Beyond The Nation-State Order: Recovering Premodern Conceptions of Nationhood



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This dissertation approaches the challenge of resurging nationalist sentiment through the study of the conceptual history of the nation. It makes two related arguments. In the first place, the dissertation suggests that our contemporary understanding of the nation as a political community is inadequate and problematic as a principle for political organization in the twenty-first century. In contemporary political discourse, the nation is commonly understood, at once, as a cultural-linguistic and as a political community, closely tied to, if not identical with, the state. The discrepancy between conceptual ideals and demographic reality, however, is profound. Most countries do not have ethnically homogenous populations and therefore the nation-state ideal turns into a principle of exclusion, barring non-nationals from political rights and citizenship. Secondly, in order to recover conceptual alternatives to the nation-state, the dissertation offers an examination of the concept of the nation in ancient and medieval political thought. It shows that, prior to the sixteenth century, the nation was conceived of largely as a community based on shared culture, language, and descent, while there was no assumption that these national communities should also constitute the basis of the political order. Only in early modern Europe was the nation politicized and tied to the emerging state. The dissertation argues that the non-political understanding of the nation provides a fruitful starting point for accommodating ethnic and national pluralism in contemporary liberal democracies. Unlike existing attempts to curb nationalist sentiment, ranging from liberal multiculturalism to constitutional patriotism, the merit of this approach lies in recuperating modes of thought that have successfully accommodated the duality of nations and polities for centuries.



nationalism, conceptual history, political theory, medieval nations, national pluralism


Portions of this document appear in: Schoen, Anna Marisa. "MEDIEVAL ALTERNATIVES TO THE NATION-STATE: THE CONCEPT OF THE NATION IN THE VULGATE." History of Political Thought 42, no. 1 (2021): 1-22.