1932

Abstract

There are reasons why some political ideas fit better into a theoretical framework than others. This article analyzes attempts to detheorize nationalism, arguing that they serve three major functions. First, they free nationalists from universalizing their arguments and from the ensuing rights and obligations. Second, they allow its rivals to present nationalism as morally inferior to other political standpoints. Third, they lead to the singling out and legitimization of one specific form of nationalism that is principle driven. Drawing a line between forms of nationalism—those motivated by primordial feelings and those motivated by rational and universal principles—lays the groundwork for a distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism. Though in theory these are two distinct forms of nationalism, in reality the boundaries are blurred. And yet advocates of civic nationalism keep the distinction alive, wishing to distance themselves from the other form of nationalism and promoting a vision (some would say the illusion) of a nationless nationalism. Assuming that Western democracies have transcended their national and ethnic elements encourages politicians to ignore social schisms, avoiding the need to cope with their consequences. The civic language therefore not only is theoretically inaccurate but also motivates avoidance where action is needed.

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2019-05-11
2024-06-14
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