Kedourie's Nationalism

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In his book Nationalism (1960), Elie Kedourie describes nationalism as "a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century," emphasizing the artificial character of this ideology that combines the political idea of self-government with anthropological notions of shared national characteristics. To understand the development of nationalism, Kedourie looks back into some events and ideas that form the history and set the background for the creation of the ideology. Kedourie traces the beginning of nationalism to the historical event of the French Revolution and the philosophy connected with Kant's categorical imperative. The French Revolution (1789) introduced the concept that sovereignty rested on the authority of the Nation, or in other words, the will of the people. Sovereignty no longer derived from the absolute power of royal government but from the "governed," who could call into question the legitimacy of the power if they didn't support it. The changes provoked by the French Revolution found their metaphysical justification in Kant's categorical imperative that maintained "that the good will, which is the free will, is also the autonomous will." In his ethics, the source of moral value rests in the individual, who is the sovereign of its actions. When this metaphysical doctrine of the autonomy of the will was extended to the unit of the nation, self-determination was seen as "the political good".

The French Revolution and Kant's ideas provided the condition for a new way of thinking about politics. The definition of the nation –who should be included, what its boundaries were- became the centre of ethical and political discussions. On the one hand, signs of group identity such as language, race and culture were used to constitute nations and form the political boundaries for the state. On the other hand, these same signs were the basis for forms of social exclusion that were sometimes accompanied by violence and radicalism.

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