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Nationality: Some Replies

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This paper defends the principle of nationality against a number of critical objections made in recent issues of the Journal. It starts from the claim that national solidarity has served and continues to serve as an essential support to liberal democratic institutions and practices of social justice. Such national allegiances are not easy to defend if one begins from a cosmopolitan standpoint. But defending them does not mean embracing everything that people ordinarily believe — a political philosophy that begins from existing national sentiments can be sharply critical of the practices that are said to embody those sentiments. In particular justice, although its principles are context-dependent, is more than merely subjective.

The idea that nations are historic communities is defended against the charge that such ‘communities’ are in fact divided along lines of class, ethnicity, etc. Membership imposes obligations, but these are not merely to repeat what our ancestors have done; they are redefined in each generation. A principle of nationality that is reiterative and democratic, recognising the equal claims of other nations, and giving priority to the way the present inhabitants of a territory understand their identity, can remedy weaknesses in liberalism without licensing aggressive forms of nationalism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Nuffield College, Oxford OX1 1NF

Publication date: 01 April 1997

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