An Examination of the Feasibility of Cultural Nationalism as Ideal Theory

Ethical Perspectives 21 (1):199-224 (2014)
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The principle of national self-determination holds that a national community, simply by virtue of being a national community, has a prima facie right to create its own sovereign state. While many support this principle, not as many agree that it should be formally recognized by political institutions. One of the main concerns is that implementing this principle may lead to certain types of inequalities—between nations with and without their own states, members inside and outside the border, and members and nonmembers inside the same nation state. While these inequalities may arise, I shall argue that they are not unjust. These worries are partly the results of confusing two types of interests that a national group may have—in cultural affairs and in political affairs. While a national community should enjoy rights over their cultural affairs, this does not grant them authority over other non-cultural, political affairs. Once the distinction is drawn, we can see that there are constraints on the implementation of this principle. Consequently, these inequalities justify setting limits to a group’s right of self-government, although they do not conclusively refute the right itself.

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Hsin-Wen Lee
University of Delaware


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