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Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights

Final Report Summary - CULTURAL DEFENSE (Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights)

• Summary description of the project objectives

Immigrants have long ceased to be merely an immigration issue. They shape global politics and redefine national identity. While immigration creates new opportunities, it also raises concerns. Immigrants do not come alone. They travel with their language, culture, ideology, and lifestyle. Some people are uncomfortable with this situation. They see diversity as a threat to their culture. From this position, it is offen easy to leap to the conclusion that governments should either seek to assimilate immigrants—that is, compel them to become “like us”—or keep them out. Coping with this predicament is a challenge in and of itself: How can liberal states protect liberal values while, at the same time, refrain from violating the same values that they seek to protect? This puzzle is the focus of the Marie Curie project.

This IEF project has five objectives: [1] to reveal a new trend in comparative immigration law—the rising power of culture in immigration selection—which refutes the generally-accepted proposition of liberalization in access to citizenship; [2] to establish liberal, rather than communitarian, justifications for cultural rights of majority groups; [3] to set out a new theory of “cultural defense of nations” based upon principles of international human rights law and moral philosophy; [4] to develop a liberal concept, “National Constitutionalism,” as an means by which liberal democracies can pursue legitimate cultural goals without turning to the draconian measures recently adopted or proposed in several states; [5] to explore the interrelationship between immigration policy and constitutional identity.

• Description of the work performed

During the Fellowship, I carried out research on the rising of majority nationalism in the West. In recent years, liberal democracies have implemented a variety of coerced cultural-defense means, thereby forcing immigrants to embrace values, customs, and mores of majority groups. The work performed included six phases: [1] evaluative: grouping together nine changes in immigration patterns, in the Western society, and in the world at large, the project shows a transformation in the relationship between majority and minority groups; [2] empirical: the project documents a new process of culturalization that newcomers must overcome to become citizens; [3] analytical: the project criticizes the extensive use of culture as a tool in immigration selection for being illiberal; [4] normative: the project discusses whether it is legally or morally defensible for a liberal state either to set the continuity of a majority culture as a goal, or to adopt explicit cultural criteria for immigrant selection; [5] theoretical: the project sets out a liberal theory of cultural defense that allows liberal democracies to protect some of their cultural essentials by means of immigration law; [6] integrative: the project explores what immigration policy can teach us about constitutional identity.

• Description of the main results

The question whether a majority culture has a right to defend itself has not been much discussed in political theory and law. Theories of the rights of minorities to preserve their culture have been put forward, but it has been generally assumed by most thinkers either that cultural majorities are not threatened, or that the liberal state should not attempt to promote a particular culture at all, instead remaining neutral in the public sphere. Reality, however, has been changed. This project reveals this change and identify its causes. It then systematically documents the manifestations of this change in liberal states, which increasingly test for cultural conformity among immigrants and criticize them for being illiberal. This raises an important normative question: Should a majority group have a right to protect its culture? The project offers a new normative theory of majorities' right to defend their culture, one that is compatible with the principles of liberal political theory and is also firmly grounded in existing trends in liberal states. In so doing, the project fills in a gap in existing literature.

Using empirical methods and a comparative view (data collection and analysis of immigration laws in Europe, Israel, and the United States), the findings show that liberal democracies have introduced an increasing number of immigration laws that are designed to defend the majority culture. This trend is fed by fears of immigration, which explain the rise of extreme right-wing parties in the West. Liberal theory and human rights law seem to be out of sync with these developments. While they recognize the rights of minority groups to maintain their cultural identity, it is typically assumed that majority groups have neither a need for similar rights nor a moral basis for defending them. The majority culture, so the argument goes, "can take care of itself." This research shifts the focus from the prevailing discussion of minority rights and directly addresses the cultural rights of majorities. Using analytical research, the project makes a critical evaluation of contemporary trends in liberal democracies and reveals a troubling trend—ironically, in order to protect liberal values, liberal states violate the very same values. I criticize this state of affairs and, based on different theories and legal concepts, present a liberal theory of "cultural defense" that distinguishes between justifiable and unjustifiable attempts by majorities to protect their cultural essentials. I formulate liberal standards by which liberal states can welcome immigrants without fundamentally changing their cultural heritage, forsaking their liberal traditions, or slipping into extreme nationalism.

• Final results and their potential impact

The final result of the project is a book manuscript, "The Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights" (Oxford University Press, 2016). This manuscript has theoretically significant and far-reaching policy implications. It may attract attention not just in academic circles of immigration law, citizenship theory, constitutional identity, and human rights law, but may be valuable for policymakers, NGOs, judges, and immigration lawyers. Interest in this subject is likely to grow because culture is likely to play a greater role in shaping immigration law. The subject is especially timely in Europe, which is struggling to develop a common EU immigration law, and the book can be of interest for theorists and practitioners in the field of European immigration policy.

Details about the book are available at