L’Europe des patries souveraines, laminées par une interdépendence économique et une harmonisation croissante des législations, est en train de s’effacer. La nation n’existe plus; l’Europe politique, n’existe pas encore; nous sommes dans le malaise de cet entre-deux.
(Pascal Bruckner, La Mélancolie démocratique, 1990)
To critique the nation-state is not to repudiate all forms of nationalism. It is unwise, in particular, to ignore how certain forms of nationalism have served, historically, as legitimate ideologies of resistance and emancipation. In the last half-century, one could cite examples such as the nationalist opposition of local peoples to US involvement in Latin America or Soviet imperialism in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. Not to mention the struggle of European nations themselves against Nazi occupation in the Second World War or the campaigns waged by African nations against supremacist colonial policies. One might also note here that the history of Irish nationalism was itself a relatively noble one—with the exception of the IRA campaign after the 1960s.
A consideration of such cases exposes, I believe, a need to discriminate between different kinds of nationalism—civic and ethnocentric, resistant and hegemonic, those that emancipate and those that incarcerate, those that affirm a community’s genuine right to self-identification and those that degenerate into ideological closure, xenophobia and bigotry. 1
Take the first of these distinctions: civic and ethnocentric. Civic nationalism conceives of the nation as including all of its citizens—regardless of blood, creed or colour. Ethnocentric nationalism believes, by contrast, that what holds a community together is not common rights of citizenship (or humanity) but common ethnicity (or race). The