Citizenship, Nationalism, and Nation-Building

Bryan Turner. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Krishan Kumar. 2006. Sage Publishing.

My thesis is simple. The growth of citizenship is associated with democratization, because the civil and political rights of citizenship play an important part in underpinning democratic institutions. The democratic participation of the masses in the polity and civil society has become an important foundation of nation-building in creating an identification of citizens with the nation-state. In addition, the growth of civil institutions and community groups is an essential aspect of the Tocquevillian model of Western democracy. To a large extent, these assumptions are valid. It would be difficult to imagine a flourishing democracy in which the social rights of citizenship were underdeveloped, and in this sense citizenship is an inclusionary mechanism that sustains civil society. However, the development of citizenship is also a project of nation-building in which the creation of the national citizen is the primary project of the nation-state. From the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) to the First World War, the rise of modern citizenship was coterminous with the development of nation-states and nationalism as a secular ideology of the state. Nation-building involved the production of a uniform and integrated society of loyal, well-trained and healthy (male) citizens, if possible speaking the same language and believing in the same religion. We might argue that faith became a private matter for the citizen and religion came to express the national culture of the state. This division came to be embraced in the Enlightenment philosophy of Kant when he, in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone ([1793] 1960), distinguished between an inner, moralizing faith and the external, institutional cultus of religion.

There is a difference between the Westphalian, liberal model of the citizen as the carrier of the civil liberties and the twentieth-century social model of the citizen as the bearer of social rights that are institutionalized in a welfare state. In this sense, citizenship became an exclusionary mechanism in which the contributory rights, that are characteristic of welfare states, form the basis of an associational democracy with clear territorial boundaries. An associational democracy is not unlike a large club in that members pay their dues in return for privileges, that are often jealously guarded against outsiders and intruders. This difference in turn relates to the tensions between the democratic and liberal side of citizenship, and its nationalist and occasionally authoritarian dimension. Nineteenth-century nationalism was the ideological framework for the creation of citizenship as a form of ‘national manhood’ (Nelson 1998).

British national identity is a late historical development, and to some extent the unintended consequence of colonialism and immigration. By treating British national citizenship as a late manifestation of nationalism, I am in some respects following Krishan Kumar’s argument in The Making of English National Identity (2003). British nationalism was forged in response to outsiders, especially to immigration in the twentieth century. When in Shakespeare’s Henry V we confront apparently distinctive notions of English, Welsh or Scottish identity, we must also remember that the social division between aristocracy and peasantry ruled out any easy identification of an emerging English nationalism in Shakespeare’s historical dramas. There was no dominant ideology capable of uniting elite and mass, despite the fact that in Elizabethan England the division between Protestant and Catholic meant the internationalism of the Catholic Church no longer bound England to Catholic Europe (Abercrombie et al. 1980). Protestantism and the Virgin Queen rather than ‘English nationalism’ provided some common cause against an impending Catholic invasion. While one might have disputes about the historical origin of Englishness, British identity and British citizenship are the products of the growth of social citizenship and welfare entitlements some three centuries later.

The rise of nation-states required the production of national citizenship, and this historical development is captured by Michel Foucault’s notion of ‘governmentality’ in which the state becomes increasingly an administrative state whose task is to make populations socially and economically productive (Foucault 1991). Citizenship overcomes, but never entirely successfully, the divisions of social class, and renders the working class productive and efficient through the creation of welfare and social security. Class conflict is partly contained by the spread of social rights and partly as a result of the solidaristic functions of national ideology. There are, however, important variations between nation-states, to which we need to attend. There were obviously important differences between the United States, on the one hand, and Bismarckian Germany on the other. There were also important differences between European nation-states and white-settler societies. Colonial Australia was created on the basis of the doctrine of an empty land (terra nullius) and the lands of North America were colonized on the basis of Lockean theories of private property in which, because native peoples did not recognize property rights, their lands were, strictly speaking, not settled or occupied. The universal rights of the French Revolution were not extended to the Kanaks of New Caledonia, because theirs was not a culture of possessive individualism, and the absence of Kanak property rights meant that French colonialism could proceed apace (Bullard 2000). Hence white-settler societies have typically institutionalized citizenship as a form of national inclusion, while continuing to exclude aboriginal communities.

