Ethical Perspectives 15 (1):7-47 (2008)

In this article we try to show how revolutionary the idea of sovereignty was and is in the Islamic world, preceding all nationalism. Sovereignty marks the very transition from empire to the central state that the nation state presupposes.Sovereignty made its entrance in the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire. It functioned in the centralization policy of the sultan, who needed this central position to realize a top down process of modernization. This policy took apart the Empire’s traditional system of checks and balances. Thus, the nation state does not conserve traditional culture, but is the result and producer of cultural change, in fact, of a process of modernization that involves language and religion .This does not imply that all nation states are homogenized by a globalizing process of modernization. A civil society based on individual freedom and the application of human rights and democracy makes a real difference in the world of nation states. Those ideas prevent the return of empire in the disguise of globalization. In Europe, these liberal ideas mark the limits of sovereignty and preceed the emergence of nationalism; in the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic world, sovereignty and nationalism are used for a top-down process of modernization sometimes at odds with those liberal ideas. The implementation of these ideas in an specific cultural context is necessary and is at the same time a guarantee against cultural isomorphism
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DOI 10.2143/EP.15.1.2029556
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