Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship

The Janus-faced Nature of Nation

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The Janus-faced Nature of Nation

Though there has never been a “philosophy” of nationalism, there are some themes which seem to reoccur time and again in the literature on the nation. One reoccurring theme stands out in particular; scholars of nationalism – whether critics, apologists, or promoters – have time and again referred to what Anthony Smith calls the “Janus-faced” nature of the nation (2004, p. 211). This boils down to a distinction between two forms of nationalism; they have been labelled variously by different scholars over the years, but can be summed up under the terms ‘ethnic’ and ‘civic’ nations. The ethnic/civic distinction is highly relevant to the work of Kymlicka because it forms a central part of his argument for the necessity of group rights. Before I explore Kymlicka’s own standpoint, I shall explain why the ethnic/civic distinction was held to be so important and what precisely is meant by it.

In the past, scholars of nationalism typically categorized nations as being either ethnic or civic. This distinction between ethnic and civic nations can be understood as a difference in the principle of ordering of national identity: a distinction between Jus sanguinis (the law of blood) vs. Jus soli (the law of place) respectively (see Brubaker, 1992, p. 122). In other words, citizenship in ethnic nations is determined by the principle of common descent, while citizenship in civic nations is determined by the principle of birthright or naturalization in a particular territory. More specifically, ethnic nations have typically been understood to be those that base membership on a particular lineage and exclude those without common descent from full membership, while civic nations are – in principle – open to anyone who wishes to immigrate and agree to live by the rules of the land.

This theoretical bifurcation of nation into two distinct entities underscores a tension pervading nationalism studies between parochialism and cosmopolitanism105, with ethnic nations being implicitly (and negatively) linked with particularism and preference of that which is similar, and civic nations being (positively) linked to universalism and acceptance of difference.106 Such distinctions between ethnic and civic nations can be traced even as far back as Marx and Engel’s assessment of 19th century nationalist movements, rooted in the Hegelian conception of civil society and his distinction between historical and non-historical nations (Gans, 2002, pp. 8-9).107 These distinctions and the set of oppositions that characterize them have played a part of most theorizing about nationalism until recently. As the following paragraphs will explore, the ethnic-civic divide has often been understood in absolute terms as systems of classification.

        1. Kulturnation vs. Staatsnation

German historian Friederich Mienecke is one of the earliest and perhaps most influential scholars to have made this distinction between Kulturnation (ethnic nation) and Staatsnation (civic nation) (Meinecke, 1908/1970). Mienecke, in his historical account of the development of nationalism, says that while the purely political concept of civic nation arose in revolutionary France, a very different form of nationalism developed in states like Germany, in which nation was a more organic development that sprung from the zeitgeist (spirit) of the people, embodying the ideals of Romanticism and emphasizing the cultural community (Meinecke, 1908/1970, p. 12).

Hans Kohn developed Mienecke’s distinction further (Kohn, 1955). One of the first scholars of nationalism writing in the wake of WWII, Kohn hoped that the separate classification of ethnic versus civic (territorial) nations would provide a way to overcome the dire failings of nationalism which had characterized his time. He hoped to endorse a more humanist, modern form of nation to mediate nationalism’s more negative aspects. By emphasizing a more neutral innocuous version of nationalism, he hoped that universalism could go hand-in-hand with the worldwide separation of states into autonomous national units (as cited in Mosse, 1997, p. 165). Kohn built upon Mienecke’s distinction and emphasized that of the two forms of nations that had arisen, one had headed down a treacherous and difficult course, however the other offered a more promising future for humanity.

