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date: 24 April 2024



  • Renaud-Philippe GarnerRenaud-Philippe GarnerDepartment of Political Science, Aarhus University


Nationalism is a set of beliefs about the nation: its origins, nature, and value. For nationalists, we are particular social animals. On the one hand, our lives are structured by a profound sense of togetherness and similarity: We share languages and memories. On the other hand, our lives are characterized by deep divisions and differences: We draw borders and contest historical narratives. For nationalism, humanity is neither a single species-wide community nor an aggregation of individuals but divided into distinct and unique nations. At the heart of nationalism are claims about our identity and needs as social animals that form the basis of a series of normative claims. To answer the question “what should I do” or “how should I live,” one must first answer the questions “who am I” and “where do I belong.” Nationalism says that our membership in a nation takes precedence and ultimately must guide our choices and actions. In terms of guiding choice and action, nationalist thought proposes a specific form of partiality. Rather than treat the interests or claims of persons and groups impartially, the nationalist demands that one favors one’s own, either as a group or as individual persons. While nationalism does not claim to be the only form of partiality, it does claim to outrank all others: Loyalty or obligations to other groups or identities are subordinated to national loyalty. Together, these claims function as a political ideology. Nationalism identifies the nation as the central form of community and elevates it to the object of supreme loyalty. This fundamental concern for the nation and its flourishing can be fragmented into narrower aims or objectives: national autonomy, national identity, and national unity. Debate on nationalism tends to divide into two clusters, one descriptive and one normative, that only make partial contact. For historians and sociologists, the questions are explanatory: What is nationalism, what is a nation, how are they related, and when and how did they emerge? Philosophers and political theorists focus on the justification of nationalism or nationalist claims: Is national loyalty defensible, what are the limits of this loyalty, how do we rank our loyalties, and does nationalism conflict with human rights?


  • Groups and Identities
  • History and Politics
  • Political Philosophy
  • Political Values, Beliefs, and Ideologies

Introduction: A Contested Concept

Nationalism is not a consensual idea: We might say that it is doubly contested. On the one hand, there is little consensus on what it is. Primarily, historians and sociologists have conducted descriptive research: They argue for a definition of nationalism as well as an account of its emergence, and they advance typologies of nationalism or stages of its transformation. Arguably, the central debate concerns the origins of nationalism and nations: When did they emerge and why did they do so? Modernists claim that nationalism emerged in the past few centuries and created nations: The ideology invents a new and artificial form of community. Their critics, often experts on premodern eras, either respond that nations are far older than the modernist paradigm allows or that they are transformations of older communities rather than ex nihilo creations.

These debates are not merely about dates. Behind the answer to the question “when did nationalism first emerge?” we find questions like “what is nationalism?” “what is its function?” and “which conditions made it possible or inevitable?” Even among those who agree on an approximate timeline or place for its emergence, we find a range of competing explanations on what produced nationalism: new economic conditions, political transformations, or the power of new ideas.

Nor is there any consensus on the precise relationship between nationalism and nations. For some, nations predate nationalism but are transformed by it, while for others, nationalism creates nations, and for others yet, nations are the modern transformation of prenational communities.

On the other hand, we find intense disagreement about the morality or justification of nationalism. While some scholars seem ambivalent, noting both achievements and failures, and others defend some version of it, there is no gainsaying that nationalism is the object of sustained criticism. The normative debate is further complicated by the fact that what philosophers call “nationalism” only partially overlaps with what historians and sociologists mean by it. Many philosophers and political theorists seem interested in national partiality—the idea that one can, should, or must be partial to fellow nationals—rather than an ideology that orders domestic life and the international order.

Generally, the seminal works on nationalism are explanatory accounts. In addition, to this difference in age and output, there is a question of reliance. Normative debates depend on descriptive ones. Those making normative arguments tend to draw on the descriptive research—from their conception of nationalism to the extent to which they think the nation is artificial. Consequently, this entry focuses on central descriptive and normative questions, with a longer examination of the former. It begins with a clarificatory section (“Nationalism or Patriotism?”) that distinguishes the two eponymous concepts and provides a “core” definition of nationalism. The section “The Origins and Nature of Nationalism” provides a critical survey of the central descriptive debate: How and when did nationalism emerge? This section divides into subsections: “Modernism and Its Proponents” as well as “Antimodernism.” The section “Conceptions of the Nation” addresses the question of what kind of community the nation is through a critical discussion of the ethnic–civic distinction. Normative questions are considered in the section “The Justification of Nationalism.” The subsection “Liberal Nationalism and Its Defense” distinguishes liberal nationalism from core nationalism before turning to prominent arguments made in favor of and against the former.

Nationalism or Patriotism?

While nationalism and patriotism are sometimes treated as synonymous, there are good reasons to differentiate them. First, patriotism is far older than nationalism. While modernists all believe that nationalism is recent, none contest Greek patriotism during the Medic Wars (Kohn, 1944). This chronological difference depends upon a more basic one: Nationalism and patriotism belong to different categories. Typically, patriotism is viewed as a love for or loyalty to one’s community, whether an emotion or character trait (Kedourie, 1960; Kleinig et al., 2015; MacIntyre, 1984; Oldenquist, 1982).1 Either way, patriotism is neither an ideology nor a form of politics. Understood as an emotion or a character trait, we can grasp the futility of asking when it first appeared: We do not ask when courage was invented or which society discovered love.2

This distinction also helps explain why the two phenomena are related and sometimes conflated. If patriotism is older and more basic, it makes sense that nationalism draws on this emotion or character trait that arises naturally within human communities. Conversely, it is unsurprising that those who cultivate love and loyalty for their community are drawn to an ideology centered on it.

Nationalism, however, cannot be reduced to sentiment or a character trait. The standard view is that it is an ideology, whatever else it might be (Billig, 1995; Eriksen, 2002; Kedourie, 1960; Smith, 1991, 1998, 2010).3 Despite a wide variety of nationalisms and nationalist thinkers, we can still identify a few core propositions that were shared by seminal thinkers as well as by nationalist movements. We can refer to this as “core” or “classical nationalism.”

