BASS Sociology and Criminology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Politics and Philosophy of Nationalism

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI30191
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course unit aims to:

  • Introduce students to the study of nations and nationalism from both an empirical and a normative perspective.
  • Encourage students to explore the advantages and disadvantages of nationalism and national identity in light of recent history and current political developments.
  • Introduce students to contemporary normative debates on the political morality of nationalism and provide them with conceptual tools to engage in these debates in a theoretically sophisticated way.
  • Enable students to employ their conceptual and theoretical knowledge to explore possible solutions to contemporary political problems involving nationalist claims.
  • Deepen students’ understanding of the relationship between empirical and normative analyses of politics.
  • Sharpen students’ critical thinking and analytical skills.


The course will be taught in three blocks. The first block (topics 1-3) will cover the background historical and conceptual issues of which students need to have a basic grasp in order to engage with the rest of the course.  The second block (topics 4-7) will explore some of the foundational and therefore more abstract aspects of the political morality of nationalism, giving students a deep understanding of the form and content of various normative debates over national partiality and allegiance.  The third and final block (topics 8-10) will tackle more applied normative issues, encouraging students to use their conceptual and theoretical knowledge to explore some pressing real world problems including the issues of secession, civic education, and the potential role of nationalism in contemporary political debates.


Outline of topics:

Topic 1: A Brief History of Nations and Nationalism

Topic 2: The Psychology of Community

Topic 3: What is a Nation?

Topic 4: Patriotism: Nationalistic or Legalistic?

Topic 5: National Partiality

Topic 6: Particularism and Universalism

Topic 7: Why is Nationalism sometimes so bad?

Topic 8: Nationalism, Self-Determination and Secession

Topic 9: National Education and Civic Education

Topic 10: What Future for Nations and Nationalism?

Teaching and learning methods

The main teaching and learning methods will be interactive lectures and tutorials. In lectures, questions and criticisms will be welcomed.  By encouraging students to critically engage with the material in lectures the hope is that they will be inspired to spend more time on preparing for further, more detailed discussion and debate in tutorials. Tutorials will involve a mix of open discussion, small group work, and structured debates. The emphasis in tutorials will be on helping students formulate arguments in defence of their views and objections to the views of those they disagree with. We will also discuss in detail how to approach writing the short mid-module essay and the longer end-of-module essay.

Knowledge and understanding

Students should

  • Understand the main scholarly debates over what exactly nations and nationalism are.
  • Understand different theories about the intrinsic and instrumental value of community and solidarity in contemporary politics.
  • Understand the drawbacks and pitfalls of promoting or suppressing national identities.
  • Understand the role played by theories of moral psychology in the construction of normative political theories.
  • Understand what is at stake in the debates between cosmopolitans and nationalists over issues such as the content of the principles of social justice and the scope of democracy.
  • Understand how (if at all) claims of national partiality may legitimately be invoked by contemporary political movements when debating issues such as secession and the content of the national curriculum.

Intellectual skills

Intellectual skills: 

  • Develop historical knowledge and understanding of contemporary political debates.
  • Develop critical thinking skills (in the course of critically analysing, as well as constructing your own arguments).
  • Develop ability to manipulate empirical and normative material in order to formulate sophisticated arguments.

Practical skills

Practical skills: 

  • Develop oral skills (by means of general discussion in lectures and tutorials)
  • Develop written skills (by means of an assessed essay).
  • Develop reading skills (by means of careful study of the empirical and theoretical literature in preparation for lectures, tutorials and while writing essays).

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Transferable skills and personal qualities:  

  • Develop team-work skills (by means of a small group work in tutorials)

Assessment methods


1,400 word mid-module essay (35%)

2,600 words end-of module essay (65%)

Recommended reading


David Archard, ‘Myths, Lies and Historical Truth: a Defence of Nationalism’, Political Studies 43 (1995): 472-481.

Raymond Breton, 'From Ethnic to Civic Nationalism: the Case of Canada’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 11 (1), (1988): 91-112.

Rogers Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).

Craig Calhoun, ‘Imagining Solidarity: Cosmopolitanism, Constitutional Patriotism, and the Public Sphere,’ Public Culture, 14 (1), (2002): 147–171.

Margaret Canovan, Nationhood and Political Theory, (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1996).

Lior Erez, ‘Anti-Cosmopolitanism and the Motivational Preconditions for Social Justice’, Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 43, No. 2 (April 2017): 249–282

Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap between Us and Them, (London: Atlantic Books, 2014).

Jonathan Glover, ‘Nations, Identity and Conflict’, in Robert McKim and Jeff McMahan (eds.), The Morality of Nationalism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp.11-30.

Attracta Ingram, ‘Constitutional patriotism,’ Philosophy & Social Criticism, 22 (6), (1996): 1–18.

Justine Lacroix, ‘For a European Constitutional Patriotism,’ Political Studies, 50 (5), (2002): 944–958.

Andrew Mason, ‘Political Community, Liberal-Nationalism and the Ethics of Assimilation,’ Ethics, 109, (1999): 261–286.

Avishai Margalit and Joseph Raz, ‘National Self-Determination’, The Journal of Philosophy, 87 (9), (1990): 439-461.

Jeff McMahan, ‘The Limits of National Partiality’, in Robert McKim and Jeff McMahan (eds.), The Morality of Nationalism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997): 107-138.

David Miller, ‘In Defence of Nationality’, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol.10, No. 1, (1993): 3-16.

Cecilia Hyunjung Mo and Katharine M. Conn, ‘When Do the Advantaged See the Disadvantages of Others? A Quasi-Experimental Study of National Service’, American Political Science Review, 112 (4), (2018): 721–741.

Margaret Moore, ed., National Self-Determination and Secession, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Chantal Mouffe, For a Left Populism, (London: Verso, 2018).

Kai Nielsen, ‘Cosmopolitanism, Universalism and Particularism in the Age of Nationalism and Multiculturalism,’ Philosophical Exchange, 29, (1998–99): 3–34.

Kai Nielsen, ‘Cultural Nationalism: Neither Ethnic nor Civic’, in Theorizing Nationalism, ed. Ronald Beiner (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999): 119–30.

Efraim Podoksik, ‘What is a Nation in Nationalism?’ The Journal of Political Philosophy, 25 (3), (2017): 303-323.

Amelie Rorty, ‘The Hidden Politics of Cultural Identification’, Political Theory 22, (1994): 152-166

Anthony Smith, ‘National Identity and Vernacular Mobilization in Europe,’ Nations and Nationalism, 17 (2), (2011): 223–256.

Anna Stilz, Liberal Loyalty, (Princeton:

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Child Unit coordinator

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