Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić
Member of International Institute IFIMES



The common theme that pervades the discourses of both nationalism and liberalism is one of self-determination. Self-determination belongs to the sphere of eminently modern philosophical concepts and stands in sharp contrast to the pre-modern philosophical/theological concepts, such as that of divine pre-determination i.e. providence. As a philosophical concept that marks the rise of Modernity, self-determination should principally be examined under the label of history of ideas. However, being projected into the primarily political discourses of both nationalism and liberalism – moreover, being their common main determinant – the concept of self-determination inevitably becomes subject to the trans-historical analysis that attempts to explore the discourse of nationalism, its ideological sources and political consequences.
The general aim of such an analysis is to re-establish a missing link between the discourses of nationalism and liberalism as two supposedly divergent political doctrines that both characterise, or – as some theorists put it – are identical with, Modernity. (1) The central link between the two is logically to be sought and found in their common denominator – the concept of self-determination that both discourses proclaimed to be their core-element.(2) Thus the doctrine of self-determination (characterising both nationalist and liberal discourses), its inherent paradoxes and its paradoxical consequences logically arise as the central topic of a research that attempts to point to the phenomena of liberalism and nationalism as inseparably entwined.
The significance of such an attempt can hardly be over-emphasised: the omnipresence of both phenomena in the entire modern epoch requires a satisfactory theoretical answer to the question why these two have co-existed as Siamese twins for more than two hundred years, feeding rather than confronting each other. From a more practical point of view, as the eminently liberal doctrine of self-determination of peoples has deeply been involved with the creation of the vast majority of modern nation-states (including those based on the principle of ethnic/religious/racial exclusion), it is necessary to try to resolve the paradox that lies in the gap between the liberal ideals proclaimed and the illiberal practices produced. Of course, I have no illusion that such an explanation can prevent the twins from repeatedly reproducing the same pattern, intrinsic to the very nature of their paradoxical relationship. Still, I have no choice but to believe in the power of scientific explanation.


The doctrine of self-determination, projected onto the level of international relations and imposed as an international standard, was twice made central in the definition of the geopolitical shape of the non-Western parts of Europe. First time it happened as a result of the victory of the Allied Western powers over the Central European axis in the First World War. At the 1919 Peace Conference in Versailles, the position of the victors was so superior as to allow them not only to dictate the terms of peace but to impose an entirely new international order, defined in accordance with the doctrine of self-determination.(3) Thus a number of new states was established in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans as a result of the total defeat of the Central European empire-states and their South European allies. The doctrine of self-determination, as altogether alien and hostile to the pre-modern concept of empire, simply dissolved what it considered to be remnants of the past. As a by-product of the war and a by-product of the Western-promoted doctrine of self-determination, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia launched its own, Leninist, counter-doctrine of self-determination. As a consequence of this, most of the numerous ethnic groups of the former Russian empire were granted the limited right to self-governance within the hitherto un-demarcated territories they inhabited. This right was meant to be exercised in the form of autonomous regions, autonomous republics and quasi-states of the nascent Soviet Union.(4)
For the second time, the doctrine of self-determination came to determine the future of the non-Western parts of Europe as a result of the victory of the allied Western liberal democracies over the communist Soviet Union in the Cold War. Again, the position of the victors was so strong as to allow them to fully impose their own version of the doctrine of self-determination onto the defeated side. As a result, the Soviet Union broke up along the lines defined by the Leninist version of self-determination. A similar fate befell Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia which were basically constituted along the same Leninist principles.(5) However, the immediate consequences of these break-ups were not as bloody as the ultimate consequences of the order imposed in 1919 at the Versailles Conference.

Probably the only theory of nationalism which is clearly focused on the concept of self-determination is that by Elie Kedourie. In his famous book “Nationalism”, Kedourie presents nationalism as stemming from the philosophical principle of individual self-determination. For Kedourie, the principle of self-determination, albeit in its mutated, collectivist form, was to be placed at the very core of the doctrine of nationalism. This transformation, according to Kedourie, was the result of the activity of post-Kantian German philosophers (namely Fichte) who translated Kant’s individualistic categories into collectivist, national ones. Surprisingly, the significance of such a transformation and, more generally, of the link between the discourses of nationalism and liberalism, in the form of their common doctrine of self-determination, has been ignored by most theorists of nationalism. Without a doubt, Kedourie’s book establishes this link and points to the philosophical sources of nationalism, as an eminently modern political discourse. Yet, Kedourie remained blind to the link between the core principle of the nationalist discourse and its ultimate political-instrumental application (by both Wilsonians and Leninists). Moreover, he remained blind to the obvious geopolitical instrumentalisation of the doctrine of self-determination carried out by Wilson himself at the Versailles Peace Conference. For Kedourie,

