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Nation, Nationalism, Internationalism, Supranationalism: Some Democratic Principles

Nations and nation states make up the international community.
Globalisation and the development of supranational institutions such
as the European Union affect the environment of Europe’s nation states
but do not make them out of date. Nationhood, shared membership of a
national community, is the normal basis of democratic states in the
modern world. This is shown by the advent of many new European nation
states to the international community since 1989, and the likely
advent of many more, in Europe and across the globe, as the 21st
century unfolds. The following democratic principles are proposed as
fruitful ways of approaching issues of nationhood, state sovereignty,
internationalism and supranationalism. No claim is made for their
novelty, but they are presented as expressing what may be regarded as
the classical approach of democrats to these matters.

  1. Internationalism, not Nationalism, is the primary category
  2. Nations and Nationality come before Nationalisms and Nation States
  3. Mankind is still at the relatively early stage of the formation of Nation States
  4. Multinational States, whether Unitary or Federal, must respect the right to Self-Determination of the Nations composing them if they are to be stable and endure
  5. Internationalism and Supranationalism are opposing concepts; Internationalism is progressive. Supranationalism, unless it is based on respect for State Sovereignty, is reactionary
  6. The European Union is fundamentally undemocratic and cannot be democratised
  7. Respect for State Sovereignty is a fundamental democratic principle and the cornerstone of international law
  8. “Pooling” sovereignty means the end of sovereignty
  9. As the EU institutions violate the democratic principle of the separation of powers, the constitution of the EU is fundamentally undemocratic
  10. The EU turns members of the Executive at National level into supranational legislators, greatly increasing their personal power while reducing the democracy of their own peoples
  11. People need to reclaim the state today, to defend it against the Supranationalists and ideological globalisers who seek to subvert it
  12. The dominance or attempted dominance of a People by the government and powerful elites of another state is Imperialism and a denial of democracy
  13. Democracy means rights of Equality, which people agree to accord one another and which the state recognises
  14. Globalisation changes the environment of Nation States, but doe not make them out-of-date… Internationalism, not Globalisation, is the way to a human future
  15. People on the political Left and Right have a common interest in establishing and maintaining State Sovereignty and in upholding National Democracy
  16. States have the right to protect their Civic or Ethnic cohesiveness, and their labour standards, by controlling immigration, but not at the cost of discrimination against ethnic or national minorities within their borders
  17. Protecting human rights is the prime duty of Sovereign States
  18. Mankind is as yet at a relatively early stage of democracy


We are internationalists on the basis of our solidarity as members of
the human race. As internationalists we seek the emancipation of
mankind. The human race is divided into nations. Therefore we stand
for the self-determination of nations. The Treaty of Westphalia of
1648 laid down the principle that sovereign states should not
interfere in one another’s internal affairs and should check one
another’s ambitions through an equilibrium of power. The right of
nations to self-determination inspired the 18th century American
Revolution. This right was formally proclaimed as a democratic
principle of universal applicability in the Declaration of the Rights
of Man and of the Citizen of the French Revolution of 1789. The right
of peoples to national self-determination is now recognized as a basic
principle of international law, enshrined in the United Nations

As democrats and internationalists we assert the right of those
nations that wish it to have their independence, sovereignty and a
nation state of their own, so that they may relate to one another
internationally on a basis of political equality. The democratic
principle of internationalism does not mean that one is required to
urge people of other nations to assert their right to
self-determination; but that one respects their wishes and shows
solidarity with them if they should do that. It is as true of the life
of nations as of individuals that separation, mutual recognition of
boundaries and mutual respect based upon that – namely political
equality, neither dominance nor submission – is the prerequisite of
free and friendly cooperation between nations and states, of
internationalism in other words. Good fences make good neighbours.


Nations exist as communities before nationalisms and nation states. To
analyse nations and the national question in terms of “nationalisms”
is philosophical idealism, looking at the mental reflection rather
than the thing it reflects. Nationalism developed as an ideology
legitimising the formation of nation states in the 18th century,
although its elements can be found centuries before in some of the
world’s oldest nation states – Denmark, England, France, China, Japan.
Nations evolve historically as stable, long-lasting communities of
people, sharing a common language and territory and the common culture
and history that arise from that. On this basis develop the mutual
identifications, solidarities and shared interests which distinguish
one people from another.

