ABSTRACT

A ‘natural’ starting point for a discussion of cultural diversity and politics is the common sense notion that the ‘natural’ borders of a political system coincide with cultural borders, which is another way of saying that they ought to coincide. 1 This notion is expressed inter alia in the normative political principle of the right to self-determination of peoples, where the ‘people’ more often than not is defined in terms of ethnicity or culture. The principle of the popular right of self-determination has been very dominant in the last hundred years (or more) and is, of course, related to the establishment of a new fundamental basis for political legitimacy after the French revolution and the demise of other principles such as a religious base of political power. The people as sovereign, the base for all political power, also finds its expression in democratic forms of government. Thus, our starting point seems to imply a rather close link between democratic forms of governance and the requirement of cultural homogeneity. As John Stuart Mill said in the last century:

Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist (Mill, 1958, 230).