12th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Goemans

Piet Goemans

Political Liberalism and Group Rights

Many authors have noted that there are two traditions in liberalism: one is the individualistic rationalistic Enlightenment liberalism, the other is pluralistic political Reformation liberalism. The central value of political liberalism is neutrality of the state. In this paper I ask what a politically liberal language policy would look like. I argue that in language matters we have to bracket the principle of individual autonomy and balance it with state neutrality. In doing so I will show that, although state neutrality is the central value for political liberals, there are good and compelling reasons to adopt a state languages. This, however, makes the state involved in a dynamic of linguistic consolidation which threatens to kill other languages. In order to remain neutral political liberals thus have to go for an assertive preservationist language policy. The purpose of this policy is however not to preserve languages but to retain state neutrality. Such an assertive language policy actively intervenes in society and grants linguistic minorities a right to educate their children in order to counterbalance the dynamic of linguistic consolidation. Because a territorially organized minority right to educate its children leads to federal instability, political liberals ought to opt for a non-territorially organized group right to educate. To some extent this group right against individual autonomy, but given that in language matters there is no way of deciding when the learning of a language was done autonomously, this is warranted.