Nationalism begins with a claim about the nature and order of the world: It is divided into distinct and unique nations (i).4 Then it adds a claim about the human good: Human freedom (or flourishing) is dependent upon membership in a nation (ii). Upon these claims about the world and our nature, they add normative claims. The nation, and only the nation, is the source of political legitimacy (iii). Nations must be autonomous and express their characters (iv). Finally, national loyalty outranks all other loyalties (v) (Kedourie, 1960; Smith, 1991, 1998, 2010).5

Together, these propositions can explain a great deal of what we call nationalism.6 For instance, the quest for authenticity depends upon (i) and (iv). If nations are not unique, then it is hard to understand why authenticity should matter. Nor does it make much sense to stress the value of self-expression is what is being expressed is banal or common. Similarly, the nationalist aim of achieving statehood largely follows from (iii) and (iv). On the one hand, if all alien rule is illegitimate, then why should a nation accept it? On the other hand, it seems plausible that the best guarantee of autonomy and self-expression is state sovereignty. Or consider how nationalism is associated with mass mobilization and self-sacrifice. This is in part a function of (v). These projects are justified by an appeal to rank-ordering; if national loyalty reigns supreme, then all other loyalties must be subordinate.

In sum, while nationalist thinkers and nationalist movements present us with additions or iterations, these five beliefs capture much of what is shared. When one speaks about the age of nationalism or its spread, one is invariably speaking about some or all of these propositions.7

The Origins and Nature of Nationalism

Since the mid-20th century, the origins and nature of nationalism have been fiercely debated between modernists and their critics. While the former view has emerged as the dominant paradigm, steady criticism has produced notable rival views.

Modernism developed as a rejection of previous scholarship. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, school manuals and scholarship presented nations as ancient, even immemorial. History was taught as a multimillennia narrative of nations and their great members. For example, Germans were taught that their nation long predated unification under Otto von Bismarck. The Hermannsdenkmal—a 19th-century monument celebrating the victory of Arminius, a 1st-century warlord, over the Romans at Teutoburger Forest—embodies this belief in continuity between contemporary Germans and their alleged ancestors (Grosby, 2005).

Modernism and Its Proponents

Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist—but it does need some pre-existing differentiating marks to work on, even if, as indicated, these are purely negative.

(Gellner, 1964, p. 168)

For modernists, nationalism and nations are products of modernity, even necessary features of it. They emerge, together, sometime between the English Revolution (Greenfeld, 1992; Kohn, 1940) or Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation (Kedourie, 1960). Central to modernism is the relationship between nationalism and nations: Nationalism invents nations. The latter are not organic communities. Unlike families or religious communities, they have not and cannot emerge anywhere, any time. The nation is created by nationalism, which in turn is the product of a particular set of sociohistorical circumstances.

This shared belief is also the point of departure for deep disagreement. Which features of modernity best explain the emergence of nationalism and the invention of nations? There are roughly five kinds of answers to this question: cultural, economic, political, ideological, and radical constructivism.

Modern man is not loyal to a monarch or a land or a faith, whatever he may say, but to a culture.

(Gellner, 1983, p. 36)

Primarily associated with Ernest Gellner, the cultural view claims that modernization created nationalism, which in turn created nations, out of necessity (Gellner, 1964, 1973, 1983). The disruption of premodern life caused by industrialization made it necessary to produce a homogeneous culture that would allow workers to communicate independently of context. To overcome fragmented local premodern cultures, one needs an overarching culture: a national culture. For this reason, a high culture is constructed and later a mass education system is devised to ensure its uniform transmission. Nationalism is a product of necessity: It constructs a new form of identity and community as a response to urban uprooting and industrialization. The dislocating effects of modernity require a refashioning of culture and identity.

People is all they have got: this is the essence of the underdevelopment dilemma itself.

(Nairn, 1977, p. 100)

A rival view explains the origins of nationalism by appealing to another modern phenomenon: capitalism. For theorists like Tom Nairn, nationalism is a strategic response to the uneven spread of capitalism and the power that it provides (Nairn, 1977). The unequal development and spread of capitalism distribute resources and power unequally: There are centers that benefited from the development of capitalism and there are poorer peripheries. Peripheral elites design an ideology that takes advantage of their only abundant resource: people. And to effectively mobilize and motivate those who do not share their class or interests, these peripheral elites must create a powerful sense of belonging. The solution is to draw on popular beliefs and practices to create a new interclass community: the nation. Thus, economic variants of modernism explain the advent of nationalism in terms of recent economic change, namely, capitalism.

On these views, nationalism is both a form of elite manipulation and transformation. The elites must construct a new sense of community to persuade the masses to endorse their priorities and projects. Yet, they must also change; they must become conversant in a language that draws on popular culture, its myths, and symbols, to mobilize this sense of interclass community.

But the clarity of focus on the nation as coterminous with the state cries out for a predominantly political explanation.

(Mann, 1995, p. 48)

Yet another variant considers the territorial state to be the best explanation for the advent of nationalist ideology. Bluntly put, political changes are what call for a new political ideology. Nationalism emerges within the past few centuries because it is intimately linked to the modern state. The latter is not a collection of fiefdoms or local power structures but a stable administrative structure, centered in a capital, ruling over well-defined territories (Giddens, 1985).

Here too modernity is cast as a disruptive force and nationalism is part and parcel of a response to it. Whatever else it disrupts, modernity destroys premodern polities and political frameworks. Instead of drawing on religious symbols or myths of descent, nationalism is the attachment to those symbols or representations of the modern state such as citizenship.

Other political variants of modernism emphasize interstate competition and the role that militarization plays (Mann, 1986; Tilly, 1975). Still, the argument is essentially the same: Nationalism is created by modern states to help them function competitively and effectively in domestic or international affairs. Either way, it is a largely psychological phenomenon, a special esprit de corps tailor-made for the inhabitants of these new large administrative states.

Again, since a nation, ipso facto, must speak an original language, its speech must be cleansed of foreign accretions and borrowings, since the purer the language, the more natural it is, and the easier it becomes for the nation to realise itself, and to increase its freedom.

A fourth variant considers nationalism to be the response to the discontentment brought by modernity. Powerfully articulated by Elie Kedourie, this view presents nationalism as a civic religion, complete with a narrative of the fall, a path to redemption, and exhortations to sacrifice and purification. This creed was birthed by disillusioned marginal German intellectuals and then exported worldwide (Kedourie, 1960, 1971).

Collective humiliation and powerlessness are to be explained by national disunity, loss of identity, and autonomy. Like ancient Hebrews explaining their political subjugation in terms of their sinful ways, the nationalist blames contemporary discontentment on a failure to honor and safeguard one’s unique and distinct nation. The solution is national revival: The nation must be reunited, autonomy restored, and national identity restored to its authentic self.

Unlike other variants of modernism that see nationalism as the creation of elites seeking to secure the rising power structures or to provide the necessary social identity for the changing times, this view of nationalism as civic religion is invented by powerless members of society.

