Rex, J. (1996) 'National Identity in the Democratic Multi-Cultural State', Sociological Research Online, vol. 1, no. 2, <>

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


National Identity in the Democratic Multi-Cultural State

by John Rex
Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick

Received: 4/6/96      Accepted: 25/6/96      Published: 2/7/96


It has been suggested that there is a crisis of national identity in the advanced welfare states of Western Europe following post-war immigration. The aim of this paper is, first of all, to clarify the concept of national identity in its application to these states prior to this immigration, secondly to analyze the concept of ethnic identity amongst immigrant ethnic groups, and, finally, to look at the kinds of institutions which have evolved to determine the relation of immigrant groups to the established national societies of settlement.

The modern nation state is often thought of as part of a modernizing project in industrial societies. In this project the nation state is not thought of as being based upon a national identity, but is seen as having more universal aims. These include a modern economy, universal and uniform education and the compromise institutions of the welfare state negotiated between different classes and status groups. In some cases, on the other hand, the nation state may be established by a dominant ethnic group with its own values and institutions. In both cases the nation state will develop its own national ideology but will be corrosive of subordinate ethnicities and ethnic identities.

New immigrant ethnic minorities have their own separate sense of identity. This should not however be thought of in essentialist terms as unchanging and clearly bounded. A more complex model of ethnic mobilization under conditions of migration is suggested.

The response of established societies to the presence of these minorities might take one of three forms. It may involve attempts to assimilate the minorities on equal terms as citizens; it may seek to subordinate them to a dominant ethnic group as second class citizens or denizens; or, it may recognize cultural diversity in the private communal sphere while maintaining a shared public political culture. The new national identity of the host society will depend upon the outcome of processes which follow from the adoption of these different policies.

Multi-cultural Societies; National Identity; Nationalism; Migrant Minorities

The Emergence of an Identity Crisis in the Nation States of Europe and North America

Until fairly recently, perhaps until thirty or forty years ago, West Europeans and Americans did not talk much about national identity. They thought of their states as serving goals of a universal kind reflected in West European political philosophy. Now, however, such complacent self-satisfaction is challenged on two fronts. On the one hand the nation states find themselves belonging to supra-national entities like the European Union, or more generally caught up in a process of globalization involving international economic institutions and international media images; on the other they have had to face an intense process of immigration by minority groups with their own forms of culture and social organization. In these circumstances the established nations have been forced to ask whether they have a distinct identity of their own which is challenged by the forces of globalization and migration. The new nationalism is essentially a culture of resistance to these forces.

Comment: DelantyComment 1: RexComment 2: Rex

This new type of nationalism is particularly strong in France, the homeland of modernizing Jacobin nationalism and in the United States of America where a new society had been created by original Anglo-Saxon immigrants professing universal aims.

Faced with increasing immigration of culturally relatively alien minorities and with absorption into a larger European entity, French social scientists asked two questions: 'Do the new identities presented by immigrants challenge French national identity?' and 'Will the new immigrants, through their trans-national organizations, seek to deal directly with supra-national organizations, undermining the sovereignty of the French state?' These were, of course, among the central political concerns of the Le Pennite right, but they were also reflected in the thinking of liberal and socialist social scientists seeking to establish an adequate sociology of nationalism.

Equivalent concerns were expressed in the United States. There one of the most articulate exponents of liberal American political thought, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (Schlesinger, 1992), saw a danger of the 'disuniting of America'. His assumption was that the original European English-speaking political culture under which many nations became one was now threatened by new radical secessionist ideologies amongst African Americans and by the growth of Spanish as an alternative language. For Schlesinger the continuation of American society depended upon the continuance of essentially European institutions and the dominance of the English language.

Such strong ideological statements in Western Europe and America reflect the new nationalism, but, since they are ideological in nature, it is necessary that sociologists should themselves analyze the social and political reality of what is actually happening. In this paper I shall attempt to do this under three headings :
  1. The nature of the Modern Democratic Welfare State and the identity of citizenship.;
  2. The nature of ethnic mobilization amongst minority groups; and,
  3. The sorts of institution and the sorts of policy which emerge to deal with the relationship between dominant host nations and minorities.