In the nineteenth century, national citizenship typically presupposed a Fordist capitalist economy, in which men went to work and women serviced their men. As a social status, citizenship was based primarily on the contributions of men through work and war service in return for pensions and health care. In the contemporary period, the necessary and close relationship between national citizenship and the nation-state is becoming unravelled. Globalization, the rise of post-industrial society, the influence of human rights and the erosion of social citizenship with the decline of social Keynesianism have also resulted in important changes to the nation-state (Turner 2001). Notions about global governance and cosmopolitan identity also require rethinking the meaning of ‘the citizen’ and ‘the nation.’ This chapter explores the modern history of citizenship as a project for creating national identities that were intended to be homogeneous and which as a result suppressed public manifestations of cultural difference and diversity. The growth of global migration, diasporic communities and cultural hybridity challenges the historic project of national citizenship. This historically significant change is signalled by the increasing importance of human rights since 1948 over national manifestations of citizenship. The tension between national citizenship and human rights is indicative of the intellectual and legal contradictions between social rights and human rights. The challenge to nationalism and the nation-state in the twenty-first century is to sustain multi-culturalism and a commitment to the nation-state in such a way that the cultural rights of difference do not eventually erode the conditions for common citizenship. The political community to which human rights are attached (such as humanity or the globe) is vague and indefinite; the political community to which citizenship is attached (the nation-state) is subject to corrosive forces.

The Historical Origins of Citizenship

There is a conventional argument that citizenship had its origins in ancient Greek and Roman societies. Historians have recognized the ancient growth of democratic participation, but noted its restriction by birth to men, the exclusion of women, the presence of class divisions and dependence on slavery (Finlay 1991). Manpower shortages in ancient Athens forced the Athenians to accept intermarriage and to recognize the citizenship rights of their offspring (Sinclair 1988). With the rise of Christianity, the sharp separation of religion and politics in St Augustine’s City of God is also often thought to be important in the evolution of Western notions of civility and citizenship. Max Weber in The City (1958) emphasized the importance of Christian universalism in which faith rather than blood was recognized as the basis of community. ‘Citizen’ is derived from cité as in the Anglo-French citeseyn, citezein or sithezein. From the thirteenth century, a citizen was simply a member or denizen (dein-sein) of a city or borough. Caxton in his Chronicles of England referred in 1480 to ‘The cytezeyns of London’ and Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew in 1596 describes Pisa as ‘renowned for grave Citizens.’

The term citizen came eventually to refer to a member of the bourgeois class, who lives in a city and enjoys the legal privileges of an autonomous urban community, as in Dutch burgermaats-chappij or German Staatsbürgerschaft. Citizens evolved as civilized members of urban society in contrast to uncouth and vulgar country folk. A citizen was a burgess (bourgeois) or freeman, and citizenship was associated with bourgeois not aristocratic culture. Citizens were members of civil society and carriers of bourgeois civility. Citizenship is therefore associated in continental Europe with the rise of the bourgeoisie—a citizen is a member of a burgh. This historical connection provided Karl Marx with one foundation for his criticism of bourgeois rights as elements of liberal capitalism that separated politics and economics. The real economic subordination of the worker could not be resolved merely by the growth of civil liberties, and required a radical change in the social and economic conditions of society as a whole. It is important to note that citizenship is characterized by an ambiguity: it is a conduit of individual rights but also reflects the growth of state power over civil society.

