Postnationalism Research Paper

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The term postnationalism refers to the critique of the concept of the nation as the central organizing principle of modern political identity and government. According to postnationalism, the category of the nation is no longer sufficient to describe the fundamentals of political identity  or  state government. In  a postnational  context it becomes necessary to move beyond the idea that a homogeneous national identity is the natural integrating factor of modern political community. Further, postnationalism questions the idea that the sovereign nation-state is indispensable to the order of international affairs and the functioning of the domestic rule of law.

The Critique  of Nationalism

Postnationalism arose out of the critique of nationalism. It was only at the end of the eighteenth century that citizenship and national identity came together, in the figure of nationalism, for the functional purpose of providing a principle of integration that could serve to mobilize the transition from royal sovereignty to popular sovereignty. Nationalism provided the solution to the twin problems of secular legitimation and  complex integration in the wake of religious schism and republican revolution.

While  citizenship describes a  purely legal relation within a political community, in modern times the tendency has been to tie it to an identity that points beyond the political sphere. Political membership based upon the principle of a unique national culture presupposes an existential difference between peoples. According to this logic, in order for a nation to be free it must remain homogenous and independent from alien influence, necessitating not only separation but also suspicion of others as corrupting forces. According to this logic, diversity becomes a threat. The concept of postnationalism seeks to break this tie between citizenship and ethnic identity or existential difference. The use of postnationalism, in this sense, is most common in debates about the future of Europe and the European Union.

The Demise of the Nationstate

Postnationalism also arose from the critique of the nationstate. A large literature surrounding the topic of “globalization” has called into question the institutional capacity of the nation-state to fulfill its role as an all-encompassing form of political organization. As a result of globalization, the  world’s political, economic, cultural, technological, and military forces have established connections across national borders with increasing facility. Beyond the borders of the nation-state, transnational institutional authorities have emerged and become increasingly powerful. External authorities have a growing influence over the internal affairs of states, and traditional understandings of state sovereignty have been called into question by the growth of international systems of decision making, law, and security. Thus the proliferation of international decision-making bodies has tended to extend the sphere of authority beyond the nation-state. The consolidation of the World Trade Organization, for example, signifies the appearance of an international institution that claims the authority to overrule national governments. As a result, some have argued that the twenty-first century will be an era of postnationalism, in which regional organizations, such as the European Union, or international organizations, such as the United Nations, will be the principal organs of political authority, rather than the nation-state.


  1. Archibugi, Daniele, David Held, and Martin Köhler, 1998. Re-imagining Political Community: Studies in Cosmopolitan Democracy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  2. Habermas, Jürgen. The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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