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Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community

Nationalism is one of modern history’s great surprises. How is it that the nation, a relatively old form of community, has risen to such prominence in an era so strongly identified with the individual? Bernard Yack argues that it is the inadequacy of our understanding of community—and especially the moral psychology that animates it—that has made this question so difficult to answer.

Yack develops a broader and more flexible theory of community and shows how to use it in the study of nations and nationalism. What makes nationalism such a powerful and morally problematic force in our lives is the interplay of old feelings of communal loyalty and relatively new beliefs about popular sovereignty. By uncovering this fraught relationship, Yack moves our understanding of nationalism beyond the oft-rehearsed debate between primordialists and modernists, those who exaggerate our loss of individuality and those who underestimate the depth of communal attachments.

A brilliant and compelling book, Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community sets out a revisionist conception of nationalism that cannot be ignored.

344 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory

Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology


“A long-awaited and important book on the ethics of nationalism. The content is original and insightful, sustained throughout by Bernard Yack’s addressing of issue after issue, both in theoretical and practical terms, and doing so with enormous background knowledge of political theorists, past and present, and—crucially—with a sense of social reality.”

John A. Hall, McGill University

"By conceiving of nations as species of communities and communities bonded by feelings of special mutual concern and loyalty, rather than abstract principles of equal concern and respect, Bernard Yack provides fresh and enduring insights into the power, problems and prospects of nationalism."

Rogers M. Smith, University of Pennsylvania

"Nationalism has rarely drawn an attention from political theorists commensurate with its very large place in our political existence as we actually live it. Bernard Yack is determined to put this right. Yack’s thoughtfulness and clarity as well as his broad reading and acute historical sense, and especially his talent for redrawing received conceptual maps, are exactly what we need in order to give the politics of nationalism the more concerted theoretical attention it clearly deserves."

Ronald Beiner, University of Toronto

"Imagine the rarely found political philosopher who continually invites the facts of the paradoxes of our existence to properly complicate political philosophy, and you have fortunately found Bernard Yack. For Yack, to understand the moral psychology of the nation as a form of the social friendship of community, one must take into account the complexity that is expressed in the historical relation between nationality and the liberal tradition, including the dilemma of the moral value of what Yack calls “contingent communities.” In this measured, sensible, and convincing analysis of nationalism and its relation to popular sovereignty, one has a valuable contribution that moves our understanding of nationality and nationalism forward."

Steven Grosby, author of Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction

"In this nuanced, sophisticated work, Bernard Yack directs his attention to the theoretical study of nationalism, arguing that the continued prevalence of nationalist loyalties constitutes a practical challenge to the alleged contemporary ascendancy of liberal values over primordial notions of communal collective being. This thoughtful work will greatly enrich readers’ understanding of the political community, helping them to grasp the ways in which even the most abstract universal political principles are historically and culturally rooted. Highly recommended."


 “The study of nationalism is addicted to dichotomies: civic versus ethnic, lateral versus demotic, political versus cultural, voluntaristic versus organic, and so forth. It is understandable. Considering a multifaceted phenomenon with so many diverse manifestations, managing the data by categorization is a natural human response. Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community by Bernard Yack should be adopted as one of the steps needed to cure us of this addiction.”

Perspectives on Politics

“This important book takes up some of the most significant explanatory and normative questions posed by the persistence of nationalism. . . . Normative political theorists will benefit especially form the breadth of Yack’s scholarship, his deeper than usual engagement with nationalism studies, and his innovative mapping of the conceptual terrain.”

Political Studies Review

“This is an excellent and far-reaching book, . . . [and it] fills an important gap in the political theory literature which has hitherto tended to ignore nationalism. . . . Yack’s highly plausible explanation for the recurring power of nationalism in the modern era answer a number of questions that continue to preoccupy scholars.”

Review of Politics

“Yack has written one of the most interesting and thoughtful books about nationalism that I have read in a long time. The book is a fine achievement, and it should be read by anybody who wants to understand the deeper origins of the ethical dilemmas that nationalism poses for us today.”

Political Theory

“An insightful book that prompts the reader to redefine some of the basic understandings that liberals use to argue against nationalism.”

Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Yack, an eminent political theorist, . . . synthesize[s] many of the debates, clarif[ies] the issues, and offer[s] a more adequate, integrated theory of nationalism. He offers a well-written, sophisticated argument that we need to better understand communities and the ‘moral psychology’ that animates them. . . . For scholars who are working on nationalism, especially theoretical questions concerning morality, this book may be quite useful in trying to conceptualize nations, peoples, and nationalism, or considering the debates between primordialists and modernists, popular democracy and support for illiberal forms of governance.”

Contemporary Sociology

Table of Contents


Part One

Chapter One. The Myth of the Civic Nation
Chapter Two. The Moral Psychology of Community
Chapter Three. What Then Is a Nation?
Chapter Four. The People, the Nation, and the Nation-State
Chapter Five. Legitimacy and Loyalty: Making Sense of Nationalism
Chapter Six. Popular Sovereignty and the Rise of Nationalism

Part Two
Introduction to Part Two

Chapter Seven. The Moral Value of Contingent Communities
Chapter Eight. National Loyalty and Liberal Principles
Chapter Nine. The Moral Problem with Nationalism
Chapter Ten. What’s Wrong with National Rights to Self-Determination
Chapter Eleven. Cosmopolitan Humility and Its Price
Chapter Twelve. Learning to Live with Nationalism


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