Volume 1, Issue 1, 2001
Three Kinds of Nationalism
Three kinds of nationalism are distinguished and explained: (1) Unifying nationalism, which created Italy, and is the more or less voluntary uniting of similar and usually contiguous territories. (2) Ethnic separatist nationalism, which created Ireland, and is the effort of an ethnic group to establish sovereignty in its historical territory. (3) Ongoing patriotic nationalism, which is found in every nation. Each comes in degrees of civility ranging from the democratic to the murderous.
Five criticisms of nationalism are then examined in the light of the three varieties of it: (1) It is a historical novelty only two hundred years old, hence less essential and enduring than often supposed (Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm). (2) Separatist nationalism is acceptable only if its underlying goal is to achieve democracy. (3) Nationalism makes the interests of the state supreme and those of the individual
negligible, racializes ethnic difference, and leads to intolerance and genocide (William Pfaff, Isaiah Berlin). (4) If we encourage separatists the world will fragment into “5,000 countries” (Warren Christopher). (5) Supporting existing borders is simply a better safeguard against war (Pfaff).
Each of these criticisms is found wanting. I discuss the difference between loyalties, which are particularistic, and morality including constitutional principles, which are universal, a distinction important both to the critics and to my rebuttal of them.