Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nation states
A nation isn’t a state. A nation is a group of people united in
‘some’ way. Although a nation is a group of people united
in some way – it is not any group of people incl. those
aspiring to a political organization in common. A nation is
characterized by demand for political self-determination.
A state is a political structure acting as a sovereign, and so
defines the legal rights and obligations of the citizens.
If the UK is a state – England, Wales and Scotland are
nations. A nation can be spread across multiple states -
Kurds living in S.Turkey and N.Iraq.
Don’t define a nation and nationalism in terms of belonging
to a particular state – sense of nationalism is stronger in
national groups with a distinct state.
- You are usually born into a Nation – as it is a non-
voluntary community. This means people are raised
Nations have ‘national identities’ which allow others to
distinguish them – usually by ethical or cultural
As people are raised in the same way – a sense of
unity is created enabling people to explain aspects
of peoples characters based on features of the group
(you’re able to stereotype like we do with people
from Essex etc). So‘National identities’ become part
of an individuals identity.
This also connects a persons geographical origins to
their identity – allows people to link with others &
have duties towards people in the future.
Nationalism – the attitude of caring about one’s nation
and national identity, and also the policy of a nation
to pursue self-determination.
You can claim special duties and rights based on
Miller summarises in 3 claims:
‘National identity is a defensible source of personal
identity, … nations are ethical communities imposing
reciprocal obligations on members… nations have a
good claim to be politically self determining’
Alternatives to nationalism – lack identification with
others (individualism), or with all of humanity
The violence ethnic nationalism has given rise to
suggests that national sentiment can have
irrational origins – is it the product of ‘false
consciousness’?, an ideology imposed on people by those with
political power for their own ends?
Evolutionary defence – individuals with a sense of
belonging & identification with others do better
in evolution – species that live in groups, the
groups develop bonds of feeling and cooperation
and will do better than other groups. Humans are
a group that have developed these bonds, and
appear to do better than some animals that don’t
live in groups as such.
Groups can have rights. It isn’t held by individuals
because they’re a member of the group. ‘gay rights’
are individual not group rights, as each individual has their ‘gay
rights’ independent of being part the ‘group’.
A group right is held by the group as a whole – sort
of like the roof on a house covering everyone in it, but to have
the house you have to have multiple people to afford it (taking
that we’re teenagers…)
Self-determination would be a right held by a
nation, not an individual – an individual can’t try
and self-determine the land their house lives on.
1) Philosophers say: a group needs a certain unity
& identity. Nations have identity created by the
members’ sense of unity & identity with each
2) The group must have moral status distinct from
the members – group can act as a group,
acquiring responsibilities not held by any
individual – and group interests which cant be
Group rights may impose duties on people out of
There are two views:
1) The group has distinct interests, they aren’t a
sum (aggregate) of the interests of individuals.
OBJ: only individuals are morally important, so moral
status of groups must come from individuals.
2) Joseph Raz – All the interests of the individuals
in the group create the groups interests –
interest out of individual interests collectively
creates group rights.
A group right is held by all the members in the
common good rather than the group on its
Raz argues a group right must…
1) Exist because an aspect of the interests of human beings
justifies holding some people to be a subject to a duty.
2) The interests in question are the interests of individuals as
members collectively – so it serves their interest as
members of the group.
3) The interest of no single member is sufficient by itself to
justify holding another person to be a subject to a duty.
Raz explains how a group can have rights, but an
individual cannot. The interests of an individual
alone cannot create the relevant duty – but it is
fair for a collection of interests to be.
Some goods are public – they’re available to
everyone not just members of the group i.e. air.
It’s not clear if nation’s do have rights. But they
may have the right to political self-
determination, and to maintain its particular
Rights always give rise to duties. To specify a
right you have to specify the duties it holds
and who has those duties.
A nation’s right would impose duties of non-
interference. If the nation is also a state –
other states would have the duty not to
interfere with the political self-determination.
If a nation’s rights impose duties to its members
nationalists think these hold only to the
individuals nation – so.. you only have those duties in your
own nation – in another nation you’re free to disregard that duty.
We don’t have the same duties to all nations
generally – the duties must be grounded on what
ties the individual to the specific nation.
We can say that; national identity is distinctivly
political – not personal this is because a nation is
identified with a geographical place, distinct
culture and history.
Our cultural inheritance is where we get our values
and moral identity from.
Liberals – claims of nationalism don’t amount
1) they can’t override individual rights,
2) they are second to the rights the state
3) false nationalist beliefs should only be
tolerated if not harmful,
4) the legitimacy of nationalist claim comes
from choices of individuals – a claim can’t
be legitimate without a majority.
We can argue…
1) A nation has the right to self-determination on the
basis of utility – it will promote democracy, equality
2) Self-determination is intrinsically valuable to a
group – the power to organize affairs and get rid of
resources is valuable.
3) the group is formed by a shared identity, where
individuals can express their views so group self-
determination expresses the self-determination of
A group will be able to achieve much more than
individuals alone. The whole idea of two heads are
better than one applies.
1)Can a national group, in a state have the right to
secede and make its own state? This has led to
war and political instability previously.
Violence is rarely justified in the pursuit of self-
determination it doesn’t show there’s no such
2) There's too little land for every nation to have its
own state, and some will try and claim the same
land – rules out an unconditional right to
The argument from utility doesn’t necessarily
support secession – nations can be given a
degree of autonomy within a existing state.
This may be the best way to secure democracy, equality etc.
Miller – there are three other considerations
1) The new state and the rump (old?) state must
2) The new state shouldn’t itself contain
minorities with radically incompatible identities
– secession will just be re-attempted which
won’t go down well.
3) Impact of secession on other minority nations
in the rump (old?) state must be taken into
There is no clear right to self-determination for
nations that aren’t states – only a claim.
Nation-states already have a degree of self-
determination. Nationalists have argued that
a nation has the right but the obligation to
pursue self-determination- this is an
obligation to the nation itself and the