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Nationalism and Beyond

Nenad Miscevic

Part One. Nationalism as a political program

Chapter two. Portraying nationalism

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1The main general questions concerning nation and nationalism that we sketched in the introductory chapter concern the value of national culture, including, prominently, language, the importance of its preservation in a (relatively) pure state, the political means of promoting the interests of an ethno-national group, and the like. Contemporary views of ethnic and national communities and their political and moral standing try to answer these questions in a reasoned and systematic way. They fall basically into two groups, a more pro-national one, which will be the main target of this book, and a more internationalist or cosmopolitan one. In this section I shall briefly present our topic; in the next I shall finesse the presentation by distinguishing two varieties of nationalism.

2I want first to sketch a portrait of classical nationalism, the central, paradigmatic sort of nationalism that one can use as the standard for determining to what extent various political proposals count as nationalist or not. As an articulate political program it was born in the nineteenth century, but foreshadowed even earlier. It is centered around claims of national independence, of obligations each member of the national group allegedly has towards it, and of the strict priority of one’s national culture in relation to any wider or alien cultural circle. However, the history and sociology of nations and nationalisms is extremely complex, so allow me to introduce a simplification and use a fictional example; it will help us to forget for a moment the complexities of real-life cases, and to home in on the aspects of the issue we especially want to stress (of course, the conclusions arrived at in this way should then be tested on real-life cases, and I shall be offering such examples). I therefore introduce a fictional country and people—let us call them Lavinians—as a stand-in for a real ethnic-cultural community (the English, the Slovaks, the Croats, the Germans, or the Turks). Here is how the claims already mentioned usually come to be made. The pro-national Lavinian intellectual, say a revivalist, will first try to identify the common traits of (what will be taken as) the Lavinian heritage: he or she will classify various dialects spoken on the given territory as belonging to a single Lavinian language; and identify and describe the customs of Lavinian-speaking persons and classify them as ‘Lavinian customs’, proceeding then to deal with history and tradition, various episodes in which will be seen as belonging to a common causal chain of ‘Lavinian history’. Next come the more specifically cultural elements: the folk ballads in the Lavinian language, belles lettres written by Lavinian authors, not necessarily in Lavinian (possibly in Latin, Swedish, or some other language), philosophy written by Lavinian priests in Latin, paintings, symphonies, and so on. They are identified as part of the Lavinian heritage. On a more speculative level, one then introduces a collective entity: in the nineteenth century it would have been the ‘spirit of the Lavinians’; at the beginning of the twentieth century ‘national character’; nowadays it would be rather ‘cultural identity’. The sociologists discuss the issue of how much of the identification is construction and invention, and how much is the discovery of real links and affinities. Agreement is reached that much is invented; the debate concerns just how much.

3The general story behind the particular moves is the following: the poetry, music, and painting done by artists of Lavinian origin (or, optionally, living in Lavinia) are seen as naturally belonging to the cultural entities ‘Lavinian poetry’, ‘Lavinian painting’, and ‘Lavinian music’ respectively, and both the music and the painting of any recorded age done by such individuals in turn belong to the unit or entity known as ‘Lavinian culture’. In general, the views of the first group—that is, on the nation-centered side—typically assume that there are natural units of cultural and political life: for each person there is only one such unit, and it is of central moral interest to that person. Specifically, the ethno-nation is the natural unit of cultural life, both in time and in space—that is, both historically and at any given time. ‘Natural’ here means several things, most prominently denoting independence from an institutional and administrative framework: ethno-national culture is not the product of an ethno-national state, but a given. This assumption is then used to argue for a nation-state for the sake of further protecting the culture. Furthermore, the unique privileged group—that is, the national group—dictates a number of central moral and political duties to its members. For each Lavinian, it is Lavinia and its unitary culture that forms the primary niche. It is also repeatedly stressed that (in central cases) membership of the national group is non-voluntary—at least not entirely so—but determined by birth and early socialization. Very often this non-voluntary character of belonging is extolled as being of prime importance.

4Next comes the normative task. Our Lavinian revivalist addresses his or her ‘co-nationals’ and enjoins them to promote— that is, preserve and transmit—the specifically Lavinian culture, and to do so because it is their national culture. He or she addresses the culture-producers, telling them to use Lavinian cultural items as raw material for their activity; possibly also to safeguard the purity of these items, embellishing them and bringing them to the level of contemporary art. He or she also addresses the consumers of the culture, urging a preference for the items identified. A sophisticated Lavinian revivalist will give reasons and construct arguments, using the alleged facts collected in the first phase, together with an appeal to some general and commonly accepted values and norms (for example, Lavinian folk songs are essentially peaceful in contradistinction to the aggressive folk songs of the neighboring ‘Tribals’; peacefulness is a cardinal virtue, therefore the Lavinian folk songs are to be preferred to the neighbor’s).

