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Authenticity and Cultural Rights

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Should states extend customized political protections to 'minority nations' or 'minority cultures'? Part of the answer depends on whether the identities at stake are merely political artifacts created or exploited by 'ethnic entrepreneurs', or whether they are 'authentic' expression of an ongoing collective life. This essay argues that the real character of groups is persistently difficult to recognize, and that 'authenticity' is a problematic notion even in the abstract. Given these uncertainties, the essay argues that states should generally treat only the claims of small and vulnerable groups as moral issues, while treating the claims of large groups primarily as political matters. The essay closes with a discussion of the legal criteria for recognizing Indian tribes in the United States, arguing that the standards used are generally plausible, if problematic in one key detail.


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