What is the difference between individual rights and group rights?

What is the difference between individual rights and group rights? Why does a tension exist between these two kinds of rights in liberalism (illustrate with an example)? How does Kymlicka justify the liberal defense of minority rights?

Individual rights refer to the rights held by people at an individual level. In instances where these rights are group-differentiated, which most rights are, they largely remain individual rights if the holders of the right are individuals themselves. On the other hand, group rights, which are also known as collective rights, refer to the rights held by groups rather than by the members of the group. For a long time, group rights have been used to facilitate as well as infringe upon individual rights, a perspective that remains controversial even in modern society. In essence, the concept of “group rights” is more concerned with the status of groups rather than with the status of individuals forming part of the groups. Also, “group rights” is a concept that treats or sees individuals as mere carriers of group objectives and identifies rather than as individuals with autonomous personalities with which they can define their own identity as well as goals in life. Simply put, groups rights give a reflection of a community outlook rather than an individual outlook, freedom, and equality stressed by liberal belief (Kymlicka, 1996).

For a long time now, there has been a tension between the kinds of rights in liberalism already mentioned. The concept of liberalism is known to emphasize the freedom and equality of individual citizens as reflected in constitutional bills of rights. The latter often guarantees political rights and basic civil rights of individuals despite them being members of groups. It is argued that liberalism (liberal democracy) came about as a response against the manner in which feudalism viewed political rights of individuals as well as economic opportunities by individuals’ group membership. Feudalism opposed political rights of individuals and campaigned for the recognition of group rights that would see government decisions made based on rights governing general society. However, in recent times, liberals have accepted the demand for group-differentiated rights by national and ethnic minorities at the expense of individual rights thus setting the stage for tension between these two kinds of liberalism. Many people have raised concerns about why members of certain groups have rights regarding language, representation, and land that members of other groups do not have. There is an overall view that the concept of “group rights” opposes the view of liberalism as it reflects a collectivist outlook rather than individual freedom and equality emphasized in liberal belief (Kymlicka, 1996).

One of the reasons for the existing tension between individual and group rights in liberalism is internal restrictions. According to many liberals, collective rights that are often demanded by ethnic or national groups are harmful or undermine individual rights. For instance, a former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, argued out his opposition to self-government rights (group rights) for Quebec. Trudeau stressed his belief in the idea of the “primacy of the individual” and that only the individual is the possessor of rights (Kymlicka, 1996). Internal restrictions could also involve relations within groups where a national or ethnic group may decide to use state power to restrict individual members’ liberty on the grounds of group solidarity. Of course, such a situation could result in the danger of individual oppression within groups. A perfect example of the tension between individual rights and group rights is in patriarchal cultures where individual women are oppressed because group rights are given precedence over individual rights. It is important to note that whereas people in groups have to perform responsibilities as dictated by the group, it is unacceptable to compel members to embrace practices they disagree with such as attending a particular church or following traditional gender rules.

According to Kymlicka, the variations between individual and collective rights result in fundamentally different concepts of minority rights making it important for people to determine the sort of claim made by a group. Kymlicka’s opinion is that people liberals should endorse certain external protections that promote fairness between groups but they should reject internal restrictions within groups that end up limiting the right of group members to reject, question, or revise certain traditional practices or authorities. Further, Kymlicka believes that as stipulated in in the concept of liberalism, individual rights can help to protect a minority from the political or economic power of the larger society. He supports group-differentiated citizenship often used to provide external protections while playing the role of protecting minority rights. For instance, Kymlicka supports special group representation rights found in the political institutions of larger societies. Of course, such rights make it less likely that an ethnic or national minority will be ignored when it comes to decisions that are made from a group (country-wide) perspective. Additionally, while justifying the liberal defense of minority rights, Kymlicka supports self-government rights where powers are devolved to smaller political units ensuring that a national minority group is not outvoted by the majority in the case of decisions of importance to their cultures such as immigration, language, education, family law, and others. Kymlicka’s primary argument is that in conditions of cultural diversity, what is supported by the majority will hardly guarantee citizen equality meaning that there may be a need to supplement majority decisions by a stronger regime of minority rights (Phillips, 2007).




In what political circumstances was the policy of multiculturalism established in Canada? How has it been justified and supported? Why do some critics say that Canadian multiculturalism policy is actually ethnocentric and perpetuates a national attitude of white superiority?

