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Religion and Society

Power and ambiguity of origin

An homogenous political community contains within itself many different parts, but it does not include minorities. Its members speak the same language, have the same ethnic origins, the same convictions and customs. They form an indivisible body under a single authority.


In contrast to such an homogenous group, a minority is a human group that, though part of a larger political community, does not simply form a part of that community. Minorities may sometimes demand the right to become autonomous. They often contest the homogenous unity that the majority imposes on them.


The existence of minorities has become a universal fact (1). This requires the recognition of the common good by both majority and minority, and the establishment of a form of just relations between all parts of the civil community. It remains to be discussed whether a minority possesses a specific common good in the political arena, one distinct from the rest of the political community. Respect for minorities has long been a classic problem, on a purely political level, but it takes on new relevance with the universal mixing of peoples.



Individual, people and culture


A minority does not exist only as a fact, but also as a value, not least for its members, who are convinced of their right to endure and develop in their own minority status. In fact, man is a being who asks who he is and who circumscribes his own identity by first of all becoming conscious of his origins and of the surrounding environment. His search must depend on this information. This is also true for the individual member of a majority group. From this point of view, majority and minority are only quantitatively different.


Sharing common land brings with it sharing, in variable measure, common blood, because human beings mostly marry among neighbours. In turn, common blood brings with it a common language which is justly called "maternal". Common language implies a common culture as far as each language constitutes a particular perspective on the world and carries with it an original inheritance.


Thus a powerful community begins to exist, consisting at the same time of common soil, blood, language and culture. This constitutes what is called a people, a homeland or a nation in the pre-modern sense of the term. Every individual is part of a people formed of individuals who have in common this collective identity. Sometimes we find that this people is a minority, in the highest sense. And for this, since the people in question has the right to live and develop itself, the minority made up of this people will enjoy the same rights as the majority.


A "complete" minority is one which, isolated and given a State territory, could form an homogenous political community. Taking apart the attributes, we will find some "incomplete" minorities: those which are simply national and linguistic, if they do not have religious differences with the majority; or those whose differences are simply religious or philosophical; or simply ethnic, since nothing says that two different ethnic groups cannot speak the same language.


A people endures in time and remembers the events of its collective life. It lives and makes this history, looks back on it and in its own way transmits it to its children. From this particular existential perspective, it develops an interpretation of the mystery of the world, of man and of God. Even though it is formed from limited experience, this interpretation has to do with the same integral object (universitas entium) to which each personal spirit returns in its total opening which is referred to absolute criteria. This wisdom in concrete form carries the name of culture. All this is also true for minorities. But cultures are not like colours, they communicate among themselves and looking to the absolute, together they create civilization.



The beginning of the modernation


On the other hand, the individual, even if he wants to be "one of the people" with his compatriots, also desires to abandon his country and his people, at least mentally, cultivate his individuality in a sort of intimate solitude, tie himself freely to other people, or even to his own, but as a member of the human race and not simply as a member of his homeland. He aspires to live in a social body which is more sensibly the result of liberty. When the majority of a people think in this way and intends to make a collective reference to freedom, a Republic is formed and this people becomes a nation. Minorities may also desire to become nations, and this often happens. But the natural element should never be destroyed and the nation remains a people, even if it sometimes forgets this fact.


Since man is not infallible, it is not a rare event to see a nation gather itself around an incorrect idea of freedom. In this case the Republic mutates into a Moloch and the nation risks identifying the extension of its influence with the diffusion of freedom. The political unit becomes exclusive and this nation's minorities are seen as enemies of the nation and of freedom.


For this reason, minorities which do not become nations can feel imprisoned or crushed in certain nations. As a consequence, national minority movements can be averse to everything that carries the name of freedom (or of reason, of the universal, or of the nation). Without a doubt the idea of a Republic can agree with the idea of aid, which is good for minorities, but such an agreement is arduous, difficult.



Minority as the desire for community


In the context of an atomistic ideology, in which the individual considers himself almost a state and sees nothing between himself and the human race, the demands of minorities express the desires of individuals who would like to find community, rather than the rights of actual communities. But these individuals have lost the free access to the intelligence of their cultures. Noble, they are often expressions of an anguished search for human identity. Ambiguous, they sometimes express a death wish, contributing to the dissolution of all unity and community. Cultural pluralism is the name of the intolerant monopoly of absolute relativism, in which the plurality of cultures is reduced to a juxtaposition of arbitrary factors, unified by nihilism. As idealists, minorities testify to the attachment to a truly known and lived circumstance, such as the refusal of an anomic universality, of a materialistic culture in which the economy appears to be everything, excluding all depth and human diversity.




(1) In a monumental work, Joseph Yacoub, professor of political science at the Institut Catholique of Lyons, has estimated that one in six human beings is part of an ethnic, national, linguistic or religious minority. J. YACOUB, Les minorités dans le monde. Faits et analyses, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1998, 923