No surprise then that the search was on, so to speak, for a new way of linking fraternity, power and time meaningfully together. Nothing perhaps more precipitated this search, nor made it more fruitful, than print-capitalism, which made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to other, in profoundly new ways.

Finally, there are radical constructivist accounts that emphasize the artificiality of the nation: Nationalism is a narrative and the nation is a cultural artifact. For instance, Benedict Anderson has famously argued that changes in terms of how we conceptualize time, the combination of the printing press and capitalism, as well as political change meant that we could imagine new forms of community in which large groups of people can simultaneously imagine themselves as equal members (Anderson, 1983/2006).

The convergence of factors explains what is needed for the narrative to take form and succeed. Print capitalism provides both the material means and an economic incentive to help construct and sustain reading publics, united by a vernacular language. Yet, the impetus to tell this story, to imagine such communities, comes from disaffected civil servants. Here we find echoes of the ideological account: Disaffected functionaries in Latin America came to resent their careers stunted by imperial metropoles. In short, the construction of nations through the nationalist narrative is made possible by several factors: new technology, changing ideas, and a class of people motivated to reimagine their sense of belonging.

Modernism is an attractive paradigm. Undeniably, nationalism spread and came to prominence in the past few centuries. Moreover, the nation-state and the notion of popular sovereignty certainly do not appear at home in the premodern world of multinational empires and dynastic power. And its advocates are right to show that much of what has been called ancient or authentic by nationalists was, in fact, neither.8 Yet, for all its strengths, the modernist paradigm faces important hurdles.

The proliferation of variants reveals deep disagreement; irreconcilable modernisms cast doubt on the promise of modernism. For example, while modernists agree that the nation is a recent creation, they cannot agree on who created it. If nationalism invented nations, who invented nationalism?

For authors who defend economic modernism, it is the invention of peripheral elites who need a new form of mobilization to outcompete richer and more powerful elites (Hechter, 1975; Nairn, 1977). Similarly, for those who consider nationalism as a form of political messianism, it is the invention of the marginal and frustrated among the educated and the skilled (Kedourie, 1960, 1971). Yet, conceiving nationalism as a rational strategy for weaker parties cannot be reconciled with the claim that nationalism emerges as the state’s official ideology to reinforce militarization or with the view that it is devised by elites for the sake of modernization and industrialization (Gellner, 1964, 1983; Tilly, 1975). One is left wondering whether nationalism is the ideology of the downtrodden who seek liberation or the ideology of the ruling class who seek consolidation.

There are deeper problems for modernist accounts. All of them purport to offer a unitary explanation and yet none do. Each variant draws its strength from its ability to compellingly explain certain cases, but none can explain all the central let alone the plausible cases. While economic theories rightly show how nationalism can be a strategy in an unequal contest, this hardly proves that nationalism is the consequence of such conditions: Underdevelopment often fails to produce nationalism, and nationalism regularly emerges among the (over)developed (Connor, 1994). Similarly, explaining nationalism as a response to industrialization fails to account for those cases where the former precedes the latter (Smith, 1983). And political accounts of nationalism fail to explain why nationalist energies can focus on something besides the state or sovereignty. If nationalism is only about the pursuit or consolidation of state power, what are we to make of cultural nationalism: artistic renaissances, campaigns for moral regeneration, and attempts to transform through education? And given that cultural and political nationalism feed off each other, why focus solely on the latter (Hutchinson, 1987, 1994)?

Finally, the modernist paradigm struggles to persuasively answer important questions. Even if modern societies require new forms of community, this does not explain why the nation arouses such powerful and awe-inspiring passions. Put otherwise, how can instrumental accounts, which consider the nation an artificial community invented to serve some further end, explain its motivational power? Some modernists try to explain the power of nationalism by pointing to its self-referential quality: It is a form of self-worship (Breuilly, 1993). But such replies must inevitably fail. Even if group worship provides great motivational power, this fails to answer a comparative question: Why is the national identity so much more powerful than other available identities? Why should an artificial and recent form of self-worship prove so effective?


The appearance of the nation and its continuation over time is not a historically uniform process that can be attributed to one cause, such as the requirements of industrial capitalism, or confined to one period of time, such as the last several centuries.

(Grosby, 2005, p. 58)

The primary fault line between modernists and their critics concerns not the origins of nationalism as an ideology but the nature of nations and their antiquity. Rather than conceive of nations as artificial and recent, the critics of modernism consider them to be either ancient forms of community or transformations of premodern forms of community.

Either way, critics of modernism tend to stress the extent to which nations must build upon dimensions of human identity that are far from modern, such as ethnicity or religion (Armstrong, 1982; Gat, 2012; Grosby, 1991, 2005; Hastings, 1997; Reynolds, 1983, 1984; Smith, 1986, 1991, 1998, 2000).

The argument tends to center on an existential claim: Is it or is it not the case that a nation has existed before modernity? For modernists, the answer must be negative. Indeed, if a single nation precedes nationalism, then the former can exist independently of the latter. And this demonstrates that nationalism neither invents the nation as a type of community nor all tokens of it. For this reason, considerable time and energy are expended to show that some nations, or at the very least one nation, existed before modernity.

We should distinguish between two antimodernist strands. Primordialism is the belief that nations are natural: They have always existed, or their origins are lost in time. While such views were more common in the 19th century, there are late-20th-century attempts to defend primordialism. Sociobiological primordialism considers the nation as an extension of kin selection; our national ties are the product of our evolutionary inheritance and our tendency to favor those who are genetically similar (van den Berghe, 1978). However, such views quickly break down. If the nation is primarily about kin selection, then it makes little sense to cooperate with and sacrifice oneself for those who are genetically unrelated. Even ethnic nations are bound by myths of common descent rather than actual genetic proximity.

Alternatively, we can speak of “cultural primordialism” when (national) culture is treated as a social given, something inherited that arouses powerful and nearly irresistible passions, even if this is only how we feel or perceive these ties (Geertz, 1973). However, this view quickly falters. While “given” or “primordial” ties can be powerful, they are also subject to change, revision, and rejection. Moreover, the theory does not explain the power of these ties so much as rename them. Why should the given be stronger than the chosen?

Far more influential, perennialism accepts that nationalism is a modern ideology, that nations are historical objects—they appear at a point in time—but rejects that they were invented by nationalism in the modern era.9 We can distinguish between perennialists who believe that the nation is persistent and those who argue that it is best understood as a recurrent phenomenon. The former is the idea that nations, or at least some of them, are continuous intergenerational communities that have existed without interruption while the latter is the view of nations as recurring, going in and out of existence throughout the ages (Smith, 1998).

