The Challenge from Nationalism : Problems of Community in Democracy

Abstract: The dissertation examines the relationship between democracy and nationalism from a normative standpoint. A point of departure is the assumption that any democracy requires a referent community, or demos. Nationalism has, in practice, frequently provided democracies with this sense of community during the last two centuries. The author argues, firstly, that this connection has led to an entanglement of the concepts of democracy and nationalism, so that democrats tend to rely, often unknowingly, on the thought structures of nationalism as they seek to make explicit the identity of their respective communities. The mechanism by which this connection is upheld is demonstrated through two contextualized studies of discourse on common society-wide identity in, respectively, the contemporary United States of America and the contemporary Federal Republic of Germany. Secondly, it is argued (also on the basis of these contextualized studies) that the nationalist features which tend to ‘leak’ into the overarching, society-wide identities that are constructed in these debates contain an inherently exclusionary potential; however, this leakage is often glossed over by superficial anti-nationalism and phrases such as ‘civic nationalism’, which is contrasted with ‘ethnic nationalism’. Rather than hidden behind such rhetoric, the author argues, the nationalist thought structures that democrats tend to rely on should be brought into the light of day, so that the potentially destructive features of nationalism can be handled in the best way possible. Thirdly, it is claimed that deliberative models (such as that of Jürgen Habermas) are better suited than liberal nationalist models (such as that of David Miller) for this task.