Published Humanitas, Volume XVIII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2005
It would be hard to deny the resurgence of nationalism in the modern world: not only in Serbia and Bosnia and the newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union, but also in Palestine, Scotland, and Quebec as well as in established countries like India and Pakistan. It is a great irony that Marx consigned nationalism to the dustbin of history, along with religion and every other form of “false consciousness.” At this time nationalism seems to be a much stronger force than Marxism itself, and, while multiculturalism and economic globalization are significant features of the contemporary scene, it is by no means obvious that they must eventually displace nationalist projects and aspirations. Interestingly, philosophers seem to share Marx’s distrust of nationalism, and other than J. G. Herder (1744–1803) there are not many philosophers who have made nationalism a significant theme in their own work or offered a philosophical justification of it. Kant is typical in this regard: his emphasis is on the universal and necessary features of human experience, and he has very little to say about the issue of nationality and particular nations. Kant embraces cosmopolitanism and affirms the necessity of a universal narrative of history that would include the whole of humankind. By contrast, the work of his contemporary, Herder, is remarkable for its attempt to provide a justification for the particular perspective of the nation. Herder regarded the nation as the basic unit of humanity. According to him, the identity of the individual is largely dependent upon his or her culture, and he strongly affirmed the right of each people to determine its own path in the world.
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