Relationship between nationalism and liberalism


relationship between nationalism and liberalism

Liberal nationalism is an important recent development in political .. reasons to question the linkage between liberalism and the expression of nation-. Liberalism and Nationalism are two distinct ideologies that emerged in .. liberal nationalism had only ever asserted a contingent connection between the. Nationalism is rising in the Western world, and many view it as the enemy of The point here is that tension between nationalism and liberal.

Still, I have no choice but to believe in the power of scientific explanation. At the Peace Conference in Versailles, the position of the victors was so superior as to allow them not only to dictate the terms of peace but to impose an entirely new international order, defined in accordance with the doctrine of self-determination.

The doctrine of self-determination, as altogether alien and hostile to the pre-modern concept of empire, simply dissolved what it considered to be remnants of the past. As a by-product of the war and a by-product of the Western-promoted doctrine of self-determination, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia launched its own, Leninist, counter-doctrine of self-determination.

National liberalism

As a consequence of this, most of the numerous ethnic groups of the former Russian empire were granted the limited right to self-governance within the hitherto un-demarcated territories they inhabited.

This right was meant to be exercised in the form of autonomous regions, autonomous republics and quasi-states of the nascent Soviet Union. Again, the position of the victors was so strong as to allow them to fully impose their own version of the doctrine of self-determination onto the defeated side.

As a result, the Soviet Union broke up along the lines defined by the Leninist version of self-determination. A similar fate befell Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia which were basically constituted along the same Leninist principles. Probably the only theory of nationalism which is clearly focused on the concept of self-determination is that by Elie Kedourie. For Kedourie, the principle of self-determination, albeit in its mutated, collectivist form, was to be placed at the very core of the doctrine of nationalism.

Surprisingly, the significance of such a transformation and, more generally, of the link between the discourses of nationalism and liberalism, in the form of their common doctrine of self-determination, has been ignored by most theorists of nationalism.

Yet, Kedourie remained blind to the link between the core principle of the nationalist discourse and its ultimate political-instrumental application by both Wilsonians and Leninists. Moreover, he remained blind to the obvious geopolitical instrumentalisation of the doctrine of self-determination carried out by Wilson himself at the Versailles Peace Conference. For Kedourie, What happened in was then, in a sense, a misunderstanding.

Liberal Englishmen and Americans, thinking in terms of their own traditions of civil and religious freedom, started with a prejudice in favour of the idea that if people determine the governments they wish to have, then, ipso facto, civil and religious freedom would be established.

Possessing, for a moment, the power to bind and loose for the whole world, they were confronted by the claimants and suppliants who seemed to believe in much the same things in which liberal Englishmen and Americans believed.

But, in fact, they did not. The Englishmen and Americans were saying, People who are self-governing are likely to be governed well, therefore we are in favour of self-determination; whereas their interlocutors were saying, People who live in their own national states are the only free people, therefore we claim self-determination.

The distinction is a fine one, but its implications are far-reaching. International conferences are, however, not the place for fine distinctions, and in the confusion of the Peace Conference liberty was mistaken for the twin of nationality. Those who had the power to bind and loose for the whole world even if that lasted, as Kedourie claims, just for a moment were not likely to be manipulated by the stateless and powerless claimants who were otherwise entirely dependent on the will of the former.

Of course, Kedourie only accepted the view which had already become a commonplace in the 20th-century historical discourse: Great Britain and the USas well as the relationship between nationalism and liberalism, as eminently nation-creating discourses. Another important theoretical problem, logically stemming from the first one, is the question of the formal definition of nationalism.

And then, nationalism could indeed be regarded as unrelated to the supposedly spontaneous emergence of the first nations, particularly England and the US. Contrariwise, if all the concepts historically promoted by liberalism under the umbrella-concept of the nation were to be taken into account, the implication would be that nationalism could not be regarded as a separate doctrine, independent from that of liberalism.

And then, the question would logically arise: Or is the doctrine of self-determination the umbrella under which the discourses of nationalism and liberalism co-exist as mutually pervasive phenomena?

The existence of nations whose creation was clearly inspired by the doctrine of liberalism logically poses the question of their nature in juxtaposition to the nations promoted by what Kedourie termed the doctrine articulated in the German-speaking lands at the beginning of the 19th century. Most theorists have offered their answers in the form of a Manichean picture of the inter-national order, according to which the old, Western civic nations defined in terms of liberal individualism are fundamentally opposed to the new, Eastern, ethnic nations defined in terms of nationalist collectivism.

The theory admits here of no great precision, and it is misplaced ingenuity to try and classify nationalisms according to the particular aspect which they choose to emphasise. Yet, in both Anglo-Saxon and French Lockean and Rousseauan philosophical-political traditions, nations are also regarded as collective individuals, and therefore potential agents of the inter-national order: This problem requires a closer look at the paradoxical logic of self-determination, as well as at its product, the paradoxical relationship between nationalism and liberalism.

My point of departure in answering the problem of the existence of nations prior to the emergence of nationalism, or of the existence of nations without nationalism as Kedourie depicts the nations based on the liberal-constitutionalist principlesclearly transcends the usual perennialist-modernist dispute: For, nations do exist only as nationalism. More precisely, a nation principally exists through the discourse of nation, that is, a nation basically takes the form of a discourse.

At the societal level, the discourse of nation, once set into motion, influences the actions of those who are exposed to it, thus making them think Anderson and behave the nation Beissinger. Rather than being a mere category of practice Brubakerthe nation is, in my opinion, first and foremost, a discourse that is, indeed, potentially omni-present in the reality of modern societies. However, its manifestations, i.