Identity in Modern Democratic Welfare States

The late Ernest Gellner taught us to see modern nations and the modern nation state as the product of industrial, as contrasted with traditional, societies (Gellner, 1983). They involved, above all, the corrosion of existing ethnicities and the creation of a new society based upon citizenship backed by a universal educational system. T. H. Marshall (1950) offered us the complementary notion that, as the working classes attained universal social rights in addition to their previously won legal and political rights, identification with citizenship would be a stronger bond than that of social class.

Clearly there is much to be said for both of these views but they need to be spelt out in clearer structural terms. Centrally what they assume is that the institutions of the market place and the bureaucratically structured polity have become divorced from and liberated from earlier forms of moral and social control. Such institutions, moreover, call for changes in such areas as education which will sustain these economic and political institutions. The state, as the agency of the new nation has also to assert its control over language and religion which, because, like the economy itself, they ramify beyond the territorial bounds of the nation state and have to be brought under its control. The nation state naturally seeks to create economic autarchy; the language of the dominant group is given official status as the language of the state's business; and the priestly hierarchy has to be subordinated to political control.

This kind of functional unity also has to deal, according to any kind of Marxist or quasi-Marxist analysis, with conflicting group interests in the economy. According to Radtke, who has produced one of the clearest social democratic analyses of this problem (Radtke, 1994) the modern 'social democratic welfare state' involves a pluralism of conflicting interests which such a welfare state seeks to reconcile through negotiation and compromise. I have myself argued, moreover, (Rex and Drury, 1994; Rex, 1996) that modern democratic societies will tend to produce institutions which will ensure that equality of opportunity at least, but also to some extent, equality of outcome, occurs for individuals in the market place and the polity.

I refer to this set of institutions as the shared public political culture of the public domain in dealing with Western Europe. Similar institutions, however, exist, and exist in a peculiarly strong form in the United States. Although American society is based upon the liberation of market forces to a much greater degree than is the case in Europe, it also has distinct legal institutions in the Supreme Court and subordinate courts, which seek to resolve conflicting interests in ways which promote, not merely market freedom, but also equality.

Comment: Delanty

My own reference to the shared political culture of the public domain may, however, be misleading. Culture is an ambiguous term and often refers to ways of life which have little to do with the market place. A national society, has, as I have suggested, its own state controlled religion and an official language, but it also has its own literary and artistic traditions, its own cuisine, its own sports and a whole variety of customs and family arrangements which distinguish it from other societies. The national culture in this sense is not completely at the mercy of the forces of modernization. While modernization demands that there should be legal, economic, political and educational institutions of a certain kind, this distinctive national culture is likely to be much more resistant to change.

What we call a modern nation's 'identity', therefore has at least a dual reference. On the one hand it refers to the major structuring institutions of the economy and polity; on the other it refers to the 'way of life' in a more domestic and communal sense practiced by dominant groups. A dogmatic sociological functionalism would argue that these ways of life must follow and respond to pressures from the economy and polity, but it is clear that in fact such ways of life have at least a relative independence. Paradoxically, while it is the case that modernization depends upon the liberation of economic and cultural institutions from moral and communal control, in an established modern economy and polity, moral, social and cultural values may become liberated from the forces of the market place and take on a life of their own.

Comment: Delanty

The sort of collective consciousness generated by "ways of life" is sometimes referred to as a group's ethnicity or its identity, and Anthony Smith (1986) has reminded us that a modern state is not necessarily the product of some abstract process of modernization, but may well be the means whereby a laterally organized ethnic group asserts its rule over other individuals and groups.

Here we must also note the possibility that there may be not one single ethnic group governing the modern state but that there may be several contending groups seeking to exercise this control. This is very clearly the case in Quebec in North America, where two so-called founding nations are in contention, while in Europe one has clearly multinational states in Belgium and Switzerland.

