“America and Canada are both free nations,” Ignatieff writes. “But our freedom is different: There is no right to bear arms north of the 49th parallel and no capital punishment either; we believe in collective rights to language and land, and, in our rights culture, these can trump individual rights. Not so south of the border. Rights that are still being fought for south of the border — public health care, for example — have been ours for a generation. These differences are major and George Grant’s conclusion that they were minor misunderstood Canadian history and our enduringly different political tradition.”
The notion of ‘collective rights‘ is utter nonsense, but very popular with certain segments of both left and right. I just don’t see how any reasonable person could possibly think that groups have moral value in and of themselves. Individuals care about the groups they belong to, so groups have instrumental value. People also value cars and chairs, but we don’t feel compelled to grant these things rights. Sentience and agency surely have to be necessary conditions of rights-bearing. Collectives have neither.
Any group (linguistic, cultural, whatever) which can’t be sustained through the voluntary cooperation of individuals is a group which isn’t highly valued by individuals and not worth preserving. In any case, it just doesn’t make sense to grant rights to groups, since they don’t have the capacity to act in any meaningful way. Instead, special privileges are generally granted to those who claim to represent a group, sometimes giving them the power to coerce other members of the group.