Pre-modern forms of citizenship were associated with the city, not with the nation. While we can find words to describe the citizen from the fifteenth century, modern citizenship is a political product of major revolutions, specifically the English Civil War, the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. These revolutions were important because they destroyed the system of estates and created both modern nationalism and citizenship. The French Revolution was especially significant in that it pulverized the ancient hierarchical arrangement of status and privilege between the three estates. The creation of European nation-states from the seventeenth century necessarily involved the creation of imaginary nationalistic communities, which asserted and partly created ethnically uniform, homogeneous populations, which were held together, against the social pressures of class, culture and community, by nationalist ideologies. The Treaty of Westphalia was the origin of the modern world system of nation-states, and state formation involved the creation of nationalist identities on the basis of a double colonization, both internal and external. Anti-Semitism provided the pretext in many European states for earlier versions of ethnic cleansing in order to create homogeneous populations, but in a less violent form one can find various political and social pressures to create civil societies on the basis of common languages, common religions and a single, ethnic, identity. This process was the cultural basis for the creation of national forms of citizenship. Citizenship was crucial to nation-building (Bendix 1964), because it weakens class identity and binds individuals to nation-state projects through the creation of a minimum set of social rights. These processes in Europe converted peasants into citizens.

National Citizenship and Welfare States

Following the influential theory of Esping-Andersen (1990) in The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, we can distinguish three contrasted models of the relationship between states, citizenship and welfare. First, there is the liberal or Anglo-Saxon model of the welfare state in which there is a predominance of means-tested assistance and universal transfers are modest. Welfare reforms are limited by the emphasis on individual responsibility and the work ethic. Social entitlements are limited by bureaucratic assessment and welfare recipients are stigmatized. Liberal welfare regimes were typical of Australia, Canada and the United States. In these societies, citizenship entitlements were contributory rights, being dependent on certain key contributions to society. Taxation and military service were fundamental aspects of citizenship in nation-states based on a liberal-welfare model. Systematic avoidance of personal taxation can as a result be used as a useful measure of the effectiveness of citizenship as a form of solidarity. Secondly, there is the corporatist legacy of Austria, France, Germany and Italy. In this continental and corporatist model, the liberal emphasis on efficiency and commodification was never wholly dominant, and the granting of social rights was not an issue. Private insurance and occupational fringe benefits were marginal. The Catholic Church was influential in shaping the corporatist model, and hence the welfare system was designed to support the traditional family and motherhood, and therefore day care and family services to support working mothers were underdeveloped. Finally, there is the social democratic welfare regime, which rejected the duality of market and state, and pursued policies to achieve both equality of outcome and high service standards. The social democratic model aims to maximize social solidarity by an inclusionary system of benefits, but this model has to address issues related to both the family and the market. Given the state’s role in creating solidarity and achieving egalitarianism, there was no significant entry of charitable or voluntary associations into welfare delivery, and the social democratic societies have been reluctant to embrace liberal policies that emphasize the mix of charitable, voluntary and governmental agencies in welfare. The social democratic regime of the Scandinavian societies has to support the enormous economic cost of a universalistic, solidaristic and de-commodified welfare system, and achieve high levels of economic growth with full employment and extensive income redistribution, fairness and transparency. The incorporation of Sweden into the global economic market has, for example, made it difficult to achieve these objectives in a neoliberal economic climate.

Three different types of citizenship correspond to these three models of welfare: liberal citizenship as a set of political and civil rights in liberal capitalism; social citizenship in social democratic societies on the basis of active participation in the economy; and social rights without extensive democratic rights in corporatist states. Although we can identify different models of citizenship that are based on different welfare strategies, the formation of citizenship in these systems was fundamental to nationalism and the nation-state. These different models represent different strategies (liberal, corporatist and social democratic) for the incorporation of the working class into civil society, and hence they were important as strategies to bind the worker to the nation. The vision of socialist internationalism was constantly challenged by the welfare state, the contributory rights of the citizen and the nationalist project. These alternatives came to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The principal notion behind the institution of liberal citizenship is that the democratic state is a political association, where membership and its rewards are ultimately dependent on individual contributions to the public good. These contributions are the principal underpinnings of the rights and duties of members of a nation-state community, and citizenship is in principle an effective juridical status conferring a specific socio-political identity. It is difficult in a system of contributory rights to secure the entitlements of people with physical or mental impairment, and more generally incapacity to work results in stigmatization. In material terms, citizenship plays a significant part in determining the redistribution of economic resources within society through taxation and welfare benefits. In this sense, citizenship is an important aspect of distributive justice, because with the contributory principle there must be some long-term balance between individual contributions, typically through work, military service and parenting, and rewards such as welfare, health and education. In this context, citizenship was a mechanism for civilizing the working class in order for them to become acceptable members of civil society. In the language of T. H. Marshall, citizenship provides rights ‘to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in the society’ (1950: 72).

