Summary of Brian Walker's contribution “Social Movements as Nationalisms, or, On the Very Idea of a Queer Nation”.
Search for a library with this book in your area (US, Canada): 




Rethinking Nationalism

Jocelyne Couture, Kai Nielsen, and Michel Seymour, editors

ISBN 0919491227
ISSN 0229-7051
5.5 x 8.5 in.
$30.00 paper

viii + 704 pages

Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume XXII (1996)

About the Book

A new and refreshing examination of the subject.

In the last two decades, nationalism has become a multiform and complex phenomenon which no longer seems to correspond to the accounts given previously by sociologists, political scientists and anthropologists. Students of nationalism now face the daunting task of renewing their subject matter.

This formidable volume of seventeen essays and an extensive Introduction and Afterword by the very capable editors, contains some of the most innovative samples of present reflection on this contentious subject. Moreover, contributions are from a variety of disciplines, from different parts of the world, often reflecting very different ways of thinking about nationalism and sometimes reflecting very different methodologies, substantive beliefs, and underlying interests.

Jocelyne Couture is a professor in the Department of Philosophy, Université du Québec à Montréal, where she teaches moral and political philosophy.

Kai Nielsen is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Calgary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University.

Michel Seymour is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Université de Montréal, where he teaches contemporary analytical philosophy.


Table of Contents

Michel Seymour,
with Jocelyne Couture
and Kai Nielsen
Questioning the Ethnic/Civic Dichotomy
PART I: Methodological Turnings
Yael Tamir
Theoretical Difficulties in the Study of Nationalism
Liah Greenfeld
Is Nationalism Legitimate?
A Sociological Perspective on a Philosophical Question
Barrington Moore, Jr.
How Ethnic Enmities End
Robert X. Ware
Nationalism and Social Complexity
PART II: Probing the Orthodox Dichotomy
André Van de Putte
Democracy and Nationalism
Frans De Wachter
In Search of a Post-National Identity: Who are my People?
Dominique Schnapper
Beyond the Opposition: Civic Nation versus Ethnic Nation
PART III: For and Against Nationalism
Geneviève Nootens
Liberal Restrictions on Public Arguments:
Can Nationalist Claims be Moral Reasons in Liberal Public Discourse?
David Miller
Secession and the Principle of Nationality
Allen Buchanan
What's So Special About Nations?
Omar Dahbour
The Nation-State as a Political Community:
A Critique of the Communitarian Argument for National Self-Determination
Andrew Levine
Just Nationalism: The Future of an Illusion
Harry Brighouse
Against Nationalism
Ross Poole
National Identity, Multiculturalism, and Aboriginal Rights:
An Australian Perspective
PART IV: Some Consequences of Nationalism
Carol A. L. Prager
Barbarous Nationalism and the Liberal International Order:
Reflections on the 'Is,' the 'Ought,' and the 'Can'
Thomas W. Pogge
The Bounds of Nationalism
Brian Walker
Social Movements as Nationalisms or, On the Very Idea of a Queer Nation
PART V: A Case Study
Joel Prager
"Seek Ye First the Economic Kingdom!"
In Search of a Rational Choice Interpretation of Quebec Nationalism
Jocelyne Couture
and Kai Nielsen,
with Michel Seymour
Liberal Nationalism Both Cosmopolitan and Rooted
Notes on Contributors



For information on how to order this book, please click here.


Brian Walker, “Social Movements as Nationalisms, or, On the Very Idea of a Queer Nation”

Introduction [p. 505]

Old nationalisms were racial or ethnic, but new nationalisms (such as those advocated by Kymlicka, Margalit and Raz and Margalit and Halbertal are culturalist.  BUT, if nations are defined culturally, three questions arise:

  1. which cultural groups deserve national rights?

  2. can territoriality be a criterion of a cultural group’s nationhood?

  3. should the fact that a culture is well-established prioritize it, or can newly-emerging nations count?

Culturalists have dodged the above questions by implicitly assuming that the stock of nations is constant and more-or-less overlaps old ethnic lines.  But they should, if they take culturalism seriously, abandon the old and allow all sorts of new ones in, whether or not they are established.  (In fact, the newer and more fragile they are, in theory, the more they need protecting, and if the rights granted to nations are specifically to protect fragile cultures, then the more novel ones, like Gay and Lesbian groups, are most in need.) 