Some nations are ancient, some young, some in process of being formed.
Like all human groupings, for example the family, clan, tribe, they
are fuzzy at the edges. No neat definition will encompass all cases.
The empirical test is to ask people themselves. If people have passed
beyond the stage of kinship society where the political unit is the
tribe or clan, they will know themselves what nation they belong to.
This is the political and democratic test too. If enough people in a
nation wish to establish their own independent state, they have the
right to do that, for normally political democracy can exist only at
the level of the national community and nation state. The reason is
that it is principally within the national community that there exists
sufficient solidarity and mutuality of identification and interest as
to transcend other social divisions and induce minorities freely to
consent to majority rule and to obey a common government based upon

Such mutual identification and solidarity characterise the “demos”,
the collective “We”, which constitutes a people that possesses the
right to national self-determination. If such a people is incorporated
into a state with its own government, this mutual identification and
solidarity underlie that people’s sense of shared citizenship of that
state and their allegiance to its government as “their” government,
possessing democratic legitimacy, and their willingness to finance
that government’s tax and income-transfer system, thereby tying the
richer and poorer regions and social classes of that nation state

When people speak of the “common good” which it is the duty of the
state to uphold, it is the community of the nation, the people, the
demos, whose welfare they refer to. The solidarities that exist
within nations do not exist between nations, although other
solidarities may exist, international solidarity, which becomes more
important over time as modern communications, trade, capital movements
and common environmental problems link all nations together in
international interdependence as part of today’s “global village”.


Only a dozen or so contemporary nation-states are more than a few
centuries old. The number of member states of the United Nations has
grown from nearly 60 in 1945 to some 200 today. The number of European
states has grown from some 30 to 50 since 1989. This process is not
ended even in Western Europe where people have been at the business of
nation state formation for centuries. It is ongoing in Eastern Europe.
It has scarcely begun in Africa and Asia, where the bulk of mankind
lives, where large numbers of people are still members of tribal or
clan societies based on kinship and have not yet developed a national
consciousness, and where state boundaries were drawn by the colonial
powers following World Wars 1 and 2, with little consideration for the
wishes of indigenous peoples.

There are over 6000 different languages in the world and hundreds of
families of languages, of which the Indo-European, although the
largest, is just one. At their present rate of disappearance there
should still be 600 or so languages left in a century’s time. These
will probably survive because in each case they are spoken by a
million or more people. There clearly are many embryonic nations.
There are also many long-established nations without their own nation
states, which have a national identity but are not independent – for
example the Scots, Catalans, Kurds, Palestinians, Chechyns, Tibetans,
Tamils, Ibo. A nation can keep its identity in servitude as well as in
freedom. Many new nation states, dozens and possibly hundreds, are
likely to come into being during the 21st century. In so doing they
will acquire the two classical pillars of independent statehood, the
sword and the currency: the monopoly of legal force over a territory
embodied in an army and police force, and the monopoly of the issue of
legal tender for that territory. A world of several hundred nation
states will be a world of several hundred national currencies.


The right to self-determination of nations does not require that a
nation must seek to establish a separate state. Nations can co-exist
amicably with other nations inside a multinational state, as for
example the English, Welsh and Scots did for three centuries inside
the British state, or the many Indian nationalities inside India. They
can do this, however, only if their national rights are respected and
the smaller nations do not feel oppressed by the larger ones, in
particular culturally and linguistically.

If this condition is not observed, political pressures are likely to
develop to break-up the multinational state in question. Multinational
states are either the legatees of colonial conquest – for example,
India, Indonesia, most of the states of Africa – or they have been
formed by the governments of large nationalities extending their power
over smaller ones and incorporating the latter into either a unitary
or a federal state – for example Britain, Spain, Russia, Turkey. The
historical tendency seems to be for multinational states to break up
into national ones, mainly because of the breakdown in solidarity
between their component nationalities and the development of a feeling
among the smaller ones that they are being put upon by the larger.

