Populist multiculturalism: Are there majority cultural rights?

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Theories of multiculturalism explore whether minority cultural groups have rights and claims that limit the nation-building aims of the modern state and that protect a space in which minorities can express, enjoy and preserve their own distinctive cultures. What are the implications of these theories for majority cultures? The concepts, terminology, and arguments made by multicultural theorists in favour of minority rights often seem relevant and applicable to the situations of national majorities. The major arguments associated with multiculturalism do not directly hinge on whether a particular group is in the minority or the majority and thus all seem potentially applicable to the situations of majority cultural groups. The possibility that liberal multicultural arguments for minority rights offer a language for justifying the rights of majority cultures has not gone unnoticed by theorists on the populist right, including those on the far right. The appropriation of liberal theories of multiculturalism by thinkers concerned to defend the prerogatives of traditional White, Christian cultures in Europe and America is a well-documented phenomenon. It is tempting to dismiss these ‘majority rights’ arguments as distortions of the nuanced, subtle views of liberal multiculturalists. In this article, I pursue a different strategy. I try to take seriously the idea that there are majority cultural rights and to explore their basis. This allows us to say more clearly what the limits of those rights are. I shall argue that majorities do have certain rights and permissions with respect to the expression and defence of their culture. But these rights and permissions are grounded in very specific social circumstances and normative considerations and thus face very significant limits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-552
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • majorities
  • minorities
  • multiculturalism
  • populism
  • rights


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