Introduction to Political Science
2008/2009 Semester 1
Tutor: Dr. Reuben Wong
Nationalism is exclusionary by definition. Compare the positive and negative effects of
nationalism within a multicultural/multiethnic society. Discuss the problems that a
multicultural society poses to the formation of a national identity and why you do or do not
believe that nationalism is compatible with the liberal state‟s emphasis upon individual rights
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Nationalism has attracted much controversy as a defining term, due to the difficulty in
objectively determining it as a concept. This is due to the different perceptions by various
group identities on what they perceive as a nation. According to Heywood, Nationalism is
regarded as an ideology that puts the nation as the central pillar that holds up a political
organization, although it is subject to differing goals.1 The definition, thus, is subjective as it
places emphasis on promotion of culture and/or interests by its members as opposed to other
nations or supranational groups. Thus, it could be regarded as exclusionary in such terms.
However, I propose to qualify the statement, as I argue that Nationalism is not conclusively
exclusionary, due to another factor: The key difference of nationalism between that of
cultural and political communities. Cultural nationalism is exclusionary in the sense that it
subscribes to the membership of ethnic identity which is inherited, such that of being German
or Irish, thus excluding other ethnic groups.2 Political nationalism, on the other hand, looks
toward ideals of shared citizenship and civic loyalties of an “Imagined community”3 ,
building upon a focus on popular sovereignty and general will, doctrines which originated
from the French Revolution 1789, and which is apparent in the constitution of nations such as
United States and France. This seems to suggest an inclusionary stance of a common
acceptance of principles and goals for members within the state itself, no matter the cultural
identity, thus not restricting membership. In practice however, ideals are difficult to achieve.
Thus, I seek to argue the increasing mutual exclusion between formation of national identity
in a multicultural society, with that of the liberal ideals of freedom and rights.
Andrew Heywood, Politics: Third Edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p110.
Stephen Iwan Griffiths, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp12-13
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (New York: Verso, 1983)
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An ethnic group is defined as those who share a common culture and historical
identity, thus united by such emotional bonds.4 This would thus pose a risk if certain types of
nationalism are developed in such a multiethnic society, one of them being ethnic
nationalism. A situation where a multiethnic state derives its legitimacy as a homeland for the
dominant ethnic group would provide various avenues for conflict, due to the fundamental
incompatibility between such nationalism and multiethnic community building5 .The idea of
Staatsvolk, where a particular ethnic group constitutes the bulk of the elite and dominates the
interest of a state,6 would create a somewhat ethnocentric belittling of minority ethnic groups.
This certain hegemony, if imposed upon as a formation of a “national identity” according to
their ethnocentric terms, would lead to the threatening of the minority‟s existence, pushing
them to resorting to conflict if left unabated.7 Examples abound in the international context,
with the current sub-state nationalism issue of Basque nationalist terrorist group ETA
(Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) demanding self-determination from Spain via violent means, and
also the terrorist LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka, a classic example of
ethnocentricity gone violent. The Official Language Act of Sinhala- Only 1956 was widely
regarded as a goal to enhance the socioeconomic possibilities of the Sinhalese majority vis-à-
vis the deprivation of minorities, especially the Tamils.8 That precipitated into the 1983 riots
targeted at Tamils, leading to the struggle for a separate Tamil state, with so far 70,000
deaths.9 This type of ethnocentrism of “Tyranny of the Majority”, where politics blatantly
‘Capotorti Report’. U.N. Document E/CN 4 (Sub. 2/L. 564, June 19, 1972, cited in Uri Ra’anan, Maria Mesner,
Keith Armes and Kate Martin, State and Nation in Multi-ethnic Societies (Oxford: Manchester University Press,
1991) p 79.
Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. Translated by Chris
Turner (New York: Verso, 1991)
Ra’anen, Mesner, Armes, Martin, State and Nation in Multi-ethnic Societies, pp. 7-9
Robert Hudson and Fred Reno, Migrants and Minorities in Multicultural States (London: Macmillan Press,
Neil Devotta, Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism Institutional Decay and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka (California:
Stanford University Press, 2004) pp73-91
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favours the majority and discriminates others, leads to the loss of confidence in the state‟s
institutions by the minority.10
Another negative manifestation of such could be expansionist nationalism, where
exaggerated ideals of national prestige or ethnic or social superiority11 would prove to be
disastrous in a multiethnic society. The myth of a past glory of an expanded Reich resulted in
the precipitation of Nazism and consequent anti-Semitic persecution of Jews during Hitler‟s
reign. In a more contemporary context, the ethnic conflict in the Balkan States,
predominantly in former Yugoslavia, led to atrocities of ethnic cleansing by Serbians over
Bosnian and Croats due to their views on creating an expansionist Greater Serbia.12 Why did
it happen? If traced back in history, it could be pointed out that the lumping of a dozen major
ethnic groups as a “Land of Slavs” during the Versailles Treaty could be a myopic view of
the actual realities of differences between the “Slavs” and could be seen as a reason for
precipitation of Serbian “superiority”. This could also relate as being one of the problems in
creating a national identity, in which the imposition of it in a multiethnic state could lead to
its eventual break-up.
There are however, also some positive effects of nationalism, in the form of civic
nationalism. Such a form is based on a common citizenship according to united set of
political values, rather than culture.13 Such is seen as a direct contrast to ethnic nationalism,
in which civic membership is voluntary and which influenced and facilitated the creation of
representative governments of America and France. With such, it creates a common
perception of the legitimacy of a state without much likelihood of a single dominant ethnic
Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968) p.191
Heywood, Politics: Third Edition, p.119-21
Iwan Griffiths, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict, p.38-42
David Brown, Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural and Multicultural Politics (London : Routledge,
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group rising up in control of the state.14 This would prove to be advantageous in a
multicultural state in the creation of a shared ideology, thus eliminating conflict and also
presenting avenues in social mobility for people of differing backgrounds to pass on the basis
of individual achievement.
