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The contemporary significance of the past: cultural heritage and the liberal state

Tsang, Rachel Wai Yin (2012) The contemporary significance of the past: cultural heritage and the liberal state. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The research question that this thesis seeks to address is how contemporary liberal states, that are characterised by cultural diversity, should respond to cultural heritage. The argument of this thesis is that liberal states are fundamentally obliged to ensure that individuals have the greatest freedom possible to engage with their own cultural heritages. Cultural heritage and practices play a crucial role in the construction and maintenance of individual and group identity, and thus a response of non-intervention in cultural heritage provides the best means of respecting this significance. Although a government may not be sympathetic to certain ideas and ways of living, this does not give it a right to destroy or damage any cultural artifacts and objects, unless these objects or practices actively incite violence or harm to others, because doing so would necessarily violate the liberal proviso to abstain for interfering in conceptions of the good. Liberal states do not have an obligation to preserve a national heritage, nor do they have a duty to preserve a diversity of (minority) cultural heritages. However, contemporary nation-states – liberal and otherwise – will necessarily possess certain attributes of cultural heritage, such as a national flag, language, symbols etc., that are likely to reflect the experiences of a dominant, national group. While this acknowledgement entails a diversion from ideal liberal theory and poses problems for the cultural neutrality of the liberal state, I argue that it is in the liberal states’ interest to maintain some objects of cultural heritage as these have instrumental value in fostering an understanding of the shared political community and respect for liberal values. However, liberal governments are obliged to ensure that existing public heritage does not unduly discriminate against minority cultural groups; thus sustaining political neutrality. The liberal response that I have outlined thus attempts to sustain liberal values whilst remaining mindful of contextual issues such as power relations between and within groups, and the necessary constraints of contemporary statehood.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Rachel Wai Yin Tsang
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Kukathas, Chandran

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