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Nationalism in a Liberal Register: Beyond the ‘Paradox of Universalism’ in Immigrant Integration Politics

  • Kristian Kriegbaum Jensen and Per Mouritsen


In recent years scholars have observed a restrictive turn in West European immigrant integration policies towards conditioning access to permanent residence and citizenship on language proficiency, knowledge of history, institutions, culture and political values, national loyalty and labour market integration. This has been accompanied by a strong reaction among European politicians and publics emphasizing that newcomers must share in certain liberal-democratic values and virtues that characterize the national community. Yet, the influential scholar Christian Joppke argues, among others, that liberal values cannot define national particularity, nor can cultural integration be enforced because legislation and policies are legally and normatively constrained by the same liberal values. Hence, prevalent liberal conceptions of national identity are paradoxical and inconsequential for the formulation of public policies. This article critically examines this argument in detail. It argues that the paradox of universalism does not exist, and that therefore nationalism should not be dismissed as a central factor behind recent policy developments.

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Department of Political Science, Aarhus University (emails:, We are very grateful to Jens Damgaard Thaysen, Tore Vincents Olsen, Andreas Albertsen, Kristina Bakkær Simonsen, Christian Joppke, Stephen Larin and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous versions of the article.



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