In Britain, welfare institutions expanded partly in response to working-class pressure on the state to protect workers from unemployment and sickness. However, mass warfare and post-war reconstruction were especially important in building modern citizenship as a mechanism for the consolidation of the nation. Nineteenth-century imperial wars often served to illustrate the poor health of the British working class, and evidence from medical examinations of army recruits demonstrated a significant amount of disability. Public health statistics were important in the development of the national efficiency movement that promoted discipline and health through physical training, temperance and military discipline. The Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements, the development in prisons and the army of rational dietary schemes based on calorific measurement, the introduction of school meals, the pedagogical evolution of domestic science for girls, the adoption of gymnastics and sport into the school curriculum, and regular medical and dental inspections for children are evidence of public concern to improve the nation’s health, economic efficiency and military capability. Social citizenship in British society was primarily the product of wartime mobilization and strategies to rebuild post-war society after both world wars. Political pressure from the trade union movement for industrial reform and the desire of the Labour Party for social reform probably played only a secondary role.

In the United States, there was historically greater dependence on voluntary associations and local community efforts to provide services and security for citizens. Citizenship in the United States is probably best explained in terms of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic view in 1835 of democracy and equality in the foundation of American society in Democracy in America (2003). American society relied primarily on the liberal market to absorb the shock of the working class, and trade unions were absorbed as organized interest groups rather than as representatives of the working class. Unions were organized by locality, patronage and ethnicity. There was little development of social citizenship, and individuals were expected to insure themselves against adversity. A buoyant economy provided sufficient rewards and social mobility to absorb workers into capitalist society, lending credibility to the ‘rags to riches’ ideology of expanding American capitalism. The United States does not conform to the Marshall model, partly because the emphasis on civil and political rights was not matched by social rights. Furthermore, nation-building in America required the absorption and assimilation of waves of migrants and the eventual granting of equality to its black population after the civil war and the end of slavery rather than the inclusion of a well-established or ‘mature’ working class.

In the absolutist monarchies, monarch, nobility and Church resisted universal citizenship, but they also recognized that their long-term survival depended on some compromise with the bourgeoisie and working class, and some degree of modernization of both society and politics (Mann 1986, 1987). In Germany, Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm were reluctant founders of the modern welfare state, and social citizenship was developed with few concessions to civil and political rights. This system was in place up to the opening of the First World War, and some authors have claimed that elements of German statism survived well into the late twentieth century (Kvistad 1999). In other absolutist systems, nationalism and national identity were created by modernizing states, which fostered citizenship as a feature of national ideology and institution-building. In Japan, the Meiji Revolution used the emperor system as a legitimating principle in its strategy of conservative modernization. In 1890 the Emperor issued the Imperial Rescript on Education and employed the word shinmin to denote loyal and obedient officials or citizens who followed their orders obediently (Bix 2000). Japanese nationalism and the powerful identification with the Emperor as a symbol of unity were effective in creating the illusion of ethnic and cultural homogeneity (Weiner 1997). By contrast, the Russian imperial system was not consistently successful in developing a strategy to retain power and modernize the regime. It favoured political repression and exclusion, followed by periods of ineffective social reform. Austria was the least successful, and was confounded by class conflicts, nationalist struggles and a failure to develop a corporate strategy. Long-term political success required maintaining the corporate coherence of the an d en régime and a partial incorporation of the bourgeoisie. These regimes, with the possible exception of Germany, did not develop welfare citizenship, and civil rights were often undercut by arbitrary political interventions. Despite these structural limitations, the absolute monarchies were relatively successful in their industrialization (especially in Germany and Japan) and working-class opposition to capitalist exploitation remained weak, given the relatively small size of the urban working class.

