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Democracy, Solidarity and Post-nationalism



Nearly all democratizing states are also nationalizing, but this connection has not been adequately explained. A few scholars argue that nationality supplies democracy with a pre-political identity, while others maintain that nationality is often developed and manipulated by elites. I argue that national identity is a political identity, sustained by political institutions for political purposes, though this identity may contain some ethnic or abstract principles within it. The solidarity that national identity creates is most needed by democracies when they first emerge. Democratizing states need to build up institutions and create a culture of sacrifice, which they can do by creating a sense of solidarity among citizens. This solidarity is not only in the interests of the elites, but also benefits those in the dominant national group. The solidarity created by national identity is crucial to institution building, but it is also a source of inequality, since those not seen as members will often face discrimination or worse. The unfortunate side of nationalism has led some theorists to argue that liberal democracies need to move toward post-nationalism if they are to reach the promise of equality and individual rights for all. Doing so, however, means separating identity from the state. I doubt this is possible; and I argue that post-nationalism means forgetting about national memories. Yet to honor rightly the past victims of nationalism we must engage in acts of remembrance. We cannot both bear the legacy of the past and easily move toward post-nationalism. I work through these issues partly by way of Habermas who tries, unsuccessfully in my view, to reconcile post-nationalism with the retention of national memory.