What happened in 1919 was then, in a sense, a misunderstanding. Liberal Englishmen and Americans, thinking in terms of their own traditions of civil and religious freedom, started with a prejudice in favour of the idea that if people determine the governments they wish to have, then, ipso facto, civil and religious freedom would be established. Possessing, for a moment, the power to bind and loose for the whole world, they were confronted by the claimants and suppliants who seemed to believe in much the same things in which liberal Englishmen and Americans believed. But, in fact, they did not. The Englishmen and Americans were saying, People who are self-governing are likely to be governed well, therefore we are in favour of self-determination; whereas their interlocutors were saying, People who live in their own national states are the only free people, therefore we claim self-determination. The distinction is a fine one, but its implications are far-reaching. International conferences are, however, not the place for fine distinctions, and in the confusion of the Peace Conference liberty was mistaken for the twin of nationality.(6)

The argument proposed by Kedourie is obviously self-defeating in its colossal naiveté. Those who had the power to bind and loose for the whole world (even if that lasted, as Kedourie claims, just for a moment) were not likely to be manipulated by the stateless and powerless claimants who were otherwise entirely dependent on the will of the former. Of course, Kedourie only accepted the view which had already become a commonplace in the 20th-century historical discourse: according to it, the liberty-loving, idealistic leaders of the victorious Allies, with no particular interests in those parts of Europe they had previously fought for, selflessly granted freedom to the peoples who were either too backward to actually understand the very concept of liberty or too immature not to fall prey to the sinister manipulations of their ill-intended ethno-nationalist leaders (the latter mostly being promoted as players by the Allied powers at the Versailles Peace Conference). Yet, in order to stick to this commonplace-view and still remain relatively consistent, Kedourie had to establish a clear-cut distinction between “liberal Englishmen and Americans” and the Central European (namely, German) nationalists: for Kedourie, “nationalism as a doctrine was articulated in German-speaking lands” whereas “Great Britain and the United States of America are precisely those areas where nationalism is unknown”.(7)Thus Kedourie failed to explain the relationship between nationalism and the emergence of the first nation-states (i.e. Great Britain and the US), as well as the relationship between nationalism and liberalism, as eminently nation-creating discourses.


a. The basic theoretical problem, arising from the juxtaposition of Kedourie’s theory and the fact that the first nations emerged in the Anglo-Saxon political context as a product of the nascent liberal philosophical-political discourse, is the question whether there had been nations before nationalism (Armstrong), perhaps even nations without nationalism (Kristeva), or whether the first nations could not happen (Brubaker) without the prior existence of nationalism (Gellner) that actually made them possible.

b. Another important theoretical problem, logically stemming from the first one, is the question of the formal definition of nationalism. This question is posed by Kedourie’s definition of nationalism as “a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century” which “holds that humanity is naturally divided into nations, that nations are known by certain characteristics which can be ascertained, and that the only legitimate type of government is national self-government”.(8) Such a definition implies that if nationalism were to be treated as a coherent, self-contained philosophical-political doctrine, it should be regarded as distinct from liberalism which was the first to promote the concepts of self-determination, self-government, emancipation, liberty, equality, fraternity, unity, sovereignty and citizenship joined under the umbrella-concept of the nation. And then, nationalism could indeed be regarded as unrelated to the supposedly spontaneous emergence of the first nations, particularly England and the US. Contrariwise, if all the concepts historically promoted by liberalism under the umbrella-concept of the nation were to be taken into account, the implication would be that nationalism could not be regarded as a separate doctrine, independent from that of liberalism. And then, the question would logically arise: is nationalism rather to be seen as a part, or perhaps a by-product, of the coherent, self-contained umbrella-doctrine of liberalism? Or is the doctrine of self-determination the umbrella under which the discourses of nationalism and liberalism co-exist as mutually pervasive phenomena?

