The Law of Majorities: A Rejoinder

This has been an instructive discussion that has shed light on some of the most pressing issues of our time. Overall, there is an agreement on the existence of the social entity of the “majority group,” although less on the criteria to identify a majority. Some interesting disagreements are found on the empirical question – whether the majority culture is indeed “needy” (how much, in which field, etc.) – and on the normative question: whether a culturally needy majority should be granted a right to defend its constitutional identity in the immigration context.

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Anticipatory minority rights for majorities turning into minorities

Concerns about national, cultural and demographic preservation have become increasingly salient in the age of migrations and globalisation. Liav Orgad fittingly points to recent political reactions to the influx of refugees in Europe and to broader trends towards relinking citizenship and migration policies with concerns about national identity and cultural integration. He is right to complain about the reluctance among political theorists to engage systematically with these developments. I fully agree with Orgad that ignoring these issues is both “theoretically wrong” and “politically unwise”. However, I disagree that majorities have special majority rights that can be defended on the same normative basis as minority rights. I argue that if a current majority group is worried about its rights, it should genuinely support minority rights in anticipation of its future minority status.

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Immigration, Majority Rights, and Welfare State Solidarity

Liav Orgad’s new book, The Cultural Defense of Nations, could hardly have appeared at a more opportune moment. It represents a systematic effort to grapple with the core issues of national identity so much on the agenda of both the classical and new lands of immigration. It seeks to do so within the framework of liberal political and social theory while turning our sympathies toward majority cultures facing the “threat” of lost identity and dominance, a loss being brought about by both immigration and the multiculturalist policies of the past generation.

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The immigration flow’s liability

There is little doubt that the contemporary rise of populist forms of politics, especially those of the right, have targeted immigration as a key issue – and, more generally, political parties of left and right have responded to, and often stoked, perceived public concerns (however ill-founded) concerning immigration through efforts designed to highlight and demarcate the privileges of citizenship. In his timely response to this phenomenon, Liav Orgad aims to offer an account of majority rights that is, he thinks, missing from contemporary political theory and that can differentiate justifiable and unjustifiable ways in which the majority culture can defend its dominant standing and, hence, the rights it should (and should not) possess.

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Cultural majorities, constitutional essentials, and cosmopolitan citizenship

Liav Orgad’s idea of a two-stage process of the regulation of immigration and access to citizenship in The Cultural Defense of Nations appears sensible and on first sight largely agreeable. But a more careful positioning of the argument regarding democratic theory and sociological understandings of nationalism brings out aspects that problematize some of its key assumptions and that reveal a risk of counter-productivity. In this, the argument might be less original than claimed and the specific version of a liberal theory of cultural defense less fit for socio-culturally complex democratic societies, in particular within the European context. I will briefly touch upon three dimensions that seem to me problematic: the notions of majority culture and cultural defense; the notion of constitutional identity as used in the book; and the problem of constitutional populism.

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Does the majority have a right to have rights? On the Cultural Defence of Nations

Over the last several decades, a burgeoning literature on minority rights and minority accommodation has emerged. The rights of the ‘majority’ – everyone else – have garnered little interest because scholars have assumed that they will take care of themselves. In this excellent book, Liav Orgad argues that large-scale immigration to Europe and North America has rendered this assumption false. Immigration, above all to North America, is of course not new, but the overall numbers today are greater than in the past, and it is occurring in a new context of globalization, transnationalism (migrants live half their lives or more in their home countries), and radically new technology (which allows one to live in a Twitter/Facebook-/YouTube world entirely in one’s home country language).

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The prince of Denmark facing mass immigration – from Germany.

How would Denmark react to a wave of mass immigration from Germany, numbering hundreds of thousands or millions of people? The question is, needles to say, purely hypothetical, but it is nevertheless, in my view, highly pertinent in the context of discussing the issues raised in Liav Orgad’s important book, The Cultural Defense of Nations. These questions are at the very heart of Europe’s present concerns and dilemmas, which makes the book’s highly original, learned and well-argued contribution to the debate all the more valuable.

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Linguistic Defense and Offense

When I first wrote about linguistic self-defense (discussed in Liav Orgad’s book pp. 198-200) I had a conception of languages in danger, The most visible potential victim were the French in Quebec. But with the help of Charles de Gaulle, the Quebecois have held on well to their culture (majority at home, minority at large, but supported by a large nation in Europe). One form of linguistic self-defense I proposed at the time was insisting on speaking your language in commercial transactions. For the sake of profit, store keepers would play along. Also, public advertising is a critical mode of making a language seem like the background state of normalcy. The key case in Quebec, as I recall, was called Chaussures Brown Shoes. That was the way they wanted their sign to read. The Anglophones objected and lost.

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Why majority cultural preferences should shape, but not determine, immigration policy

Liav Orgad writes convincingly that the issue of cultural rights for majorities has been thrust into view by immigration. No longer can a white French or German person think of her ethnic identity and national identity as one and the same. In the introduction to Rethinking Ethnicity: majority groups and dominant minorities (2004), and again in Political Demography (2012), I argue that migration and differential ethnic birth rates are driving a wedge between the ethnic majority and ‘its’ nation-state.

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Majorities Need No Rights: A Commentary on Liav Orgad`s “The Law of Majorities”

Liav Orgad (2015) has written an admirably sensitive and learned book about besieged “majorities” in a world of global mobility and flux, especially that consisting of or conditioned by people moving across borders. It opens up an entirely new, dearly needed conversation on whether we need the concept of “majority”, which hitherto has remained legally and normatively uncharted. But is there really a case for a “liberal theory of majority rights”, analogous to a liberal theory of minority rights, both wishing to protect “personal identity and personal autonomy” (lead text, in the following “lt”)? Orgad has the right instinct that the care of the majority should not be left to the populist right but taken serious by liberals and the political mainstream. But the notion of a “distinctive cultural majority” (lt), which he presents as “the inevitable outcome of multiculturalism”, rests on an unreconstructed notion of multiculturalism; and at close inspection, much as the case for liberal minority rights, the case for distinct majority rights dissolves into a case for universal individual rights that liberal state constitutions already provide.

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