In Kohn’s view, civic nationalism was a more mature form of nationalism than ethnic nationalism. Civic nations developed early on in the advanced parts of the west during the Age of Enlightenment. As Kohn describes it, the development of the territorial-civic nation was “to create a liberal and rational civil society representing the middle-class” (Gans, 2002, pp. 8-9). The nations which he felt typified the “civic” nation were the UK, the US and France. A second and distinct form of nationalism, says Kohn, developed in the less advanced countries in Europe to the East (but also including Spain and Ireland), which lacked a strong middle class. The nationalism which arose there was more cultural and less political. As Kohn says, it was the “dream and hope of scholars and poets” (Kohn, 1955, p. 30). Drawing from cultural customs and heritage, a different form of nation would arise in the east which would develop an atavistic and emotional attachment of the Volk to nation; in particular, the Ethnic nation (Gans, 2002, pp. 8-9). This ethnic form of nationalism, Kohn says, more than an independently arising movement in its own right, was a reaction of the elites in the east to the rise of civic nationalism and prosperity in the west.

Liah Greenfeld: The Historic Development of Nationalism

A famous later account of nationalism is offered by Liah Greenfeld, a professor of political science and sociology at the University of Boston, who built upon the themes Kohn developed. Indeed, Kymlicka refers to Greenfeld’s theory as “a useful starting point” for learning about the origins of nations and an “impressive, but also daunting work of scholarship” (Kymlicka, 1999b, p. 136). From the first national stirrings in 16th Century England, Greenfeld traces five distinct nationalisms that arose, each as a response to the other. Greenfeld follows Kohn’s classic east-west/ethnic-civic divide, however she develops it further and makes some subtle distinctions in describing not just two national paths, but five divergent variations on the ethnic/civic national theme (Greenfeld, 1992).

Similar to Kohn, the first nationalism that Greenfeld says arose was in Britain; British nationalism was a highly individualistic variant of nationalism that tied membership to the social compact. Though “nation” (as it only later came to be called) did promote social cohesion in Britain, it only did so with respect to the individual interests of each member considered separately. Greenfeld says this nationalism was both “original and civic” and would later come to be the most rare form of nationalism (in contrast to its ethnocentric counterparts). She then traces the subsequent development of the other four “paths to modernity”: French nationalism, Russian nationalism, German nationalism and finally American nationalism (the last of which she deems a variant of British nationalism). Contrary to the individualist nature of British and American nationalism, the nationalisms that developed in France, Russia and Germany were collectivist in nature and narrowly served the interests of the elite (1992, p. 426) (Greenfeld says that individualistic nationalism on the contrary serves the greatest number)108. As such, the origins of nationalism for Greenfeld are unrelated to time and place, but rather lay in the particular social setting of the populace. Greenfeld’s innovation on Kohn’s prior theme is to examine the collectivist and individualist aspects of national culture. This distinction helps her to make a key differentiation between French and British nationalism. Greenfeld claims that while Russian and German nationalism were clearly ethnocentric, French nationalism claimed to be civic, in the same way that British nationalism was (1992, p. 202). This, says Greenfeld, led French nationalism to be internally contradictory, as “civic” nationalism prioritizes the individual, but collectivism puts priority on the group.

Kymlicka, though he refers positively to Greenfeld in his work, says that her book is missing an explanation of the reasons why nation is held so dear to its members (though this is not an overall criticism of her work, which he upholds highly). He does not however comment on her distinctions between “civic” and “ethnic”, individualistic and collectivist nationalisms, as we will see in the following pages, Kymlicka himself takes a strong departure from her view on this matter.

Smith: Ideal-types vs. Reality

Anthony Smith, although building upon the ethnic-civic distinction of Mieneke and Kohn to develop it further, to a certain extent undermines the distinction by shifting its focus from one of normative classification to ideal types (Kaufmann & Zimmer, 2004, p. 63). In Smith’s seminal work “the Ethnic Origins of Nations” (1986), Smith describes two distinct forms of nation-building: a civic nation developed earlier in the west and focused on boundaries and legal rights and duties, whereas a later ethnic nation developed in the east and focused on ethnic symbolism, “genealogy, populism, customs and dialects, and nativism” (Smith, 1986, p. 137). Smith’s insight is that although these two forms of nation-building were easily captured in the world of ideas, in the real world they were not nearly so cleanly delineated.

