Civic nationalism, otherwise known as democratic nationalism, is a form of nationalism that adheres to traditional liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights, and is not based on ethnocentrism.[1][2] Civic nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need it as a partial shared aspect of their identity (an upper identity) in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives[3] and that democratic polities need a national identity to function properly.[4] Liberal nationalism is used in the same sense as 'civic nationalism', but liberal ethnic nationalism also exists,[5][6] and "state nationalism" is a branch of civic nationalism, but it can also be illiberal.

Civic nationhood is a political identity built around shared citizenship within the state. Thus, a "civic nation" defines itself not by culture but by political institutions and liberal principles, which its citizens pledge to uphold. Membership in the civic nation is open to every person by citizenship, regardless of culture or ethnicity; those who share these values are considered members of the nation.[7]

In theory, a civic nation or state does not aim to promote one culture over another.[7] German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has argued that immigrants to a liberal-democratic state need not assimilate into the host culture but only accept the principles of the country's constitution (constitutional patriotism).[7]

Civic nationalism is frequently contrasted with ethnic nationalism. According to the American professor Donald Ipperciel, civic nationalism historically was a determining factor in the development of modern constitutional and democratic forms of government, whereas ethnic nationalism has been more associated with authoritarian rule and even dictatorship.[8] Indeed, the 20th-century revival of civic nationalism played a key role in the ideological war against racism.[9] However, as Umut Özkirimli states, "civic" nations can be as intolerant and cruel as the so-called "ethnic" nations, citing French Jacobin techniques of persecution that were utilized by 20th-century fascists.[10] Some argue civic nationalism inevitably involves an underlying ethnic concept of national belonging because abstract values cannot be related to a specific place.[11]


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Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Ernest Renan is often thought to be an early civic nationalist.[12] Philosopher Hans Kohn was one of the first to differentiate civic nationalism from ethnic nationalism in his 1944 publication The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origins and Background.[13] Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary, as in Renan's classical definition in "Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?" of the nation as a "daily referendum" characterized by the "will to live together".[14] Some authors criticize that definition used by Renan, based on a "daily referendum", because of the ambiguity of the concept and its idealization. They argue that the arguments used by Renan at the conference "What is a Nation?" are not consistent with his thinking.[15] Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France (see the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789).[16]

The Corsican nationalist movement organized around the FLNC is giving a civic definition of the Corsican nation ("destiny community") in the continuity of Pasquale Paoli and the ideas of the Lumières.

The Scottish National Party[17][18][19] and Plaid Cymru,[19] which advocate independence of their respective nations from the United Kingdom, proclaim themselves to be civic nationalist parties, in which they advocate the independence and popular sovereignty of the people living in their nation's society, not individual ethnic groups.

The Republican Left of Catalonia supports a civic Catalan independentism and defends a Catalan Republic based on republicanism and civic values within a diverse society.[20]

The Union of Cypriots define its ideology as Cypriot nationalism,[21] a civic nationalism that focuses on the shared identity of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. It highlights both communities' common culture, heritage and traditions as well as economic, political, and social rights. It also supports the reunification of Cyprus and the end of foreign interference by Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.[22]

Outside Europe, it has also been used to describe the Republican Party in the United States during the Civil War Era.[23]

Civic nationalism shares elements of the Swiss concept of Willensnation [de], which is German for "nation by will", coined by Carl Hilty, understood as shared experience and dedication by citizens.[citation needed]


Yael Tamir has argued that the differences between ethnic and civic nationalism are blurred. She posits: "By waving the civic flag, Western democracies pretend to be more peaceful and inclusive than they really are, fostering a self-image that allows them to exonerate themselves, leaving them unprepared to deal with internal conflicts".[24]

The distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism has also been criticized by scholars like Bernard Yack[25] and Umut Özkırımlı.[26] Yack rejects Renan's notion of "voluntary" civic nationality as an illusion, arguing this "misrepresents political reality as surely as the ethnonationalist myths it is designed to combat", going on to state how cultural memories form an inseparable part of every national political identity.[25]

Quoting Rogers Brubaker, Özkırımlı argues:

Since all nations lay claim to a unique place in history and to certain boundaries, all national identities are exclusionary. In that sense, all nations are ethnic nations [...] Brubaker elaborates on this, claiming that there are two different ways of mapping culture onto the ethnic-civic distinction. Ethnic nationalism may be interpreted narrowly, as involving an emphasis on descent. In this case, Brubaker argues, there is very little ethnic nationalism around, since on this view an emphasis on common culture has to be coded as a species of civic nationalism. If, however, ethnic nationalism is interpreted broadly, as ethnocultural, while civic nationalism is interpreted narrowly, as involving a cultural conception of citizenship, the problem is the opposite: 'civic nationalism gets defined out of existence, and virtually all nationalisms would be coded as ethnic or cultural'. Even the paradigmatic cases of civic nationalism, France and America, would cease to count as civic nationalism, since they have a crucial cultural component.