Because the critics of modernity do not claim that all or most nations are ancient, they readily concede that Tanzania is quite modern. Instead, the debate focuses on the antiquity of specific nations that serve as litmus tests. Thus, Adrian Hastings argued that England had already emerged as a functional national community during the Middle Ages. For him, there is an English national identity, modeled on the biblical model of Israel: a united people keenly aware of their identity, possessing a language and territory, a government, and a shared religion (Hastings, 1997). Later developments, like the Reformation and the spread of a vernacular-language Bible, might reinforce and transform English identity, but what is being changed must be older than these transformations.

Naturally, if the English nation is modeled on something older, then the antiquity of the nation can be pressed further. Perhaps the hardest case for the modernist paradigm is that of ancient Israel. Here we are faced with what appears to be the uninterrupted intergenerational community that was conscious of its distinct identity, as well as possessed a unique language and religion and a homeland. In addition, they shared memories of an independent political community and rebellions against foreign occupation (Grosby, 1991).

Again, cases such as medieval England or ancient Israel are designed to show that while premodern nations might be exceptional, modernism is wrong to assert that nationalism invents the concept of the nation and all instances of it. In a way, we might say that critics of modernity imagine nations like democracy: Most democracies are quite young, and the success of the idea is recent, but that does not show that democracy is a modern invention.

While radical critics of modernism argue that some nations have existed long before modernity, others present a moderate critique. Nations might be recent, but they are continuous with premodern communities. It is reasonable to understand these critics as rejecting the radical modernism of Eric Hobsbawm, who denies any serious continuity between older forms of community, ethnic or religious, for instance, and the nations invented by nationalism (Hobsbawm, 1990; Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983).

These moderate critics argue that nationalism does not create ex nihilo a novel form of community. Instead, nationalism transforms preexisting identities (cultural, ethnic, religious, etc.) to produce the modern nation. For medievalists like Susan Reynolds, it is a mistake to overlook the existence of communities that identified themselves through myths of ethnic descent, customs and laws, and the use of proper nouns. Nations might appear later, but many are rooted in the regnal kingdoms that possessed popular consciousness and a sense of identity (Reynolds, 1983, 1984).

Yet, the most sophisticated attempt to show continuity between the premodern and modern identity is probably the work of Anthony D. Smith’s. Through several decades of scholarship, Smith has stressed the importance of the longue durée, long-term analysis. To appreciate the emergence of nationalism and nations, we need to look at very long periods in part to avoid becoming narrowly focused on a particular era or set of cases that would lead to hasty generalizations. Where studies of short periods see invention, long-term analysis reveals that “invention” is often reinterpretation or reconstruction of older materials. Attention to the longue durée also helps explain why nationalism resonates. While many of its claims are inaccurate or false, the continuity between ethnic communities and modern nations shows that behind myths of antiquity and rootedness lie real shared memories and practices, an intergenerational sense of belonging that is not the invention of political elites (Smith, 1986, 1991, 1998, 2000, 2009).

However insightful these rival views are, they are not without their weaknesses. To begin, none of them quite propose a rival grand narrative or general theory that explains the emergence of nationalism or nations. Again, many arguments center on the most convincing cases that can falsify modernism’s claims. Consequently, these case-study arguments often leave us with important questions about patterns and widespread change. Why do some nations like Israel emerge so early while others like Germany emerge much later? Why does the age of nationalism arrive so late if the nation is so old? What explains the appearance of major changes to collective identity if modernity does not invent nations?

Modernists also raise important methodological objections for their critics. For one, they accuse them of assuming that there is more continuity than the evidence supports (Breuilly, 1996). A leitmotiv is that we have little idea what ordinary or plain persons believed in the premodern world given that they have left behind few writings. The writings of literate elites cannot be presumed to represent widespread beliefs or sentiments.10 Furthermore, even when we do have some insight into what plain persons thought thanks to partial or fragmentary testimony, we must be careful to avoid reading the past through contemporary lenses.

In turn, this focus on written sources has itself been criticized. Azar Gat (2012) has argued that too much has been made of the written word or the lack of it. Not only is very little of human history covered by written documentation, but it is far from the only available evidence. For instance, while we have few texts documenting the sentiments of ordinary people, we have accounts of events that depended upon ordinary people. Gat repeatedly returns to the case of mobilization and war in the premodern world to argue that it is unrealistic to maintain that ordinary sentiments or identities are unknown or unknowable. Small and weak states did not simply coerce thousands if not tens of thousands of men to fight who barely recognized themselves in their elites. A fortiori, this is true of popular uprisings.11 Simply put, Gat rejects the idea that we are begging the question of national identity or consciousness if they are part of the best explanation of phenomena (Gat, 2012).

Still, this question of national consciousness is not solely methodological. It is one thing to ask on what grounds we attribute such beliefs or sentiments, and it is quite another to ask why this must be demonstrated. Here we shift from a discussion about whether nationalism invents nations to the very nature of the nation. Even if modernists and their critics could agree on how to conduct their inquiry, they might still disagree on its object. If a nation is defined as a group in which mass national consciousness must exist, then demonstrating that nations existed in the premodern world is far harder than if nations only require moderate consciousness.12 Fundamentally, the question of how to prove the existence of premodern nations is a function of what the nation is.

Conceptions of the Nation

A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things that, in truth, are but one constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.

(Renan, 2018, p. 261)

Despite its centrality, the question “what is a nation?” has been debated since Ernest Renan’s eponymous lecture at La Sorbonne in 1882. Disagreement over what the nation is—what kind of community is it, how does it differ from other forms?—has produced some striking responses.

Faced with this question, Hugh Seton-Watson admits that there is nothing else to say save that a nation exists when enough people within a community believe that they belong to a nation or act as if they do (Seton-Watson, 1977). Others like Rogers Brubaker deny that the nation is a particular kind of object. Instead, we should consider the “nation” as a category of practice rather than a form of community with set properties. Hence his proposal to “think about nationalism without nations” (Brubaker, 1996, p. 21).

Nevertheless, we can identify some broadly consensual beliefs about the nation. To begin, nations are territorial communities: They claim land as rightfully theirs. The homeland is sacred territory. It is imbued with meaning because it is the site of past events that define the group: where battles were fought, the dead are buried, and past generations flourished.

Moreover, nations are always understood as bounded and limited communities. No nation, however ambitious, understands itself as universal. Unlike certain religious communities, the nation does not aspire to or imagine itself as encompassing humankind. Finally, the nation is primarily a group in which membership is inherited, even when it is open to outsiders. Newborns are not without nationality until they reach the age of reason; one receives a nationality at birth even if one later opts to renounce it or to try to obtain another.