The Swiss principle of neutrality and co-existence as a basis for nationalistic ideals
could be a useful case study of an ideal example of positive results of consensual
multiethnicity. Swiss political terminology of Konkordanz (consociation), recognition and
cohabitation of the German, Italian, French and Romansh groups, is an ideal example of
proportionality, where differences are settled via compromise and not the imposition of
majority determination.15 The protection of minorities is apparent in the recognition of
Rhaeto-Romansch, spoken by only 0.9% of the population, as the 4th national language16.
Over the course of history, states have often resorted to collective identity tools of
state in consolidation of power17. However, the identity tools vary in the sense that different
created national identities exist, with widely differentiated cultural and civil components18,
proving to be even so more difficult in a multicultural society. National identity, if espoused
as a universal form across a multicultural state, as often advocated by some liberal
nationalists, would only serve to be a highly romanticized and myopic view of the inherent
nationalist aspects of different ethnic groups19, and could even drive them to secessionist
Sandra F. Joireman, Nationalism and Political Identity (New York: Continuum, 2003) p.50
Theodor Hanf, Reducing of Conflict Through Cultural Autonomy: Karl Renner’s Contribution in Ra’anen,
Mesner, Armes, Martin, State and Nation in Multi-ethnic Societies pp.41-42
Kurt R. Spillmann, Ethnic Coexistence and Cooperation in Switzerland, in Andreas Klinke, Ortwin Renn and
Jean-Paul Lehners, Ethnic Conflicts and Civil Society: Proposals for a New Era in Eastern Europe (Aldershot:
Ashgate, 1997) p.212
Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow , Michel Foucault, The Subject and Power : Afterward to Beyond
Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983)
M. Lane Brumer, Strategies of Remembrance: The Rhetorical Dimensions of National Identity Construction
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002) pp.1-6
Heywood, Politics: Third Edition, p.116-117
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demands if their sense of own identity is being imposed upon. Thus, there is no standard,
one-size-fits-all solution to the subjective issue of such creation of national identity.
I argue that Nationalism is mutually exclusive with the liberal state‟s individual rights
and freedoms due to a few concerns. The idea that liberalism looks beyond identity politics as
a collective20, thus places a strong emphasis on human equality of rights and an ethos of
universalism. Thus, Liberalism looks beyond the nation in the sense of the belief of a right to
violate the national sovereignty of a state if human rights are abused21. Examples of such
could be seen in the pressure on white South African nationalism to discard their policy of
apartheid through U.N. sanctions and economic boycotts in 1970s and 80s. Nationalism in a
multicultural society poses an even bigger obstacle to liberal ideals on the issue of tolerance.
Tolerance in practising one‟s culture is advocated, thus amplifying the minority‟s belief in
their own practices.22 However, herein lies the discourse: What if such cultural belief
compromises the fundamental aspect of human rights itself? (eg. customs of arranged/forced
marriages). The liberal state also views nationalism as “liberating”. 23. However, their views
of nationalism do not take into account those of “expansionist and integral”, where the power
of such emotions can commit individuals to a collective movement in fighting for their
nationalist cause no matter the morality (Nazism), especially if there are cultural aliens in
their own state. Such incompatibility thus undermines the rights of the individuals of the
ethnic group regarded as the „other‟, who are subject to subjugation or even atrocities.
Andrew Vincent, Nationalism and Particularity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp.6-87
Heywood, Politics: Third Edition, p.215
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I thus restate my theme in which I seek to assert the mutual exclusion between
nationalism in a multicultural society and the liberal state‟s emphasis on human rights and
freedom, and also propose to qualify the statement in which I argue that nationalism is not
fully exclusionary by definition, with my abovementioned arguments.
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Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso, 1983.
Armes, Keith; Martin, Kate; Mesner, Maria and Ra‟anan, Uri. State and Nation in Multi-
ethnic Societies. Oxford: Manchester University Press, 1991.
Balibar, Etienne and Wallerstein, Immanuel. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities.
Translated by Chris Turner. New York: Verso, 1991.
Brown, David. Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural and Multicultural Politics.
London : Routledge, 2000
Brumer, M. Lane. Strategies of Remembrance: The Rhetorical Dimensions of National
Identity Construction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002.
Devotta, Neil. Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism Institutional Decay and Ethnic Conflict in
Sri Lanka. California: Stanford University Press, 2004.
Dreyfus, Hubert and Rabinow, Paul. Michel Foucault, The Subject and Power: Afterward to
Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Hanf , Theodor. Reducing of Conflict Through Cultural Autonomy: Karl Renner’s
Contribution in Ra‟anen, Mesner, Armes, Martin, State and Nation in Multi-ethnic Societies.
Oxford: Manchester University Press, 1991.
Heywood, Andrew. Politics: Third Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Hudson, Robert and Reno, Fred. Migrants and Minorities in Multicultural States. London:
Macmillan Press, 2000.
Huntington, Samuel P. Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University
Iwan Griffiths, Stephen. Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict. New York: Oxford University
Joireman, Sandra F. Nationalism and Political Identity. New York: Continuum, 2003
Spillmann, Kurt R. Ethnic Coexistence and Cooperation in Switzerland, in Andreas Klinke,
Ortwin Renn and Jean-Paul Lehners, Ethnic Conflicts and Civil Society: Proposals for a New
Era in Eastern Europe. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997.
Vincent, Andrew. Nationalism and Particularity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
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