Trump, Brexit and the rise of far right parties across Europe suggest the return of nationalism as an exclusive, populist and illiberal ideology. But not all nationalisms are similarly coloured. The secessionist nationalism of Scotland or Catalonia, for example, or the reformist nationalism of the Arab Spring suggest instances in which nationalism is more closely associated with liberalism and democracy. Arguably, of course, we only take notice when nationalism becomes ‘hot’, and its character very apparent. At other times, its banal, everyday role as a source of personal and collective identification goes unnoticed, as does its character. These examples suggest perhaps that nationalism is labile or promiscuous, with no fixed essence, taking its character from dominant or emerging ideologies (John Hall).
One important point of reference is of course the clichéd dichotomy of civic vs. ethnic nationalism which was born in the particular historical circumstances following the Franco-German war and the ensuing conflict over Alsace-Lorraine in the 1870's. Its scholarly roots include Hans Kohn’s distinction between western and eastern nationalism. More recently, it has also been conflated with the distinction in normative political theory between liberal and illiberal nationalism made by Will Kymlicka among others. Clearly, binaries are omnipresent within Nationalism Studies, whether they be western/eastern, civic/ethnic, liberal/illiberal or left/right. In rethinking the utility of these classic binaries the conceptual stakes involved move beyond simple East/West or even North/South divides but implicate important issues such as liberalism, civil society and democratization.
Hans Kohn’s The Idea of Nationalism (1944) sought to understand the emergence of nationalism through the story of the development of Western civilization and of the rise of liberalism, and to contrast this process with its illiberal challengers. However, something of the ideological complexity of the European context was lost in this account. Kohn, perhaps for good biographical reasons, was too keen to offer an account of a rather neat linear development of Western civilization and the rise of liberalism. And yet, across Europe liberalism was rarely if ever pristine. It co-emerged with other contemporaneous ideological movements, republicanism in the 18th century and socialism in the 19th, and more generally, with older religious identities, dating perhaps to the medieval era, but more specifically to the reformation age and its popular mobilisations: religious understandings of the world have very often been implied in the national imagination.
The conflation of liberal with civic is particularly misleading in Kohn’s account, not least since the terms evoke distinct intellectual lineages: one liberalism and the other republicanism. Put bluntly, while liberalism makes no claim to universal truth, and is thereby tolerant of diverse opinions, republicanism, derived from the writings of Rousseau, among others, has a clear vision of the good life and is rather intolerant of competing views. To put this another way, and as John Hall (2003) suggests, civic nationalism is open ‘so long as one absorbs the culture of the dominant ethnic group’; this is quite different from liberal nationalism, which has at its core a ‘recognition of diversity’ limited only by a commitment to shared liberal values: groups cannot cage individuals. This leads Hall to usefully distinguish civil or liberal forms of nationalism from a civic republican manifestation of nationalism.
Of course, underlying both civil/liberal and civic/republican nationalisms is an ethnic attachment. Here it is worth remembering that ethnic identification need not be exclusive in a strong sense. As Thomas Eriksen reminds us, ethnic group membership can be open: religious conversion, intermarriage and linguistic integration are possible and need not be coercively underwritten. Şener Aktürk (2012) has recently sought to understand exactly this by offering ‘regimes of ethnicity’ as a way of foregrounding the role that ethnicity plays in conceptions of nationhood. His choice of cases is interesting since they relate precisely to those identified by Kohn as constituting ‘Eastern nationalism’: Germany, Russia and Turkey. Aktürk points to the ways in which ethnic difference is, or is not, supported by the state through ‘membership’, by granting or not granting citizenship to immigrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds; and through ‘expression’, that is, either encouraging or discouraging the legal and institutional expression of ethnic diversity. This usefully prioritises the place of ethnicity in conceptions of nationhood, but it unnecessarily obscures its political character in that civic nationalism is dismissed as a ‘vague, empty category’.
Starting from these reflections this workshop wants to move beyond the classic binaries of Nationalism Studies towards a more nuanced, reformulated framework that might provide a way to better understand nationalisms’ shifting guises.
We are particularly interested in papers oriented to the following sorts of questions:
- To what extent are the classic binaries still workable? What happens if we relate them separately to the issues of national identity, citizenship law and nationalist ideology (Rogers Brubaker)?
- To what extent do distinctions supposedly made in 19th century European liberalism provide an intellectual foundation for these binaries? What about ‘historical’ vs. ‘non-historical’ nations? Where do Staatsnation, Kulturnation and Volksnation fit in?
- How has the concept of ‘the West’ functioned as a push and pull factor in the history of nationalism? If ‘the West’ is gaining/losing appeal, how does this shape particular nationalisms? Similarly, how has the concept of the West, which has been charged with so many ideologies, been interpreted differently and over time by nationalists of diverse kinds?
- Might liberal or ‘civil’ nationalism be distinguished from the often republican-orientated civic nationalism? What role does ethnicity play in these conceptions? And what secures liberal nationalism given the current fragility of liberal democracy? Which historical or contemporary cases shed light on this question?
- How have specific nationalisms moved along the left-right dimension (both in cultural and economic terms) through history? The shifts between types of nationalism are of particular interest, from exclusive to inclusive national practices or vice versa. How are these shifts managed? In what historic contexts do they occur? And more generally, how is nationalism’s character shaped by the ideologies (feminism, Marxism, conservatism,…) it entwines with?