Old Imperial Dilemmas and the New Nation-Building: Constitutive Constitutional Politics in Multinational Polities

13 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2010

See all articles by Sujit Choudhry

Sujit Choudhry

Center for Constitutional Transitions; Center for Global Constitutionalism, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Abstract

Contemporary defenders of "nation-building" draw a sharp distinction between the "new" and "old" versions of that political practice. The old nation-building, in which a foreign power would design the institutional and legal architecture of another political community without its consent, is widely viewed as an imperialist enterprise motivated by a mixture of self-interest and patronizing nobless oblige, which paid lip-service to the right of self-determination. The new nation-building, as propounded by Noah Feldman, Michael Ignatieff, and Simon Chesterman, aims to further liberal democracy rather than undermine it, and structures the obligations of the occupying (not imperial) power such that they must take the right to self-determination seriously. However, a fundamental conceptual challenge to this view of the new nation-building may undermine its sharp distinction between new and old: the new version presupposes that who the people are who possess the right to self-determination and wish to exercise it is an uncontroversial question. Using case studies from Iraq, Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia, and Canada, the author argues that certain old imperial dilemmas inhere in the very project of nation-building, because even the procedural task of establishing durable democratic institutions presupposes a substantive judgement regarding what the boundaries of the relevant political community are. This task proves problematic in multinational states such as those considered by the author.

Suggested Citation

Choudhry, Sujit, Old Imperial Dilemmas and the New Nation-Building: Constitutive Constitutional Politics in Multinational Polities. Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 37, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1624064

Sujit Choudhry (Contact Author)

Center for Constitutional Transitions ( email )

HOME PAGE: constitutionaltransitions.org

Center for Global Constitutionalism, WZB Berlin Social Science Center ( email )

Reichpietschufer 50
D-10785 Berlin, 10785
Germany

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