5The normative claim about the centrality of culture then generates the corresponding political normative claim to possession of a state. Ernst Gellner famously defined nationalism as the principle that the boundaries of a culture should coincide with the limits of the state (Gellner, 1983, 1). In chapter one I quoted Miller, who claims that a candidate national community should enjoy a measure of political autonomy, “normally (but not I think necessarily) in the form of a sovereign state” (Miller, 1992, 87). The quote sounds moderate, but it implies that not getting a state is somehow ‘abnormal’. Let me quote two additional recent formulations:

If possessing a state, territory, or other institutional arrangement is necessary for a national group to flourish, then it is desirable that such a group possess a state, territory, or other suitable institutional arrangement. (Natanson, 1997, 179)

  • 1 McKim himself has proposed ‘reduced identification’ in the face of the difficulties of an open nat (...)

There are good reasons for cultural groups to have a political dimension... The fact that a nation has a political dimension seems to be connected to and to partially explain the fact that it is natural to think of nations as having a right to self-determination. (McKim, 1997, 259).1

6Given the political circumstances, nationalism can be expansionist and push for the enlargement of the already available state territory. To return to real-life examples, the former Serbian president Milosevic put forward the motto ‘All Serbs should live in one state’, which illustrates well the way in which nationalists want to bring ethno-nation and state to coincide. A more modest version is isolationism: keep your country protected from foreign influences.

7I do not want to give the impression that nationalism is concerned only with the creation of a state; on the contrary, once the state is in place, nationalists are usually quite concerned with the kind of attitude people have to it (for a detailed study see Billig, 1995). A particularly nasty aspect is obsession with demographic ‘power’, which typically results in an exhortation to women to beget more children for their homeland. (Feminist writers have copiously documented this obsession: see, for example, Nira Yuval-Davis, 1997.) Another slogan that nicely captures the nationalist line is ‘France, love it or leave it’, bandied about by the French Front National. (Of course, one may insert the name of the country of one’s choice: ‘England’, ‘Poland’, or whatever: ‘love it or leave it’.) The suggestion is that love of country is not a private matter, to be left to individual choice: if you do not actively love the country you live in, you should leave it of your own accord or be thrown out. The suggestion translates the abstract moral claim that each member of the (ethno-)nation has a strong obligation to promote its culture, work for its maintenance, and attend to its purity, into an emotional language inciting to immediate action. In short, everybody should do their share: women should bear the future defenders of Lavinia, and men should die for their fatherland if necessary.

8So much for politics proper. An equally important aspect of nationalist normative claims has to do with the preservation and transmission of culture. (I shall go on using the fictional example, but also offer illustrations from real-life.) When speaking about ‘the’ culture of a given ethno-national group, our intellectual usually means the recognizably ethno-national scaffolding of the culture. He or she most emphatically does not mean, and in fact excludes, the actual diversity of non-ethno-national elements within the wider culture, from the adolescent pop subculture to the sub-culture of philosophy teachers who pursue, say, the German Idealist tradition at French or Anglo-American universities. (Not accidentally, such non-ethno-national elements also fall prey to nationalist enthusiasms: for example, and famously, the Vienna Circle in the 1930s, and Lotman’s school of literary theory in contemporary Estonia.)

9Some authors speak of ‘cultural’ nationalism in an etiolated sense, meaning a stance which is interested in cultural ethno-national values without further specification. This sense encompasses a wide variety of attitudes. Let me again illustrate this with a fictional example. Ianus the Lavinian, who likes the works of good Lavinian composers for their musical qualities, and Flavia the Lavinian who listens to them because they are Lavinian: both might be thought to instantiate this vague ‘cultural’ quasi-nationalism, since they are interested in cultural items that are in fact Lavinian. But Ianus is not nationalistic about culture by any pre-philosophical standards, since his attitude is not stably pro-national: he would listen to the same works even if they were not written by Lavinian composers. In short, in the domain of the arts and sciences, ethno-nationalism suggests that the highest concern should be the protection of ethno-national culture, that is, language and traditions in their pure form: artistic creation, education, and research should be dedicated to this goal. Again, the classical variant takes the relevant norm to have the status of obligation-cum-right, and the force of a trump overriding considerations of both individual interest and pragmatic collective utility. The weaker varieties limit themselves to the right without imposing an obligation. In practice, many nationalist writers—especially non-philosophers—freely and without warning oscillate between the weak and the strong varieties, which makes discussion more complex than it need be. The link between cultural ethno-nationalism and political ethno-nationalism is the claim of the ethnic nation to its own state, which would ‘belong’ to the ethnic nation, and actively protect and promulgate its culture and traditions. To borrow a phrase from Oldenquist, the members of the ethnic majority are the ‘rightful owners of the state’ (Oldenquist, 1997).

