Roman Altshuler
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Ethnonationalist movements have gained ground over the past decade in the U.S., Europe, India, and elsewhere. What is the appeal of ethnonationalism and where does it go wrong? On some views, the ethnonationalist’s mistake lies in ignorance: he takes identity to be established by some essential core, and the solution lies in education in history and racial genetics, allowing him to see that his essentialism rests on error. While this response is helpful to a point, I propose that the essentialism that drives ethnonationalism is itself a project, founded on the need for meaning, and that the mistake lies not primarily in understanding the basis of identities, but in understanding how meaning is possible for us. In Part 1, I distinguish between the different kinds of reasons that might be called “reasons of identity” and argue that only some of them properly fall under that label. While identities can sometimes provide reasons for action, at other times they function by reinforcing reasons that have other sources, including a recognition of freedom. In Part 2 I develop an account of a core aspect of identity: identification. Here I argue that our identities are constituted by the acceptance of projects aimed at satisfying our need for meaning in life, and that projects aimed at freedom are best suited to that need. In Part 3, I demonstrate that the projects at the core of ethnonationalism prioritize reasons of identity over reasons of freedom. Because identities are products of freedom, they are unstable; in order to draw on them as a source of normativity, the ethnonationalist aims to provide them with stability by insulating them from others. But in so doing, the ethnonationalist undermines his ability to find meaning.
Keywords Appiah  meaning of life  nationalism  Beauvoir  social identity
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