Academic journal article Migration Letters

"Old" Natives and "New" Immigrants: Beyond Territory and History in Kymlicka's Account of Group-Rights

Academic journal article Migration Letters

"Old" Natives and "New" Immigrants: Beyond Territory and History in Kymlicka's Account of Group-Rights

Article excerpt


Imagine that the Chinese in Canada claimed the same rights as the Québécois. This would involve among other things a public administration and schools run in Chinese or a regional Chinese parliament with wide-ranging autonomies. However, some might reply, none of the institutions needed to sustain Chinese culture in Canada have been created so far. Such scepticism notwithstanding, this example can be revealing for discussing the underlying normative question: on what grounds are the rights of "old" minorities, as the Québécois, different from "new" immigrant groups, such as the Chinese? The answer, for some, lies in the fact that the Québécois - and not the Chinese - have a history on their territory.

Will Kymlicka holds such a view in this thought-experiment (Kymlicka, 2001: 160). In his theory, only "historical" national groups1 have a right to political self-determination and can engage in a process of "nation-building". Immigrant groups have waived this right upon leaving their homeland. Indeed, Kymlicka argues, they have neither been able nor willing to take up such a process.2 Barring the Chinese in Canada from this right is a normative argument which hinges on empirical premises as the following: immigrants' preferences and which group has arrived first on a territory - e.g. the Québécois in Canada.

This paper analyses Kymlicka's conclusion of this thought-experiment. To do so is both necessary and fruitful. His typology of groups - national, indigenous, and immigrant - in diverse societies has, on the one hand, served as a benchmark for the moral or normative3 entitlements of minorities since the appearance of Multicultural Citizenship in 1995. On the other hand, Kymlicka's empirical facts of history and territory serve as explicit criteria for the differentiation between old and new groups. Nevertheless, in this paper I will be disapproving of these criteria and argue that they are inconclusive for the analysis of group-rights - history and territory are morally contingent factors beyond the control of individuals that privilege national groups unfairly over immigrants. And even if Kymlicka claims that immigrants have had no interest in being granted more rights, this preference cannot be based on an artefact of the social, cultural and political conditions determined by the national group. Given that Kymlicka's goal is an inclusive and fair coexistence between groups immigrants are justified in claiming more rights, even for projects as ambitious as "nation-building".

In the following section, I will critically assess Kymlicka's account and focus on three aspects: (i) how history and territory prioritises "old" national over "new" foreign minorities; (ii) what this implies for immigrants in national substate minorities; and (iii) why recognition of all minorities matters. In the last section, I will be discussing the potential of criteria for collective rights other than history and territory: merit, participation, and need. While none replaces history and territory altogether, a sharper focus on need in particular is a better warrant for Kymlicka's own goal: inclusion.

Kymlicka's multicultural agenda

History, territory, and minorities enjoying priority

Kymlicka has traditionally focussed on the status of "old", i.e. settled "homeland" minorities rather than "new" groups who have immigrated recently.4 Issues involving immigrants are, as a consequence, discussed mostly in contrast to "national" minorities. And this focus is due to the fact that most conflicts in the world coincide with the presence of national minorities. Immigrants, in turn, are not as violent and organised as national minorities:

"[T]he presence of migrant workers is rarely a source of civil war or ethnic insurgencies. Even when migrant workers are mistreated and exploited, as they are in much of the world, they rarely take up arms, or seek to overthrow the state" (Kymlicka, 2007: 175).

Does this passage imply that immigrants would need to take up arms to achieve similar rights as "homeland" minorities? …

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