Nationalism, Liberalism, and Democracy

By Dzur, Albert W. | Political Research Quarterly, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Nationalism, Liberalism, and Democracy

Dzur, Albert W., Political Research Quarterly

Liberal nationalism is an important recent development in political theory that challenges liberals to acknowledge the significance of nationality in people's lives, and its role in the justification and implementation of liberal policies. If liberal nationalists are correct, national identity serves basic human needs and is not only compatible with liberal ideals of equality and individuality, but must be fostered for these ideals to flourish and for the liberal-democratic state to function. In this article I analyze the doctrine of liberal nationalism and argue that it actually points to the significance of democratic action, not national sentiment, for liberal states. Civic ties between citizens engaged in the public domain, such as those articulated by contemporary democratic theorists, have more relevance for addressing the functional requirements of liberal states than the bonds of national identity.

Liberal nationalist thinkers such as Yael Tamir, David Miller, Neil MacCormick, Avishai Margalit, and Joseph Raz attempt to reconcile the ideals of liberalism with the facts of national affiliation. Their contemporary theoretical project is significant because it draws attention to the importance of national identity in people's lives and takes seriously the possibility that national identity is not atavistic impulse, elite-manipulated desire, or short-sighted preference, but something that serves basic human needs. It is true that some, very few, liberal thinkers have considered national affiliation as a facet of legitimate governance. But these, like J. S. Mill in the 19th century and Isaiah Berlin in the 20th, gave nationality only a grudging respect as a somewhat unfortunate fact of life (Mill 1972; Berlin 1980). Liberal nationalists do more than point to the reality of national identity; they attempt to justify national affiliations in the same way all other liberal ideals are justified. They believe that without some understanding of nationalism that recognizes its basic importance in human lives, liberalism is incomplete.

Liberal nationalists' arguments are significant, too, because they point out how a number of settled aspects of liberalism as a public philosophy may be dependent on social ties like those of nationality Since liberal ideals as part of an action-oriented political ideology come embodied in a nation-state, not merely a state, this is one way liberalism might be seen as already nationalistic. But liberal nationalists make a more fundamental argument: historical ties of national affiliation explain liberal practices of citizenship and boundary-setting, as well as practices of redistributive justice better than the voluntaristic model favored by liberal theorists. According to liberal nationalists, without some recognition that nationalism plays a fundamental, not merely epiphenomenal, role in the constitution of a just society and a democratic political order, liberalism is incoherent.

In what follows we will see how successfully liberal nationalists reconstruct both the idea of nationality and the theory of liberalism. I focus on three clusters of arguments put forward by liberal nationalists. They argue that national affiliation is important to liberalism, first, because it plays a fundamental role in providing continuity and context in individual lives; second, because it informs, motivates, and justifies egalitarian policies; and third, because it provides a social framework for the functioning of the liberal state, and especially democratic institutions. I demonstrate that liberal nationalists have not shown that the national idea renders liberalism more coherent and complete by providing necessary context, motivation, and justification for liberal values of individuality and equality As for whether the national idea is required for democratic institutions, I argue that the public forums and widespread participation stressed by contemporary democratic theorists have more appeal as a social framework for democracy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Nationalism, Liberalism, and Democracy


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.