Nationalism and Multiculturalism

  • Daniel Sabbagh
Part of the The CERI series in Comparative Politics and International Studies book series (CERI)


Any conceptual or empirical analysis of the relations between ‘nationalism’ and ‘multiculturalism’ must begin by acknowledging the ambiguity of such notions—and setting aside those of their possible meanings which would make that analysis fruitless or impracticable from the outset. Thus, in the discussion that follows, the word ‘multiculturalism’ will refer exclusively, not to the fact of cultural diversity—which is characteristic of most contemporary liberal democracies—but to a specific kind of political response to that fact, so as to avoid the confusions deriving from ‘the [widespread] tendency to slide from descriptive to normative uses’1 of that most equivocal term. Similarly, and in contrast with the assumption that a nation can be defined as an ethnically homogeneous community—an assumption seemingly embraced by some of the leading scholars in the field, who tend to equate nationhood with cultural distinctiveness,2 thereby leaving it to others to account for the historical process by which nationalist movements actually invented the distinctive ‘culture’ of their nation-to-be3—I will adopt a more consensual and, at any rate, less unduly restrictive definition of that second, equally capacious notion. For the purpose of this article, the word ‘nation’ will refer to a community of people characterised by some common cultural features, mutual recognition, ‘the anonymity of membership’4 and an aspiration to collective political self-determination that distinguishes it from an ethnic group (although an ethnic group whose identity is being threatened is likely to begin to think of itself as a nation). For while ‘ethnic groups can transform themselves into national ones and national communities may define their identity in terms of common ethnic origins […], this broad area where ethnicity and nationhood overlap does not make the two phenomena identical. National unity need not refer to common descent and ethnic groups need not understand themselves as separate political communities within the wider society.’5


Affirmative Action Political Theory American Political Science Review National Minority Cultural Nationalism 
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  • Daniel Sabbagh

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