c. The existence of nations whose creation was clearly inspired by the doctrine of liberalism logically poses the question of their nature in juxtaposition to the nations promoted by what Kedourie termed the doctrine articulated in the German-speaking lands at the beginning of the 19th century. Most theorists have offered their answers in the form of a Manichean picture of the inter-national order, according to which the old, Western civic nations defined in terms of liberal individualism are fundamentally opposed to the new, Eastern, ethnic nations defined in terms of nationalist collectivism. Perhaps the most conspicuous exception to this dualist scheme is Kedourie’s monism which claims that “in nationalist doctrine, language, race, culture, and sometimes even religion, constitute different aspects of the same primordial entity, the nation. The theory admits here of no great precision, and it is misplaced ingenuity to try and classify nationalisms according to the particular aspect which they choose to emphasise.”(9) Of course, this monism was possible due to Kedourie’s selective perception according to which nationalism - defined in terms chosen by Kedourie, such as those of language, race or religion- is “practically unknown” in liberal, constitutionalist democracies.(10) However, it provokes yet another important question: whether nationalism - regardless of the aspects it chooses to emphasise - is to be perceived in monistic terms, as a single discourse, or there are different types of nations and nationalism?

d. The question of the transformation of the Kantian concept of individual self-determination into the collectivist concept of national self-determination, according to Kedourie, arose due to Fichte’s misinterpretation of Kant’s individualism. Yet, in both Anglo-Saxon and French (Lockean and Rousseauan) philosophical-political traditions, nations are also regarded as collective individuals, and therefore potential agents of the inter-national order: the ultimate expression of such a view, supposedly conceived as a model for the (self)regulation of inter-national order, is the Wilsonian doctrine of self-determination of peoples. If we reject the naiveté of the misinterpretation-misunderstanding approach advocated by Kedourie, this poses the problem of the inherently paradoxical relationship between the individual and the nation as a collective individual. This problem requires a closer look at the paradoxical logic of self-determination, as well as at its product, the paradoxical relationship between nationalism and liberalism.


