s customary ways of life, endangers its existence and must therefore be rejected.

Moreover, it intentionally obscures the distinction between two kinds of communal destruction: the first results from external pressures exhorted by nonmembers; the second, from the desire of members of the community. It is clear why we ought to protect a community and its members in cases of the first kind, but should we protect a community also against the preferences of its own members? Is it just, or desirable, to allow those who aspire to preserve the communal tradition—often members of the dominant and privileged elite—to force others who have grown indifferent or even hostile to this tradition to adhere to that tradition?

Obviously, defenders of group rights who use the term survival to denote cultural continuity tend to give priority to this end over and above individual rights. Charles Taylor’s discussion of the Canadian case demonstrates this order of priorities: It is axiomatic for the Quebec government that the survival and flourishing of French culture in Quebec is a good …. It is not just a matter of having the French language available for those who might choose it …. Policies aimed at survival actively seek to create members of the community, for instance, in their assuring that future generations continue to identify as French speakers.

It should be clear by now that in the Canadian case, as well as in the debate between Orthodox and Reform Judaism, the term survival refers not to the actual survival of the community or its members but to the survival of the traditional way of life. It is used to justify the taking of extreme measures, including disregard for individual rights and forceful suspension of internal criticism, for the sake of preventing change. But is there a reason to prevent a particular way of life from undergoing change? Should one protect a community against cultural revisions or reforms, even radical ones, if these are accepted by its members? The answer to the above question depends on the motivations one may have for protecting cultures or traditions.

An approach that is grounded in the right of individuals to pursue their lives the way they see fit must support individuals who wish to reform their tradition and change their lifestyle as much as it ought to support individuals who wish to retain their traditional way of life. It must be attentive to the kind of life plans individuals adopt and pursue, without prejuding in favor of conservative options. It should therefore defend individuals against pressures to conform and protect their choices to reform their tradition or even exit the community altogether. The opposite is true for an approach that is motivated by the desire to defend endangered cultures. Such an approach must favor conservative forces over reformist ones, even at the price of harming some individual interests. Obviously multiculturalism that is grounded in the former approach is friendly to feminism, while that which is grounded in the latter is not.

— Yael Tamir (1999), Siding with the Underdogs, in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?