The Ethics of Nationalism

The Ethics of Nationalism

The Ethics of Nationalism

The Ethics of Nationalism


The Ethics of Nationalism blends philosophical discussion of the ethical merits and limits of nationalism with a detailed understanding of nationalist aspirations and a variety of national conflict zones. The author discusses the controversial and contemporary issues of rights of secession, the policies of the state in privileging a particular national group, the kinds of accommodations of minority national, and multi cultural identity groups that are justifiable and appropriate.


There are two distinct, but related, kinds of problems associated with nationalism: the first is state break-up; the second is control of the state by the majority nation.

State-breaking is one of the most destabilizing consequences of a successful nationalist movement. The issue of the justifiability of state-breaking, or secession, has become very pressing. In the post-Second World War period until 1989, superpowers were committed to upholding existing state boundaries. While decolonization was permitted, the borders of states were treated, in international law and practice, as permanent—non-negotiable—features of the international state system. But, with the collapse of communism, national divisions have tended to rear their heads, and the multinational states of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Ethiopia have disintegrated along national lines. The process may not be completed, since many of the successor states are as multinational as the states they left behind; and there are other serious secessionist movements in many parts of the globe—from Quebec to Kashmir, Scotland to Chechnya.

In his 1991 book, Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce from Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec, Allen Buchanan begins by pointing out that the issue of the morality of secession has received very little consideration from a normative standpoint. He then expresses the hope that his book will help to initiate a debate on the subject. Since then, writers in political philosophy, normative theory, sociology, comparative politics, and other fields have taken up the challenge and there are now a number of diverse philosophical perspectives on this subject.

This book examines most of the philosophical work on the ethics of secession, arguing that they wrongly abstract from the fact that most

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