Beyond these shared and widely accepted features, we remain confronted by a central question: What is the nature of the community? What unites conationals?

Civic and Ethnic Views of the Nations

Two main concepts of nation and fatherland emerged in the intertwining of influence and conditions; conflicting and fusing, they became embodied in currents of thought in all nations and, to a varying degree, in entire nations. The one was basically a rational and universal concept of political liberty and the rights of man, looking towards the city of the future. In it the secularized Stoic-Christian tradition lived on: in England, it is Protestant form, in France, in its Catholic form. It found its chief support in the political and economic strength of the educated middle classes and, with a shift of emphasis, in the social-democratically organized labor movements. The other was basically founded on history, on monuments and graveyards, even harking back to the mysteries of ancient times and of tribal solidarity.

(Kohn, 1944, p. 574)

Nations, and nationalisms, are often sorted according to two ideal types: French and German, Western and Eastern, or civic and ethnic.13 This typology refers to the nature of the community or the identity that defines the nation. The Western or civic nation is primarily a political association and therefore more of a voluntary community. On this view, the nation is a pact or covenant, a social contract. The nation qua political community occupies a territory that is governed by laws and institutions. This is the view of the nation most associated with Western nations, particularly France, where republicanism played an important part in defining membership in the nation.

The Eastern or ethnic nation is defined by descent, or rather the presumed shared descent of its members. Here members understand themselves as ancestrally related, possessing an identity that is inherited and unchosen on the model of the family. The idea of the ethnic nation is often compared to the family as in Walker Connor’s well-known claim that it is perceived as “the family fully extended” (Connor, 1994, p. 202).

We might summarize these two views of the nations in terms of competing conceptions of nationality and its attribution—jus soli and jus sanguinis. How one acquires membership is a function of the nature of the community. The former attributes nationality to those born within the national territory while the latter attributes nationality based on the identity of one’s parents.14

Of course, one’s conception of the nation is linked to other crucial concepts, namely, national identity. How one understands the nature of the community called the nation affects one’s conception of national identity. What it means to be an X—American or Turkish—will depend on the nature of the community in question. If one considers that the United States of America is a civic nation, a social contract in which members of the republic share political ideals and obey the same laws, then being or becoming an American is a function of becoming a member of a political union. On the civic view, who one’s parents are or which religion one practices will often be orthogonal to determining one’s national identity. Yet, if one holds an ethnic view of the nation, then the identity of one’s parents is no longer irrelevant but essential. On this view, to be Turkish is to be ancestrally related to other Turks and thus filiation is central.

However, these are ideal types. They allow us to make analytical distinctions, to explain patterns of thought and behavior, but they do not correspond to social reality. No actual nation is purely civic or purely ethnic but contains both civic and elements. For example, during the Third French Republic, while students learned about la Répulique, une et indivisible, they also learned that their country used to be called Gaul and their ancestors were Gauls. We find both the civic view embodied by the Republic and the ethnic view embodied in shared ancestry. While it is useful to speak of civic or ethnic to pick out what is emphasized, real nations only approximate these models (Smith, 1991; Yack, 1996, 2012). It is perhaps most useful to think of nations as ranging from more civic (e.g., the United States of America) to more ethnic (e.g., Japan).

The division of nations into civic and ethnic communities is not merely a descriptive question. Behind this categorization loom normative issues: We consider the civic nation to be more open and compatible with consent while the ethnic nation is bound through unchosen features—hence the reason why the civic nation is referred to as voluntarist conception while the ethnic nation is an organic conception. While ethnic nationalism might like to describe itself with the language of the family—fatherland, motherland, brotherhood, and so on—a less controversial unchosen association, it remains the case that the ethnic conception of the nationality makes it harder for newcomers to join. One can profess one’s faith in the republic, one can consent to the social contract, but one cannot so easily choose to change one’s (presumed) descent.

Here again, we must not lose sight that if we consider civic nations to be voluntary and ethnic nations to be organic, and that all actual nations combine elements of both models, then no nation is purely voluntarist or organic. This mixed view, which combines consent and inheritance, was already present in Ernest Renan’s seminal lecture. As it is often highlighted, he insists on the importance of consent, famously calling the nation an “everyday plebiscite” (Renan, 2018, pp. 262–263). Nevertheless, he also speaks about the importance of an indivisible past, an inheritance of “glory and regrets” (Renan, 2018, p. 261).

The Justification of Nationalism

Despite its unrivaled appeal and motivational power, nationalism has seduced few scholars. Several of its most prominent scholars could hardly disguise their contempt like Elie Kedourie or Eric Hobsbawm. Among philosophers and political theorists, it is often met with skepticism or hostility. Ethnic nationalism, the most ubiquitous form, past and present, is largely thought to be indefensible. Civic nationalism, while judged less harshly, is not universally embraced. In the words of an eminent political theorist, nationalism is “the starkest political shame of the twentieth century, most intractable and yet most unanticipated blot on the political history of the world since the year 1900” (Dunn, 1979, p. 55). Normatively, nationalism is on the back foot.

And yet, there is also considerable misunderstanding. To a large extent, the descriptive and the normative work fail to make contact. Consider what is arguably the most prominent anthology of high-profile philosophical papers on the justification of nationalism, The Morality of Nationalism (McKim & McMahan, 1997). The endnotes reveal that many chapters contain few or no references to major or minor studies of nationalism. Several philosophers base their arguments on a commonsense understanding or on one or two works. Something similar holds the other way around. In Nations and Nationalism: A Reader (Spencer & Wollman, 2010), 3 out of 19 of the authors from the above anthology appear very cursorily in the references. None of those contributing to the first anthology are the authors of any essential texts in the reader.

There are likely many reasons for this situation, but two should retain our attention. First, many normative works on nationalism either fail to distinguish it from patriotism or conflate them. In his defense of “nationalism,” Hurka defines it as “people being partial to their conationals” (Hurka, 1997, p. 140). However, so defined, it is indistinguishable from a widespread understanding of patriotism. Similarly, Judith Lichtenberg seems to think that the only difference between nationalism and patriotism is that the former applies before the establishment of the state while the latter applies after it (Lichtenberg, 1997). This is an astonishing claim as it would make patriotism more recent than nationalism.