10Let me now pass to the most general matters. The nationalist stance provides an answer to two crucial general questions. First, is there one kind of group (smaller than the whole of mankind) that is morally of central importance to a particular human being or not? The nationalist answer is that there is only one, namely the nation. Secondly, what is the ground of the obligation that individuals have to their community or communities: voluntary choice or involuntary belonging? The nationalist points to the latter: the nation is typically seen as essentially a non-voluntary community to which one belongs by birth and early nurture. This is linked with the general view that involuntary associations are morally more important than voluntary ones. Benedict Anderson (1991b) claims that the reason many people are ready to die for their country is precisely the fact that national belonging is not chosen. (Some rare but important authors, classics such as Renan [1931] and Weber [1970], and contemporaries such as, occasionally, Walzer [1985], define nation in a voluntaristic way as any community that strives for self-government.) Let us present these answers in a table: the columns stand for the different kinds of relevant groups, whereas the rows determine the relative importance of voluntary and non-voluntary association. The right column mentions some main alternatives to nationalism. Of course, every such attempt involves oversimplifying the matter and obscuring the rich cluster of possible intermediate positions, but this is the price to be paid for initial clarity of exposition. (For a brief discussion of intermediates, see chapter eight on liberal nationalism.)

  • 2 Compare D. Miller: “Liberalism v. nationalism may be a specific instance of what is frequently now (...)

11Of course, classic nationalism is not the only stance to find its place in the upper left box, since there are other candidates for uniquely important non-voluntary groups or belonging (for example, race). The box contains the ‘communitarian’ stance in general, whatever the basic community-kind is taken to be: some communitarians prefer more encompassing groups than nation.2

12Let me illustrate the general tenor of the views contained in the upper left-hand box by a quotation from N. MacCormick. He starts by criticizing the view that a state results from a kind of contract between autonomous individuals. In his judgment the view relies upon:

absurdly atomistic assumptions about the character of human beings. It is an untenable kind of ‘methodological individualism’. It imagines that there could be individuals anterior to any form of organised society who could intelligibly come together and agree to constitute one. Nor is it obvious why the fiction of a merely hypothetical contract can get one round the difficulty. It is one thing to make a hypothesis about what could have happened, but did not, another thing altogether to try and work through an imagining of something which could not conceivably happen. (MacCormick, 1991, 13)

13He then proposes his alternative view of cultural, ethno-national social reality:

The truth about human individuals, and it seems to me perhaps Hegel’s greatest contribution to philosophy, that they—we—are social products, not independent atoms capable of constituting Society, through a voluntary coming together. We are as much constituted by our society as it is by us. The biological facts of birth and early nourishment and the socio-psychological facts of our education and socialization are essential to constituting us as persons. We are the persons we come to be in the social settings and contexts in which we come to be those persons. (MacCormick, 1991, 13)

14Allow me one brief criticism of the line of thought put forward in the first sentence of the passage just quoted. It passes from the idea that people are ‘social products’ to the conclusion that they are not ‘independent’ individuals (‘atoms’) capable of constituting their society by some kind of implicit consent. This does not follow: an essential part of socialization is socially to produce independent persons; upbringing should be, and sometimes indeed is, an upbringing for independence. Once an adult, one can in principle freely give one’s consent—partial or total—to the society one lives in. (Note that the debate is about the principled issue: the communitarian thinks it is in principle impossible that society is, at each turn, constituted by the good will of independent individuals.)

  • 3 Thanks go to my colleague Nenad Smokrovic for reminding me of this fact.

