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Liberal nationalism, also known as civic nationalism or civil nationalism, is a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. Ernest Renan and John Stuart Mill are often thought to be early liberal nationalists. Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly.
Liberal nationalism is the form of nationalism where the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry (see popular sovereignty), to the degree that it represents the "general will". It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract.
Liberal nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary, as in Ernest 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". 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).
States in which civic forms of nationalism predominate are often (but not always) ex-settler colonies such as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, in which ethnic nationalism is difficult to construct on account of the diversity of ethnicities within the state. A notable exception is India, an ex-plantation colony, where civic nationalism has predominated due to the country's linguistic, religious and ethnic diversity. Civic-nationalist states are often characterized by adoption of the jus soli (law of the soil) for granting citizenship in the country, deeming all persons born within the integral territory of the state citizens and members of the nation, regardless of their parents' origin. This serves to link national identity not with a people but rather with the territory and its history, and the history of previous occupants of the territory unconnected to the current occupants are often appropriated for national myths.
In the United Kingdom, the following parties can be considered civic nationalist: the Conservative Party who advocate British Unionism, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales), which advocate independence from the United Kingdom, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which supports a United Ireland, and Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein, which also supports a united Ireland could also be considered civic nationalist. Also, civic nationalism in post-Soviet Ukraine has prevailed since the Orange Revolution. Outside Europe, it has also been used to describe the Civil war era Republican party in the United States. This is in contrast to ethnic nationalist political parties like the far-right British National Party and many nationalist parties found elsewhere in Europe. The SNP and Plaid Cymru were the first political parties to field elected candidates of an ethnic minority background in the devolved institutions of their respective nations – Bashir Ahmad in the Scottish Parliament, Mohammad Asghar in the Welsh Assembly (however, he has since defected to the Welsh Conservatives, and declared his support for British Unionism); both are Muslims of origin from British India (and both within modern-day Pakistan).
See also 
- National liberalism
- National conservatism
- Left-wing nationalism
- Civil society
- Community of place
- Imagined community
- Social geography
- Cultural nationalism
- Tamir, Yael. 1993. Liberal Nationalism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07893-9; Will Kymlicka. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-827949-3; David Miller. 1995. On Nationality. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-828047-5.
- Renan, Ernest. 1882. "Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?"
- Mill, John Stuart. 1861. Considerations on Representative Government.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?"
- Kesavan, Mukul (2007-08-15). "India's model democracy". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-08-20.