There are also a number of cases in which horizontal ethnicity asserts itself. In extreme cases subordinate ethnies resist the authority of the national state even denying it the monopoly of legitimate violence which Weber (1968) saw as the defining quality of the state. The extreme of violent resistance are most clearly represented in the case of the 'Catholic' republicans of Northern Ireland and in that of the Basques in Spain. At the other extreme are groups which simply maintain their own ethnic culture and, in between, are those cases in which a sub-national ethnic entity, or what Guibernau (1995) has chosen to call a 'nation without a state', settles for some sort of political autonomy. Inevitably, moreover, along this continuum there are many cases in which the leaders of these sub-nationalisms vary in the degree to which they are prepared to accept such settlements or advocate a degree of violent resistance.

At this point we should give some further consideration to what exactly the widely used term identity is supposed to mean. In fact all that is usually meant when we speak of the identity of the modern state is the way in which its members differentiate themselves and their own state from other states and their members. Of itself this is a purely cognitive matter referring to the way in which entities are differentiated in the social world, but the term is also often taken to refer to an emotional attachment and a sense of belonging of a semi-sacred kind. The problem is to be clear as to where, if at all, such a notion of belonging emerges in the modernizing nation state.

As we have already seen, the notion of citizenship of itself carries no such meaning. That is why it is often opposed to ethnicity. Yet there are three ways in which members do acquire some sense of belonging. Firstly they differentiate their own nation state and its way of life from other nation states and their way of life. Such a distinction is invidious. One's own nation is compared favourably with other nation states in moral or aesthetic terms. Secondly the ideology of nationalism suggests that membership of the nation has a moral significance and one which is greater than that of class. Nationalist ideology, in fact competes in its moral claims with the Marxist belief in the historical and moral importance of class consciousness. That is why nationalism is the principle competitor of Marxism in the nineteenth century in making a claim to loyalty.

Comment: Delanty

Any such moral identification with the nation state is greatly enhanced by war and other forms of competition with other nation states. The solidarity of the nation in time of war adds to the notion of citizenship, as a merely cognitive matter, a strong moral element. This feeling of solidarity is also interlinked with the ways of life which we have mentioned above. Sharing a way of life with other members of the nation state, coupled with the experience of solidarity in wartime, serves to make attachment to the nation an emotional, moral and sacred matter. When such a nation state is absorbed into supra-national entities (like the European Union) this emotional attachment together with the defence of national interests produces a culture of resistance to these supranational entities.

Recognizing that the concept of national identity has to be a complex one even in the most modern states, however, we still have to consider what is involved when such modern states are confronted by incoming immigrant groups. Clearly this is the case in Western Europe where there are variously estimated groups of economic and political migrants, who with their children probably number more than 20 million and in the case of the United States, which in the year 1995-6 accepted some 720,000 legal immigrants and an unknown number of illegals. We now have to turn to the ways in which these groups mobilize and in what ways they challenge or threaten the identity of nationalism.

The Ethnic Mobilization of Immigrant Minority Groups

In its systematic development the theory of nation states, nations, nationalism and national identity has on the whole failed to give an adequate account of the kinds of structure and consciousness which exist amongst migrant communities. In the main it has sought to accommodate them through the concepts of diaspora and diaspora nationalism. Looked at in this way migrant communities are regarded as dispersed nations who have suffered a traumatic event in their homelands are surviving temporarily in other countries in which they have sought to take refuge, but whose main goal is a return to the homeland when the political situation there has changed.

No-one would deny that there are diaspora communities of this kind. Historically the most important was that of the Jews, but the term has been usefully applied to the descendants of slaves, transported to the New World and envisaging a return to Africa, as well as to some other groups such as Armenians. It may also be more loosely applied to groups of political migrants who have been forced out of their homeland by persecution or conditions of civil war and who may return there even though the economic possibilities of a permanent stay in their lands of refuge as immigrants might also offer attractions. But it is also clear that there are many groups of migrants, who, far from seeking to return to their homeland, are primarily concerned with leaving it and establishing themselves in societies where conditions are more rewarding than they were ever likely to be in these homelands.

The simplest case of such migrant communities is that of cross-border migrants such as Southern European migrants to North West Europe, the Irish in Britain and the Mexican immigrants or Chicanos in the United States. For such cross border migrants the possibility exists of maintaining structural connections with families and communities in their homeland, even though some migrants might become completely assimilated into their countries of settlement. Many such migrants are likely to have a dual loyalty to their nations of origin and the nations amongst whom they settle. While they may form associations concerned with winning equality, particularly so far as their children's education is concerned in the lands of settlement these very associations are likely to be fostered by religious and political organizations as well as by the government in the land of origin. Thus Portuguese immigrant associations in France were often promoted by the Catholic Church, the Communist Party and the Portuguese government (see Rex, Joly and Wilpert, 1987).