15Let me now summarize and expand our discussion of ‘nationalism’. It is more than just a pattern of individual and collective behavior, encompassing, say, a struggle for independence, and other cultural and social acts such as a tendency to mingle with one’s own ethnic kin. Although some behaviors count as typically nationalist, no behavior is nationalist as such, regardless of the motives or attitudes by which it is guided. (Avoiding neighbors of foreign origin is typical nationalist behavior, but if done only from fear of the police it is clearly not nationalist.) Equally, a thoughtful and rational nationalist would tend to sacrifice short-term national interests to long-term ones when the two clash, and in doing so might endorse rather cosmopolitan-looking policies for a non-cosmopolitan purpose.3 The attitude behind the behavior is crucial. On the other hand, purely ‘private’ nationalistic sentiments which issue no practical directives are not really political and fall out of the discussion of nationalism as a political phenomenon. The nationalism with which we are concerned is a political attitude supported by a body of doctrine. The central place in the doctrine is occupied by directives for action: claims about obligations, duties, and rights. (I shall therefore put aside purely theoretical, coldly cognitive attitudes to one’s own and other ethnic communities in order to concentrate upon attitudes that issue in political and cultural claims and directives.)

16Nationalist claims are typically focused upon the community of language, tradition, and culture, and upon existing state structures when these are available. For the ethno-nationalist it is ethnic belonging—which is basically unchosen, depending on accident of origin and early socialization—which determines membership of a community. As I noted in chapter one, I shall often use the term ‘ethno-nationalism’ as a reminder of the intended sense. Here is a very brief summary of the basic claims that our nationalist is supposed to defend: the preservation of a given ethno-national culture—in a relatively pure state—is a good independent of the will of members of the culture, and something which ought to be ensured by adequate means.

17The nationalist next introduces the statist thesis: in order that such a community should preserve its identity it normally has to assume (always or at least in most cases) the political form of a state. It is the state of the particular ethno-nation, and should promote its interests and fight all the interests that oppose it, including those of its own members who happen not to coincide with the interest of the nation. The state should enjoy full sovereignty and expand if possible.

18In short, the ethno-national community has the right in respect of any third party and of its own members to have an ethno-national state. Once a national state has been formed, and the dominant ethnic community has established itself as its ‘rightful owner’, it has to guard its full sovereignty. It has a duty to promote the ethno-national culture of its owners, in a recognizable form, defending it from spontaneous mixing with foreign influences, preferring a kind of isolationism if the purity of national tradition is threatened. The citizens of the state have the right and obligation to favor their own ethnic culture in relation to any other.


19Let us now briefly contrast the nationalist stance with its typical opposite, the more cosmopolitan view. The latter stresses the fact that each individual happens to belong—simultaneously— to groups and communities of various sizes and kinds; there are no privileged, natural units of the kind claimed by the nation-centered view. There are individual persons on the one hand, the basic carriers of moral worth and responsibility, and there is mankind on the other. Our ultimate obligation is the one we have to human beings as such, regardless of their narrower belonging. Belonging to particular groups is acknowledged, but it is described differently from the nation-centered perspective. Groups differ by the degree of voluntariness: membership of some of these is purely voluntary (clubs), in others it is mixed (social classes and strata, nation-states), and some are not chosen, at least not initially (family). The cosmopolitan stresses that in the modern world voluntary belonging is often more accentuated; individuals choose what the relevant group and community or communities are. They do not deny the central place of culture in the debate, but point out that the classification of culture(s) and cultural phenomena by ethno-national criteria has many competitors; once you stop viewing cultural achievements as basically national (English philosophy, Czech music) you realize the weight of other possibilities (closeness of styles across national borders, actual transnational influences and the like). The circles one belongs to are diverse, and, to use a geometrical analogy, non-concentric: an English woman might feel solidarity with an Eskimo woman along the lines of gender belonging, and with a German working-class male along the lines of class belonging. The possibility and opportunity to switch from one group to another associated with voluntary belonging is an important acquisition whose moral importance is most obvious in the freedom of choice of profession and in social mobility in general. The loyalty one owes to each group is in principle determined by the choices one makes and by one’s past history of interaction. In this sense there is no privileged focus of loyalty, independent of an individual’s decision. Diversity makes for a balance in most normal circumstances: a Catholic, an Orthodox, and a Protestant might find themselves fans of the same football club. Narrower circles can lead one, in an almost continuous fashion, to wider ones. Micro-region, nation, and macro-region are not separated by a gulf from each other. Continuity (almost) makes for a kind of moral learning through extending one’s powers to empathize; the route from individual to mankind is paved with intermediate communities. Finally, the plurality of various potential belongings is an important asset for the individual and their ability and right to choose. We can regard the circles of belonging as natural stepping stones towards the most universal and encompassing community, that of mankind. The general perspective also has a political application, which we shall discuss in the final chapter.