a. My point of departure in answering the problem of the existence of nations prior to the emergence of nationalism, or of the existence of nations without nationalism (as Kedourie depicts the nations based on the liberal-constitutionalist principles), clearly transcends the usual perennialist-modernist dispute: neither can we speak of nations before/without nationalism, nor does nationalism precede the emergence of nations. For, nations do exist only as nationalism. More precisely, a nation principally exists through the discourse of nation, that is, a nation basically takes the form of a discourse. At the societal level, the discourse of nation, once set into motion, influences the actions of those who are exposed to it, thus making them think (Anderson) and behave the nation (Beissinger). Yet, the nation as a mass-behavioural phenomenon (Beissinger), though created by the discourse of nation which attempts to be permanently present in a given society, is by no means a permanent state of society’s “collective” mind: it rather occasionally/randomly happens (Brubaker) as a manifestation of the discourse, i.e. as a mass-behavioural projection of the discourse onto the societal level.
While principally accepting Brubaker’s anti-substantialist approach which sees the nation as a contingent event rather than a substantial, enduring collectivity, I do not find it necessary to abandon the nation as a unit of analysis, dividing it into the manifestations of nationness and their crystallisation i.e. institutionalisation in the form of nationhood. Rather than being a mere category of practice (Brubaker), the nation is, in my opinion, first and foremost, a discourse that is, indeed, potentially omni-present in the reality of modern societies. However, its manifestations, i.e. its actual projections onto the societal level in the form of a mass-behavioural phenomenon happen as events that are contingent upon many circumstances that greatly differ from society to society.
Still, while adopting Barth’s boundary-approach, I think it is possible to generalise so as to say that the nation occasionally/randomly but powerfully happens as a single, all-embracing, mass-scale boundary whenever other multiple symbolic boundaries - through which the individual’s multiple identities are normally being lived out, affirmed and recreated through time (11)- gradually dissolve (as was the case with many pre-modern identities) or fail to establish their internal balance and thus fail to respond to external challenges that modern society permanently poses to the individual’s integrity. The boundary which provides absolute protection for the individual’s integrity, as suggested by the potentially omnipresent (and therefore almost permanently available) discourse of nation, is that of national identity: the attractiveness of such an all-embracing boundary - through which the nation as a single, all-embracing identity is assumed to be lived out, affirmed and recreated through time - is mainly to be found in this boundary’s actual or potential congruence with the institutionalised, materialised borders of the state. This principle of congruence (Gellner) of the nation as a symbolic boundary and the state with its physical borders is, of course, the central part of the discourse of nation: the power of its appeal is to be found in its simple claim that all the uncertain multiple identities, which the individual lives out, affirms and recreates through time, can and therefore should be replaced by one, single, certain identity which will henceforth be fortified by the state, its physical borders and its institutions.
Yet, though the discourse of nation attempts to permanently press individuals to abandon their multiple identities and opt for the single, national one, these individuals massively behave the nation, thus making it happen, only in times of social crises. In these turbulent times, the multiple symbolic boundaries - through which the individuals’ identities are normally lived out, affirmed and recreated - tend to become so permeable as to allow otherwise alien symbolic contents to penetrate.(12) However, the discourse of nation is here to propose a seemingly universal, long-lasting and yet paradoxical solution: the boundary of the nation (potentially or actually fortified by the state and its borders), assuming the abandonment of one’s multiple identities and the adoption of the single, national one, offers an institutionalised safeguard against the penetration of alien contents. The danger of those alien symbolic contents is, within the discourse of nation, usually presented as a danger of these contents’ assumed physical bearers, i.e. aliens. Thus, as a part of the discourse of nation, the penetration of crisis-generated alien symbolic contents (regardless of whether they are of foreign origin or not) is translated into the penetration of physical aliens, i.e. foreigners. Hence, the only efficient protection is the erection of an institutionalised symbolic boundary - the nation. And, within the discourse of nation, it is understood that this institutionalised symbolic boundary i.e. the nation must be congruent with the institutionalised, monitored and administered physical borders of the state. If this congruence happens to be materialised in social and political reality, the nation-state comes into existence.
Yet, though the existence of the nation-state can significantly contribute to the further institutional strengthening of the nation as a symbolic boundary, I disagree with Brubaker (if this is a correct interpretation of his central claim) that this crystallisation of nationness into nationhood happens irreversibly. My claim is that, though perpetually strengthened by the institutions of the state, the single and all-embracing national identity tends to perpetually dissolve into a multitude of the individual’s multiple identities. This paradoxical process is what makes the phenomenon of nation so difficult to grasp at the societal level. Individuals massively behave the nation as their single symbolic boundary only occasionally, when their other multiple symbolic boundaries do not efficiently resist the penetration of alien symbolic contents which perpetually challenge their integrity. At the same time, these individuals are permanently being suggested by the omni-present discourse of nation that the nation is the only proper unit within which they are to calculate their interests (Brubaker); hence, the nation is the only proper symbolic boundary with which they are to identify (by behaving it) if they are ever to reach the level of full self-realisation. Thus the nation occasionally happens as a mass-behavioural response to the crises of individuals’ multiple identities caused by social turbulences, and dissolves into a similar - and yet inevitably altered - set of multiple identities when the crises pass. Therefore, the nation’s main enemy, contrary to the popular image suggested by the discourse of nation, is not an alien symbolic content nor its assumed physical bearer, the alien: the main enemy, which dissolves the singleness of the nation into the multiplicity of other identities, is political and social stability. Conversely, in times of political and social unrest, when individuals’ multiple identities are challenged by new, alien symbolic contents, the nation (to paraphrase Kedourie) is offered - and, indeed, may seem to arise - as the key to salvation. Therefore, the nation is to be regarded as an essentially oscillatory - though randomly appearing - social phenomenon, caused by occasional mass-behavioural projections of the discourse of nation onto the societal level.

