Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity

By Andreas Wimmer | Go to book overview

1
Shadows of modernity

Three different points of view dominate the current debate on ethnicity and nationalism (cf. Smith 1998). For some, nations and ethnic groups are genuinely modern phenomena, the by-product of the rise of the territorial state or of industrial development. Others regard ethnic and nationalist politics as transitory phenomena, the birth pains of the modern age that will be forgotten as soon as democracy and civil society have grown to maturity. For still others, ethnicity represents the perennial basis of human history, limiting the range of nationalist inventions and imaginations in modern times.

This book goes one step beyond this debate by radicalising the modernist position. It will be shown that nationalist and ethnic politics are not just a by-product of modern state formation or of industrialisation; rather, modernity itself rests on a basis of ethnic and nationalist principles.

Modern societies unfolded within the confines of the nation-state and strengthened them with every step of development. On the one side, the modern principles of democracy, citizenship and popular sovereignty allowed for the inclusion of large sections of the population previously confined to the status of subjects and subordinates. On the other, shadowy side, however, new forms of exclusion based on ethnic or national criteria developed, largely unacknowledged by the grand theories of modernity as a universalistic and egalitarian model of society. Belonging to a specific national or ethnic group determines access to the rights and services the modern state is supposed to guarantee. The main promises of modernity — political participation, equal treatment before the law and protection from the arbitrariness of state power, dignity for the weak and poor, and social justice and security — were fully realised only for those who came to be regarded as true members of the nation. The modern principles of inclusion are intimately tied to ethnic and national forms of exclusion.

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