In light of the assurance that “constitutional change” is in the cards, we continue fleshing out the federalist integrative state framework we have proposed as being most suitable for Guyana. The comments are also applicable to the Liberal unitary state which, even though “assimilationist”, purports to be “neutral”. Such a state privileges “unity”, and would take a purported complete hands-off position on the cultures of the citizens, and would only work to create an environment wherein the various groups would be able to express their cultures. The citizens would merely agree on a minimum programme for the state to deliver, and the state would have a procedurally neutral mode of operation in executing that programme.
The problem, of course, is that there can be no such thing as a “neutral” state, and there is the ever-present danger of a dominant cultural community imposing its cultural standards over the operations of the State. Firstly, even procedures are embedded in some moral premise; and secondly, the state itself – in terms of its structure and its allocation of authority – would arise out of some conception of the good life. This conception, which would include political life, may be oppressive or contrary to the values of some cultural group in the society, and should be re-examined in light of other contributions.
While this model seeks not to privilege either unity or diversity, the inevitable systemic continuities of our historical development mean that the status quo would be maintained – and this means dominance of the old hegemonic culture and the withering away of the other cultures as each generation continues to try to “fit in” by changing its behaviour. In the case of Guyana, the white-bias Creole culture dominates the operations of the state, which inevitably becomes its promulgator and protector.
The proposal we favour is the “balanced state”, which is the position of most Liberals, in that the state seeks to give unity and diversity an equal status. The state would insist that all citizens must share a common political culture – in which all individuals, qua individuals, would share common political institutions, values etc, and a commitment to the political community. Groups that do not share the dominant culture would have to assimilate to the extent that they would have to accept the premises of the political culture to engage in its practices, but would be free to practice the other tenets of their individual cultures. Politics is seen as a public realm in which everyone engages and constitutes a “unity”, while “culture” occupies a private realm that accommodates diversity and in which everyone “does their own thing”. The culture of each culture would have to be given space and respect and protection.
“Balanced”, however, does not mean that the state has to be oblivious to inequities and inequalities in the cultural sphere. Affirmative action does not have to be confined to the economic realm alone, culture is as much a primary “social good” as anything else. The fact that each group has a cultural history that shapes its place in the social order, often marked by inequalities of power, can obviously negate the doctrine of pluralism implicit in the balanced state by giving the previously privileged groups an advantage. Secondly, the democratic values of liberty, equality etc. embedded within a constitutional order, should give the community the commitment to ends.
Unfortunately, the neat compartmentalisation of public and private spheres never works that way in practice; the political public sphere is inevitably embedded in the cultural practices of one segment. The prestige that the public imprimatur and acknowledgement of these practices bestow on that segment puts other groups at a severe disadvantage. They are seen as marginal and second rate – something to be hidden from the public gaze.
The balanced state would ensure that no culture is treated as second rate, by ensuring that none is treated like second class. Therefore, it is proposed that we adopt a post-modern federalist frame of reference that includes factors that would enhance diversity. In fact, the most powerful idea of the new cultural framework is that a decent respect for the principle of diversity, the integrity of the diverse groups, and the equality among them would provide the basis of a truly democratic society. To the extent that this notion is reflected in law and in social practice among groups and individuals, the basis of a new democracy will be laid.