Such cross border migration is as much the product of pull as it is of the push factors which lead to political migration. There may, however, be a further pull to migration to more distant and more profitable lands of settlement. This is certainly the case with Portuguese migrants who have often moved on to such countries as Canada and other settler territories. It is even more obviously true of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who migrate to Britain and, either directly or via Britain, to the United States. Members of the various sub-communities amongst these South Asian migrants may then feel that they belong to transnational communities spread across the world from Fiji to California. The question is how such transnational communities should be conceptualized.

The first thing to note is that the basic unit to which an individual feels attached is an extended family seeking to improve its economic estate. The second thing to note, however, is that faced with competition abroad these families may also feel that, amongst other competing families the markers of religion, language and shared customs may serve to indicate that some of the other competing extended families are also their potential allies in taking collective action in countries of settlement. While this may not mean a tight structured organization of the migrant community on ethnic lines, it does mean that individuals are conscious of ethnic boundaries. In all likelihood, moreover, they will reinforce these boundaries by marking the crises of family life, birth, marriage and death, within the framework of religious organizations and in their own churches, temples or mosques.

A community of this kind has three points of reference. One is to the homeland and there is usually some myth of return. The second is the relationship to the land of settlement within which they will have to fight against being treated as inferiors, because of their racial or colour characteristics, as well as their cultural distinctiveness. The third is with possible countries of onward settlement.

So far as the homeland is concerned, these migrants will maintain contact with relatives who are there, will visit it and send children there for a part of their education, will send remittances and may seek to acquire property there, and, not least, will continue to take an active interest in homeland politics, often using the relative freedom of the land of settlement to further political causes which are repressed at home. This continuing political interest and the internal conflicts which it generates may be important in structuring the migrant community into competing sub-groups.

It is these homeland concerns which lead some observers to suggest that these are indeed diasporas or at least that the homeland interest is the one which more than any other structures the community and constitutes its main raison d'être. What this ignores, however, is that these same communities are also organized for collective action in the land of settlement.

Within the land of settlement the main purpose is to gain as much as possible from participation in its institutions. This means that the community will fight for equality and against 'racism' and that it will call on its ethnic organization as a resource in this fight. It will also be the case that for several generations the ethnic community will constitute a psychological and emotional home which offers some degree of security in conditions of relative anomie. Thus, whatever its homeland orientation, the community is also structured by its mobilization for this struggle for equality within a modern nation state.

It must, however, also be pointed out that there is a paradox in this struggle, for, insofar as it is successful members of the community, and more particularly the second generation, may develop new loyalties and become assimilated to the modern nation within which settlement has occurred. To the extent that this happens members will be lost to the community.

Related to this problem of loss of members is that of the relationship between ethnic communities and political organizations amongst indigenous people in the land of present settlement. Thus, while it may sometimes be the case that the community may act collectively and separately there is also the possibility of joining and supporting indigenous organizations. In between these two alternatives, however, is a third one, and the one which is most commonly followed, namely that of joining such organizations but forming factions within parties and unions, which, while giving broad support to the organization joined, enable ethnic minorities to defend their own special interests.

The consequence of what has been said above is that what we face is not a confrontation between the modern nation state and traditional ethnic communities but rather a relationship between that state and communities and cultures which are continually changing and contain their own internal modernizing elements.

Comment: Delanty

Finally, however, there is the possibility of onward migration. This, together with homeland links, involves a counter-acting pull to that of the modern nation state. The migrant has an option which is not available to the lower classes in this state. This is the option of going elsewhere and it is an option which strengthens his or her negotiating position. While it is no doubt true that working class people have also had the option of emigration, this possibility is strengthened in the case of trans-national migrant communities by the existence of ethnic boundary markers which cover not only the land of present settlement, but the land of onward migration.

