Nationalism and International Order
- 21 November 2018 - 23 November 2018
- Gravensteen Building
2311 SR Leiden
Nationalism is commonly regarded as posing a challenge to international stability and regional and global order more generally. Arguably, nationalism encourages narrowly defined and zero-sum security policies; it works against compromises and consensus; it undermines international trust and cooperation. Nationalist movements and states are considered to pose serious challenges to existing states and international order.
However, there is much to be said for the opposite too. Enshrining the corner stone of international relations —the sovereignty of the national state— nationalism possibly contributed more than any other political idea to the development and the stability of international order. Euro-scepticism, secessionism or irredentism and other manifestations of resistance against national and international integration do not alter the crucial role of the national state in international relations, or of the global system as such.
In other words, we are left to wonder what implications nationalism precisely has for the future of international cooperation and multilateralism, of regionalism and the international order writ large. Nationalism has been an under-theorized concept in International Relations research, leaving us scant guidance as to how to understand major challenges in current international politics. This conference aims to fill this gap. It intends to take stock of existing ideas on the nexus between nationalism and international order; it aims to identify major gaps in empirical research; and it aspires to contribute to the theorization of international relations and global politics.
We conceptualize international order as an actor-driven process of ordering, which unfolds according to the distribution of material resources in combination with the ideational preferences of major actors. The argument for focusing on nationalism rests on three prongs: its importance to international order, the relative lack of coverage of the topic in current literature, and its relevance to contemporary international affairs. Our notion of nationalism encompasses broader concepts of group identity (based on civilization, cultural, racial, or other exclusive discourses) and how they have influenced regional and international order. This allows us to extend our zone of inquiry both temporally and spatially, exploring examples from before the modern era (nationalisms before nations) and from outside of the West. We are also explicitly interested in exploring notions of nationalism among non-state actors. Modern communication technology creates the possibility of imagined communities which transcend or ignore the borders of territorial states, which we consider as a fascinating, alternative way of understanding the challenge posed by nationalism to the current international order (ISIS being a recent example).
In general, nationalism is under-theorized and explored in IR literature. In 1993 James Mayall deplored the ‘absence of an authoritative account of its international impact’, and one has yet to emerge. There are still few comprehensive attempts to take stock of the insights of nationalism literature on international relations. There does not exist any systematic, comparative explanation of how various IR theories have dealt with the issue of nationalism and recent major synoptic treatments of both nationalism and of IR theory more broadly do not explicitly discuss their interrelationship.