20To see the two perspectives at work, consider the way each of them presents and interprets ethnic conflicts: for instance, those in Ulster, Bosnia, Kosovo, or Chechnya (I apologize for a somewhat Euro-centric choice of illustrations, but I feel more comfortable discussing examples with which I am familiar). From the more cosmopolitan perspective the atrocities of such conflicts constitute a crucial piece of evidence against nationalism, underlining its deep irrationality and inhumanity. From the nation-centered communitarian perspective, ethnic conflicts are direct testimony in favor of nationalism. First, they point to the special qualities— depth, centrality, and ineradicability—of national feeling; secondly, they make obvious the crucial importance of nationalist claims themselves. Why has the war in Bosnia been so bloody? Because the normal, natural solution of forming ethno-national states was made more difficult there by contingent, tragic circumstances. If the Muslims were not so dispersed, the natural solution would be a Muslim state; were the Croats not so dispersed, the natural solution would be to annex Croat territories to the Croatian national state. We shall further discuss this contrast in the chapters on self-determination and self-defense.FINESSING THE PORTRAIT: TWO KINDS OF NATIONALIST

21It is now time to finesse the rough portrait. Not all nationalisms are the same. They differ by the specific contents of their claims (separatist nationalism, isolationism, unificationist nationalism), by the kind of grounding for the claims (more past-oriented in contrast to present- and future-oriented), and by the force and scope of the imperatives they promulgate. Sociologists and political scientists have discussed these various dimensions in considerable detail. We shall be interested in moral issues, so our classification should follow the lines of moral interest, having to do with justification of action and of the principles that govern it. Accordingly, in order to sort out different kinds of nationalism we can picture our nationalist as a would-be lawgiver aiming to shape the behavior of his or her audience and get it to concentrate upon his or her advice. We should look at what is being commanded and with what strength. To that end, we shall not impose external criteria upon nationalism, but respect the goals of nationalist discourse. It prescribes a particular course of action and exhorts the recipient to take it: for example, it enjoins those generally interested in culture to favor their own ethnic heritage over foreign ones; those who want to write poetry to make use of ethnic-national topics; everybody to pay attention to the purity of the language; and members of a given ethnic group to struggle for a state. The criteria culled from the normative standpoint of nationalist discourse are better than those one obtains from the descriptive one. Even a cursory glance at nationalist literature makes one suspicious that the descriptive, allegedly fact-stating part of it is molded by its action-guiding, normative telos. Therefore, we shall take the normative part of the discourse as its primary matrix. Once this part is understood, and its various kinds are sorted out, the descriptive part will turn out to be clearly dependent on it and easy to explain.

22Let me remind you that the basic idea of the cultural nationalist is that the intellectuals and the cultured public of the given ethnic group (nation, people) are enjoined to promote the proto-cultural and cultural heritage of the group because it is its heritage; in short, to promote the national substance. His or her basic political point is that a political institutional framework is required for cultural survival and flourishing. In order that such a community can preserve its identity and support the identity of its members, it has to assume (always or at least in most cases) the political form of a state. As Kai Nielsen puts it, speaking about the need for cultural self-identity:

This secure self-identity is something they will not have if their state is controlled by foreigners, even well-intentioned foreigners, with different self-definitions and aspirations. (They would hardly be foreigners if they were not so different.) (Nielsen, 1995)

23Real nationalists go farther than Nielsen: they want the state to belong in a recognizable, perhaps even exclusive, fashion to a given ethnic community.

24Here, then, is the basis for classification: we should ask how far the preservation-plus-transmission of national cultural contents and state building, followed by the maintenance of complete sovereignty, should go; how exclusive they should be; and what is the normative strength of the recommendations given. Using the fictional name ‘Lavinians’ as our stand-in for the relevant ethnic community, and indulging in fiction a little longer, we can distinguish several possibilities. For example, our Lavinian nationalist—call him Eric—might have in mind only Lavinians: they have rights (or duties) to promote Lavinian contents; others are of no concern to him. His slogan is: My people have a right (or duty) to promote Lavinian contents and to create and expand their state at least so as to encompass all regions inhabited by the core ethnic group. Once the state is created it should jealously guard its sovereignty. He could do worse: discriminate against some non-Lavinian tribe which is particularly hated, and whose language and customs should be suppressed. Since mere carelessness is not a definite political stance, suppose that Eric is at least in principle ready to discriminate: it is his own people to which he has duties; it is his people that should have a sovereign, ethnically centered state, and if the necessity should arise he is ready to deny this right to other, competing groups. (He would then claim, if reflective enough, that there are particular people who have no right (or duty) to promote their contents and to create their state(s). Notice that in practice the stance is rarely advocated openly. Usually, the particular groups discriminated against are described as having no culture, or as being so depraved as not to merit developing one, so that the appearance of universality is preserved. Such a stance is strongly particularistic. With it, naturally goes the conviction that national values are absolute, and that national demands trump all others. Let us call Eric and his like, who refuse to universalize their nationalist demands, ‘invidious nationalists’. Anthony Smith calls such nationalists ‘ethnocentric’: “For an ethnocentric nationalist, both ‘power’ and ‘value’ inhere in his cultural group” (Smith, 1971, 158).