In fact, Smith’s work, as already briefly elaborated in the previous chapter (pp. 77-80), sets out to show how both ethnic and civic aspects are inextricably tied to one another in a single nation. He uses the terms revivalism (inwards-looking, committed to old cultures and religious dogma or “spirit”) and reformism (outwards-looking, non-ethnically bound nations, committed to “science”) (Kaufmann & Zimmer, 2004, p. 66). Nations can lean in either direction – inwards or outwards. Smith thus departed from previous theories on nationalism emphasizing the dual nature of the nation state by showing how the Janus-face of nation combines both elements of civic and ethnic in a single nation-state.

Smith further elaborated on how the ideas typically associated with civic nations and those typically associated with ethnic nations are to some extent inseparable from one another. The ideas that form the basis for civic nations, says Smith, are actually the products of particular historic communities. Though territorial conceptions of nation have a universalistic aspect, group membership along these lines also has a deeper rootedness in a particular place. Likewise, Smith shows how “neutral” public culture is actually drawn from selectively chosen particular historic memories and facts. In this way, jus soli and jus sanguinis never truly stand alone but are the opposing faces of a single nation (Kaufmann & Zimmer, 2004, p. 74).

Kaufmann and Zimmer speculate that Smith’s realization of the inadequacy of the terms “civic-territorial” and “ethnic-genealogical” are what led Smith to later shift his analytical concepts to that between “organic” and “voluntaristic” (as cited in Kaufmann & Zimmer, 2004, p. 75). As Kaufmann and Zimmer say of this shift,

The former terms are rooted in his typological method and reflect his ambition to construct a conceptual framework that could be used for broad diachronic and synchronic comparisons at the macro level of society. The latter terms, by contrast, are indicative of Smith’s search for concepts that can adequately capture the process-like and fluctuating nature of nationalism, and national identity (Kaufmann & Zimmer, 2004, p. 74).

By lifting the ethnic-civic debate from normative assessments, Smith was able to set the groundwork for later authors who would consider types of nationalism not as a dichotomous categorization but rather as a continuum of various nation-building processes and organic evolution.

Brubaker: Beyond “Groupism”

Rogers Brubaker, in an article entitled “The Manichean Myth” (1999), derides the “dubious” set of oppositions that are invoked by the classic ethnic-civic, east-west divide. In agreement with Smith, Brubaker finds such oppositions between tolerance and xenophobia on the one hand and sentiment and rationality on the other, as untenable contortions. Citing Weber, Brubaker points out how terms like ethnicity, race, nation, are vague theoretical concepts, which change meaning across time and place (Brubaker, 2009, p. 27). As he says, it is not easy to precisely describe, “What is ‘ethnic’ about ethnic nationalism?” And with xenophobia on the rise in “civic” nations like France, the distinction between the civilizing civic nations of the west and the backwards ethnic nations of the east is altogether unsound – and even, says Brubaker, verging on a form of Orientalism itself (Brubaker, 2004a, p. 136).

Instead, Brubaker prefers to look at the way that groups function, how the intermixing of “ethnicity, race and nation work” as opposed to trying to define these imprecise terms (2009, p. 29). This marks a move away from what Brubaker calls “groupism”, the resilient tendency to view groups in concrete, monolithic terms ignoring the ongoing development of the works of the post-structuralists. Brubaker instead insists that we should leave behind overly simplistic distinctions such as “ethnic and civic” and go “beyond groupism”; in other words, not to view nations as separate definable entities or as units of analysis at all (2004b, p. 115; 2009, p. 28).

