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Key issues in Aleinikoff's and Sabbagh's articles
on multicultural nationalism


This text was previously posted as one of the pages in the 'divlib' section of the website 'Arguments and Facts'. It was reformatted as the present article on 2018-01-03.

This page describes our view of the most essential points in the articles of Aleinikoff and Sabbagh, which are described in two separate articles on the present site.

The key point, in our opinion, is that one may view multicultural nationalism (MCN) as an intermediate position that has two opposing and potentially more simplistic positions on its two sides. These are cosmopolitanism and ethno-nationalism (i.e. the ethnic variety of nationalism), respectively. Here, cosmopolitanism is the view that countries and nations are becoming less and less relevant and may become entirely obsolete, since both physical movement of people and contacts over long distances become more and commonplace. Ethnicities and religions continue to be significant in the people's lives, but both ethnicities and religions will not, and should not be correlated with the boundaries of what may remain of nations and states.

Ethno-nationalism, instead, is the view that the world is best organized in terms of ethnically homogenous countries where each citizen has a strong sense of belonging to his or her country, in terms of language, culture, history and more. This means, in particular, that the concept of a multicultural nation is a contradiction in terms, if the concept of a 'nation' is interpreted as in ethno-nationalism.

Both articles promote instead a view of the nation as a structure containing several substructures, so that each culturally or religiously defined group can view itself as being included in a nation. Consequently, each person can be a member of one nation in this sense and, at the same time, he or she can be a member of one or more communities within that nation. It is important then that the level of the nation and the level of the cultural group within the nation are defined in a balanced way whereby it will be natural, for each citizen, to identify with both.

Aleinikoff introduces the term 'multicultural nationalism' for this position, and we have adopted that term for the present website. This view of the nation is inherently more complex than either ethno-nationalism or cosmopolitanism. This complexity can be viewed as a weakness, but one may also argue that the other two alternatives merely avoid the problem, instead of addressing them.

In particular, since cultural diversity is a fact in almost all countries in the world of today, ethno-nationalism could only be properly achieved by enforcing a change of culture on a large scale, which would certainly lead to substantial conflicts. Also, the use of ethno-nationalism as the official model in situations where it does not correspond to current realities will also cause chronic problems.

The other alternative, cosmopolitanism, is also argued to be deficient, but for a different set of reasons. The article by Sabbagh explains this well: the national identity is the only thing that can create a feeling of common inclusion, which is . . . the only thing that can promote social justice.

In summary, therefore, the position of multicultural nationalism combines the social aspect and the governance aspect of a nation in an intricate way. The governance aspect is essential since MCN must in principle be based on a civic view, and not an ethnically based view of the nation. But at the same time, the allegiance to the entire nation must co-exist with the allegiance to particular cultural groups, if this scheme is going to be viable in the long run. (The emphasis on allegiance in this context is strongly expressed in Aleinikoff's article).

This all means that although the approach of multicultural nationalism is arguably the only possible one, it also raises a number of important and interesting questions. How shall the required allegiances on two levels be established and maintained? To what extent shall the nation as a whole define and promote its own, national culture? What happens when cultural and religious groups within a country inherit, or adopt views that are inconsistent with that national culture? And, to make things worse, what happens when some of those groups take views that are inconsistent with the foundational principles of the nation as a whole, such as those that are described in Aleinikoff's seminal article?

Questions such as these shall be seen as challenges for the work in the promotion of Multicultural Nationalism, and for forthcoming articles and other contributions to the present website.

References and links

pan-3031    Nationalisme et multiculturalisme.
Daniel Sabbagh i Critique internationale, 2004.

pan-2988    Essay: A Multicultural Nationalism?.
T. Aleinikoff i The American Prospect, 1998.

    Erik Sandewall



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