b. Modernity is an epoch in which political change not only ceased to be inconceivable but became regarded as desirable. As Liah Greenfeld observes, the beginning of the epoch was marked by the emergence of first nations. This emergence was, in turn, signalled by the semantic change that the word “nation” underwent - the concept of nation was born when the word came to be equated with the concept of sovereign people. For Greenfeld, that was the point when the entire people came to be regarded as the political elite.
In my opinion, the modern concept of popular sovereignty emerged precisely at the point when the pre-modern political elites - hitherto overtly declared as elites whose political accountability was defined by the (supposedly divine) source of their legitimacy - came to be challenged and replaced by essentially invisible counter-elites. The invisibility of these counter-elites was rooted in an entirely new concept of political legitimacy, that of arbitrary self-appointment; hence the doctrine of individual self-determination, as a doctrinal legitimation of such a self-appointment; hence the concept of popular sovereignty, as a necessary precondition for the arbitrariness of the counter-elites’ self-appointment to remain invisible, i.e. unchallenged by any attempt to de-legitimise their claims to political power. Thus, by remaining invisible, the modern counter-elites never promoted themselves into declared, politically accountable elites: they maintained their position of counter-elites by declaring the people to be the only modern political elite. In other words, they declared the people’s sovereignty over itself and therefore the people’s political accountability, supposedly rooted in the source of the people’s legitimacy - the people’s sovereign will. This complex of paradoxes has since become promoted under the umbrella-concept of the nation. As the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens stated: “The principle of sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation; no body of men, no individual, can exercise authority that does not emanate expressly from it.”
Both aspects of this new concept of political legitimacy - the publicly promoted principle of popular sovereignty and the invisible principle of the counter-elites’ arbitrary self-appointment - required introduction of the doctrine of self-determination.(13) Within this doctrine, the free will of the individual to determine his own future, present and even past became the central source of legitimacy. The same principle of “free will” was applied to the people who, according to the principle of people’s sovereignty over itself, came to be regarded as a collective individual in possession of its own sovereign and therefore free will. Thus the actions of both the individual and the people as a collective individual became self-referentially legitimised by their own free will. Moreover, according to the discourse that promoted the nation as a sovereign people whose sovereign free will consisted of sovereign individual wills, the free will of the individual and the free will of the people were to be regarded as one. The main source of legitimacy of the individual’s and the people’s actions was thus to be found in the assumed oneness of will. This concept left a significant room for manoeuvre to the invisible, self-appointed counter-elites to act under the assumption that their own sovereign free wills can not but be identical with sovereign free will of the people and therefore with sovereign free will of the individual. At the same time, the paradoxical logic of such a discourse suggested that the individual’s will could only be free through the assumed oneness with the people’s sovereign free will. Hence, freedom resided in oneness, that is, in identity. And this identity, by the very logic of the discourse, could be only one. Thus the nation - as the single point through which the will of the individual and the will of the people came to be identical with each other and with themselves - was to be perceived as the sole identity.
Yet, the doctrine of self-determination had to include the concepts which were to make its inherently paradoxical logic cognitively sustainable. Therefore, hitherto alien and otherwise divergent concepts of political change, of elevation of the people onto the level of political elite, of freedom through oneness, had to be promoted through the single discourse that included seemingly convergent concepts of liberty (i.e. freedom of will, both individual and collective), progress, emancipation, equality, fraternity and unity. The point of their convergence was to be conceived of as the nation, that is, as an umbrella-discourse under which all of these concepts were to be joined or seen as joined together. However, an inherent flexibility of the discourse of nation - based on a wide range of semantic properties of the very word “nation” - made it so adaptable to various situations and given circumstances as to remain consistent while emphasising some and neglecting others among the concepts it consisted of. It was exactly this ability of emphasis-shifting that created an illusion that, say, a strong emphasis on the concepts of emancipation and liberty (and within these, on individual rather than on collective free will), as well as on the concept of progress, constituted a separate political doctrine of liberalism; or, that a strong emphasis on the concepts of emancipation and liberty (and within these, on collective rather than on individual free will), and - consequently - on the concepts of unity and fraternity, constituted a separate political doctrine of nationalism; or, that a strong emphasis on the concepts of emancipation and liberty (and within them, on collective rather than on individual free will), as well as on the concepts of equality and progress, constituted a separate political doctrine of socialism. In fact, all these concepts constituted the single doctrine of self-determination, whose presence in social reality was to be realised through the discourse of nation.(14)