25Contrast Eric, the radical nationalist, with his co-national John. John also believes that national values are very important, and that he has serious duties towards his people. Take culture—music, for instance. He listens to the operas of any Lavinian composer above all because she or he is Lavinian. If the same operas were written by a non-Lavinian composer, he would not care for them, at least not to the same extent. Secondly, he believes that a cultured Lavinian should favor Lavinian music over non-Lavinian, regardless of its aesthetic merits. Thirdly, he takes the ‘should’ seriously: when it comes to organizing musical life, he believes that a high priority should be given to the Lavinian musical tradition, even if young Lavinian composers prefer the pieces of Philip Glass and György Ligeti over old Lavinian luminaries. He is tough indeed. However, he also accepts the Golden Rule and claims the following: all peoples should act as Lavinians do, that is, promote their own values. A Carpathian should listen to Carpathian music and fight for a larger Carpathia, just as a Lavinian should fight for a larger Lavinia. In short, every people has a right (or duty) to promote its contents, to create a state, and possibly to expand it to all regions inhabited by the core ethnic group. The contrast between John and Eric is linked to the most important moral matter, the universality of the claim: that is, to the issue of whether the agent ascribes to others the rights and duties he ascribes to himself. John’s nationalism is not ‘invidious’: it does not withhold from other groups the rights he ascribes to his cherished Lavinians. With this universalistic attitude goes a less extreme (although still rather tough) evaluation of the nation’s demands: they are still of central importance, but do not automatically trump all other claims. For instance, human rights may sometimes defeat the interest of the nation. (Of course, one can imagine a fanatic combining universality with the extreme evaluation, but such a combination is psychologically, and thereby also politically, less stable and in practice extremely rare.) Call John and his like ‘non-invidious’ or ‘even-handed nationalists’.

26This gives us two ‘ideal types’ of nationalist; we shall conduct our debate in the sequel with representatives of each type. Towards the end of the book we shall add a further category, that of the ‘ultra-moderate’ nationalist, although it is not clear whether he is a nationalist at all. He remains satisfied with a weak claim, that one is permitted to promote national contents and strive for a state or has a right to do so, in contrast with John’s tougher claim that it is one’s ‘sacred duty’ to do so.

27Note that all the claims considered share the minimal core—promotion of the national cultural contents and state building—but differ in the strength and universality of the attached norm. Eric concentrates upon his own community, while John universalizes the same claims for all nations. The differences in practical consequences can be dramatic indeed. This brings to the fore the specific moral issues in contrast to those of a non-moral kind (for instance, whether more weight is given to the cultural past of a nation or to the common project to be implemented in the future).

28Of course, the three types—invidious, even-handed, and ‘ultra-moderate’—do not cover all the possibilities. For example, a prominent type that only partially satisfies our description is modernizing nationalism, which tends to sacrifice a part of tradition to the imperatives of modernization: for instance, the Japanese Meiji and Turkish Kemalist movements. They do not present the preservation of all national contents as a duty, only some. Anthony Smith calls them ‘polycentric’ and opposes them to ‘ethno-centric’ ones (Smith, 1986, 159). I am not sure that Kemalists—as well as many other modernizing movements— were not ethno-centric in any sense one might care to give the term: they violently cleansed the nation, oppressed minorities, and purified the language by throwing out Arabic-Persian linguistic lore; the only thing entitling this modernizing nationalism to special status is its willingness to learn from the West, of course in the exclusive interest of the ethno-nation. I shall not pay much attention to such otherwise extremely influential varieties, however, because contemporary discussion of nationalism, and in particular its moral defense, is centered around the importance of tradition and cultural identity, so that nationalistic movements that sacrifice tradition on pragmatic grounds do not play any significant role in it (although they might be of prime interest to, say, sociologists and political scientists).

