Mark Lilla on Nations

Posted by dianamuir on October 04, 2012

“For more than two centuries the fate of decent and humane politics in Europe has been tied to that of the nation-state as the dominant form of European political life. And we can see why. If a moderately sized political entity is to attract the loyalty and the commitment of its citizens, it must find a way to bind them together; and among the ties it finds ready to hand are those of language, religion, and culture, broadly understood. Yes, those ties are artifacts of history, subject to manipulation and ‘invention’; they are not brute facts. But they are, politically speaking, extremely useful inventions, given that only the rarest of states could generate those ties by civic means alone. (Not even the United States or Switzerland manages to do so.) One of the long-standing puzzles of politics is how to wed political attachment (which is particular) to political decency (which knows no borders). The nation-state has been the best modern means discovered so far of squaring the circle, opening a political space for both reasonable reflection and effective action.”


Mark Lilla



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