The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration

By Glyn Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

Nationalism

FIFTY YEARS AGO—roughly at the time when the current process of European integration got going—very few people in European intellectual and scholarly circles had anything very favorable to say about nationalism. Conservatives disliked it because of its revolutionary potential to undermine existing state boundaries; socialists saw it as a threat to the international solidarity of workers; and liberals condemned it as a regressive form of collectivism.1 In its formative postwar stages, the European project benefited from this animus toward nationalism. Overcoming nationalism and integrating Europe were widely seen as desirable and complementary goals.2

Nationalism is far more intellectually respectable today than in the early postwar period. This respectability does not, to be sure, extend to all forms of nationalism, which remains an extremely variegated, multifaceted phenomenon. Few intellectuals and scholars would defend those nationalisms that take xenophobic or chauvinistic forms. But more moderate forms of nationalism—such as the notion that the modern state ought to protect and promote a common national culture—are now widely defended.3 Part of nationalism's new respectability derives from a sociological observation: most successful modern democratic states possess a common national culture (which is not to deny the existence in those states of distinctive minority cultures). Some sociological theorists of nationalism—including, most influentially, Ernest Gellner—have argued that that the overlap between “state” and “nation” is not a contingent but an inescapable feature of the modern world. If this sociological thesis is correct, then the case for a multinational European federal polity—and a fortiori a unitary European superstate—is simply a nonstarter. To gauge the plausibility of this sociological thesis, it is worth considering in more detail the factors that have led people to conclude that the nation-state remains the only viable type of polity in the world today.

Some consideration of the potency of nationalism is especially important in the case of European integration, because nationalism—in the form of an ideology rather than a set of social processes—forms a central strand of the worldview of the eurosceptic. The next chapter con

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