It should be clear from all this that the mobilization of migrant ethnic communities does not simply mean the maintenance of an alien culture in an unchanging traditional form and under a traditional leadership. The community is internally differentiated in many ways and is shaped by the tasks which face it on many fronts. Any adequate account of ethnic mobilization in such communities must deal fully with this variety.

Comment: Delanty

Something should be added here about political migrants fleeing their own countries because of civil wars and economic breakdown, such as we have seen recently in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as well as genuine asylum seekers who face a threat of individual persecution. Some of these will become in effect economic migrants and be subject to many of the constraints and tendencies which we have been discussing above, but at the other extreme there will be those who are simply seeking protection in order to survive. So far as the latter are concerned there will be an infinite variety of situations depending on the severity of the sundering of links with kin and homeland.

The Relation of the Modern Nation State to Incoming Minorities

Faced with these incoming minorities, the nation state may adopt one of four alternative policies. It may seek to keep them out or to attack them; it may accept them as temporary residents without political rights; it may accept them but demand that they abandon their own culture and organizations; or it may seek to integrate them in a society which sees itself as multi- cultural. The first of these policies is the one which is advocated by the extreme right. This means the advocacy of a protected labour market, as well as to a rejection of the ways of life of alien minorities. Pressure from these directions has led to the emergence of parties like the Front National in France, the Vlaamse Blok in Belgium and the party of Haider in Austria and other less successful parties in other European countries, which are capable of gaining significant minority representation in parliaments. More importantly, however, the mainstream political parties are constrained by their existence to modify their own policies in an exclusionary way.

Economic realism has led many countries to accept the necessity of foreign labour imports, but to deny the incoming workers political citizenship. This means that they are second class residents or what Hammar (1983) has called 'denizens'. This approach is most clearly developed in the German gastarbeider system. In such cases religious and trade union organizations may seek to ensure that, even though they lack legal and political rights, they are nonetheless accorded at least some of the social rights referred to by Marshall. Rights are protected not through the power of the organizations of immigrants themselves but through the paternalistic actions of indigenous organizations.

A version of this policy less favourable to the incomers is that which occurs when a degree of illegal immigration is tolerated, because it is necessary in certain industrial and other jobs. This is the case in several European countries, but has been particularly evident in relation to Chicano migration to the United States. Its extreme expression is represented by the proposition being considered in California to deny schooling to the children of illegals. Characteristic of the situation of this group more generally, however, is the denial of many social rights.

In France, when legal immigration occurs, the third alternative of assimilationism is the chosen basis of policy. This demands equal rights for all individuals as well as relatively easy naturalization procedures, but this will, however, be accompanied by the discouragement of minority cultures or political organization. On the social level this means the exclusion of minority cultures from the schools, as in the famous 'foulard' incident, although it has to be pointed out that such exclusion also applies to majority religious groups because education has to be secular. On the political level there is no place admitted for ethnic politics, and, even the anti-racist organizations such as S. O. S. Racisme and France Plus have been sponsored and organized by parties of the indigenous left.

The multi-cultural alternative takes several forms. In Sweden it involves a special effort on the part of those responsible for the administration of social rights to ensure that minorities are fairly treated, and this is coupled with the recognition of a local franchise. In the Netherlands there is the famous policy of 'pillarization' developed originally to accommodate Christian confessional differences under which Catholic, Protestant and Free secular groups each have their own educational institutions, their own media, and their own trades union organizations. In Britain, even though it is a country marked by severe colour discrimination, official policy has involved, along with measures designed to combat racial and colour discrimination, the recognition and tolerance of cultural diversity.

In principle all of these multi-cultural states would claim that they seek to foster cultural diversity at the same time as promoting equality at least in the social sphere. Very often, however, the rhetoric of an egalitarian multi-culturalism conceals the existence of a multiculturalism based upon inequality. Thus French critics of British multiculturalism in practice claim that it conceals a policy of ghettoizing the immigrants, while Wieviorka (1994) suggests that the very use of the term ethnicity occurs only in dealing with inferiors; in the Netherlands, Rath (1991) has suggested that multi- cultural policy actually involves a process of 'minorization' in which those who are called minorities are actually marked for inferior treatment; and in Sweden it has been argued that multi-cultural arrangements for dialogue with immigrant groups actually involve negotiations with elderly traditional and usually male leaders whom the state seeks to manipulate for its own purposes (Schierup and Alund, 1990).