Shared civic nationality is the political basis of multinational
states, shared ethnic nationality the political basis of nation
states. In both cases, if the state is a democratic one, all citizens
will be equal before the law and the rights of minority nationalities
in multinational states and of national minorities in nation states
will be equally respected. Historically, multinational federal states
are all twentieth century creations – the USSR, the Russian
Federation, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria,
Malaysia etc. Generally they lack the stability and popular legitimacy
that come from centuries of tradition. Some have already dissolved,
others are likely to in time, as various peoples within them assert
their right to national independence.


Internationalism and supranationalism should be distinguished from one
another. Supranationalism – from the Latin “supra”, “above” – is
where nation states surrender their authority to a superior entity
which rules them and has legal primacy over them, at least in the
policy areas surrendered. It can refer to a multinational Federation
where sovereignty is divided between a superior federal level and
subordinate regional or national states, as in such federal states as
India, Pakistan, Russia or Nigeria. It can refer to imperial
arrangements like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where different nations
were ruled by a centralized bureaucracy in a distant imperial capital.
It can refer to the inter-state dispute settlement mechanisms now
being incorporated into some commercial treaties, which establish
tribunals that enable foreign private investors to sue states unless
they alter their domestic laws to accommodate investor interests. It
can refer to the contemporary European Union where national powers
have been shifted to unelected supranational institutions, the EU
Commission, Council of Ministers and Court of Justice, bodies that are
responsible as collectivities to no-one. In these different
supranational spheres cosmopolitan elites and a global nomenclatura
hold sway, their stewardship safe from the judgement of citizen-voters
and their policies beyond democratic control.

Internationalism – from the Latin “inter”, “between” – implies the
pre-existence of sovereign nation states. It refers to relations of
co-operation between the nations and nation states that constitute the
international community, but with each controlling and deciding its
own domestic and external affairs. Internationalism implies legal and
political equality between the parties. Supranationalism by contrast
implies a hierarchy, with the supranational level on top and having
primacy. Properly understood, internationalism is opposed to all forms
of chauvinism and xenophobia. It implies coexistence among progressive
“nationalisms” – a broad nationalism rather than narrow – using the
sense of that word in English which implies patriotism and love of
country, combined with respect for the many national communities into
which humanity is divided and recognition of their cultural and other
achievements. Internationalism delights in the diversity of nations.
Supranationalism seeks to erase or minimise national differences,
either because they threaten the dominance of a particular ruling
group or they make it more difficult for transnational big business to
establish a world of homogenized consumers and employees.
Supanationalism implies the erosion of State sovereignty.
Internationalism seeks to establish and defend it.

The glory of European civilisation has been the diversity of its
national components – in culture, science, political institutions,
economic actors, legal systems, education systems, tax codes, fashion.
Classically in Europe emulation and competition between nations,
communities and individuals spurred cultural creativity. The peak
cultural achievements of Europe occurred when its political units
were numerous and small – in Athenian Greece, Renaissance Italy, 17th
century Netherlands, 18th and early 19th century Germany. This
classical Europe, which is synonymous with much of what is best in
human civilization, is the opposite of the centralised “Europe” of the
Brussels bureaucracy, with its mania for uniformity and imposing


It is the absence in the European Union of anything like the
underlying national solidarity that binds Europe’s nation states
together which makes the EU integration “project”, and especially the
euro-currency scheme, so problematic and therefore unlikely to endure.
The EU is a creation of powerful political, economic and bureaucratic
elites, without popular legitimacy and authority. It is directed from
the top down rather than the bottom up and is therefore fundamentally
undemocratic. There is no European people, no European “demos”, no
European “We,” that is bound together by solidarities such as those
which bind nations and nation states together. Rather the EU is made
up of a plurality of Europe’s nations and peoples. The links binding
its member states are essentially legal, institutional and
bureaucratic. They are artificial and external, not organic and
internal. There is therefore no EU “common good” comparable to that
which underlies its component member states, whose achievement could
be regarded as justifying the establishment at supranational level of
state-like governmental institutions.

All independent states are monetary and fiscal unions as well as
political unions. As monetary unions they have their own currency, and
with that the capacity to control either the domestic price of that
currency, the rate of interest, or its external price, the rate of
exchange. As fiscal unions states have their own taxation, public
spending and social service systems. By virtue of citizens paying
common taxes to a common government in order to finance common public
spending programmes throughout the territory of a state, there are
automatic transfers from the richer regions and social classes of each
state to its poorer regions and classes. This sustains and is
sustained by a shared national solidarity, a mutual commitment to the
common good of the national community in question.

