I’ve never been much of a fan of nationalism, or the nation-state. The idea seems to me based on imagined communities, and to invite xenophobia, exclusion, and racism. Most of all, it seems particularist (concerns itself with a small group of people) and I’m a universalist by nature (concerned with all people everywhere.)
However, a recent piece by Yoni Eshpar [Hebrew] allowed me to understand a universalist version of the nation-state ideal.
If I get this right, the idea is this: every person in the world should belong to a group of people called a “nation”; every such “nation” should live in a state in which they are able to participate (ideally, via democratic process); the states should exist to serve the “nations” that participate in it. So in the end, since every person is part of a “nation”, and every “nation” is served by a state in which it can participate, every person in the world has a part of the world to call home, where there is a state that serves and protects them.
This is a nice ideal – but it is woefully unrealistic and will never be achieved.
Let’s set aside the issue of border disputes – which are a serious issue for nation-states almost everywhere in the world.
The critical problem, I think, is that not all states serve their people. Many states actively oppress their people, on political if not ethnic grounds, even if they see themselves as nation-states and even if all of the population is considered to belong to the state’s “nation”.
So long as some states oppress their people, people will have a reason to go out into the world to live amongst other “nations”.
Insisting on the well-being of your own “nation” and saying everyone else should go and get their own state to help becomes an excuse to perpetuate the oppression of others, under the guise of a universal liberation ideology.
So long as there are people who have to run away from the government in their home country, nationalism cannot be truly, honestly universalist. It must always collapse into siege-mentality, particularism, and the accompanying xenophobia. Oppression of minorities is then just a matter of time.
Perhaps in an ideal world, each state would have one “nation”, and each “nation” one state. But we do not live in an ideal world, and it’s long past time to abandon ideologies which can only liberate the people of some other world.