On Nationality

New York: Oxford University Press (1995)
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Nationalism is often dismissed today as an irrational political creed with disastrous consequences. Yet most people regard their national identity as a significant aspect of themselves, see themselves as having special obligations to their compatriots, and value their nation's political independence. This book defends these beliefs, and shows that nationality, defined in these terms, serves valuable goals, including social justice, democracy, and the protection of culture. National identities need not be illiberal, and they do not exclude other sources of personal identity, such as ethnicity or religion. An ethics that gives weight to special relationships is more effective in motivating people to pursue justice and other values because it connects peoples’ duties to their identity; but this is consistent with recognizing some universal values, such as human rights. There are strong reasons for making the boundaries of states and nations coincide wherever possible, but in other cases, nations can achieve forms of self‐determination that fall short of full sovereignty. Multicultural arguments in favour of identity politics and special rights for minority groups ignore the benefits that such groups derive from participating in a shared national identity and the kind of democratic politics that such an identity makes possible. Although national identities are often said to be in decline in an increasingly globalized world, they serve such important purposes that our aim should be to rebuild them in a form that makes them more accessible to excluded cultural minorities.



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David Miller
Nuffield College, Oxford University

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