Beyond the Ontological Question: Liberal Nationalism and the Task of Constitution-Building

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One of the most interesting stories of the past 20 years has been the extent to which nationalism has been the focus of intense debate by liberal political philosophers. As Wayne Norman suggests in Negotiating Nationalism, it is now useful to take stock and assess where this flurry of activity has taken us, and in doing so we can set his book in the context of two waves of work. The first involved philosophers in challenging complacent misconceptions concerning the nature of the state and of national identity that had been allowed to embed themselves in liberal democratic theory. As Norman puts it: ‘Philosophers in the “first wave” were faced with the burden of proving that it was not impossible to be a liberal and a nationalist at the same time’. 1 In this respect the first part of Norman’s book is largely a retrospective account setting his ideas in the context of those scholars of nationalism whose work has come to be known as ‘LiberalismII’. 2 This school emerged in response to developments in political practice, in particular the emergence of strong nationalist movements in what have come to be known as ‘multinational’ or ‘plurinational’ states such as Belgium, Spain, the UK and Canada.3 Indeed it is no surprise that many of the theorists of the new school of liberalism—including Norman himself—are Canadian, with their theoretical work developing in an environment of intense political dispute between Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-37
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Law Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • nationalism; national identity; liberal nationalism; constitutional accommodation; sovereignty


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