c. Though I principally accept Kedourie’s argument that it is “misplaced ingenuity to try and classify nationalisms according to the particular aspects which they choose to emphasise”, for already-mentioned reasons I have to reject his classification of nationalism as a separate political doctrine invented in German-speaking lands. My monistic approach is rooted in the belief that the inherent flexibility of the single discourse of nation - due to a wide range of semantic properties of the word “nation” - has made its concrete manifestations at the societal level highly dependent upon given circumstances. However, in my opinion, all these varying manifestations are essentially to be seen as a result of counter-elites’ efforts to adapt the givens of their own societies to fit the projected discourse of the nation. In these efforts counter-elites have usually followed each other’s examples while - quite in accordance with the paradoxical logic of the doctrine of self-determination - depicting the adopted discourse as their own original creation. Thus this paradoxical imitation of originality has become one of the most conspicuous features of the discourse itself: as such, it has repeatedly generated the self-image of uniqueness that counter-elites attempting to re-define their societies as nations have used in order to legitimise their claims.
Yet, various societies’ givens inevitably varied to the greatest extent. Some of these societies were already in the possession of states that were - for various reasons - susceptible to the discourse of nation and, consequently, ready to promote the nation as a unit within which both society and the state could calculate their - supposedly common - interests. Others, however, were included into large, bureaucracy-governed empires or smaller aristocracy-led states that were altogether resistant to the adoption of the emerging counter-elite’s discourse of nation: both bureaucracy and aristocracy considered themselves the only legitimate political elite and found no reason to defer to the self-appointed counter-elites. Consequently, in the former case, emerging counter-elites found it possible to define the existing state - susceptible to the emerging counter-elite’s discourse of nation - as a unit within which they were to calculate their own interests; in the latter case, emerging counter-elites found it impossible to define the existing state - altogether hostile to the emerging counter-elite’s discourse of nation - as a unit within which they were to calculate their own interests.
Thus, depending on these givens, the very same counter-elite’s discourse of nation was taking seemingly divergent forms of either pro-state or counter-state discourse. In the discourse’s pro-state form, the nation - as a unit within which the counter-elite’s interests were to be calculated - came to be identified with the existing state; in the discourse’s counter-state form, the nation was yet to be arbitrarily defined and identified by the self-appointed counter-elite as opposed to the existing state. This arbitrary identification was, however, usually based on available distinctive traits, such as language, race, religion etc. Within the discourse of nation, these already-existing symbolic boundaries were to be perceived as imaginary borders of a future nation-state. As such, being practically available, they were logically chosen to support mobilisation and homogenisation of the targeted population which was yet to be identified as the nation. The identification of the nation as an assumed interest-bearing unit (Brubaker) of and for the targeted population, of course, mainly served to promote and legitimise the counter-elite’s claim to political power: within the discourse of the nation, the population mobilised and homogenised into the nation was to be regarded as a collective individual possessing its own sovereign free will; hence, its own free will legitimately sought its own sovereign state. And, just as in the former context, it was the single discourse of the nation that conflated the will of the people and the will of the individual with the will of the emerging counter-elite to possess its own state.
Depending on particular givens of particular societies, emerging counter-elites were shifting the emphasis onto the concepts of which the discourse of the nation was composed. Thus, for instance, within the pro-state form of the discourse of the nation (which by itself assumed an emphasis on loyalty to the existing state), they would choose to emphasise the concept of liberty-in-unity; or, within the counter-state form of the discourse of the nation (which by itself assumed emphasis on loyalty to an imagined counter-state), they would choose to emphasise the concept of unity-in-fraternity. Within the former form, the mobilisation and homogenisation of the targeted population around the projected ideal of liberty would be conceptualised in rather individualistic terms: those loyal to the existing state would be conceptualised as citizens, that is, as isolated, atomised units whose individual existence and freedom were to be realised only through their unity-in-the-nation. Within the latter form of the discourse, the mobilisation and homogenisation of the targeted population around the projected ideal of unity would be conceptualised in rather collectivist terms: the loyal to an imagined counter-state would be conceptualised as kin, that is, as a priori united by a presumed fraternity, whose collective existence and freedom were to be realised through their fraternity-in-the-nation. Such shifts have created the illusion of two fundamentally opposed - civic-individualistic and ethnic-collectivist - concepts of the nation. In fact, these are only minor modifications in the counter-elites’ adaptation of particular societal givens to the projected discourse of nation.

