Liberal Nationalism

Liberal Nationalism

Liberal Nationalism

Liberal Nationalism


In this provocative work, Yael Tamir proposes that liberalism, with its respect for personal autonomy, reflection and choice, and nationalism, with its emphasis on belonging, loyalty, and solidarity, are not irreconcilable. Here she offers a new theory, liberal nationalism, which allows each set of values to accommodate the other.


There is no route back from reflectiveness. This phenomenon of self-consciousness, together with the institutions and processes that support it, constitute one reason why past forms of life are not a real option for the present, and why attempts to go back often produce results that are ludicrous on a small scale and hideous on a large one.

Bernard Williams

As we entered the final quarter of the twentieth century, there was a widespread assumption that the age of nationalism was over, that we were on the threshold of a postnational era. It is now clear that this assumption was wrong. National movements are regaining popularity, and nations that had once assimilated and “vanished” have now reappeared. Estonians, Latvians, Corsicans, and Lombards awake from the long slumber that communist regimes or Western European nation-states had forced upon them, flex their muscles, and set out to march under the banner of national independence. These attempts to turn back the historical clock are often marked by bloodshed and by a violation of the rights of neighbouring nations. in their enthusiasm to regain their national identity and acquire recognition and self-respect, national activists often overlook the changes that have taken place in the surrounding political, economic, and strategic circumstances, and fail to realise that national slogans have become obsolete. the era of homogeneous and viable nation-states is over (or rather, the era of the illusion that homogeneous and viable nation-states are possible is over, since such states never existed), and the national vision must be redefined.

The twenty-first century is unlikely to see nationalism fade away. Liberals, whom some had viewed as the great winners of the twentieth century, must come to terms with the need to “share this glory” with nationalism, and probably with religious fundamentalism too. Liberals then need to ask themselves whether national convictions matter to their way of thinking, to their values, norms, and modes of behaviour, to their notions of social justice, and to the range of prac-

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