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Cultural Rights and Civic Virtue

Listed author(s):
  • Richard Thompson Ford

    (Stanford Law School,Stanford California, USA)

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    This paper addresses the potential tension between two broadly stated policy objectives: the preservation of distinctive cultural traditions, often through the mechanism of formal legal rights, and the fostering of civic virtue, a sense of local community and the advancement of common civic enterprises. Many political liberals argued that liberal societies have an obligation to accommodate the cultural traditions of various sub groups through legal rights and a redistribution of social resources. The “right to cultural difference” is now widely (if not universally) understood to be a basic human right, on par with rights to religious liberty and racial equality. Other theorists writing in the liberal, civic republican, and urban sociology traditions expounded on the necessity of civic virtue, community and common enterprises initiated and executed at the local or municipal level of government or private association. These theorists argued that common projects, shared norms and social trust are indispensable elements of effective democratic government and are necessary to the altruism and public spiritedness that in turn secure social justice. These two policy goals therefore may at times be in conflict. This conflict is especially severe in larger culturally diverse cities, where social trust and civic virtue are most needed and often in shortest supply. Policies designed to counter cosmopolitan alienation and anomie by fostering civic virtue, social trust and common social norms will inevitably conflict with the cultural traditions and sub group identification of some minority groups. The paper argues that such conflicts are often best confronted on the field of political debate and policy analysis, not in the language of civil rights. Rights discourse, with its inherent absolutism, is ill suited to the type of subtle tradeoffs that these conflicts often entail.

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    Paper provided by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in its series Working Papers with number 2003.99.

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    Date of creation: Nov 2003
    Handle: RePEc:fem:femwpa:2003.99
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