29Let us expand a little on the description of the two central kinds, returning from fiction to reality. First, even-handed (but still rather tough) nationalism. In the cultural arena it claims that the intellectuals of every nation have a duty to promote its national contents as the central cultural value, even to the exclusion of all other contents. They have an obligation to struggle for the appropriate political form of their communal cultural life, and this is in principle a state. It is a coherent position, which has been immensely popular with the revivalists in both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, particularly in East Central Europe. It combines universalism in external affairs with a rigid duty-based stance in domestic affairs, and is thus suitable for modern nation-states, and appealing to a general sense of equity. It is particularly suitable for separatist (freedom-fighter) nationalism facing an ethnically alien central power—for example, Croatians facing Pan-Germanic Austrian nationalism at the beginning of the twentieth century—since such nationalism normally has no opportunity to deny cultural development to its enemy (and often not to any other ethnic group for that matter), and so it will most profitably claim for its own group the same rights and obligations that the central power bestows upon its bearers. Still, such non-invidious, and in that sense moderate, nationalism is deeply illiberal since it places the duty to the collective higher than the individuality of the intellectual—the creativeness of the artist, the curiosity of the researcher, or the freedom of the thinker.

30Consider an example of everyday nationalism from Croatia. In 1998, still under Tudjman rule, a young Croatian woman of Muslim origin, Lejla (read ‘Leyla’) Sehovic, was chosen as Miss Croatia. The authorities from Croatian TV, and possibly even from much higher up, apparently resented the prospect of Croatia being represented in the Miss World beauty contest by a person bearing a Muslim name. An excuse was invented for repeating the contest and Lejla failed to win a second time. (After a public scandal threatened to have international repercussions, a compromise solution was found.) Pro-nationalist writers usually do not mention occurrences of this kind. They should, however, because they are very much in accordance with their principal line, which they propose as a valid model for all nations. Indeed, if the Croatian state is primarily the state of people who are ethnic Croats and culturally Croat Catholics; and if the state should give primacy to the core ethno-cultural traits, there is no reason to make an exception when it comes to female beauty. Bear in mind that Croatia is traditionally Catholic and by any standards offered by nationalistic thinkers Catholicism is a constitutive part of Croatian national identity. It is therefore, on nationalist assumptions, most unsuitable that Croatia should be represented in an international contest by a person of Muslim origin. If, on the other hand, our would-be nationalist thinks that there is no problem about Croatia being represented by Lejla, he should tell us why Lejla is being accorded special treatment. If he replies that it is culture that counts and not ethnic origin, he has to explain how a Muslim Miss Croatia fits into the general pattern of the distinctly Croatian culture.

  • 4 I will skip the more exotic possibilities, such as being a pro-nationalist on general utilitarian (...)

31To turn to the more abstract characteristics of even-handed nationalism, let me mention that the universalizing attitude that characterizes it can go to different lengths, resulting in different levels of universality. Here are two options. The lowest level is implied simply in the claim that the nationalist solution is valid for each and every (ethno-)nation. Every human being ought to be loyal to his co-nationals, and this requires that every human being believes that his community is better than the others (Oldenquist, 1982, 191). Even at this rudimentary level there is a contrast with ordinary nationalism, which is strongly group-centric: that is, it does not care about the rest of the world at best, and is invidious to particular groups at worst. The higher level of universalism, often attained by philosophers, consists in appealing to strictly universal considerations in order to defend ethno-nationalism.4 In chapter fifteen, on diversity, I shall illustrate this line by discussing the strategy of praising the values of diversity in defending ethno-nationalism, values that are clearly not tied to any particular set of communal values.

32Consider now ‘invidious’ nationalism, the one that refuses to universalize. Its line is the following: ‘We Lavinians have the sacred duty to develop, promote, and defend our ethnic cultural heritage. Forget about what others should do, or even better, let them not do it.’ Let me just mention the indifferent variety (‘forget about others’) which does not state that some groups should not promote their culture, but simply does not care and is not ready to take a stand. It is typically an unreflective attitude, which becomes somewhat unstable when people begin to reflect. As already mentioned, some nationalists of this kind upon reflection accept universalization. Some end up as true invidious nationalists (‘let not others do what we do’), often of a more subtle brand, claiming that their group has particular reasons to foster its heritage since it is objectively so much more perfect than anyone else’s, and that other groups have proportionally less reason to concentrate upon their own heritage. This stance has begotten an apparently altruistic rhetoric where one’s own nation is depicted as bringing cultural salvation to others: Pan-Slavism and Pan-Germanism were noted for such fantasies. (I shall illustrate the stance further in chapter three; see also the 1999 issue of Nations and Nationalism, edited by Anthony Smith and dedicated to national messianisms.) Those radicals who reject such muddles and see clearly whither the refusal of even-handed nationalism leads, have only one option left: the openly discriminatory variety forbidding other groups to do what their own group is enjoined to do. It forms a very stable pattern and is usually proposed only by the toughest and most clear-sighted nationalists.