All of these possibilities do clearly exist, yet they do not mean that there is no ideal egalitarian form of multi-culturalism to be considered. This may take a strong and a more moderate form.

In the stronger form multi-culturalists argue that the main structures of the society and its culture will be transformed, and that there will be, and should be, a society whose culture is a new kind of amalgam which will supersede national culture. Such arguments have a superficial credibility because it is true that on the level of 'ways of life' as discussed in an earlier section new elements occur and become part of the national culture. The simplest and clearest case of this is cuisine where immigrant cuisine is widely adopted by the majority, but there is also clearly a range of other cultural items which either coexist with or are absorbed into the national culture; this is true of literary or artistic culture, as it is of sports. This does not, however, mean that the main institutions of the economy and the polity, and the pressure for equality within them, are likely to be changed significantly. They cannot be without the modernizing nation state ceasing to exist.

The more moderate form of multi- culturalism accepts that there are institutions which are essential to the modern nation state which will either be entirely secular or based upon shared values, yet at the same time recognizes that there is value in giving limited recognition, for several generations at least, to lively minority cultures. These minority cultures will have two important functions for their members and for a democratic society. On the one hand they will provide for the minority communities a psychological and moral home between the family and the state, which was one of the ideals suggested by Durkheim (1933) in distinguishing between a society based on "organic solidarity" and one marked by anomie; on the other hand that maintenance of minority organizations will enable the minority members to act collectively , and not merely individually, to fight for their rights, just as class based organizations have been an essential part of developing modern democracies in the past.

Comment: Delanty

In this acceptance of minority cultures and organization, it is to be expected, however, that national democratic societies will be concerned about the other reference points which they have to the homeland and to societies of possible onward migration. If they are concerned with their own security they will seek to prevent the pursuit of homeland political goals amongst immigrants particularly if these take a violent form. The problem here is to rule out violence in a democratic society. Anyone who carries out assassinations and other terroristic acts must expect that he or she will be severely punished, however much he or she may see himself or herself as a hero(ine) in the homeland political struggle. This does not mean, however, that minorities should not seek to influence foreign policy in the land of settlement by means of peaceful persuasion just as any other citizen might.

So far as orientation to other countries of possible onward migration is concerned much will depend on how permanent the host nation sees immigrant settlement as being. If settlement is regarded as temporary and a matter of convenience for the economy, which may be the case in multi-cultural, as in gastarbeider, societies the existence of this other option may be a matter of mutual convenience for minorities and the state. If, however, the presence of immigrants is seen as an economic gain for the host society, the main concern would be to make the immigrant's stay as permanent as possible and everything would be done to ensure that he or she gains full access to full citizenship in the social and cultural as well as in the political sense. Thus, so far as education is concerned for example, there should be every effort made to ensure the acquisition of modern ideas and skills, however much minority cultures themselves are fostered in the system.

Other areas of concern about the recognition of minority cultures and organization relate to the question of individual human rights and particularly the rights of women. Many Western feminists, for example, feel that it is unacceptable to suggest that family practices should be a matter of choice for separate communities. This is a valid point but here it should be remembered that the concept of ethnic minority cultures set out above includes the existence within these cultures of its own modernizing element. For this reason questions of human rights and women rights are a natural topic for dialogue and our concept of a multi-cultural society should in any case involve a place for continuing dialogue on many matters. What it does rule out are simply authoritarian and punitive impositions by the majority on the minority.

Comment: Delanty

A final point to be made about the moderate case for multi-culturalism is that it envisages the maintenance of the minority culture in the lively form which we have indicated, not as a matter of permanence, but as referring to a period of three or four generations. After that what will remain is symbolic ethnicity and the maintenance of a symbolic heritage through festivals and similar occasions. Such symbolic ethnicity is easily accommodated and would generally be regarded as enriching a culture. This does not mean however, that, in the first three or four generations, the recognition of minority cultures should be confined to their exotica, and it does happen that those who are not prepared to deal with the real problems of immigrant minorities do tend to divert attention simply to these exotica. There is in many countries and amongst conservative indigenous groups an avoidance of the tougher areas of negotiation in favour of symbolic ethnic receptions and tea- parties.

