Michael Lacewing
Nation v. state
• State: political structure that is sovereign,
defining the legal rights and obligations of
citizens, and claiming a monopoly on the use
of force
• Nation: a group of people united in some
• States can contain more than one nation
(UK?); one nation can exist in more than one
state (Kurds)
• Nationalism is not patriotism
National identity
• Nations involves ‘national identity’, normally
understood in ethnic and/or cultural terms.
• Members are born into and raised with a particular
language, tradition, and culture. This creates a
‘national character’ and sense of unity.
• Aspects of individual character come from national
• National identity also connects to a geographical
place and historical continuity.
• Nationalism claims (Miller):
– that a national identity is a defensible
source of personal identity,
– that nations are ethical communities
imposing reciprocal obligations on
members which are not owed to outsiders,
– that nations have a good claim to be
politically self-determining
• Nationalism leads to sense of unity and
solidarity, which can support defence of
common liberties and distributive justice.
• Alternatives: individualism and
• But is national sentiment irrational?
– An evolutionary thought: groups that developed
bonds of feeling and cooperation do better
– Culture replaces ‘blood’ bonds
Rights of nations
• Do nations have a right to selfdetermination (e.g. their own state)?
• Group rights:
– Not the individual rights of members of a
group, but the rights of the group, taken
– What groups can have rights? Need unity
and identity; and a distinct moral status
(e.g. irreducible duties or interests)
Rights of nations
• Rights give rise to duties – what are the
duties, and who has them?
– Others have the duty not to interfere with
a nation’s self-determination
– Do individuals have the duty to sacrifice
their self-interest in the group interest
(e.g. in war)?
– Do individuals have the duty to preserve
the distinct culture of the nation?
Nationalism and rights
• If we have these duties, then we have
them only for our own nation. So the
source of the duty must be national
– But other identities, e.g. being
homosexual, don’t impose duties.
• National identity is more fundamental:
– It is political, not personal.
– It is cultural, the basis of our values.
Liberalism: The limits of a
nation’s rights
• They cannot override individual rights
• They are subordinate to the claims
that a state has on its citizens.
• False nationalist beliefs should only be
tolerated if they are not harmful.
• The legitimacy of nationalist claims
derives from the choices of individuals.
Is there a right to national
• Such claims have led to violence (e.g.
the Balkans).
• There is not enough land for every
nation to have a state.
• But what about national autonomy
within a state?