British National Identity and Postcolonialism

The gradual loss of the Commonwealth as a significant international force in the post-war period has been an important defining process in the modern evolution of British national identity. Britain’s withdrawal from Asia, specifically from Hong Kong, provides an interesting case study in the evolution of Britishness (Turner 2004). The political history of Hong Kong and its juridical relationship to successive British governments illustrate the pragmatic attitude to what we might call conditional or provisional citizenship. In 1843 Hong Kong became a Crown Colony and was, like Singapore, primarily a safe harbour and trading centre to support British commercial and military interests. Within Hong Kong, citizenship was never intended to be a nation-building exercise, and successive British administrations continued to deny basic rights in the colony. It was not until the final stages of the transfer of sovereignty back to mainland China that the conditions for citizenship became a pressing political issue. The British government did not offer the Chinese majority in Hong Kong opportunities for effective democratic participation. The development of political rights was initially a reaction to the riots of 1966–7, and the formation of the Mutual Aid Committee eventually provided a training ground for practical citizenship. Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign Secretary, made it clear that the British government did not intend to extend its administration beyond the end of the lease in 1997 and in return the Chinese government agreed to designate Hong Kong a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic with considerable autonomy, except in defence and foreign affairs. The first draft of the Basic Law made it clear that Beijing would have sovereign power over the common law courts of Hong Kong, but the events in Tiananmen Square and the subsequent democratic crisis of the following year produced massive protests against the authoritarian response of the Chinese Communist Party and triggered a brain drain of professional and business people out of Hong Kong.

After 1997 all Hong Kong residents holding British Dependent Territories passports would in practice have dual citizenship outside China, but this privilege would not be extended to individuals born in Hong Kong after the termination of the lease. Furthermore, holders of these passports were not initially deemed eligible for residence in the United Kingdom. In 1990 immigration policy was modified to grant British citizenship to a limited number of Hong Kong residents, and a nationality bill granted the right of abode to around 50,000 Hong Kong residents who were to be selected on restrictive criteria of education, occupational status and age. Mrs Thatcher defended this elitist bill on the grounds that it would stem the tide of people leaving Hong Kong. The emphasis was on the economic contribution which a limited number of Hong Kong Chinese would make in Britain, and hence the nationality bill effectively constituted the Hong Kong Chinese as economic citizens. Official indifference to the status of Hong Kong citizens, despite periodic attempts to force the People’s Republic to respect the special legal status of the city of Hong Kong, was combined with political realism. Mrs Thatcher might forcefully compel Argentina to hand back the Falklands, but confronting China presented formidable political and military risks. Political pragmatism and indifference towards the ultimate fate of the Hong Kong Chinese reflected official attitudes towards foreigners that have their modern origin in the 1901 Aliens Act.

Official reluctance to grant full citizenship to outsiders has to be understood against the general background of immigration to Britain in the twentieth century. As a liberal society committed to the laissez-faire doctrine of a free market, the British elite should, on rational economic grounds, welcome immigration, but these raw economic interests have been shaped and constrained by a political culture that has remained sceptical about the ability or willingness of foreigners to assimilate. The periodic protests of British politicians that naturalized foreigners have not become fully British by, for example, supporting the national cricket team are the more pathetic manifestations of this attitude of suspicion. The official view of the government has been to accept migrants under the legal compulsion of international agreements such as human rights, and to assume or hope that economic migrants will eventually return to their native homeland. Likewise, Victorian liberals did not actively oppose exiles; they merely entertained the hope that the inclement weather would eventually drive them away (Porter 1979). These attitudes of benign indifference, political apathy and racial superiority were possible in a context of relatively insignificant flows of immigration and asylum seekers. In Victorian Britain there were virtually no laws regulating refugees. However, between 1880 and 1905, 120,000 Russian Jews came to Britain, triggering a process of juridical restriction and regulation. The 1905 Aliens Act became the foundation of immigration law until 1971. Because Britain only accepted those who could prove they were self-sufficient, there were by 1938 only 8,000 refugees in Britain, of whom 80 per cent were Jewish. By 1939 there were 56,000 refugees.