Nationality Claims and Intergroup Politics [p. 510]

Theorists who defend nationalism have two tasks:

  1. JUSTIFICATION: why “one set of collectivities is justified in putting itself outside the normal bargaining games of a pluralist society” [p. 511]

  2. EXCLUSION: why other groups are not justified.

Three major “justificatory matrices”: Religious (e.g., Herder [p. 512]), Racial and now cultural

Cultural defense: cultures are like “environmental habitats” [p. 514] that play crucial roles in developing basic human capacities, in particular the kind of abilities that liberals value – the capacity to determine one’s life-plan and live autonomously, for example.  Furthermore, not just any culture will do, it has to be one’s own culture.

This is not a problem for members of the majority culture – it is practically impossible to isolate oneself from, e.g., mainstream US culture.  But, precisely for that reason, minority cultures are likely to be threatened.

HOWEVER, under the “fragile context of choice” rubric, FARMERS, FUNDAMENTALISTS and GAYS & LESBIANS appear to count.  Can culturalists find an exclusionary strategy to count them out?

The Very Idea of a Queer Nation [pp. 518]

Reasons to count gay nationalism as legitimate:

  1. All nationalisms began as social movements, which this is – it’s a people set apart from those around them by “in-group attitudes and discrimination from others”

  2. Has a culture

  3. Has a history (traceable back to ancient Greece at least)

  4. Has a literature

  5. Seeks access to “certain key levers of the state” to ensure survival (particularly given how much under attack they are by, e.g., religious groups)

Challenge: gay “culture” is much too thin in comparison with “real” national cultures.


a)      This underestimates depth of gay culture. [pp. 521-530]

1)      Gays have collectives, discussion groups, bookstores, magazines, political lobbying groups

2)      Gays are “unmoored” from mainstream culture by important differences in lifestyle, legal coverage, et al., which also makes developing a self-concept difficult.  Gay culture provides gays with a social good that others take for granted: a “sense of belonging” where there are “things that one doesn’t have to explain” [p. 527]

3)      Gays are victimized by others

4)      For reasons like (2) and (3), gays have a “duty of rescue” towards others

b)      Also overestimates depth of non-gay cultures
Gays don’t have “distinctive styles” of architecture or cuisine, but neither do the Quebecois (or the US)

Cultures in Diaspora [p. 537]

One could reject Gay and Lesbian claims to nationhood by arguing as follows:

  1. Gays and Lesbians are scattered rather than concentrated territorially, as traditional national groups tend to be

  2. Even supposing a part of Manhattan or San Francisco seceded and formed a Gay State, it would not address the needs of those Gays and Lesbians still dispersed among heteros (who might in fact be more vulnerable, as they are now an even less politically significant minority)

BUT: Problems with rejecting Gay nationhood as above:

  1. Even if separatism is an unrealistic option for Gays and Lesbians (because of their diasporic nature) that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have certain cultural-based rights, such as access to political influence, that a concentration strictly on nation-states ignores or precludes.

  2. Non-territorial diasporas make up legitimate nations (see Seton-Watson, Nations and States)

Problems with “ethno-territorial model” of nationhood:

This model associates nations with particular territories, and demands that the nations be allowed to leave a ‘cultural imprint’ e.g., by naming streets, etc.  BUT:

  1. nations often share territories with other groups, and would compromise their rights in so insisting

  2. this will also lead to political instability (look at Palestine and Israel)

  3. granting privileged status to groups with territory already seems to be favouring those already favoured: that is, if it’s the culture we’re interested in protecting, then those with territory already have a head start in protecting it.  Diasporas and emerging nations have greater need for political recognition because they’re more fragile, and don’t have a cultural imprint to fall back on.

Conclusion [pp. 543-547]

Modern communication technologies allow more and more scattered groups to identify themselves as cultures.  If, therefore, nationhood is culturalist, diasporic groups should be able to form nations.  With that in mind, we should move away from aspirations to territorial control for every nation (as this is impractical for diasporas) and concentrate on the right each cultural group has to the “common pot” to “promote their ways of seeing and living the world, thereby increasing their sense of self-respect and well-being” [p. 545].