« Cultural Minorities and the Catholic social Tradition » – R.A. Tuazon

« Cultural Minorities and the Catholic social Tradition »

By: Rolando A. Tuazon

Table of contents – Table de matières – Indice – Inhaltsverzeichnis – 指數
English: Minorities – – Italiano: Minoranze
François: Minorités – – Português: Minoridades
Deutsch: Minderheiten – – Español: Minorías – – 中國人: 並通過

1. Introduction

As I started to work on this article, I am greatly disturbed by recent local media reports about the inhumane treatment done by a police squad to a big national alliance of indigenous peoples (IPs) who gathered in front of the US Embassy in Manila to have a peaceful protest. They were dispersed with water cannons and tear gas. A police vehicle was used to drive through the crowd back and forth running over the protesters, among whom were old women and very young people. Many were arrested and some were beaten almost to death.  In one of the interviews after the incident, one of the leaders said that for minorities, such an experience represents the ordeals they suffer in their lives as they struggle for their rights to live and have their legitimate space in society. 

Minority groups along ethnic, racial, religious, and gender lines who suffer different forms of vulnerabilities have begun to assert their rights for a meaningful existence and just treatment in society.  If the Catholic Social Tradition speaks of the Church’s engagement in the world confronting social issues, can one find a rich resource that can meaningfully address the concerns of minorities? Do the Social Teachings of the Church express support for the advocacies of minorities not only in defense of their basic human dignity and rights, but also in the affirmation and promotion of their cultural rights and identity?

This article aims to investigate and attempts to provide answers to these questions. It will first expound on the debates regarding minority rights as responses to the conditions of minorities who are suffering injustice on the margins of society. In the second section, it will proceed to locate the Church’s perspectives on the issue as articulated in its social documents, explaining this from a wider historical development. Using the analectic ethical framework as developed by Enrique Dussel from the Levinasian perspective of the metaphysics of the other, the third part will indicate new possible directions for the Church’s living Social Tradition by becoming more critically open and articulate in its defense of those in the margins, especially of ethnic minorities or of the IPs. 

2. Minorities on the Margins

The meaning of the word ‘minorities’ has certain elements of ambiguity and fluidity, depending on the differing contexts in which it is used. In a general sense, the term normally refers to “subordinate groups whose members have significantly less control or power over their own lives than do the members of a dominant or majority group.”[1] It is commonly associated with tribal, ethnic and religious groups who are disadvantaged, especially because of their being smaller in number, social status or political affiliation. “Minorities can be created by physical and linguistic isolation, migration, gender imbalance, political exclusion, limited education, extreme poverty and a lack of civic rights.”[2] It has been observed that “[t]he social consequences for minorities include extermination, expulsion, secession, segregation, fusion and assimilation.”[3] Nevertheless, discordant with this common description, there are minorities who become elitist and dominant in the control of power, wealth and privileges in particular societies. The main focus of our investigation is specifically the ethno-cultural minorities or the indigenous peoples (IPs) who suffer in the margins of societies.

[1] Richard T. Schaefer, “Minorities,” International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Elsevier Ltd 2015), 569.

[2] Huhua Cao, ed., Ethnic Minorities and Regional Development in Asia: Reality and Challenges  (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009), 13.

[3] Richard T. Schaefer, “Minorities,” 569.

Coming from a position of marginalization, minority groups demand recognition of their rights, specific to their particular survival in their own ethno-cultural identity with a unique form of life and practices, legal system, linguistic resources, and religious traditions. This assertion gets theoretical articulations and defense from communitarians who have raised strong criticism against the Western political liberal theory that sets the individual free from traditional systems of communities and makes him/her autonomously atomized within a modern nation-state.[4] This political liberal framework is best articulated by John Rawls’ ATheory of Justice, which claims that the institutionalization of the good should start with an ‘original position’ of the ‘veil of ignorance’.[5] This means that no particular interest, identity, form of life, or religion matter in the determination of justice for everyone. Van Dyke suggests that liberalism should be supplemented with a theory of collective rights. “The requirements of logic and the long-term requirements of universal justice commend the idea of accepting communities as right-and-duty-bearing units.”[6] Especially after the rise of ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe as a result of the collapse of Communism in 1989, recognition of minority rights has found expression in cultural liberalism.  Ethno-cultural neutrality has been falsified based on the actual organization and functioning of nation-states. What actually happens in ‘nation-building’ is really about the promotion of integration of diverse groups of people into a “societal culture” within a national identity and common membership. If nation-building is done based on the majority societal culture, the national minorities fight for their national culture and insist that they too be engaged in their own’ nation-building’ with an exercise of greater power to govern themselves and put up their own needed societal institutions.[7]

[4] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory, 2nd ed (London: Duckworth 1985 [1981]), 60.

[5] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice  (Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 1972).

[6] Vernon van Dyke, “Ethnic Communities in Political Theory,” in The Rights of Minority Cultures, ed. Will Kymlicka (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 54.

[7] For the elaboration of the three-stages of the debate on minority rights, read Will Kymlicka, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 18-27.

Minority groups are now seeking greater autonomy or even independence and secession from majority nation-building. Expressions of resistances within particular groups have given rise to militant fundamentalism and terroristic extremism. Samuel Huntington’s hypothesis in his celebrated work, Clash of Civilizations,[8]speaks of people’s religious and cultural identities as being the principal source of conflicts after the end of ideological wars.  In response, he calls for the “West” to defend itself against the “Rest”. This seems to have found realization in the ‘war against terror’ which is a continuation of the logic of domination of the ideology of Liberal Capitalism that has hidden itself underneath the postmodern discourses of pluralism and multiculturalism.[9] Within this much more complex reality, how does one derive light from the Church’s living Social Tradition?

[8] Samuel Huntington, “The Clashes of Civilization?,” in Foreign Affairs 73, # 3 (Summer, 1993), 23-49.  He later expounded this in a book, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

[9] Jameson F., “The Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism,” New Left Review, 146, (53-92) cited in David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernty: An Inquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change  (Oxford, N.Y.) ,117.

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