Discordant World of ‘Unknown Nations’: The Problem of Ethicization of National Identity

DOI10.1177/00208817211027445
Date01 July 2021
Publication Date01 July 2021
AuthorMirko Tasic
SubjectResearch Articles
https://doi.org/10.1177/00208817211027445
International Studies
58(3) 283 –301 2021
© 2021 Jawaharlal Nehru University
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DOI: 10.1177/00208817211027445
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Research article
Discordant World of
‘Unknown Nations’: The
Problem of Ethicization
of National Identity
Mirko Tasic1
Abstract
This article explores the reasons for adopting a particular interpretation of
national identity and the dynamics of external and internal forces in determining
a nation’s ‘ethical history’. The main analysis introduces conceptual innovations
related to the problem of ethical cognition through which national identity is
being determined based on cognitively unclarified determinants—in this study
referred to as the EDCUD paradox. In this regard, the process of ethicization of
national identity and the paradox of ethical cognition that emerges in the pursuit
of its understanding has been identified as one of the main reasons behind the
misuse of national identity in international relations. With that in mind, this study
has attempted to create a theoretical setting that would help the analysis of
individual cases of national identity in further research.
Keywords
Nationalism, national identity, intra-state conflict, ethical history, EDCUD
paradox, ethicization, ethical cognition
Introduction
In the aftermath of the post-Cold War cosmopolitanism and regional integration,
the world is again confronted with the dreadful face of realism. Everything seems
to be reminiscent of the early 20th century, marked by the weakening of the ruling
hegemony, trade wars and the intense militarization of the leading powers.
Although the prospect of maintaining international peace and security is not so
bleak as a result of the reduction of inter-state wars, one should not be overly
1 Lecturer, Department of History, Politics and International Relations, Webster University,
Bangkok, Thailand.
Corresponding author:
Mirko Tasic, Department of History, Politics and International Relations, Webster University,
Tambon Sampraya Am Phoe Cha-am Phetchaburi 76120, Thailand.
E-mail: tasicm@webster.ac.th
284 International Studies 58(3)
optimistic as intra-state conflicts are on the rise (UCDP/PRIO, 2009). This type of
conflict has contributed to the creation of a new concept of threat, marked by the
escalation of terrorism, anarchism and strengthening of right-wing political
aspirations—all, mostly related to misunderstanding of national identity. In such
circumstances, self-preservation through the subjugation and conquest of others,
as well as other means of realism, will not contribute to peace. Yet, how to deal
with this?
The current revival of nationalism across the world, coupled with and partly
linked to increasing migration, indeed suggests that our concepts of national
identity need to be re-examined. National identity is used by governments to
argue for differences. There are many examples of how the state treats different
categories of foreigners, where some of the most striking examples are related to
the United Kingdom and post-colonial ideas of nationality. However, the very
attempt to define national identity at the outset is already limited by the concept
of nation. In that sense, the national identity is a conceptual reality constrained by
the concept of the nation-state and its relatively short history. Bearing in mind the
division of the levels of analysis in political science,1 it is the social rather than the
national an adequate category to start with. An emphasis on such a hierarchical
categorization can also be found in the work of Henri Tajfel (1984, p. 696) who
states that ‘the nature and contents of the myths accepted as true or valid by people
belonging, or seeing themselves as belonging, to different social categories are
strongly affected by the individual’s location (‘objective’ and ‘perceived’) within
the wider social system’.
The subject of national identity and nationalism is widely discussed in the
social and historical sciences. Whether conceptualization of national identity is a
linear process of evolving a cognitive core of beliefs and perspectives, or, it is a
process of selecting one of the pre-existing non-cognitively entrenched
interpretations based on a particular criterion, going into this in conceptual and
theoretical terms is a tall order for any scholar, as the concepts and the larger field
is well saturated. In this regard, this study aims to theorize national identity as an
issue of cognitive discord and a problem of so-called ethicization to advance
alternative conceptualizations of national identity. The overall purpose of the
article is to clarify the determinants of national identity in general; deconstruct the
determinants of national identity in general; dismantle fixed ideas of national
identity and nationhood in Europe; and provide a critique of the concepts of nation
and national identity used in social science, as they were historically developed by
political and academic elites, and might serve as repressive forces in today’s
political climate.
The following sections will explore the concept of national identity and its key
determinants, the prominent theoretical perspectives dealing with this issue, the
problem of national identity as ethical history and the conceptual innovations
related to the problem of ethical cognition through which national identity is
being ethically determined based on cognitively unclarified determinants—in this
study referred to as the EDCUD paradox.

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