Perspectives on Ethics: Nils Holtug

Perspectives on Ethics

Does Nationhood Promote Egalitarian Justice? Challenging the National Identity Argument

According to the national identity argument, a shared national identity is important for two aspects of social cohesion that, in particular, are required for egalitarian, distributive justice, namely trust and solidarity. I critically discuss the national identity argument as it pertains to social justice. I first provide a more detailed account of the argument. Then I consider, in greater detail, different conceptions of the nation on which the national identity argument may rely. Furthermore, I assess two theoretical arguments for why we should expect national identities to promote social cohesion and so distributive justice. According to the first, a shared identity tends to produce the emotional disposition towards compatriots required for trust and solidarity. According to the second, sharing an identity with someone tends to make their behaviour more predictable which makes it easier to trust them. However, neither of these two accounts of the causal mechanism leading from a national identity to trust and solidarity establishes the need for a national identity, or so I argue. For the purpose of assessing the empirical studies that test the national identity argument, I then decompose the argument in terms of the different elements that may be thought to causally impact social cohesion. On this basis, I survey the empirical evidence for and against the national identity argument. One worry pertaining to these studies is that, very often, they do not appropriately distinguish between different conceptions of the nation, or at least do not do so along the lines that political theorists have thought important. Therefore, I go into greater depth with a recent Danish study I have conducted with two colleagues – a study that aims more specifically to test the impact on trust and solidarity of conservative and liberal nationalist identities. I conclude that, just as the theoretical explanations to which nationalists appeal do not sufficiently support the national identity argument, nor does the empirical evidence that has been gathered so far.

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Nils Holtug
University of Copenhagen
Director, Centre for Advanced Migration Studies
Professor of Political Philosophy
Philosophy Section
Department of Media, Cognition and Communication

Mon, Oct 15, 2018
04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto
200 Larkin