chapter  6
22 Pages

On postnational identity

In this chapter, I would like to respond to some of the criticisms raised against national identity formulated by those who endorse a certain form of postnational identity and who base their critiques either on constitutional patriotism or anticulturalism. Specifically, I will examine the thesis that we have entered a postnational era. The proponents of postnational identity hold that the contemporary model of political organization no longer requires any kind of national belonging or attachment. Jürgen Habermas and Jean-Marc Ferry, for example, have made such claims in various contexts. First, they assert that the nation-state is no longer, all by itself, adequately equipped to deal with the challenges that come with the globalization of trade.1 I believe that one must agree with that assessment. They also look favourably on political entities that contain more than one national group. The political community may in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been up to a certain point congruent with the national community, or at least this is how the members of these communities represented themselves, but it is no longer necessarily the case today. I also agree with that idea. However, Habermas and Ferry further argue that, in terms of identity, nationality is no longer an essential ingredient in a political community.2 Habermas and Ferry recognize that the nation-state is here to stay and that we are not about to see it disappear. However, they argue that it is no longer a leading player on the international scene, and, most importantly, that the endorsement of a constitutional text by the population is what will henceforth increasingly be the cementing factor among citizens in the domestic arena.3 At least, this is the direction that these authors see now being taken in Europe.4 Even if European states are still very often understood as nation-states, it is no longer the nation that binds citizens to one another within the state: it is rather the constitution. This, they say, is the reason why the creation of political communities that no longer coincide with national borders can favourably be considered. Instead of acknowledging national identity and nationalism as inescapable political forces, they attempt to get beyond it by postulating identification with more inclusive features of a political community. There is another argument that also challenges the idea of the nation-state, and more generally of nations as important sources of identity within the political community. It is also a view predicting the decline of national identity as the

primary source of citizens’ identity, but this time, the authors insist that citizens have fragmented, plural and changing identities. This view can be described as anti-culturalist, since it is simultaneously directed against both national identity and multiculturalism, and it is also a view favourable to narrativism and cosmopolitanism.5 While the argument based on constitutional patriotism may be understood as a top-down argument, to the extent that it presumes a positive identification with an encompassing political organization that is capable of transcending, broadening and exceeding the national framework, the anti-culturalist argument is a bottom-up argument, that negatively acknowledges the internal crumbling of national identity. I wish to argue that postnational identity is an illusion, and that we need instead to revisit our concept of the nation and its relationship to the concept of a common public identity. I submit that newly understood national identities could very well be determinant factors for democratic, viable and legitimate types of political organizations, including multination states and supranational organizations. I also want to argue for the existence of various sorts of nations, and this makes it possible to account for the internal national diversity of our societies, as well as identity pluralism and the dynamic nature of national identity, and I wish to do so without having to eliminate the notion of a common public national identity from our account. Nations are omnipresent, both as inclusive entities and as recognized components within these inclusive entities. Rather than seeking to go beyond nationality, we must recognize the diversity of its manifestations. While the nation may indeed be “disappearing”, it is making way for nations. Nationality is illegitimate only when it denies the various manifestations of nationalism. So it is problematic only when a unique kind of identity is imposed upon everyone without being sensitive to minority nations or other sorts of national minorities. In short, nationality is unacceptable when it denies recognition to minority nationalism. Finally, the legitimacy of common public national identities and minorities who are seeking recognition depends largely on the adoption of a principle of reciprocal recognition. There is no common public national identity without recognition, but there is no recognition without reciprocity.