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Discussing An Outline of a Theory of Civilization by the Japanese thinker Fukuzawa Yukichi, this essay shows how theorists of liberal nationalism might draw on “non-Western” theoretical resources to enrich their normative ideas and better appreciate their own tradition. I argue that Fukuzawa’s work represents an alternative strand of liberal nationalism that complements its mainstream counterpart pioneered by David Miller, Yael Tamir, and others. More specifically, I argue that Fukuzawa’s contributions help us reconsider three central claims made by his more mainstream peers: (1) cosmopolitanism poses the most important threat to liberal nationalism, (2) the strength of liberal nationalism lies in its perceptiveness about ordinary people’s sense of national belonging, and (3) liberal nationalism emerged in mid-nineteenth-century Europe and spread elsewhere in the age of decolonization. In so doing, I show how the current “comparative turn” in political theory can benefit a specific debate—on liberal nationalism—within the discipline.
Amid the ongoing political turmoil, symbolized by the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, books and articles abound today to encourage us to re-read anti-totalitarian classics ‘for our times’. But what do we find in this body of work originally written in response to Nazism and Stalinism? Do we find a democratic consensus forged by a shared anti-totalitarian commitment? I doubt it. Considering the cases of Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt, this article highlights discord beneath what may today appear like a post-war democratic consensus. I argue that the anti-totalitarian literature of the last century encompassed multiple political philosophies, which sometimes differed irreconcilably from each other.