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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The Law of Majorities

Are Poland and Hungary justified, under international law or EU law, in restricting migration to defend their “Christian heritage”? How about the so-called “European way of life” or their “constitutional identity”? More generally, can a liberal democracy restrict immigration and/or access to citizenship in order to protect the "majority culture” and still remain liberal? Cultural defense policies are mushrooming in Europe, as refugees and migrants from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East ­ many of them Muslims ­ keep coming to our shores in unprecedented numbers. Can the “cultural defense” of majorities be reconciled with liberal values and, if so, how?

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