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Philosophy General

Debating Multiculturalism

Should There be Minority Rights?

by (author) Peter Balint & Patti Tamara Lenard

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2022
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2022
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  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2022
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Multiculturalism has become a political touchstone in many countries around the world. While many of those on the right oppose it, and many of those on the left embrace it, things are not this simple. For those who defend them, multicultural policies are generally seen as key to the fair and successful integration of minorities, many of whom are immigrants, into diverse democratic societies. For those who oppose multiculturalism, who have become part of the so-called "backlash" against multiculturalism, they are charged with generating segregation rather than inclusion, undermining national cultures, reinforcing difference, and privileging minority groups.

Around the world, we see failing attempts at migrant integration, persistent religious intolerance and racial and ethnic discrimination, resurgent national minorities, emboldened majorities, permanent minorities, continuing social isolation, and increasing extremism, including in the form of white nationalism. But is multiculturalism the solution to these problems or does it just make them worse?

In this for-and-against book, two prominent scholars of multiculturalism put forward different answers to this important question. While Patti Tamara Lenard argues for minority rights as both the consequence of a right to culture and a way to redress the effects of nation-building, Peter Balint rejects minority rights altogether, instead arguing for a re-imagined liberal neutrality. This theoretical disagreement plays out in real-world policy disagreement. Lenard, for example, argues strongly in favor of exemptions from general rules for minority cultures including the right of Sikhs to be exempt from helmet laws, and for Jews and Muslims to be exempt from bans on male circumcision. She also defends the right of minority cultures to have government-supported separate spaces. Balint, on the other hand, argues directly against these types of exemptions and government support. He is opposed to any form of differentiation based on culture, religion, or ethnicity. The book uses a wide range of real-world examples to demonstrate their significant theoretical disagreement, and to recommend very different policy proposals.

About the authors

Peter Balint's profile page

Patti Tamara Lenard is Assistant Professor of Ethics at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Patti Tamara Lenard's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"To this reader at least, this lively debate volume shows very clearly that traditional liberalism, with its core principles of public neutrality and toleration, requires multiculturalism-the position laid out here by Peter Balint. Others will find in Patti Lenard's 'political inclusion' model a new way of defending a more orthodox multiculturalism of minority rights. But the perhaps most powerful message of this book is the narrow range of disagreement on the necessity of multiculturalism in liberal-democratic societies."

--Christian Joppke, University of Bern (Switzerland)

"Has multiculturalism failed, and if so, why has it failed? Lenard and Balint explore these questions while offering their positions for and against multiculturalism. Lenard justifies multiculturalism on the basis of political inclusion. Balint criticizes multiculturalism on the basis of liberal neutrality. The authors broadly agree about the ideals of liberal democracy and they both take minority rights seriously. But they disagree about the 'knowability' of culture, the application of multiculturalism to Indigenous peoples and national minorities, and the sources and risks of social fragmentation. Readers will find two cogent arguments and an illuminating debate that remind us why multicultural ideals are still worth defending and yet remain contested today."

--Avigail Eisenberg, University of Victoria (Canada)

Other titles by Patti Tamara Lenard