Yack: Myth of Civic Nation

Bernard Yack offers a further criticism of the civic-ethnic divide. For Yack, similar to Brubaker and others (see Seymour, Couture, & Nielsen, 1996), the distinguishing features attributed to civic and ethnic nations are over-exaggerated. Features which are typically associated with ethnic nations are often found in “civic” ones and vice versa. In line with Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Yack posits that our national understanding marked a change in the way we consider belonging from prior times. Building on a comparison made by Judith Sklar on the different responses of Themistocles to betrayal by Athens and Dreyfus to betrayal by France, Yack suggests that the main difference between the two is that Dreyfus’s notion of self-identity was wrapped up in his national identity in a way that Themistocles was not (Yack, 1999, p. 113). While for Themistocles it was easy to turn his back on Athens but still consider himself a Greek, for Dreyfus turning his back on France entailed a form, not only of betrayal of country, but of betrayal of his own self as well. Thus, Sklar’s comparison provides an explanation for Dreyfus’ refusal to quit his French identity and to endure at all costs trials in order to fulfil his national identity (Yack, 1999, p. 113).

For Yack, this change in belonging is a curious matter. He looks backwards to the Greek city-state where the separation of ethnos and demos was an organizing principle and not an aspiration as it is in our times. By looking back to the Greeks, he says we see how firmly our own times have embedded culture into our political societies. The question we should pose is not how the Greeks managed to separate culture and ethnos, which in his view is not a necessary connection, but rather how we oddly managed to tie the two together so inseparably (Yack, 1999, p. 114). Nationalism qua nationalism, ties shared cultural legacy with rational consent; both components are involved in nationalism says Yack, and it is a myth to try to separate two national forms (Yack, 1999, p. 116).

Gans: Statist and Cultural Nationalism

Chaim Gans offers an alternative development of the Ethnic-civic distinction. Unlike Brubaker and Yack, Gans believes, at least from a normative point of view, that there are indeed two distinct forms of nation (Gans, 2002, p. 7). Rejecting the terms “ethnic” and “civic” (because of the positive connotations generally given to civic over and above ethnic nations), Gans prefers to use the terms “statist” (political) and “cultural”. Despite describing “statist” nationalism as “predominantly a political movement to limit governmental power and to secure civic rights” (Gans, 2002, p. 7) , both types of nations, says Gans, have a history of carrying out violent assimilatory practices against their citizens. Further, Gans points out that in both types of nations, the myth of common descent plays an important role. Thus, traditional stereotypes (like “east vs. west”) typically attached to the ethnic-civic dichotomy are false.

Both cultural and statist nationalism blend political and cultural aspects says Gans. The distinguishing feature lays in the ends and means of the two different types. For statist nations, national culture is a means with the values of the state as its ends. This equation is reversed in cultural nations, wherein national culture is the end and the values of the state are no more than the means to this end. In a similar vein to Kymlicka’s description of societal cultures, Gans says that “statist nationalism is cultural, for…it requires that the citizenries of states share not merely a set of political principles, but also a common language tradition and a sense of common history” (Gans, 2002, pp. 15-16). Gans further says that these two distinct forms of nationalism are set to go head-to-head with one another, and are ultimately incompatible for one “imped[es] the realization of the other.” (Gans, 2002, p. 17).

Although the ethnic-civic dichotomy has served as a model for political sciences for understanding nationalism for quite a long period, later developments at around the time Kymlicka was writing (traced above) began to question this distinction and to highlight its failings. Kymlicka’s writings can be seen as heavily influenced by this critical trend. He tries to break past the boxes that the ethnic-civic dichotomy put over nationalism studies and present us with his own alternative model and understanding about the relation of culture, state, and nation.

Misunderstanding Nationalism

In a 1995 review article entitled, “Misunderstanding Nationalism”, Kymlicka laid out the bare-bones of his view on nationalism and the ethnic-civic dichotomy. In agreement with those scholars who took a more critical stance on the ethnic-civic “myth”, Kymlicka says that the distinction between ethnic and civic nations is not so clear-cut (1999b, p. 132). There is a lot of overlap between the two says Kymlicka, particularly more and more liberal versions of nationalism are on the rise which also emphasize the importance of cultural community. An important development for Kymlicka then, is to separate the traditional linkage of nation to state in international politics; instead, Kymlicka endorses awarding collective rights to national groups, decoupled from the right to statehood.

