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Urbano Ferrer Santos

​On the moral valuation of nationalisms

Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Murcia

Making an axiological-moral judgment of a historical event -singular and contingent as all of them are- has the difficulty of having to relate general evaluative principles with a reality in which different variables converge (in our case, the nation, the state and sovereignty), which, in addition, are subject to fluctuations from one period to another. As well as adapting value judgments appropriate to them, that is to say, ones applicable to a historical-political analysis that is also required to delimit the precise contours of what is going to be judged. This is a complex task that overwhelms us and to which I only intend to make some limited contribution.

Nacion estado

From the outset, we find that the nation is an ambivalent term whose meanings have basically gone from a cultural community to a political object that enjoys sovereignty - sometimes even comprising a diversity of confederate states. Until well into the nineteenth century, we did not go on to designate what Mazzini advocated with the slogan "one nation, one state!", leaving in ambiguity whether it was the nation that was to be endowed with a state or if it was the state already constituted to which a nation had to be assigned (both eventualities have occurred historically).

From this situation it is clear that there are two traits that allow us to identify the ethos of a nation: to be a pre-political community of belonging, not based on a conventional stipulation, but on constitutive ties, as is also the case in the family, but, unlike the family community, have historical-cultural links in a quite broad sense (from what were university corporations in the late Middle Ages to a territory unified by a language and a common project over time compatible with regional diversity). As a unit that precedes its members and nurtures them, the moral virtue towards it is piety, according to Thomas Aquinas, in a similar way -although not identical- with that professed to parents or teachers; and as a task entrusted to them, what it demands from fellow nationals the general public is solidarity, which is the condition for its continuance. 

The lack of affection for the homeland and the idolatry or conversion of this affection into something absolute, of what a god is made of, are the two extremes, viciously opposed to each other.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, the nation behaved as an integrator, but later with the partition carried out in Europe by Woodrow Wilson in 1918 and then after the agreements of Yalta in 1945, the division in twenty-two nations was reached, imposed by the victorious allied powers. If we add to this the threats of homogenization due to the post-industrial era, the lack of colonizing agents that galvanized the national will, or the multiethnic pluralities in the same land, we find some of the factors that have contributed to the fact that in the future nations have appeared that excluding nationalist movements, to the point that today there is no European nation that, in one way or another, does not harbour any emergence of secession.

The term nationalism is often used from a political standpoint, with the claim of emancipation of the nation of origin into a more or less discernable term.

What is the principle on which the legality of political sovereignty is based in general? Given that the political authority is unquestionable in its order, such a principle will have to take into account the limits and responsibilities inherent in its exercise, beyond the de facto limitations imposed by international relations and by the democratically-expressed will of the nation's inhabitants. It is the ethical-political principle of subsidiarity, according to which the most encompassing communities are at the service of the lesser or those at the lowest level, so that the functions that may be carried out by the latter are not taken over by higher authority. This principle is a fundamental part of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. With it, the totalitarian temptation of all political power is avoided, be it in the form of perpetuating itself, or of the invasion of powers or in losing the awareness of the ethical limits of its own power.

The substantive principle in which the subsidiarity is framed is that of service to the common good. Here we could consider the difficulty of making it compatible with the characteristic that defines the political, by differentiating it from the other sovereign nations. However, I understand that the good of the nation is a common good historically forged by centuries of coexistence. This idea is transferable to every human community, whether it has the same political jurisdiction or if it is applied to a different sovereign nation. Although there are more or less haphazard conditioning factors, even due to the outcome of a military conflict in the inception of some nations, the fact is that because they have endured and have carried out joint ventures, they have cohesion as nations that it is the origin of specific reciprocal loyalties in those they comprise. 

In a similar way, how we belong to a family is independent of the reasons that led the parents to form the very same family.

I believe that contemporary events such as the delocalisation of markets, globalisation at different levels (ecological, globalisation of communications, armament, and so on) do not suppress the structure of nations and states, although they place it in new coordinates, and it causes those that safeguard their own to do so more jealously, and pose new challenges for the latter. Once a nation is constituted and the sovereignty of the states is situated within their ethical limits, in no way usurping the cultural peculiarities of the nations, the claim of sovereignty in a new community integrated in a state goes further than its legitimate affirmation as an exceptional contribution to the common good. The differential cultural subsoil does not legitimize sovereignty and political independence, if there has not been previously a colonial structure or a subjugation; in these cases the legitimate reaction would have to be carried out through internationally-recognized legal and institutional channels



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