Liberalism and Membership

Document Type

Book Review

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Brian Barry's book "Culture & Equality" brings his egalitarian liberal conception of justice to bear on recent claims made by theorists of multiculturalism for public recognition and accommodation of cultural group difference. Barry is highly critical of assertions of cultural rights, including in particular assertions made on behalf of religious practitioners for judicially crafted conduct exemptions from generally applicable laws. This review essay outlines the major strands of Barry’s liberal egalitarian conception of justice, the sense in which he relates that universalistic conception to multicultural claims, and the impact Barry’s theory would have on the development of cultural attachments and identities. In particular, this review takes up Barry’s treatment of the concept of group rights, his critique of religious conduct exemptions, and the distinctions he attempts to draw between cultural and non-cultural group-differentiated rights. It concludes that Barry’s theory would impose too significant a loss on associative freedom and on the capacity of individuals for liberal self-invention. Finally, the review uses Barry's approach to point the way toward a more liberal conception of cultural group membership.


Originally published in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law in 2002.