Writing against authors such as Walzer (1984), Habermas (1992), Pfaff (1993), and Ignatieff (1993) who advocate strong civic conceptions of justice and the strict separation of ethnos and demos for a properly functioning liberalism, Kymlicka says that ethnos and demos can never be separated in the political arena (Kymlicka W. , 1995, p. 200). At the very least, says Kymlicka, “civic” states advocate a singular language, education system, and national histories and myths (“societal cultures”) and while this is a much thinner conception of culture than the clearly-stated “ethnic” nation which presupposes cultural exclusivity, it is a thin cultural context nonetheless. Both ethnic and civic nations, says Kymlicka, “involve the politicization of ethnocultural groups” (1999a, p. 107). Further, “the use of public policy to promote a particular societal culture or cultures is an inevitable feature of any modern state.” (Kymlicka, 1999a, p. 107). Though societal cultures are thin cultures, they are still politically relevant. Kymlicka thus implies that to overlook the cultural aspects of civic nations would be naïve and theoretically unhelpful.

Kymlicka, in agreement with Smith, says that culture is an inevitable feature of the modern nation-state. Secular states such as France clearly demonstrate the assimilatory powers of supposedly “pure” civic regimes. (Smith, 1999c, p. 39)109 Thus, although the civic nation is often upheld as virtuous against the ethnic nation, Kymlicka says that many “civic” nation-states, often under the banner of secularism, also advocate a particular cultural uniformity that deprives significant minority populations of their perceived rights. Hence, no nation is culturally “neutral” says Kymlicka, “the idea of a purely non-cultural definition of nationalism is implausible, and often leads to self-contradiction” (1995, p. 200).

Authors who would believe, for example, that America is culturally neutral are seriously misreading American history he says. In particular, Kymlicka refers extensively to the work of Walzer and his claim that the American nationality is the clearest demonstration of the ethnocultural neutrality of civic nations. Kymlicka heartily disagrees with Walzer on this matter and strives throughout his writings to draw a picture of America that counteracts what he believes to be a misguided view. American society, he says, is strongly assimilatory. People are often mislead by America’s emphasis on “political principles – liberty, equality, democracy”, this strong and unique adherence to ideology over culture has led many to mistakenly believe that “American nationality is ideological rather than cultural” (Kymlicka W. , 1995, p. 200). Kymlicka says that the emphasis on political principles did not erase culture but only allowed the Americans to shape it. America is not culturally neutral, to the contrary it “very actively” promotes a particular societal culture: a single language and common culture (Kymlicka, 1997b, p. 23).

Kymlicka is particularly at odds with Walzer’s statement that liberalism involves a “sharp divorce of state and ethnicity” (1982, p. 17). For Kymlicka state and ethnicity are always intertwined: the nation always supports a societal culture. The United States is in no way neutral in this view; instead, it “has integrated an extraordinary number of people from very different backgrounds into a common [anglo] culture” says Kymlicka (1995, p. 82). Throughout its relatively short history, the United States has either integrated or segregated individuals into its main societal culture. For the majority of US citizens, the US has followed a “deliberate” policy of assimilation into this main societal culture. The Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, Native American peoples (Apache, Cree, Haida, Iroquois, Mohawk, to name just a few), and the various ethnic immigrant communities (be they Irish, Italian, Polish, German, Chinese, etc.) have been made to conform – at times with ruthless force (Kymlicka, 1998a, p. 180)110 to the dominant WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) societal culture.

Ethnic separatism was seen as proof of ‘un-American’ sentiments, and was ruthlessly suppressed…Immigrants were shunted into subordinate positions within the mainstream society, and were often prevented from occupying the elite positions within mainstream institutions, but they were also prevented from creating separate societies (Kymlicka, 1998b, pp. 74-5; 2001b, p. 180).