Post-war migration was largely driven by economic interests and the majority of immigrants were from the Commonwealth. The Nationality Act of 1948 recognized the right of Commonwealth citizens freely to enter and work in Britain. The Act was in retrospect generous, partly because it mistakenly assumed an outflow, not influx of Commonwealth citizens to Britain. By 1971 there were 300,000 Caribbean migrants who, for Conservatives like Enoch Powell, created a racial crisis. Powell’s 1968 Birmingham speech alluding to the ‘River Tiber foaming with much blood’ proved to be popular and he claimed subsequently to have received 100,000 letters in support of his controversial position. The 1971 Immigration Act, which introduced work permits without a right of residency, was seen to be inspired by Powellite political convictions. However, Powellism as a racial ideology did not gain long-term support. Powell never held an influential government office, and the pragmatic reluctance of post-war British governments to become involved in aggressive colonial wars after the Suez crisis of 1956 meant that overtly racist politics were unpopular. In any case, Harold Macmillan’s radical ‘winds of change’ speech in 1960 in Cape Town made Powellite visions of a white-dominated Commonwealth unrealistic and anachronistic. The British political elite has, since the defeat of the Powellite Tories, successfully excluded race from parliamentary politics on the pragmatic grounds that race is a powerfully divisive electoral strategy.

Subsequent legislation has attempted to restrict the generous but mistaken provisions of the Nationality Act. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act (1962), Immigration Act (1971), Nationality Act (1981), Immigration (Carriers’ Liability) Act (1987) and Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act (1993) constituted a battery of legislation that has restricted entry, reduced access to citizenship status and constrained labour migration. The 1981 British Nationality Act created three categories of citizenship: British citizens, British Dependent Territories citizens, and British Overseas citizens. The Act restricted real British membership to the first category, removed residential criteria for citizenship status, and effectively excluded Asian Commonwealth people from British identity. Forced migrants are covered by the 1993 Asylum and Migration Appeals, 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act and the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. The legislation created four categories: refugees (quota and spontaneous), people with Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR), temporary protection status, and asylum seekers, namely somebody seeking asylum on the basis of a claim to be a refugee. The ELR category refers to people who have been denied refugee status but are given leave to remain on humanitarian grounds. In 1990 ELRs represented 60 per cent of asylum decisions, refugee status represented 23 per cent and refusals were 17 per cent. In 2000, these figures were 16 per cent (ELR), 15 per cent (refugee status granted) and 69 per cent (refusals). These Acts were important stages in the definition of British national identity as an exclusionary claim on citizenship rights. They were culturally significant in attempting to define ‘otherness’ and were located within a wider debate about Englishness and Britishness in response to membership in the European Union (Münch 2001).

Before European involvement in Kosovo and the security crisis following 9/11, racial conflicts in Britain, such as the Notting Hill riots of 1958, had been primarily around two separate migratory waves, namely the post-war migration of Afro-Caribbean people from the West Indies and Pakistan-Bangladesh migrants. While the stereotype of Pakistani migrants in Britain was initially that of reclusive, family-centred Muslims who were law-abiding, the policing of Caribbean communities involved stereotypes in which young black men were assumed to be drug dependent, lazy and aggressive. The policing of migrant communities involved neither security activities nor the intelligence services. Black crime was characterized by low level offences such as cannabis use, pimping and auto-theft. The issue of law and order in relation to black youth came to prominence as a result of the Brixton riots and the Scarman Report (1981). Police relationships with the black community were transformed by the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the launch of the National Civil Rights Movement and the Macpherson report (1999). Black crime remained an important problem in London, with Mayor Ken Livingstone complaining of a free trade zone in drugs and guns, but the ‘war on terror’ has fuelled racial conflict with Muslim youth.

