Is liberal nationalism the antidote to illiberalism?


National Endowment for Democracy

The challenges facing Western liberal democracies today are serious enough to recall Europe’s descent into tyranny in the 1930s and should inspire mobilization to prevent any recurrence, argues Oxford University’s Chris Patten. 

Some now see a clash between illiberal democracy and undemocratic liberalism. Elites are thought to want to curb what they see as the irrational and undeliverable hopes of the majority, while the majority fights to overturn the checks and balances that moderate the popular will. Two other issues further discredited democratic governments, he writes for Project Syndicate:

  • First, social inequity grew alarmingly in many countries, most notably the United States, leading citizens to question whether they lived in fair societies.
  • Second, migration from poorer to richer countries, fueled by poverty and demographic factors, created tensions in developed economies. Living standards were squeezed, and people postponed their hopes for a better quality of life.

A liberal national state combines an unapologetic preservation of, and reverence for, national symbols and traditions, with an absolute commitment to liberal democratic principles. This is important particularly when we are juxtaposing it with the illiberal nationalism of Hungary or Poland, argues Paul Gross, a senior fellow at the Menachem Begin Center.

So if we are looking to liberal nationalism to answer the question posed by illiberal nationalismmust a liberal nationalist state be a liberal democratic state? he asks in The American Interest:

The short answer is that liberal nationalism requires democracy in order to function as it should. Liberalism itself is at its best and at its most effective in concert with democracy. The nationalism that liberal nationalists are looking to promote can only really operate in a system where citizens of a nation-state feel involved in civic life and empowered to influence politics.

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