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The Limits of Tolerance: Nation–State Building and What It Means for Minority Groups

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When we think of the most egregious forms of intolerance directed against minority communities we tend to associate them with particularly despicable regimes, such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, where racism, ideology or some special route to development is often held to blame, or where ultra-nationalism swamps positive tendencies towards democracy and a civil society. In this essay Levene proposes a partial corrective to this view with reference to the supposedly 'good' nation-state derived from the western liberal model. He considers the behaviour of two such states at their inception, Poland and Israel, with regard to two minorities, Jews and Arabs, with the Jews providing linkage between the two state trajectories. Levene charts their respective rejections of bi-national or multinational development, and suggests that the fact that both states today maintain a modicum of tolerance towards their residual Jewish and Arab minorities is more the result of (paradoxical) good luck than of conscious, benevolent design. In conclusion Levene proposes that the very nature of the modern nation-state militates against genuine pluralistic tolerance, a goal that requires a massive structural re-ordering of contemporary society away from global economies to a sustainability of human scale.

Keywords: Ihud; Israel; Karl Renner; Lucien Wolf; Minorities Treaties; Palestine; Poland; Zionism; bi-nationalism; ethnic cleansing; minority; nation-state; nationalism; tolerance

Document Type: Miscellaneous


Affiliations: Department of History, University of Warwick, UK

Publication date: 2000-04-01

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