While negative stereotypes about Islam have intensified since 9/11, migration as such has in the past decade ceased to be a political or economic issue, partly because labour migration from the Commonwealth has come to an end. Popular concern has been instead directed against asylum seekers entering Britain, for example from France, often through sleepy fishing villages in Suffolk. By the 1980s less than 5 per cent of Britain’s 55 million population were immigrants from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan as compared with Germany’s 7 per cent. Germany is often criticized for its low level of naturalization when compared with France, because the German emphasis on jus sanguinis has given a privileged status to ‘ethnic Germans’ from Eastern Europe and Russia over Turkish guest workers. However, Germany’s intake of refugees is far greater than Britain’s, while British government anxiety shifted in the 1990s from migration to asylum seeking, and asylum seekers from former Yugoslavia, Albania, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan have coloured public attitudes against immigration. Throughout the 1990s, Eurobarometer Surveys of British attitudes showed that 63 per cent thought Britain had too many immigrants and 78 per cent, too many refugees. In fact both the media and parliamentary debates consistently fail to distinguish between three categories: migrant, refugee and asylum seeker. After 9/11 and the Istanbul bombings, the Labour government became increasingly intolerant of asylum seekers and increasingly subservient to American foreign policy objectives in the struggle against terrorism. Political ambiguity about the possible entry of Turkey into the European Community further illustrates the implicit status of the European Union as a Christian association.

The influx of Asian and Caribbean migrants in the second half of the twentieth century produced a protracted debate about identity that has been further complicated by devolution for Scotland and Wales, uncertain and reluctant entry into the European Union, and the ongoing political difficulties in Northern Ireland. While British identity became an acceptable self-definition for second-generation youth who are ‘Black British, ‘Englishness’ has become a confused, and poorly defined cultural label. While the flag of St George proliferates in the English countryside, nobody is entirely certain what it stands for. If British identity is national, Englishness refers to a complex cultural tradition that is difficult to define and impossible to acquire simply by possession of a British passport. The traditional institutional glue of the United Kingdom (monarchy, religion, parliament, the ancient universities, afternoon tea, the Mothers Union, the Queen’s English, ‘bumps’ on the Cam, and the BBC) has been declining through this period, further eroding the cultural framework of both Englishness and British citizenship identity (Nairn 1994). The complex and protracted legal process in Parliament to ban fox hunting is not simply a failure of the Labour government to understand the countryside; it also reflects uncertainty about the nature of Englishness. What could be more English than the sound of hunting horns in English open fields? While Dunkirk united the nation, the post-war period has been one of growing cultural diversity, internal devolution and uncertainty about the place of Britain internationally, and of periodic bouts of right-wing nationalism in the shape of the National Front. We might argue therefore that Britain had become a multicultural society not as a result of any principled commitment to multiculturalism, but as the unintended consequence of its colonial, or more precisely its postcolonial history. British national identity and British nationalism remain unresolved issues of national politics.

What can we learn from this case study of Britain? There are at least two, somewhat contradictory lessons. The first is that we can usefully distinguish between ideologically driven colonialism and accidental or unintended colonialism. Generally speaking, British colonialism was not driven by a consistent or strong sense of colonial endeavour; it had no lasting religious or racial underpinnings. There was of course the legacy of Kipling, the missionary societies and the development of a muscular and manly evangelical Christianity in Selwyn College Cambridge, the taken-for-granted racial superiority, and the Victorian sense of a Commonwealth, but these elements did not amount to a systematic and coherent ideology of empire or an imperial mission. There is an important contrast to be made between the attitude of Dutch Protestants to South Africa or Japanese imperial visions and British pragmatism. There is some merit to the argument that Britain acquired an empire as the unintended consequence of economic conquest. Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar were important naval ports to sustain British economic ambition rather than aspects of a political mission backed up by a definite ideology. The proof of this argument is the ease with which Britain abandoned these outposts once their profitability in relation to military expenditure was in doubt. The contrast between France in relation to Algeria, or Portugal in relation to Mozambique and Britain in relation to Kenya, Nigeria or Rhodesia is telling. This is not to say that British troops could behave badly in Aden or Malaya, but simply to say that it was a pragmatic colonialism. The consequence of this attitude was a certain indifference to access to citizenship, and also the late development of a distinctive view of what constitutes British citizenship as a form of national identity.