By contrast, the euro-currency project, European Economic and Monetary
Union, is a monetary union but not a fiscal union. Never in history
has there been a lasting monetary union that was not also a fiscal
union and political union, in other words a fully-fledged state,
deriving its legitimacy from a shared national solidarity and common
good which its government exists to serve and which in turn underpins
a common fiscal transfer system. History however shows many examples
of monetary unions that have broken up because the solidarity that is
necessary to sustain a supporting fiscal and political union was
non-existent or broke down.

The euro-currency scheme deprives the poorer EU states and the weaker
EU economies of the ability to maintain their competitiveness and to
compensate for their lower productivity, poorer resource endowment or
differential economic shocks, by adopting an exchange rate or interest
rate that suits their special circumstances. It fails to compensate
them for that loss by the automatic transfer of resources from the
centre which membership of a fiscal union entails. Compensatory fiscal
transfers at EU level to the extent required to give the EU monetary
union long-run viability are impossible, in view of the sheer volume
of resources required and the unwillingness of the richer EU countries
to provide them to the poorer because of the absence of the shared
solidarity that would compel that. Currently expenditure by Brussels
in any one year amounts to little more than 1% of EU annual gross
domestic product, a tiny relative figure. This contrasts with
expenditure on public transfers to their own citizens by the
individual EU member states of between one-third and one-half of their
annual national products.

Thus the fiscal solidarity that would sustain an EU political union
and an EU multinational state does not and cannot exist. Democratising
the EU in the absence of a European “demos” is impossible. The EU’s
adoption of such traditional symbols of national statehood as a flag,
an anthem, passport, car number plates, driving license, Olympic
games, youth orchestra, history books, motto, annual “national” day,
citizenship, fundamental rights charter and Constitution, are so many
doomed attempts to manufacture a European “demos” artificially, and
with it a bogus EU supranational quasi-nation and “national”
consciousness. They leave the ordinary people of Europe indifferent,
whose allegiance remains to their own countries and nation states. The
more European integration is pushed ahead and the more the national
democracy of the EU member states is undermined in the process, the
more the EU loses legitimacy and authority in the eyes of ordinary
citizens. Consequently the greater and more certain the eventual
popular reaction against it. To align oneself with such a misguided,
inevitably doomed project is to be out of step with history. It is to
side with a supranational elite against the democracy of one’s own
people, to spurn genuine internationalism for the intoxicating
illusion of building a superpower.


Insistence on the sovereignty of one’s own state is a natural right as
well as a social duty. It is in no way an expression of misguided
national egotism. Sovereignty has nothing to do with autarchy or
economic self-sufficiency. The national sovereignty of a democratic
state is analogous to the freedom and autonomy of the individual. It
means that one’s domestic laws and foreign relations are decided
solely by one’s own parliament and government, which are elected by
and responsible to one’s own people.

State sovereignty is a result of advancing political culture and is an
achievement of modern democracy. It is not an end in itself but is an
instrument of juridical independence, determining the possibility of a
people that inhabits a particular territory deciding its own destiny
and way of life in accordance with its own needs, interests, genius
and traditions, and determining freely its relations with other
peoples. It is the opposite of every kind of subordination to foreign
rule. Without sovereignty a nations’s politics become provincial,
concerned with marginal and unimportant issues. Maintaining state
sovereignty can alone guarantee the political independence of a nation
and create conditions for its members to maintain their right to
self-determination and their ability to determine their national
common good.

The sovereignty of a democratic state means at the same time the
sovereignty of its people. The end of the sovereignty of a state is at
the same time the end of the sovereignty of its people. The
sovereignty of a state and of its people is democratically
inalienable. No government, no parliamentary or referendum majority,
has the right to alienate it, for they have no right to deprive future
generations of the possibility of choosing their own way of life and
deciding the common good of that society. The only mode of
international cooperation that is acceptable to democrats therefore is
one which will not demand of a state the sacrifice of its national
sovereignty, a sacrifice which the European Union requires of its
member states. Respect for national sovereignty makes possible the
free cooperation of free peoples united in independent states on the
basis of juridical equality, which is fundamental to a stable
international order.