33We can now appreciate the importance of drawing distinctions between nationalists on the grounds of how general and universal they take the national imperative to be. The debate on ethno-nationalism is vitiated by misunderstandings. Contemporary reasonable defenders of ‘nationalism’ often depict their client as having the traits of a very moderate nationalism, as a group insisting on rights and not imposing duties, eager to promote its own culture but not to the exclusion of others, having an eye to universal values which shine through a particular national shell. The reasonable critics of nationalism rarely attack the same figure. Their enemy most often has the traits of radical, what we have called invidious nationalism, preferably in its discriminatory guise. Any kind of nationalism that is ready to universalize is seen by them as a transitional phenomenon, prefiguring the invidious variant, which is the ultimate target of criticism. (The French philosopher E. Balibar accuses the universalizing nationalist of a blatant contradiction; that is wrong, but contains a grain of truth, as I shall try to show later: see Balibar and Wallerstein [1992, chapter one].) Drawing distinctions and recognizing very different stable kinds of pro-national attitude could be helpful. A liberal theoretician (or journalist, or historian) wishing to come to grips with nationalism should not treat all kinds equally. There is not much to argue about rationally with the radical invidious nationalist, since he does not even start to think in universal terms which are open to rational discussion. In contrast, even-handed nationalism is an intellectually well worked-out position, which should be approached with (counter-)arguments and not just with a blank refusal, not to mention more moderate views that sometimes only call themselves nationalist, which are hard to argue against, and might be the morally correct stance.

34The distinctions are even more important in the sphere of law. Liberal lawgivers would not aim to prevent intellectuals who wish to concentrate upon their ethnic lore from doing so, since they want to maximize freedom. Therefore, they would certainly not banish very moderate self-styled ‘nationalism’ on pain of interfering with the rights of the intellectuals concerned and their public. They should be more stern with other kinds of nationalism, but be able to distinguish the universalizing forms that fall within the moral sphere from those too unreflective, crazy, or wicked to be considered a moral stance at all.

35Finally, I hope that the distinctions drawn here do correspond to stable political kinds of nationalism. (For instance, anybody fanatical enough to discriminate against his neighbors is also fanatical enough to replace, in relation to his co-nationals, the permission and right to promote their national culture by the sacred duty to do so. More extreme attitudes on one issue keep company with more extreme attitudes on others.) Still, I am not dogmatic about psycho-social and political stability. Conceptual investigation has to be supplemented by sociological and historical studies in order to make sure that we cut history at its joints.

36Let me end the chapter with a brief remark about the difficulty the nationalist will have in reconciling the definition(s) proposed at the end of the first chapter with moral demands. Remember that, according to the definition, what makes a person, say Sarah, belong to a nation is simply her belief that she has special ties to others in—what she sees as—the group. Now, mere belief is usually not sufficient to generate serious obligations. Suppose, for the sake of illustration, that people have special obligations to their relatives, and Sarah believes that Helen is her relative; do any obligations follow merely from her belief? No. If Helen is in fact not her relative, she has no special obligations to her; she might have falsely thought she had them, but in fact she did not. If Sarah’s ties to the group are only of this imagined kind, if she merely believes they exist, the group is not in a better position than Helen. Her belonging is only notional, and cannot generate special obligations. I do not remember any serious pro-nationalist writer noticing the problem, let alone offering an answer. (Perhaps some of them simply do not work seriously with the definition[s] they propose; in that case these definitions are just lip service paid to social and political science, but lie idle in their own thinking.)


1 McKim himself has proposed ‘reduced identification’ in the face of the difficulties of an open nationalism. The nasty variants deny this right to some people, and admit it only for the chosen ones. The weaker than classical variants weaken the claim in two directions: instead of having a state they speak of having some kind of political autonomy and self-government, and instead of rights and obligations they speak of rights only.

2 Compare D. Miller: “Liberalism v. nationalism may be a specific instance of what is frequently now regarded as a more general contest between liberals and communitarians” (1995, 193).

3 Thanks go to my colleague Nenad Smokrovic for reminding me of this fact.

4 I will skip the more exotic possibilities, such as being a pro-nationalist on general utilitarian grounds.

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