The world underwent significant changes after the Second World War that saw several countries push for global cooperation and coexistence. Some of the critical events in the aftermath of the Second World War included the independence of several colonies in continents such as Africa and Asia. One of the beneficiaries of the Second World War was Canada as it witnessed an economic boom that facilitated its expansion. With industrialization taking shape in Canada, it was realized that labor, especially that provided by immigrants was insufficient to support operations in the established industries. For several years, Canada had an immigration policy that only favored Europeans and excluded immigrants from Asia and Africa (Dewing & Leman, 2006). The post-World War Two era saw Canada rethink its immigration policies as it was during this period that Canada became more prominent and renowned on the global stage. It was during this period that bureaucrats and key leaders realized that effective functioning of the nation would not be achieved with the racially discriminatory policies in place (Dewing & Leman, 2006). In fact, bureaucrats and Canada’s leadership believed that the discriminatory policies were a significant threat to the country’s national interests, especially when relating with other countries in the global stage (Thobani, 2007). These circumstances paved the way for the establishment of a policy of multiculturalism making Canada the first country in the world to institute such as policy.

The justification and support for Canada’s policy of multiculturalism are evident in the country’s changing demographics as well as the passing of several laws aimed at protecting and celebrating multiculturalism as well as the rights enjoyed by the minorities. For instance, the period between 1969 and 1991 saw Canada make numerous changes to its legislation with the aim of reshaping and embracing a new identity as a multicultural country. One of the legislative changes is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was signed in 1982 under the leadership of Trudeau (Thobani, 2007). This legislation was closely followed by the Employment Equity Act that was signed into law in 1986. This legislation justified Canada’s policy of multiculturalism as it ensured that no Canadian would be subjected to discrimination when it comes to employment regardless of their racial background. In 1991, the Canadian government oversaw the creation of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage whose primary objective was to ensure that every Canadian government embraces and enforces multiculturalism (Thobani, 2007). As a result of the legislative changes, Canada was opened to the developing world spiking up immigration from the developing countries. Reports indicate that this was the first time Canada received non-white immigrants. In the past three decades or so, the minority population has grown significantly as a result of the policy of multiculturalism. According to reports, the minority population stood at 9.4 percent, translating to 2.5 million, in 1991. This figure increased significantly to 16.2 percent, translating to 5 million, in 2006. Further research reveals that the population of immigrants born outside Europe has increased from 68.5 percent in 1981 to 83.5 percent in the period between 2001 and 2006. Of course, this increase can be attributed to the effective enforcement of Canada’s policy of multiculturalism (Dewing & Leman, 2006).

Despite the milestones reached by Canada in its enforcement of the policy of multiculturalism, critics of the policy believe that it is not only ethnocentric but also perpetuates a national attitude of white superiority. Based on the shortcomings of the policy as witnessed in Canada in recent years, the criticisms cannot be ignored. For instance, with the policy of multiculturalism, Canada has been widely recognized as being multicultural. In the real sense, in the global stage, Canada is defined as a bicultural country with many people having the perception that the British and the French are the citizens leaving out the minorities (Reitz, 2012). With the help of government programs and practices, Canadian culture stigmatizes and undermines particular cultures and beliefs, especially those of Aboriginal peoples and immigrants who are the minorities. As a result of the stigmatization of selected cultures and beliefs, immigrants primarily those from the developing world have persistently resisted or challenged the said system of ethnocentrism and white superiority (Reitz, 2012). There are several cases highlighting the challenge faced by immigrants despite the existing policy of multiculturalism. A perfect example is that of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who because of religious beliefs wanted to wear a turban instead of a constable cap. This and several other cases are eye-openers to the fact that despite the policy of multiculturalism’s aim to promote strength in diversity, there are societal standards that must be met paving the way for the stigmatization of minority communities such as Aboriginals and immigrants from the developing world.




Dewing, M., & Leman, M. (2006). Canadian multiculturalism. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Research Branch. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://lop.parl.ca/content/lop/ResearchPublications/2009-20-e.pdf

Kymlicka, W. (1996). Individual Rights and Collective Rights. In Multicultural citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights. Clarendon Press. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from http://dlx.b-ok.org/genesis/757000/8ce0fd956d16a2037d38f83d6437394e/_as/[Will_Kymlicka]_Multicultural_citizenship_a_liber(b-ok.org).pdf

Phillips, A. (2007). Multiculturalism without culture. In Multiculturalism without culture (pp.
11-41) Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Reitz, J. G. (2012). Multiculturalism policies and popular multiculturalism in the development of Canadian immigration. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/24dd/2186efba089a270ef7f6996954b0cd2de158.pdf

Thobani, S. (2007). Multiculturalism and the Liberalizing Nation.”. Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada,, 143-178. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=Ij-cqnIh-TsC&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=Multiculturalism+and+the+liberalizing+nation.&source=bl&ots=oPwid5Uu_4&sig=Rt1nY78wM7XisUTY4m6w4hian0o&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjjpLq66evYAhXJBsAKHWHnDuAQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=Multiculturalism%20and%20the%20liberalizing%20nation.&f=false