Second, and more fundamentally, many normative theorists use “nationalism” to mean something very different from the core ideology of nationalism or some variant. Typically, they mean national partiality, which amounts to the idea that one may, should, or must favor the claims or interests of one’s conationals over those of foreigners. For instance, when Thomas Hurka defends a moderate form of national partiality, he is very far from justifying the claim that national loyalty outranks all others, which was proposition (v). It is perfectly possible to favor one’s conationals over foreigners and yet believe that friends and family command a greater loyalty still.

We can add that nationalists, with few notable exceptions, do not have a purely instrumental view of loyalty and sacrifice: They do not love the nation to better serve humankind.15 Rather, the nation itself is the ultimate end. In other words, the instrumental defenses of national partiality that we find in the philosophical literature share little with the classical view of nationalism.16

In short, many philosophers are using “nationalism” in a very narrow sense compared to the scholars of nationalism. While we can find important contributions in these piecemeal or partial discussions of the morality of nationalism, we can also find defenses of something that goes beyond some measure of partiality or an isolated defense of self-determination.17 However, we do not find much of a defense of classical or core nationalism. Commonly, we find a defense of liberal nationalism.

Liberal Nationalism and Its Defense

Liberals then need to ask themselves whether national convictions matter to their way of thinking, to their values, norms, and modes of behaviour, to their notions of social justice, and to the range of practical policies they support. In other words, they must rethink their beliefs and policies and seek to adapt them to the world in which they live.

(Tamir, 1993, pp. 3–4)

Liberal nationalism is not part of an explanatory theory of nationalism.18 Instead, it is an attempt to revise nationalism so that it can be reconciled with the dominant post-Enlightenment political framework, liberalism. Recall that the core ideology of nationalism involves certain claims about morality and human flourishing. On the one hand, we find claims about the value of community and membership. For instance, we saw that proposition (ii) of core nationalism was that individual freedom or flourishing required membership in a nation. Either way, the point is the connection between membership in a nation and human well-being. On the other hand, we find claims that are action-guiding: Proposition (v) is that national loyalty always comes first.

To be schematic, the classical view of the nation can be summarized as an ideology with a demanding view of partiality, which rests upon very strong claims about the value of nations. This demandingness is captured by the insistence that one sacrifice everything on the national altar. We find it in a Swiss “political catechism,” exhorting citizens to “sacrifice willingly and joyfully” their property and lives to the fatherland (Kohn, 1944, p. 385). Or in the poetry of Thomas Babington Macauley famously taught to British schoolchildren:

Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate; “To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his Gods.”

In sum, the morality view put forward by classical nationalism emphasizes the utmost importance of national membership in human flourishing and consequently affirms a rigid hierarchy of duties that places national loyalty above all else. These features—its demandingness, its absolute claims about communal life and flourishing—help explain why many have been so critical.

On the one hand, internal critiques seek to show that the classical view of nationalism is incapable of defending its strong claims. Prominently, we find objections concerning the relative value of the nation and nationality. A popular form of this objection lists the various communities to which one belongs and asks for a clear explanation as to why membership in the nation is so important. To be clear, the argument is not that the nation does not matter but that even if one can establish that it plays a very important role in human flourishing, perhaps even that it is the most valuable form of communal life, this does not yet show that national loyalty must always trump other loyalties (Lichtenberg, 1997).

Here it is worth pointing out how descriptive research is mobilized to make normative arguments. If modernism is true, then the defenders of nationalism must explain why human flourishing depends so much upon a recent invention. Were premodern lives all deeply marred? If nations were invented, why can we not invent more inclusive communities to replace them? Conversely, if the critics of modernity are right, then it is easier to argue that national membership like family membership is a deep feature of human life and flourishing.

On a similar line of thought, one can admit that national autonomy is valuable or defensible and accept that national identity should be expressed and yet challenge precisely what is required to achieve either. If neither national autonomy nor national self-expression requires a nation-state, at least not in all cases, then it becomes much harder to justify nationalist demands for one.

On the other hand, we find external critiques that point to the conflict between nationalism and other normative beliefs or commitments we might have. First, it is difficult to reconcile the core ideology of nationalism with any demanding form of cosmopolitanism. Indeed, given the rigid rank-ordering of loyalties in core nationalism, one’s loyalty to humankind is at best something to be attended to once one’s duties to the nation are discharged. If cosmopolitanism is a commitment to impartial benevolence and the belief that our common humanity is our overriding identity and the object of our strongest loyalty, then they are flatly incompatible.

A similar point can be made about human rights. Understood as bedrock normative claims, human rights would represent (nearly) absolute side constraints. Here too there is a very real possibility that human rights and nationalism conflict. If national loyalty dominates all other loyalties, then it is difficult to understand how a nationalist can coherently choose to honor human rights when these conflict with the demands of the nation. Indeed, when scholars and plain persons evoke how nationalism can be belligerent or fanatical, this is largely what they mean. If loyalty always takes precedence, then there is little or nothing nationalists will not do. And this, its critics say, is precisely why the 20th century was so bloody.19

Finally, classical nationalism can seem hard to reconcile with a strong commitment to autonomy or political consent. One is obligated to one’s nation and fellow nationals, and yet one’s nationality is often unchosen. This worry is at its strongest when applied to ethnic nationalism as on this view, membership is doubly unchosen: One cannot choose one’s ancestors at birth, nor can one easily later choose to be ancestrally related to members of a new group. Yet, ethnic nationalism is not unique in imposing obligations based on unchosen identities (Scheffler, 1994). Even membership in civic nations is largely unchosen and can be demanding.

Liberal nationalism seeks to reconcile nationalism and liberalism, even showing them to be mutually reinforcing. Proposed initially by Yael Tamir in her seminal Liberal Nationalism, variants of this moderate form of nationalism have also been prominently defended by David Miller and Chaim Gans (Gans, 2003; Miller, 1995, 1999, 2007, 2016; Tamir, 1993, 2019). Before addressing arguments for liberal nationalism, we should consider how it generally differs from classical or core nationalism.

First, liberal nationalists abandon the rigid acontextual hierarchy of duties of core nationalism. National loyalty may still outrank other loyalties, but it does not always do so. Most notably, when the human rights of foreigners are at stake, our duties to fellow nationals or to the nation itself must come second. This is the spirit of the “weak cosmopolitanism” we find endorsed by liberal nationalists (Miller, 2016). We might also say that while we have stronger positive duties to fellow nationals than to foreigners, our negative duties to not violate human rights apply equally to all and take precedence over positive duties to fellow members (Miller, 2005).