This pragmatic view of citizenship has collapsed quickly in the face of the perception of a widespread terrorist threat following 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings. While migration is no longer a political issue, asylum seeking is, mainly because political borders are seen to be too porous. There is popular support for British Home Secretaries to get tough with asylum seekers, and considerable nervousness about East European migration as a result of an expanding European Union. The issue of asylum seeking and terror is now the most important contradiction between the nation-state and economic globalization. While one justification for economic globalization is the economic benefits that are derived from flexible labour markets and the free flow of goods and services, this openness is seen to create security problems that have, at present, very few solutions. As a result, liberal governments in capitalist societies, with Britain and the United States being clear examples, have made access to citizenship more stringent, closed off avenues to asylum, scrutinized the claims of political refugees more thoroughly and challenged many of the civil liberties that were the hallmark of Western democracy. The result is that in contemporary politics individual human rights appear to be often more prominent in the defence of the rights of citizens.

Conclusion: Human Rights and the Erosion of National Citizenship

The tensions and contradictions between states, citizens and human rights constitute much of the content of international dispute and conflict, and yet theories of human rights have often failed to consider the relationship between citizenship and human rights. Statements about human rights and state sovereignty, which is the basis of citizenship, are often contradictory. For example, the declaration of the National Assembly of France in 1789 claimed that ‘the natural and imprescriptible rights of man’ were ‘liberty, property, security and resistance of oppression,’ but it went on to assert that ‘the nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty’ and that no ‘individual or body of men’ could be entitled to ‘any authority which is not expressly derived from it.’ While human rights are said to be innate, social rights are created by states. These two contrasted ideas—the imprescriptible rights of human beings and the exclusive sovereignty of the nation state—have remained an important dilemma of any justification of rights. The protection offered by national citizenship is declining, and yet the state remains important for the enforcement of social and human rights.

To understand the nature of citizenship in relation to nationalism, we should reflect upon the differences between the social rights of citizenship and the individual rights of the human rights movement. Briefly, social rights are entitlements enjoyed by citizens and are enforced by courts within the national framework of a sovereign state. These social rights, which are typically related to corresponding duties, are contributory rights, because effective claims are associated with contributions that citizens have made to society through work, war (or a similar public duty), or parenting (Turner 2001). By contrast, human rights are rights enjoyed by individuals by virtue of being human, and as a consequence of a shared vulnerability. Human rights are not necessarily connected to duties and they are not contributory. There is no declaration of human duties as opposed to the many declarations and conventions on human rights. While states enforce social rights, there is no sovereign power uniformly to enforce rights at a global level. While the social rights of citizens tend to be national, human rights are universal, but it is often said that these human rights are not justiciable and they have no ‘correlativity’ with duties.

This distinction between citizenship and human rights is important because it raises the question of the relationship between the enforcement of rights by nation states that are sovereign, and by global institutions that have legitimacy by virtue of international agreements and hence are an aspect of global governance. Although many theorists of human rights appear to welcome the erosion of national sovereignty, any historical overview of human rights in international and national politics brings us to the conclusion that effective human rights regimes actually require nation-state stability. Because human rights abuse is characteristically a product of ‘new wars’ (Münkler 2005) and state failure is illustrated by genocide, ethnic cleansing and anarchy, viable states appear to be important as a foundation for rightsper se. There is a valid argument therefore that the liberties of citizens and their social rights are better protected by their own national institutions than by external legal or political intervention. The often chaotic outcome of human rights interventions in East Timor and Kosovo, or of human rights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, might force us to the conclusion that any national government that can provide its citizens with security but with weak democracy is to be preferred over no government at all. From a Hobbesian perspective, a strong state is required to enforce agreements between conflicting social groups. Another way of expressing this idea is to argue that we need to maintain a distinction between the social rights of citizens that are enforced by states, and the human rights of persons that are protected, but frequently and inadequately enforced, by international conventions. The tension between these different types of rights reflects the growing tension in the modern world between nations and nationalism, on the one hand, and human rights, global governance and cosmopolitanism, on the other.