This principle of congruence Gellner of the nation as a symbolic boundary and the state with its physical borders is, of course, the central part of the discourse of nation: Yet, though the discourse of nation attempts to permanently press individuals to abandon their multiple identities and opt for the single, national one, these individuals massively behave the nation, thus making it happen, only in times of social crises.

Thus, as a part of the discourse of nation, the penetration of crisis-generated alien symbolic contents regardless of whether they are of foreign origin or not is translated into the penetration of physical aliens, i. Hence, the only efficient protection is the erection of an institutionalised symbolic boundary - the nation. And, within the discourse of nation, it is understood that this institutionalised symbolic boundary i.

If this congruence happens to be materialised in social and political reality, the nation-state comes into existence. Yet, though the existence of the nation-state can significantly contribute to the further institutional strengthening of the nation as a symbolic boundary, I disagree with Brubaker if this is a correct interpretation of his central claim that this crystallisation of nationness into nationhood happens irreversibly.

This paradoxical process is what makes the phenomenon of nation so difficult to grasp at the societal level. Individuals massively behave the nation as their single symbolic boundary only occasionally, when their other multiple symbolic boundaries do not efficiently resist the penetration of alien symbolic contents which perpetually challenge their integrity.


At the same time, these individuals are permanently being suggested by the omni-present discourse of nation that the nation is the only proper unit within which they are to calculate their interests Brubaker ; hence, the nation is the only proper symbolic boundary with which they are to identify by behaving it if they are ever to reach the level of full self-realisation. Therefore, the nation is to be regarded as an essentially oscillatory - though randomly appearing - social phenomenon, caused by occasional mass-behavioural projections of the discourse of nation onto the societal level.

Modernity is an epoch in which political change not only ceased to be inconceivable but became regarded as desirable. As Liah Greenfeld observes, the beginning of the epoch was marked by the emergence of first nations.

For Greenfeld, that was the point when the entire people came to be regarded as the political elite. In my opinion, the modern concept of popular sovereignty emerged precisely at the point when the pre-modern political elites - hitherto overtly declared as elites whose political accountability was defined by the supposedly divine source of their legitimacy - came to be challenged and replaced by essentially invisible counter-elites. Thus, by remaining invisible, the modern counter-elites never promoted themselves into declared, politically accountable elites: This complex of paradoxes has since become promoted under the umbrella-concept of the nation.

As the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens stated: Thus the actions of both the individual and the people as a collective individual became self-referentially legitimised by their own free will.

Then, inmore nations emerged from the collapse of the Soviet empire. After World War II, as European empires collapsed, nations — and frequently entities pretending to be nations — emerged from the rubble to assert their right to national self-determination.

Whatever Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini would have done, advocates of liberal democracy celebrated the global emergence of nations that would govern themselves. A nation is a group of people who share history, culture, language and other attributes.


It is the existence of a common identity, a coherent sense of self and nationhood that make self-government possible, because it is that sense of self that permits self-government. A random collection of people without a core set of shared values cannot form a coherent regime, because nothing would hold the regime together or prevent internal chaos.

The principle of the right to national self-determination can be universalized, but the practice of national self-determination must be rooted in the nation.

relationship between nationalism and liberalism

Without this commonality, a nation could tear itself apart. We saw this happen in Yugoslavia and when Czechs and Slovaks gracefully divorced. We saw the chaos of the former European empires as nations once divided from each other by imperial borders and forced to live together with strangers were enveloped in constant turmoil.

Without people who have self-identity, the right to self-determination cannot exist. Without the democracy that flows from it, liberal democracy cannot exist. Liberal democracy makes two core assertions. First, there is a right to national self-determination. Second, this self-determination must manifest in a type of popular rule, and the people, in ruling themselves, have the right to select and approve the form and substance of government.

The important point is that democracy is comprehensible only through the prism of the nation. The centrality of the nation derives from its irrelevance to the old regime. To challenge despotism, a political instrument that could be wielded as a powerful weapon had to be created.

From a political point of view, the only coherent political force to oppose monarchs was the nation. The American Revolution was the rising of a nation crafted as colonies against the English monarch. Liberal democracy also has an obvious inherent danger: It celebrates democracy and liberalism, a system of values that defines the individual as the moral core and guarantees him liberty.

This is the core tension in liberal democracy. On one hand, liberal democracy demands the right of people to determine their own government. On the other, it demands that people respect liberalism. In other words, liberal democracy wants the people to rule, but it insists that if the people understood the moral universe in which they live, they would always vote a certain way. Contemporary tension in liberal democracy is not with the nation, but rather between democracy and liberalism.

If people have a right to self-determination, then they have the right to elect leaders with values they prefer or share. The problem is that some people will object to leaders being selected who violate the principles of liberalism. The battle is between the right of national self-determination on one side, and a faction of people who are appalled at the path the people have chosen on the other side.

Three Big Ideas: Liberalism, Socialism, Nationalism

Nation after nation is being torn apart by those who embrace liberal democracy being usurped by others making democratic choices. The American founders understood this problem and sought to resolve it by limiting democracy in a number of ways.

The most important of these limitations was the Constitution, and its purpose was to define how the state works and checks itself, what inviolable rights all citizens have, and what system would make changing the Constitution enormously difficult.

relationship between nationalism and liberalism