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`Nationalism and liberalism are incompatible with multiculturalism.'
How far do you agree with this assertion?
Multiculturalism initially appears to be incompatible with nationalism and liberalism due to the
conflicting tenets of the ideologies. Nationalism promotes social cohesion and unity through common
norms and values shared by a group of people. Multiculturalism seeks to undermine this by
promoting cultural diversity. On the other hand, liberalism seeks to promote the division between
the public and private sphere, allowing the individual more autonomy over their private lives.
However, doctrines such as `positive discrimination' seek to blur these distinctions and it can be
argued that multiculturalism hinders the sovereignty and rights of the individual by intervening in the
personal lives of an individual. Nevertheless, nationalism and liberalism are compatible with
multiculturalism; there is some common ground between the ideologies, especially with liberalism
The obvious distinctions between nationalism and multiculturalism can lead to the assumption
that the two ideologies are not compatible. Conservative nationalists argue that shared values
between a people are the determining factor in ensuring a stably organic society. Multiculturalists
refute this. They argue that, whilst conservative nationalists claim multiculturalist societies are
fractured, evidence in David Cameron's "Multiculturalism has failed" speech, that cultural diversity is
in fact more beneficial to society than a singular, homogenous common culture as the ideology
combines unity with diversity, rather than viewing distinctive cultures as opposing forces.
Nonetheless, conservative nationalists maintain that multiculturalism encourages cultural
heterogeneity and that cannot create and unify a nation, therefore conservative nationalism is
fundamentally incompatible with multiculturalism. This leads to the conservative nationalist criticism
of mass immigration and has lead to a growing Euroscepticism within Britain. In addition to this,
ethnonationalism cannot be viewed as compatible with multiculturalism, on similar grounds. The
belief that a nation is determined by ethnicity encompasses a level of cultural identity, as identified
by Jerry Muller: "Nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common
language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry." Taken to the extreme, this is evidenced in
Adolf Hitler's persecution of the Jews, whom he argued undermined the unity of the Volk because of
their ethnic and cultural heritage.
However, although conservative nationalism and ethnonationalism are evidently
incompatible with multiculturalism, there are ideological traditions within nationalism which can
sympathise with multiculturalism. Nationalist multiculturalists such as Canadian W. Wesley Pue argue
that cultures can be viewed as existing within a larger nation rather than as self-governing political
entities, hence why "Canadians have made great efforts to incorporate an embrace of diversity into
their national mythologies". Should this nationalist multiculturalist perspective be the case, then the
ideological aim of multiculturalism, to achieve diversity within a unified society, appears achievable
by following the doctrines of this ideological tradition; nations can be defined by broader political
allegiances that do not conflict against cultural difference. Similarly, liberal nationalism is compatible
with multiculturalism in some respects. Yael Tamir describes liberal nationalism as "portraying an
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This doctrine of individual choice is central to the ideological tradition, which dictates that people
have the choice to enter the citizenship of a nation without losing any identity. This is the divide
between the public and private sphere; in private an individual can prescribe to any culture they wish,
whereas in public they prescribe to the civic values imposed by the society they have adopted into.
Therefore, according to Jabri, "[Liberal] nationalism is based upon citizenship, democracy and
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The primary aspect of liberalism which creates compatibility with multiculturalism
is the belief that multicultural societies can only flourish under liberal democracies, in which personal
freedom and tolerance is espoused and guaranteed under a liberal constitution.
In conclusion, it is evident that there are tensions between nationalism and multiculturalism as
well as between liberalism and multiculturalism; more radical ideological traditions within the
philosophies contradict each other and present the façade that the ideologies are incompatible.
However, this is not the case.…read more