Aggressive Ethnicity

There is no doubt that today ethnicity is in ill repute. This is particularly the case because of the currency of the notion of ethnic cleansing in the formerly multicultural and multinational Yugoslavia. It is unfortunate, however, that the fear of aggressive ethnicity of the Yugoslav kind is often seen as a reason for opposing minority ethnicities in Western European democratic states. In fact such groups do not attack other groups and are primarily concerned with integrating themselves into modern society. The main tendency towards something like ethnic cleansing comes from the nation state itself. This is because a society based upon citizenship and the ideology of nationalism has no place for subordinate ethnicity. Even more is it the case that where there is lateral ethnicity involved in the government of the state, other ethnicities must be cleansed or eliminated.

The clearest case of a society which bases itself on the notion of citizenship and the ideology of modernizing nationalism is that of France, where the natural tendency is to deny and to seek to destroy the ethnicity of minorities. In Germany the second kind of ethnic domination is to be found. There is a belief in the existence of a volk which pre-exists the nation of citizenship and whose membership includes many not even resident within the nation state, while excluding others, who may be so resident but are not members of the volk.

National and Supra-National Identity

There is discussion in the European Union today of the possibility of a European identity transcending the identity of nation states. This immediately faces the problem of the resistance arising from the complex nationalisms of member states. It therefore seeks to define itself through a contrast with extra-European entities and to emphasize the elements which the European states have in common. Most often this means differentiating Europeans in terms of their colour and religion. The Union is felt to consist of White Christian nations. This is, however, at odds with any definition which the member states might develop of themselves as multi-cultural. The position of the minorities of the member states is therefore dealt with as a residual problems. Non-white and non-Christian minorities who suffer disadvantage because of their race, colour or religion have been grouped together with gastarbeiders, even though they are politically full citizens, in an organization called the Migrant Forum. All that such a body can do is to unite all these minorities outside the main political framework and to attribute to them a separate identity. The minorities may, it is true, use such a forum to negotiate more effectively with their own nation states, but, if there were a European citizenship and identity, they would not be part of it. The problems here are far from being resolved, and for the moment the European union will be a union of traditional nation states, all much affected by the ideology of nationalism, but not allowing for the resolution of their problems in dealing with ethnic minorities. It is likely indeed to undermine any policies which these nation states might develop, seeking instead to deal itself with migrant minorities in a direct, although residual, way, while also, through its regional policies, offering direct benefits to subnational groups of an autocthonous kind. These contradictory tendencies are likely to mean that it will deal effectively neither with the problem of uniting the nation states or with the problem of integrating the minorities.

Comment: Delanty


The problem of nationalism in Europe is clearly a very complex one and has taken on new dimensions in the face of moves towards supranational union and in the face of immigration. Basically the modern nations of Western Europe and America were based on the notion of citizenship. If one speaks of identity to refer only to the identity of citizenship, this does not, of itself have any implication of emotional belonging. Not surprisingly therefore citizenship is seen not simply as an attribute of a particular group but as something having universal value. Identity in the sense of emotional and moral belonging does, however, attach to the 'ways of life' of the members of the nation, or at least of the dominant group. The ideology of nationalism also has moral overtones if it is suggested that membership of the nation represents a higher order of human existence. Usually too the nation has been engaged in war with other nations and this greatly reinforces the sense of belonging. All of this may remain latent unless historical circumstances mean that the nation based upon citizenship and the ways of life of its members are threatened by supra-national entities or with alien incomers. In these circumstances there is likely to emerge a new kind of nationalism based upon what becomes a community of resistance. Such new nationalisms of the nation states will hardly provide a basis for closer international union or for the peaceful integration of national and migrant minorities. They represent a new reinforced and reactionary ideology of communities under threat.

Comment 1: Delanty Comment 2: Delanty


This paper was first delivered to the Joint Conference of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism and the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations held at the London School of Economics, Friday May 3rd, 1996.


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