d. To answer the question of the inherently paradoxical relationship between the individual and the nation as a collective individual, it is necessary to closely examine the paradoxical logic of the doctrine of self-determination, whose expression at the societal level takes the form of the discourse of nation. In both liberal-individualistic and national-collectivist aspects of the discourse of nation, it is the absorption of the individual’s free will into the nation as a presumed collective free will that, paradoxically, brings both the former and the latter into being: only by voluntary establishment of the nation as a collective free will does the individual will itself become free; conversely, only by voluntary absorption of the individual’s will into the collective will of the nation does the latter become constituted as free.(15) The central point of the discourse, through which the individual actually exists within the nation, is the concept of citizenship: only as a citizen can the individual be a member of the nation and therefore be free through the nation as the presumed collective free will; conversely, only through citizenship can the nation absorb the individual’s free will and therefore constitute itself as free. Thus, according to the paradoxical logic of the discourse, not only can the individual not be free without being a citizen: the nation can not be free without the individual being a citizen and thus constituting the nation. Hence, for the sake of its own freedom, the nation can not tolerate individuals who refuse to be free as citizens.(16)
As the ultimate paradox, there can be no free will within the nation: the will of the individual to be free through voluntary participation in the nation, and the nation as a presumed collective free will (i.e. collective free individual) created through such participation, both come into existence as involuntary creations: ultimately, they are both created by the conditioned perception of the notion of nation. This, inherently paradoxical, conditioned perception, i.e. pre-conception, presumes that the nation is one (or identical) with both itself and all of its individual members; conversely, every individual member is presumed to be one (or identical) with both itself and the greater whole of the nation. This presumed all-embracing identity is conditioned, at the least, by the presumed oneness that the word “nation”, even grammatically, suggests. Of course, all these assumptions can remain logically valid only within the paradoxical logic of the discourse of nation. Thus paradox arises as the main logical device for thinking the doctrine of self-determination that, paradoxically, takes two supposedly opposed - liberal-individualistic and national-collectivist - forms.

The basic approach I have adopted is to identify the core-logic of the doctrine of self-determination as well as of its offspring, the discourse of nation. This logic is, in both its essence and its appearance, consistently paradoxical. However, without this logic being projected onto the societal level, a chain of consequential paradoxes should be regarded as an insignificant curiosity. Yet, with this logic being placed into the central position within the core-doctrine of the entire epoch of Modernity, paradox is being promoted into a powerful weapon of - essentially modern - political mass-manipulation. Such a mass-manipulation, if we reject the misunderstanding-theories as inadequate to explain social phenomena, can not come into being without the prior existence of the concept of manipulation. This, again, requires a deliberate construction of such a concept by the cynical, power-seeking counter-elites whose emergence marks the epoch of Modernity. And, in my opinion, the epoch of Modernity is, first and foremost, an epoch of overarching political cynicism. Its most efficient instrument is the paradoxical logic that lies at the very heart of the doctrine of self-determination and appears in social reality through its discourse of nation. The power of such a logic, as Gellner put it, is the ability to translate the essentially controversial into the seemingly natural: thus, within the modern discourse, the counter-elites’ construct of the doctrine of self-determination/the discourse of the nation has become regarded as essential for, and intrinsic to, human nature.

Ljubljana, 23 July 2010

(1) Liah Greenfeld sees Modernity as defined by nationalism. The idea of the nation is thus regarded as the constitutive element of Modernity. (Greenfeld 1992: 18) At the same time, Immanuel Wallerstein in his book “After Liberalism” treats the same epochas defined by liberalism.

(2) Of course, some less purely conceptual aspects of Modernity are also to be taken into account in the search for a link between nationalism and liberalism. Here I refer to those aspects thoroughly explored by Ernest Gellner in his famous “Nations and Nationalism”, namely the relationship between the capitalist-industrialist mode of production and the homogeneity characterising modern society.

(3) As President Wilson put it while concluding the introduction to his famous Fourteen Points: “On the one hand stand the peoples of the world - not only the peoples actually engaged, but many others who suffer under mastery, but cannot act; peoples of many races and in every part of the world. ... Opposed to them, masters of many armies, stand in isolated, friendless group of governments who speak no common purpose but only selfish ambitions of their own which can profit but themselves...; governments clothed with the strange trappings and the primitive authority of an age that is altogether alien and hostile to our own. (...) There can be but one issue. The settlement must be final. There can be no compromise. No halfway decision would be tolerable. No halfway decision is conceivable.” Italics mine. Cited in Elie Kedourie, Nationalism, p. 126.

