Minority Rights You Should Not Fight For

I belong to a small minority, namely those who are interested in philosophy. Reading, and occasionally writing, philosophy (mainly political philosophy) is an important part of my life. One might even say that being a perpetual student of philosophy is a part of my “identity” (if we must use that concept). Yet it is not the easiest thing to be interested in. It is not easy to find particular books that you want to read at a reasonable price (unless you are a university professor or student, and even then you can only use the books for a short time), and it is hard to find people who are equally interested in philosophy in order to start clubs or the like. These things the state could do something about: they could lower the VAT on philosophy books or subsidize their printing in other ways; they could support philosophy clubs and associations financially; they could broadcast more philosophy programs in national radio and television.

However, as important as philosophy is to me, I don’t believe the state should do those things. I don’t believe the minority to which I belong should receive any special support. My view is that the state should uphold rights that are universally important, like the need for food, shelter, healthcare, education, etc. (of course, there will always be eccentrics who will reject, for instance, healthcare as a basic need, so let’s call these needs virtually universal). But special rights to advance lifestyle choices of minorities, no. And I see no difference if the principle is applied to the cases of ethnic or religious minorities. There are, for instance, certain ethnic groups who are used to making a living in certain specific ways, and who therefore believe that this lifestyle should be subsidized, lest their ethnic group will be dissolved. I do not see, however, why an appeal to historic tradition or the survival of a certain “culture” should be weightier than, for example, professed enjoyment (as in the case of the philosophy fans).

Nevertheless, as a consequentialist I must concede that this should only be taken as a rule of thumb. For instance, it may the case that certain special rights and subsidies are granted to people who are disadvantaged in other, more important ways (i.e., pertaining to universal needs). If people of one ethnic group face so much discrimination in the job market that it would be virtually impossible for them to leave their traditional (subsidized or protected in other ways) occupations, then these special minority protections would perhaps be better than nothing at all (but a robust welfare system and job opportunities for all citizens would, of course, be better).

Often these discussions relate to linguistic minorities. How will my views be applied to them? Well, if this group is disadvantaged in special ways, as described in the last section, then special rights for that linguistic group might be warranted. But I don’t see that the mere survival of a language is so important that the state should offer extra support (in addition to what people spend themselves) to keep it alive. Many many languages have already disappeared completely, and it is hard to view that as a big tragedy.

How could one argue for the opposite of what I am arguing for? The only way that the opposite view would be practicable would be to choose certain minority lifestyles as more “worthy” than others. But it is hard to see how one could make those decisions about “worthiness” without making very controversial moral statements (at least more controversial then the idea of universal needs discussed above). How could we, for instance, argue that religious or linguistic minorities deserve special rights, while other, more “secular” or “modern” (recently “invented”) lifestyles do not deserve it. Surely it cannot be that the members of the different groups view their lifestyles as more important to their “identity”. Some members of linguistic or religious minorities do not regard their religion or native language as especially important in their lives, and, conversely, some members of modern subcultures regard this membership as extremely important to their “identity”.

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