Nationalism, Statism and Cosmopolitanism
Northwestern Interdisciplinary Law Review, Forthcoming
82 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2012
Date Written: 2012
Criticisms of nationalism are commonplace. Some critics contend that nationalism is a dead or dying force; others argue that it is a dangerous, violence-prone and destabilizing one. Some criticisms of nationalism object primarily to its tendency to upset existing international boundaries: this is the essence of “statism.” Other, more fundamental criticisms argue that the organization of the international community into nation-states is inadequate to solve the most urgent transnational collective action problems; that the nation-state is no longer the appropriate unit for making policy decisions that have global effects; or that nationality neither can or should provide the overriding focus either of personal identity or of political loyalty: this is the “cosmopolitan” perspective.
The usual mindset about nationalism, whether statist or cosmopolitan, needs to be reconsidered. By any reckoning, nationalism remains a significant factor in world affairs. It may well be on the rise in major states like China or Russia; and even in the West, supra-national projects like the European Union have encountered unexpected roadblocks in the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2008. Furthermore, demands for separate statehood by minority nationalities remain understandably powerful, as the recent cases of Kosovo and South Sudan demonstrate; the international environment continues to be favorable to the emergence of new states; and especially when national minorities are at risk of persecution or oppression, the international community should be sympathetic to their demands for political sovereignty.
In the past, nationalism has often been an emancipating and ennobling force; and, in the right circumstances, it can be so again. Rather than fearing or condemning it uncritically, the global community and the international legal system should be prepared, in appropriate cases, to welcome and encourage it.
Keywords: nationalism, international law, nation state
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