Second, liberal nationalism is essentially a nonethnic form of nationalism. This does not make it a pure civic nationalism because it focuses on the preservation and transmission of a national identity and a public culture that are not exhausted by constitutionalism.20 However, it does essentially abandon myths of ethnic descent or ancestral relatedness as a part of national identity (Smith, 2010). While nationality might still be attributed at birth, it becomes considerably easier to join and become accepted within another nation once ethnic descent is jettisoned.

Third, liberal nationalists are more concerned with the relationship between the nation and liberal democracy (Tamir, 1993, 2019). While many classical nationalists were strong advocates of democratic or republican regimes, it was by no means universal. Indeed, core nationalism is compatible with an authoritarian government so long as it is authentic or expressive of the national character. Indeed, some very prominent nationalists were antidemocratic, like Charles Maurras and l’Action française as well as Russian nationalists, who summed up their view as “Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality” (Riasanovsky, 2005).

To justify their views, liberal nationalists essentially offer two kinds of arguments. Recall, their project is not to revise or rehabilitate democracy or liberalism as it is to revise and rehabilitate nationalism; this explains why their arguments presume the value of democracy and liberalism and focus on establishing the ethical credentials of (a reformed) nationalism.

The first kind of argument put forward by nationalists might be called communitarian. These arguments are all noninstrumental in the sense that they do not derive the value of national community or loyalty from its contribution to either liberal democracy or liberal conceptions of justice. The arguments focus on the value of community independently of its contribution to democracy or social justice. We might further divide this argument into arguments over the intrinsic worth of national communities and the constitutive role of national communities in human flourishing.

The former strives to demonstrate that nations are valuable communities; they are the site of shared meaning and values. Cultures or cultural communities are good things, and they should continue to exist. Moreover, if we add that these cultures are distinct and unique—proposition (i) from core nationalism—then we ought to appreciate that preserving and sustaining nations provides the world with a diversity of cultures (Berlin, 1976). If culture is good, then nations are valuable as incarnations of culture, and if we value a diversity of cultures, we ought to value the irreducible plurality of nations.

The latter kind of argument seeks to show how nations are constitutive of human flourishing. In their strongest form, they claim that one cannot flourish outside of the nation while weaker versions simply highlight how dispensing with the nation or national makes human flourishing harder or less complete than it otherwise might be. Here, we find various iterations. Some focus on the relationship between national identity and self-esteem (Berlin, 1979; MacCormick, 1982, 1991, 1996; Margalit & Raz, 1990; Nielsen, 1999; Tamir, 1993; Taylor,1992), others on how our understanding of morality is conditioned by our membership in a nation and our participation in its moral traditions, its interpretation of principles or values (MacIntyre, 1981, 1984, 1988; Taylor, 1989; Walzer, 1983, 1987, 1994). Others still insist on how choice and personal development require communal membership (Kymlicka, 1995; Tamir, 1993).

The key point is that all these arguments seek to show that without the nation, human life would be greatly impoverished. Our national identities and our national loyalty constitute, at least for many of us, part and parcel of what it is to live a meaningful or good life.

The second kind of argument is instrumental: The value of the nation is derived from its role in sustaining either liberal democracy or liberal conceptions of justice. National identity and loyalty are either presented as necessary or uniquely valuable means of achieving our political aims of popular rule or social justice. Put otherwise, these arguments all work back from our commitments to democracy or justice and argue that once we properly appreciate how nations can help us achieve our aims, we will value them.

The most famous, the trust argument, has many variations. Essentially, we begin with the need for trust: To cooperate, to sacrifice for others, we must trust that others will reciprocate. For instance, in a democracy, the minority must believe that the majority will not abuse its power and will relinquish it when it loses. All must believe that others are equally committed to the common good. Yet, within large groups, trust cannot rest on personal knowledge of individual track records. To establish trust and motivate people to cooperate and make sacrifices, people need to feel committed to something above and beyond the partisan factions. The nation is presented as an engine of social trust because national identity will bind together and motivate nationals to work as a team. Liberal nationalists present the nation as (uniquely) capable of providing the identification and trust necessary to overcome the various forces, like disagreement or egoism, that threaten social cooperation, sacrifice, and trust (Canovan, 1996; Kymlicka, 2001; Miller, 1995; Moore, 2001; Schnapper, 1998).

Of course, not only democracy requires social trust. Redistributive policies and social justice also require cooperation and sacrifice from people who are personally unacquainted. Here too, the argument goes, national identity provides the necessary identification and motivation.

In short, liberal nationalism is defended on two grounds. Noninstrumental arguments are fundamentally arguments about the value of community tout court or its constitutive role in human flourishing. Either way, they need to defend a certain conception of human nature or one about intrinsic value. The instrumental arguments are less ambitious as they begin from the commitments held by many critics of nationalism, such as democracy and social justice, and seek to show the cost of eliminating national identities and loyalties.

While more moderate than classical nationalism, liberal nationalism has not been spared criticism. On the one hand, it faces internal critiques. For instance, the trust argument has been the target of a fair amount of skepticism. Does national identity bind and motivate as its advocates claim? Critics have argued that it is far from clear that national identity can or does create the kind of affective bond and trust that its proponents claim. For instance, there appear to be plenty of cases in which fellow nationals distrust each other and would prefer to deal with foreigners if they had the choice (Abizadeh, 2002). Moreover, given that a central claim can be empirically verified, we are entitled to ask what quantitative evidence can be produced in addition to sociohistorical narratives about the relationship between nation-states and welfare states. Here, even defenders of liberal nationalism concede that testing the claim has only provided partial support (Miller & Ali, 2014).

Multiple external criticisms have been formulated, but two are particularly noteworthy against the backdrop of globalization.21 An older and quite prominent critique is egalitarian. Essentially, these critics begin by identifying our commitment to equality and then show how nation-states contribute to inequality: They favor nationals at the expense of foreigners. While this might be tolerable in a world where everyone had access to a decent life, it is intolerable when so many lack so much and others live in abundance. In sum, the argument seeks to show that liberal nationalism, or any variation that does not significantly depart from the status quo, is deeply incompatible with a commitment to human equality (Caney, 2005; Pogge, 2002; Singer, 1972; Steiner, 1994).

The second critique focuses on how liberal nationalism remains at odds with certain conceptions of human rights. Here, research is undeniably influenced by the political reality of the early 21st century; migration and refugee crises have stimulated debate on the morality of borders. Behind talk of borders, we find the deeper conflict between, on the one hand, the notion of collective autonomy or the self-determination of peoples and, on the other hand, a human right to free movement or to immigrate. If liberal nationalism allows that one can exclude people from one’s group or territory, then we must ask whether self-determination comes at the expense of a basic right. For those who endorse a human right to immigrate, liberal nationalism’s support for borders and exclusion is objectionable (Carens, 2013; Oberman, 2016).