(4) On the significance of this geopolitical re-arrangement for the future break-up of the Soviet Union, see Rogers Brubaker: Myths and Misconceptions in the Study of Nationalism, in John A. Hall (ed.), The State of the Nation, Cambridge 1998.

(5) Of course, it is possible to argue that the break-up of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia was entirely caused by their internal contradictions and the long-lasting ethnic tensions (the latter mostly not corresponding to recorded historical facts). However, such an approach, which has become a legitimate part of the contemporary common-sense discourse, implies total ignorance of the inter-active nature of inter-national relations. Also, this approach ignores the fact that the same arguments were commonly used at the end of the First World War to justify the break-up of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires and the territorial reduction of the German and Russian ones. As such, these arguments follow the line of the common liberal-nationalist discourse which publicly promotes self-determination as an end in itself, while being mainly concerned with geopolitical re-arrangements as self-determination’s ultimate political-instrumental implications.

(6) Kedourie, Nationalism, Fourth Edition, p. 128-9. Italics mine.

(7) Ibid., p. 143.

(8) Ibid., p. 1.

(9) Ibid., p. 67.

(10) Kedouries argues that “A British or an American nationalist would have to define the British or the American nation in terms of language, race, or religion, to require that all those who conform to the definition should belong to the British or American state, that all those who do not, should cease so to belong, and to demand that all British and American citizens should merge their will in the will of the community.” (Ibid.: 68) However, that the ethno-linguistic nationalism was not alien to “the most liberal”, first Americans can be seen in a statement by Benjamin Franklin: “This (Pennsylvania) will in a few years become a German Colony; Instead of their learning our language, we must learn theirs or live as in a foreign country.” (In Kohn, H. 1966, American Nationalism. New York: Collier Books, p. 146; cited in Tamir, Y. 1993, Liberal Nationalism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, p. xxiii) Another Pennsylvanian, Benjamin Rush stated in 1798: “The education of our youth in the country to be particularly necessary in Pennsylvania, while our citizens are composed of natives of so many different kingdoms in Europe. Our school of learning, by producing one general uniform system of education, will render the mass of the people more homogenous, and therefore fit more easily for uniform and peaceful government.” (Kohn 1966: p. 174, cited in Tamir 1993: p. xxiii-xxiv. Italics mine)

(11) James, Simon 1999, The Atlantic Celts. London: British Museum Press, p. 76.

(12) Here I deliberately conflate Barth’s boundary-theory with Smith’s theory of ethnic survival. According to the latter, the survival of a group is not a matter of preserved physical continuity but rather of the preserved continuity of the complex of myths, symbols, shared memories, values etc. Here I emphasise that group’s myth-symbol complex is, actually, the same phenomenon which Barth termed as group’s symbolic boundaries; hence, Barth’s boundary-maintenance is to be regarded as the preservation of group’s myth-symbol complex. I believe that both approaches can be applied not only to national identity but to all the multiple identities one can possibly behave (Beissinger). For instance, survival ofindividual identity also depends on the maintenance of the individual’s symbolic boundaries i.e. of the individual’s own complex of personal myths, symbols, memories and, last but not least, values.

(13) It is not difficult to agree with Kedourie that Kant’s doctrine of self-determination represents the most comprehensive and far-reaching theory of freedom, morality and individual self-determination. According to it, “man is free when he obeys the laws of morality which he finds within himself, and not in the external world”. Thus, as Kedourie puts it, Kant made the individual “the very centre, the arbiter, the sovereign of the universe”, “who, with the help of self-discovered, self-imposed norms, determines himself as a free and moral-being”. Yet, the doctrine of self-determination, though perfected by Kant, is a sum of many philosophical efforts to promote man’s reason and determination of his will as supreme and independent arbiters in worldly affairs. As such, it is not the product of post-Kantian German romanticists but rather of Kant’s rationalist contemporaries - both Anglo-Saxon and French - who jointly advocated the rule of enlightened reason.

(14) This could be a theoretical explanation of the regular political practice of - supposedly internationalist - socialist parties to gather under national flags. This could also offer a theoretical explanation for the existence of the Bolshevik doctrine of national self-determination: though criticising Austro-Marxists for their pro-nationalist biases, Lenin himself introduced the doctrine of national self-determination which significantly overcame the non-compromise approach that Wilson had proclaimed.

(15) See Rousseau, The Social Contract.

(16) Ibid.