These principles have implications for politicians, at least for those
of them who care for more than personal advancement or careerism.The
prime duty of the politician-statesman is to defend the independence
of the state they are in charge of, to maintain its internal unity and
to foster the material well-being and cultural level of its people.


Concepts of “shared sovereignty”, “pooled sovereignty” and “joint
national sovereignties” are deceptive terms for having one’s laws and
policies decided by EU bodies which one’s own people do not elect,
which are not responsible to them and which can have significantly
different interests from one’s fellow national citizens. EU membership
means that countries can no longer decide their own laws over a wide
range of public policy matters. Countries and peoples that surrender
their sovereignty to the EU become in practice ever more subject to
laws and policies that serve the interests of others, in particular
the bigger EU states.

The claim that if a nation or state surrenders its sovereignty to the
EU, it merely exchanges the sovereignty of a small state for
participation in decision-making in a larger supranational union, is
simply untrue. The reality is different. The EU continually reduces
the influence of smaller states in decision-making by abolishing or
limiting national veto powers. Even if bigger states divest
themselves similarly of veto power, their political and economic
weight ensures that they can get their way in matters that are
decisive for them. Treaty changes also increase the relative voting
weight of the larger EU states. The provision of the 2009 Treaty of
Lisbon / EU Constitution which put EU law-making in the Council of
Ministers on a population basis, increasing the weight of the bigger
states and diminishing that of the smaller, underlines this fact.

Equally false is the contention that the advent of new states to the
European Union and their surrender of sovereignty to the EU would
increase their practical autonomy and influence. The nation that gives
up its sovereignty or is deprived of it, ceases to be an independent
subject of international politics. It becomes more like a provincial
state than a national one. It is no longer able to decide even its own
domestic affairs. It literally puts its existence at the mercy of
those who are not its citizens, who have taken its sovereignty into
their hands and who decide the policies of the larger body. In the
European Union the big states, in particular Germany and France,
decide fundamental policy. Juridically EU integration is an attempt to
liquidate for its member states the democratic heritage of the French
Revolution, the right of nations and peoples to self-determination,
which they need to maintain if they are to advance their political and
economic welfare. That is why the more the EU moves towards closer
integration and accrues to itself ever more features of a state, the
more it loses legitimacy and authority in the minds of people across


The principle of the separation of powers as between legislature,
executive and judiciary has been recognised as the basis of democratic
states and as fundamental to the liberty of citizens since the days of
Locke and Montesquieu. The institutions of the European Union
flagrantly violate this principle.

The Brussels Commission is the EU’s executive, but it has the monopoly
of proposing all EU laws as if it were a parliament. Its members are
nominated by governments, not individually elected. It has judicial
powers and can adjudicate on competition cases and impose fines on EU
members. Even though there may be an appeal to the Court of Justice,
the Commission acts as if it were a lower court. It draws up and
administers its own budget, with minimal democratic control. Under
its aegis are some 3000 semi-secret working groups whose members are
not publicly known, where most Commission decisions are actually made
and where corporate lobbyists wield great influence. Only 2% or so of
Commission decisions come up at meetings of the full Commission. The
rest are decided lower down in the bureaucracy.

The Council of Ministers is called a Council, but it makes laws just
like a parliament on the basis of the Commission’s proposals. It makes
those laws in secret, often on the basis of package-deals between its
members, and it takes some executive decisions. Some 85% of EU
directives and regulations are agreed privately in some 300 committees
of civil servants from the EU member states which service the Council
and they are approved without debate at Council level. Only 15% or so
of EU laws are actually discussed or negotiated at that level. The
Council of Ministers is responsible to nobody as a group and is
irremoveable as a body. It is a committee of legislators, which is the
classical definition of an oligarchy.

The EU Parliament is more a council than a parliament. It cannot
initiate any European law, although it can amend laws that come from
the Commission and Council as long as the Commission agrees and
members of the Council do not unanimously overrule it.

The Court of Justice is not just a court but sometimes legislates like
a parliament or lays down new fundamental principles like a
Constitution-maker. It continually interprets the EU treaties in such
a way as to extend the legal powers of the EU to the maximum. It is “a
court with a mission”, as one of its judges once characterized it –
that mission being to advance an ever closer union in Europe. A court
with a mission is a dangerous thing.