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  • 1. Classically, patriotism was classified as a virtue (i.e., an admirable character trait). Yet, its ethical credentials have been increasingly questioned in the wake of World War I. Still, proponents and opponents of patriotism tend to agree that it is a character trait.

  • 2. One view is that patriotism is loyalty to political institutions, specifically republican, rather than to an ethnocultural community (Connor, 1994; Dietz, 1989; Taylor, 1997; Viroli, 1995). However, this definition is questionable. Even if “patriots” has often been used to name advocates of republicanism, it is certainly not the only recorded use. Nor does this view match the common uses of “patriot” or “patriotism” to speak of the intense loyalty of those who have no institutions or do not necessarily believe in republicanism (e.g., patriotic Kurds). Worse, if patriotism is loyalty to institutions and nationalism is loyalty to an ethnocultural group, then those who defend this distinction seem committed to the claim that nationalism is ancient. How else can they describe loyalty to the Jewish people and Kingdom during the Jewish-Roman wars?

  • 3. A prominent dissenter in the literature is Benedict Anderson. He claimed that nationalism was more like kinship or religion, no doubt in part due to what he considered to be its philosophical poverty and even incoherence (Anderson, 2006, pp. 4–5).

  • 4. We might say that nations are numerically distinct and qualitatively distinct as opposed to manufactured objects that are numerically distinct but qualitatively indistinct.

  • 5. The point is not that there existed a clear doctrine called “core nationalism” that people simply adopted or not. There are and have been nationalists of all ideological stripes—conservative, liberal, socialist, and so on. The point of putting forward core nationalism is to identify those beliefs most shared between them that allow us to recognize that despite their differences and nuances, there are common threads.

  • 6. This view is open to the challenge that it primarily summarizes Western nationalism. For those interested in an influential non-Western perspective, see Chatterjee (1986, 1993).

  • 7. An example is the way in which proposition (iii) has become so central to nationalist movements in the wake of the French Revolution. The age of nationalism and later decolonization delegitimized the millennia-old institution of empire by spreading the proposition that all alien rule is illegitimate.

  • 8. From Thanksgiving that commemorates events in the early 17th century but only becomes a national institution in the late 19th century, to the 19th-century invention of distinct clan tartans in Scotland, more than one practice or symbol is far more recent than commonly believed (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983).

  • 9. Authors like Azar Gat would be unhappy with this label. Nevertheless, his overall argument is far more critical of modernism than anything else. Indeed, insisting on the antiquity of the national state seems like a form of perennialism (Gat, 2012).

  • 10. Modernists are skeptical of identity unsupported by institutions. Identity that is not affirmed and transmitted through institutions is “fragmentary, discontinuous and elusive” (Breuilly, 1996, p. 156).

  • 11. The battle of Raphia and the subsequent popular Egyptian revolt against Hellenistic rule is a textbook case drawn from the premodern world (Gat, 2012, pp. 118–119). Similar examples abound in Gat’s account.

  • 12. For instance, Walker Connor insists that nations begin at the end of the 19th or early 20th century because they require mass consciousness, which in turn depends upon mass communication and standardized education. Adrian Hastings believed that so long as national consciousness extends to many people beyond government circles and the ruling class, then one can speak of a nation (Connor, 1994; Hastings, 1997).

  • 13. These are the most prominent, but they are not the only classification of nations and nationalism. For instance, one may draw the line between secular and religious forms of nationalism (Juergensmeyer, 1993).

  • 14. While many accept that there are different kinds of nations, some reject this pluralism in favor of a monolithic view. Walker Connor insists that all nationalism is ethnic nationalism (Connor, 1994).

  • 15. Perhaps the most notable exception is Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who often defends nationalism as essential for the progress of humanity (Fichte, 2008). Notwithstanding these passages, Fichte certainly sounds like an ardent nationalist.

  • 16. Authors who defend loyalty to the nation or national partiality purely as a means of achieving the greatest happiness or to ensure the maximal discharging of moral duties, such as R. M. Hare and Robert Goodin respectively argue, are hardly endorsing “nationalism” (Goodin, 1988; Hare, 1981). Few nationalists think of their nation as a mere tool let alone believe that humanity is the ultimate object of loyalty.

  • 17. An excellent example of the way that debate has proceeded is the way that Alasdair MacIntyre (1984) is cited or discussed. MacIntyre does not discuss let alone defend nationalism but patriotism. His focus is clearly on a character trait and not an ideology: Nowhere does he claim that all political legitimacy comes from the nation or that nations must be as autonomous as possible. Of course, this does not mean that MacIntyre’s defense of patriotism is irrelevant—he does after all make strong claims about communal life and human flourishing. The point is that many philosophers and political theorists treat nationalism and national partiality as interchangeable. Consequently, what is discussed on the heading of “nationalism” in the normative debate is often an anemic understanding of what historians and sociologists are discussing.

  • 18. Authors like David Miller might reply that liberal nationalism is not a contemporary reconstruction of nationalism but a view inspired by historical nationalists such as Giuseppe Manzini and John Stuart Mill (Gustavsson & Miller, 2019). While one might convincingly argue that Manzini advocated something sufficiently like contemporary liberal nationalism, things are less clear for Mill. While he did believe that national sentiment was crucial to representative government, he also advocated colonialism on the grounds that it made the colonized better off—a point hard to square with core nationalism (Bell, 2010).

  • 19. The accusation that nationalism is particularly responsible for brutal and total wars in the 20th century is widespread (Smith, 1998, 2010). Even if the accusation is correct, nationalism was also a driving force, if not the driving force, behind decolonization. Whatever historical debates are to be had about what causes what, the cost-benefit analysis of nationalism is likely more complex than François Mitterand’s “Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre.”

  • 20. If by “constitutional patriotism” we mean that people are primarily loyal not to a cultural community but the norms and values of a liberal democratic constitution, then liberal nationalism remains a form of nationalism (Habermas, 1994).

  • 21. There is no shortage of external critiques. Feminist authors have pointed out the extent to which nationalism can be understood as a gendered ideology: one that rarely grants women an equal role in the nation or addresses their concerns (Elshtain, 1993; Enloe, 1989; Walby, 1992). Similarly, those whose argue that we inhabit an increasingly postnational or globalized world argue that the nation and nationalism are obsolete (Falk, 2002; Horsman & Marshall, 1994; McNeill, 1986).