Immigrants to America have been expected to shelve their previous cultures and identities upon entry to America111. Facing pressures for integration, racism, economic disadvantage, they were at once forced into the dominant social mould, and yet withheld from climbing the social ladder, for at least first generation immigrants (still with noticeable accents and other ethnic differences from the mainstream) were kept in a position of low social status.

In sum, despite this commitment to a policy of equality, Kymlicka rightly points out that the American system (or “civic” nationalism) still implements unequal treatment of its citizens by advancing one particular cultural framework over and above all others.

The real difference between so-called “ethnic” and “civic” nations, says Kymlicka, lies in their terms of admittance (1997b, p. 27). While ethnic nations are exclusive to any who fall outside the ethnic/racial traits of the majority nation, civic nations by contrast admit many members of diverse cultural backgrounds. This is done on the expectation that they will assimilate or integrate into the new cultural milieu (or societal culture) in which they now live (at the very least adopting the language of the state and adhering to its basic values and systems of law). Ethnic nations, on the other hand, do not wish to integrate those who are culturally different.112 The bottom line: both civic and the ethnic nations equally deny cultural rights for minorities, the only difference between the two is the degree of welcoming. In one approach (civic), it is expected that you can shelve your identity; in the other approach (ethnic), it is assumed that you cannot shelve it and therefore should be excluded. Thus Kymlicka concludes that both ethnic and civic nations are problematic for minorities.

Kymlicka asserts that the myth of “benign neutrality” of civic nations has in many ways done tremendous harm, particularly for minorities. The danger for minorities is that multiculturalism and for cultural rights are dismissed by liberals who view such demands as a threat to the “cultural neutrality” of the state (Kymlicka, 1998b, p. 26). Indeed, under the pretence of neutrality, immigrants and minorities have often violently been made to conform to the culture of the majority. In particular, Kymlicka is wary of the ‘universally valid’ principles usually associated with civic conceptions of nation, which he rightly attributes to having arisen from particularistic cultures. Such language of ‘neutrality’ and ‘universalism’ is often invoked says Kymlicka to mask the culture intrinsic in civic nations. Those minorities who choose not to abide or agree to the ‘universally agreed upon principles’ are deemed heretical or irrational instead of being seen as coming from a culturally different starting point, and having a different but equally valid rationality.

A further fallacy, says Kymlicka, is to associate civic nations with liberalism and ethnic nations with illiberalism as has often been done. As he describes it, those who hold such a view have a “misunderstanding” of nationalism (Kymlicka, 2001b, pp. 203-291). Civic conceptions of nation are no guarantee of civility (Resnick, 2000, p. 283)113. Instead, what differentiates liberal from illiberal nationalism is the degree of its inclusivity. As Kymlicka says,

What distinguishes liberal nation-building from illiberal nationalism is not the absence of any concern with language, culture, and national identity, but rather the content, scope, and inclusiveness of this national culture, and the modes of incorporation into it. (2002, p. 59)

This means for Kymlicka that there are gradations of liberalism, thus nations cannot be pigeonholed into bipolar categories of liberal versus illiberal. Ostensibly, ethnic nations due to their lack of inclusiveness would be considered illiberal, however Kymlicka points out that is not so clear that civic nations would all be liberal despite their more open terms of admittance. Kymlicka implies that the extent to which a civic nation includes its various groups and nations is the measure of its liberalism.

Since our current models of civic-versus-ethnic nations are incapable of properly addressing the needs of our increasingly multicultural, multinational societies, an alternative model is needed. Since nationalism is “an enduring feature of modernity” for Kymlicka, he says we must begin to look for “permissible forms of nation-building (2000b, p. 165). We need a “nation-building” model, to replace the ethnoculturally neutral model of the state. Kymlicka’s solution: Liberal Nationalism.

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