Group Rights

Reconciling Equality and Difference

David Ingram

As people of diverse origins seek their rights as citizens in the great American melting pot, the differences between us are sometimes celebrated but more often cursed. White Americans, too often forgetful of their own immigrant backgrounds, question whether initiatives like affirmative action that extend privileges to minorities violate the principle of equal treatment under the law.

In this provocative book, David Ingram brings a variety of current social dilemmas together in a mutually illuminating way. He examines the concept of legal equality in a multiracial society by considering issues such as self-governance for Native Americans, the rights of immigrants, affirmative action, racial redistricting, and multicultural curricular reform. He also tackles the problem of social injustice in a global setting by assessing the negative impact of free trade policies on the rights of groups to subsistence, self-determination, and cultural integrity.

“This study makes a rigorously analytic case for the conditions under which the need for a more egalitarian society demands that group rights trump the Lockean liberalism and possessive individualism that Americans take so for granted.

—American Journal of Sociology

“Ingram offers an original and nonessentialist theory of racial and cultural “affinity groups.” Other topics include the right of indigenous peoples to preserve their traditional cultures; an argument for less restrictive immigration policies in developed, liberal democracies; a defense of affirmative action on grounds of compensatory and procedural justice; the pros and cons of racial redistricting for purposes of achieving grater democratic representation; multicultural education a a vehicle for social change; and extending the group-rights perspective to the global context.

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Ingram steeps his presentation in theoretical discussions that investigate group versus individual rights, oppressed groups and social injustice, and the legitimacy of racial and cultural distinctions. He explores the legal treatment of difference to show how democratic institutions unintentionally perpetuate racial inequality and to determine how those institutions might be better structured to protect minorities.

Taking in a broad sweep of economics, politics, and anthropology, Ingram examines social ideals in the light of historical facts in order to lend a concrete perspective to possibilities for reform. He makes a persuasive case for redressing wrongs of the past in a way that adheres to the principle of legal equality—arguing that initiatives like affirmative active are not reverse discrimination but satisfy the constitutional guarantee of equal protection—and he suggests that libertarians need to acknowledge duties as much as they do rights.

Group Rights is a new primer on the meaning of American citizenship. It makes a vital contribution to critical social theory, bringing complex philosophical concepts into sharp focus and elaborating the histories by which moral and political principles are interpreted. A challenging sourcebook for students and concerned citizens, it clarifies these important issues and points the way toward a political reconciliation between equality and difference in the new global society.

About the Author

David Ingram is professor of philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago. His most recent book is Reason, History, and Politics: The Communitarian Grounds of Legitimation in the Modern Age.