In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nationalism

  • Introduction
  • Overviews, Collections of Papers, and Textbooks
  • National Self-Determination and Secession
  • Territorial Rights
  • Nationalism and Plural Societies
  • Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

Philosophy Nationalism
Nenad Miscevic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0308


The topic of nation and nationalism has been present in political philosophy at least since the end of the 18th century, with important names such as Kant, Hegel, and Herder providing early contributions. It was somewhat in the background, or almost absent, in early analytic political philosophy, with somewhat less typical authors such as I. Berlin (in the 1970s) and Lord Acton (in the 19th century being important exceptions. There was an upsurge of interest in the topic in the early 1990s, after the downfall of the Soviet Union and with nationalist wars in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and it is now a standard part of the mainstream analytic political philosophy, with interesting parallel developments on the more Continental side. The topic lies at the intersection of philosophy with other disciplines in humanities, and political and social science. This overlap is important, since some authoritative overviews of philosophical issues concerning nationalism focus mainly, or even exclusively, upon normative matters. M. Moore (see “Nationalism and Political Philosophy” in The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism, cited under Normative Issues: The Morality of Nationalism) notes that political philosophers dealing with national identity have mainly focused on the normative issue of what the status of institutional recognition of national identity is, and how it relates to statewide rules and practices, and to the right to secede from the state. However, an equally important area of the debate concerning nationalism has been descriptive-explanatory—what nation is, how “objective” it is, when it emerges as a social form and why—and it is here that the cooperation with other disciplines become crucial. The most general questions in this area are clearly relevant for political philosophy. For instance, the basic format of the debate in the branch is statist: the states are assumed to be the carriers of the basic structure about whose justice philosophers debate, the relevant territories were often assumed to be inhabited by ethnically homogenous group each, and so on. But typical states are national states at present, with important ethno-national components. No philosopher wants to be blind to these facts nowadays. Also, it is important to situate the issue of nation in the context of philosophical questions about the nature of social-political formations (from family to international society), so the debates about the real or merely “constructed” nature of nation is highly relevant to social ontology and debate concerning social kinds. We start here from the descriptive-explanatory matters. After briefly reviewing the textbooks and collections on nation and nationalism, we turn first to the issues of the nature and reality of nations. The second part is then dedicated to normative issues.

Overviews, Collections of Papers, and Textbooks

Hutchinson and Smith 1994 provides the reader with the basic material for understanding nationalism and debates around it. Gellner 1997 introduces the reader both to the topic and to Gellner’s very influential viewpoints. Hearn 2006, Calhoun 1997, Beiner 1999, Miscevic 2000, and Primoratz and Pavković 2007 are more philosophically oriented. The balance between sociology and philosophy is finely struck in Özkırımli 2000 and Özkırımli 2005. A truly encyclopedic source is Delanty and Kumar 2006.

  • Beiner, R., ed. Theorizing Nationalism. New York: State University of New York Press, 1999.

    Contains first-rate papers on the topic, from influential authors like John Dunn, Wayne Norman, Yael Tamir, Bernard Yack, Kai Nielsen, Will Kymlicka, Judith Lichtenberg, Neil MacCormick, Michael Walzer, Charles Taylor, Brian Barry, Roger Scruton, Bhikhu Parekh, and others.

  • Calhoun, C. Nationalism. London: Open University Press, 1997.

    A readable, sociologically and historically oriented overview stressing the discursive formation of nationalism.

  • Delanty, G., and K. Kumar, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. London: SAGE, 2006.

    Probably the best overview of the whole domain of research on nationalism. Section one addresses the central questions of the theory of nationalism. In other, more factual sections the highly relevant papers are the ones on modernity and nationalism. There are also interesting overviews on the power of ideology, on genocide and ethnic cleansing, on ethnic exclusion, on nationalism and liberalism, and on nationalism and cosmopolitanism.

  • Gellner, E. Nationalism. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1997.

    A readable introduction to nationalism from the modernist viewpoint, basically summarizing Gellner’s own views.

  • Hearn, J. Rethinking Nationalism: A Critical Introduction. Houndmills, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

    A sociologically oriented introduction, centered on concepts of power and culture, and their relation to nationalism. The latter is defined as “the making of combined claims, on behalf of a population, to identity, to jurisdiction and to territory” (p. 11).

  • Herb, G. H., and D. H. Kaplan, eds. Nations and Nationalism: A Global Historical Overview. 4 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio, 2008.

    Paul Gilbert writes about philosophy, national character, and nationalism. N. Miscevic offers a historical view of history of nationalism, L. Greenfeld writes about nationalism and social class, C. Straehle about cosmopolitanism and nationalism in liberal political theory, and J. Heuer about fender and nationalism. There is a plethora of additional interesting papers on more concrete and historical issues.

  • Hutchinson, J., and A. D. Smith. Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    The standard reader on nationalism, bringing a short selection of classical and contemporary authors; philosophy is well represented.

  • Miscevic, N., ed. Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict: Philosophical Perspectives. Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 2000.

    In this edited volume, M. Seymour, O. Lagerspetz, and E. Baumgartner debate the definition of concepts of nation and nationalism. I. Primoratz, Ch. H. Wellman, D. Weinstock, G. Brock, M. Moore, A. Pattern, F. Klampfer, and the editor discuss arguments for and against nationalism. J. Couture, R. Goodin, and Nielsen Kai discuss the feasibility of reconciliation of cosmopolitanism with liberal nationalism.

  • Özkırımli, U. Theories of Nationalism. A Critical Introduction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.

    An excellent overview focused on classical texts.

  • Özkırımli, U. Contemporary Debates on Nationalism: A Critical Engagement. Houndmills, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    A valuable overview of postmodernist and feminist debates of nationalism.

  • Primoratz, I., and A. Pavković, eds. Patriotism Philosophical and Political Perspectives. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.

    Primoratz offers a fine and detailed analysis of the kinds of patriotism and the relationship between it and nationalism. He claims that the only kind of patriotism that has high moral standing is the one concerning moral well-being of one’s fatherland. Among the other contributors, J. Kleinig disagrees. S. Keller argues that patriotism involves a fatal dose of bad faith; K. Horton and S. Natanson defend it. There is also an interesting debate concerning constitutional patriotism.

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