— Umut Özkırımlı, Contemporary Debates on Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, pp.24-5

Following Brubaker, John Etherington demonstrates how civic nationalism inevitably involves an underlying ethnic concept of national belonging. Because supposed civic values are abstract, universal and thus open to all, "they cannot be related to a specific place – the national homeland. Thus, any civic conception of the nation is dependent on a prior ethnic conception because of the need to establish who belongs to the nation and its homeland and who does not".[27]

See also


  1. ^ Auer, Stefan (2004). Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe. Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 1134378602. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  2. ^ Tamir, Yael. 1993. Liberal Nationalism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07893-9[page needed]; Will Kymlicka. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-827949-3[page needed]; David Miller. 1995. On Nationality. Archived 1 June 2000 at the Wayback Machine Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-828047-5.
  3. ^ Kymlicka, Will. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-827949-3. For criticism, see: Patten, Alan. 1999. "The Autonomy Argument for Liberal Nationalism." Nations and Nationalism. 5(1): 1-17.
  4. ^ Miller, David. 1995. On Nationality. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-828047-5. For criticism, see: Abizadeh, Arash. 2002. "Does Liberal Democracy Presuppose a Cultural Nation? Four Arguments." American Political Science Review 96 (3): 495-509; Abizadeh, Arash. 2004. "Liberal Nationalist versus Postnational Social Integration." Nations and Nationalism 10(3): 231-250.
  5. ^ Glenn Drover; Graham Johnson; Julia Lai Po-Wah Tao (2001). Regionalism and Subregionalism in East Asia: The Dynamics of China. Nova Science. p. 101.
  6. ^ Mark Hewitson; Timothy Baycroft (2001). What Is a Nation?; Europe 1789-1914. OUP Oxford. p. 180.
  7. ^ a b c ANNA STILZ. "Civic Nationalism and Language Policy". Philosophy & Public Affairs. 37 (3): 257.
  8. ^ Ipperciel, Donald (2007). "Constitutional democracy and civic nationalism". Nations and Nationalism. 13 (3). Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism: 395–416. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2007.00293.x. ISSN 1469-8129.
  9. ^ Nancy Foner; Patric Simon (2015). Fear, Anxiety, and National Identity Immigration and Belonging in North America and Western Europe. Russell Sage Foundation. p. 38. ISBN 9781610448536.
  10. ^ Özkirimli, Umut (2005). Contemporary Debates on Nationalism: A Critical Introduction (1st ed.). London: Red Globe Press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 9780333947739.
  11. ^ Etherington, John (2007). "Nationalism, Exclusion and Violence: A Territorial Approach". Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism. 7 (3): 24–44. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9469.2007.tb00160.x. Retrieved 20 February 2024. p.31
  12. ^ Ernest Renan. "What is a Nation?", 1882; cf. Chaim Gans, The Limits of Nationalism, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 11.
  13. ^ Tamir, Yael (Yuli) (11 May 2019). "Not So Civic: Is There a Difference Between Ethnic and Civic Nationalism?". Annual Review of Political Science. 22 (1): 419–434. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-022018-024059. ISSN 1094-2939.
  14. ^ Renan, Ernest (11 March 1882). "What Is A Nation" (PDF). UCParis. Retrieved 29 November 2022.
  15. ^ Azurmendi, Joxe (2014): Historia, arraza, nazioa . Donostia, Elkar. ISBN 978-84-9027-297-8
  16. ^ Michael Keating (1996). Nations Against the State The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 6. ISBN 9780230374348.
  17. ^ Michael O'Neill (2004). Devolution and British Politics. Pearson/Longman. pp. 92–. ISBN 978-0-582-47274-7.
  18. ^ Trevor C. Salmon; Mark F. Imber (6 June 2008). Issues In International Relations. Taylor & Francis. pp. 50–. ISBN 978-0-203-92659-8.
  19. ^ a b Brubaker, Rogers (2004). Ethnicity Without Groups. Harvard University Press. p. 134. ISBN 0674015398.
  20. ^ "Els valors republicans com a pilar de la nostra societat" (in Catalan).
  21. ^ Aldrich, Alan (17 August 2018). "Cypriotism in the Twenty-First Century". Bella Caledonia. Scotland. Archived from the original on 21 August 2018. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  22. ^ Colin Hay; Anand Menon (18 January 2007). European Politics. OUP Oxford. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-19-928428-3.
  23. ^ Snay, Mitchell (2007). Fenians, Freedmen, and Southern Whites: Race and Nationality in the Era of Reconstruction. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 9780807132739.
  24. ^ Tamir, Yael (Yuli) (2019). "Not So Civic: Is There a Difference Between Ethnic and Civic Nationalism?". Annual Review of Political Science. 22 (1): 419–434. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-022018-024059. ISSN 1094-2939.
  25. ^ a b Yack, Bernard (1996). "The myth of the civic nation". Critical Review. 10 (2): 193–211. doi:10.1080/08913819608443417.
  26. ^ Özkırımlı, Umut. (2005). Contemporary Debates on Nationalism: A Critical Introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  27. ^ Etherington, John (2007). "Nationalism, Exclusion and Violence: A Territorial Approach". Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism. 7 (3): 24–44. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9469.2007.tb00160.x. Retrieved 20 February 2024. p.31