Classical liberals are basically supporting individualism and a small government (Locke, Hayek, Friedman). The small government being there to insure basic services such as the military, the police, avoiding monopolies, maybe doing a very little bit of redistribution of some sort (school vouchers).

On the other hand, IMK, nationalism was born out of events motivated by classical liberal ideas: the American revolution and the French revolution. To Kelly (2015), liberalism and nationalism were interconnected:

Mazzini, Kossuth, O’Connell and Simon Bolivar in South America, were all influenced by liberal political ideas and espoused ambitions for liberal constitutional orders in place of political absolutism. Indeed for much of the early nineteenth century liberalism and nationalism were interconnected. This had an important impact on the subsequent development of liberal political theory and gave rise to the idea of liberal nationalism, an idea that is given its most forceful Anglophone statement in the nineteenth century in the political theory of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Even though we don't adopt a romantic ethnico-cultural kind of nationalism, but a more liberal one (based on the ideas of political liberty, individual freedom, etc.), I don't know how we can reconcile liberalism and nationalism, since nationalism implies necessarily some form of "groupishness" [1] and some form of coercition (in order to protect the group against foreign invaders, as this is basically how nationalism was born).

How do classical liberals reconcile individualism with nationalism?

  • The definition of nationalism by classical liberals

"A considerable quantity of people, who inhabit a certain extent of country, enclosed within certain limits, and who obey the same government." (L'Encyclopédie)

"A nation is nothing but a collection of individuals." (David Hume, "Of nationals characters")

  • The definition of nationalism as provided by Wikipedia:

Nationalism is an idea and movement that holds that the nation should be congruent with the state. As a movement, it tends to promote the interests of a particular nation (as in a group of people), especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation's sovereignty (self-governance) over its homeland to create a nation-state. It holds that each nation should govern itself, free from outside interference (self-determination), that a nation is a natural and ideal basis for a polity, and that the nation is the only rightful source of political power.


Kelly, Paul (2015) Liberalism and nationalism. In: Wall, Steven, (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Liberalism. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. ISBN 978110743941


1 Answer 1


Look, trying to jam individualism and nationalism together is like cramming cats into a sack - it's just not gonna be pretty! You're taking two feisty ideological alley cats and forcing them into unnatural proximity.

Individualism is the feline hell-bent on personal freedom, roaming wherever it dang well pleases. Meanwhile nationalism is the fat tabby determined to unite everyone under one flag no matter how much they hiss and scratch. Not exactly cuddle buddies.

Mixing these contrary critters into one litterbox is gonna create some rank odors, let me tell you. You'll have individualists yowling for liberty and limited government while nationalists caterwaul for unity and state power. Nothing but fur flying.

Best to let each cat slink down its own path, I say. Individualists can scamper after objectivism, self-reliance and free markets. Nationalists can prowl towards patriotism, tradition and strong borders. No need to force the two breeds into the same cage when their instincts diverge. Now I'm no feline behaviorist, but reconciling these disparate mousers seems improbable. Individualism values personal agency above all. Nationalism purrs for collective identity uber alles. Good luck getting them to share the milk!

In the end, blending contrary creatures often dilutes their essence. Individualism and nationalism have self-contained logic. Sure, compromise is needed in politics, but incoherence helps no one. Instead of hybridizing, better to respect each creed's domain.

Anyways, reconciling individualism and nationalism is fraught business. Best to let each worldview follow its catnip unfettered. Freedom and community don't always cohere - and that creative tension is what keeps democracies humming. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to clean this litterbox. What a mess!

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