Legislative, executive and judicial functions are thus not separated
in the EU institutions, but are inextricably intertwined.

The Treaty of Lisbon gave the EU the constitution of a classical
federal state, in which state sovereignty is divided between the
supranational federal level and the national member state level and in
which everyone has two citizenships, one of each level., just as in
such federal states as the USA and Germany. All states have citizens
and one can only be a citizen of a state. The EU’s is the first
state constitution in history to be drawn up entirely in the interests
of big business, without the slightest popular or democratic input
into its making. It mandates economic neo-liberalism. Its foundational
“four freedoms” – free movement of goods, services, capital and labour
– enshrine the axioms of classical laissez-faire as constitutional
principles which no government or elected parliament may legally
change or violate, regardless of the wishes of their voters.


The accretion of power by Brussels is the result of decisions taken at
national level by the Member States and the politicians that run them.
Every time successive EU treaties abolish further national vetoes and
shift law-making over particular policy areas from the national level
to the supranational, where laws are made by qualified majority voting
in the EU Council of Ministers, national parliaments and citizens lose
power correspondingly, for they no longer have the final say in the
areas concerned.

Simultaneously, individual Government Ministers, who are members of
the executive arm of government at national level and must have a
national parliamentary majority behind them for their policies, are
turned into legislators for 500 million Europeans as members of the
27-person Council of Ministers. National politicians thereby obtain an
intoxicating accretion of personal power at the expense of their
national parliaments and peoples, even though they are open to being
outvoted by a qualified majority on the Council. They can also blame
Brussels for laws and policies that prove unpopular at national level,
thus escaping adverse electoral consequences at home. These are the
reasons Government Ministers tend to be so europhile and to cooperate
so willingly in denuding their own parliaments and peoples of their

The more policy areas shift from the national level to Brussels, the
more power shifts simultaneously from national legislatures to
national executives, and the more the power of individual Ministers
and bureaucrats increases. Keeping on good terms with their fellow
members of the exclusive Council of Ministers “club” of EU legislators
becomes more personally important for Ministers at EU level than being
awkward in defence of their own peoples’ interests. Increasingly they
come to see their function vis-a-vis one another as delivering their
national electorates in support of further EU integration.

A member state on its own cannot decide a single European law. Its
people, parliament and government may be opposed to an EU law, its
government representative on the Council of Ministers may vote against
it, but they are bound to obey it nonetheless once it is adopted by
qualified majority Council vote. This devalues the vote of every
individual citizen. Each policy area that is transferred from the
national level to the supranational EU level devalues it further.

This reduces the ability of citizens to decide what is their national
common good and deprives them of the most fundamental right of
membership of a democracy, the right to make their own laws, to elect
their representatives to make them, and to change those
representatives if they dislike the laws they make. European
integration therefore is not just a process of depriving Europe’s
nation states and peoples of their national democracy and
independence: within each member state it represents a gradual coup by
government executives against legislatures and by politicians against
the citizens who elect them.

The European Union hollows out Europe’s nation states, leaving their
traditional institutions formally in place, but with their most
important functions transferred to the supranational level. It turns
the state itself into an enemy of its own people, while clamping a
form of financial feudalism on Europe.


Societies need political direction to maximise the welfare of their
members. They need a structure of laws and institutions to give people
security, to protect them against internal and external enemies, to
maintain public health, to raise peoples’ educational and cultural
level, to ensure fairness of income and wealth distribution, to
allocate space for housing and other purposes and to expand democracy
by fostering participation in public life. These are the essential
functions of the democratic State. They can be properly exercised only
if the authority and geographical boundaries of that State, whether it
is nationally based or multinational, are accepted as legitimate by
its citizens.


Imperialism can take the classical form of direct rule, in which a
dominated people is openly treated as a colony, or the more modern
form in which a people may have formal political independence, but
their resources and external political and economic relations are
largely under foreign control and are directed at continuing their
subordination or dependence. Neo-colonial relations of this kind are
common in the contemporary world between metropolitan powers and
former colonies, and are against the interests of the peoples of both.
EU Commission President J.M.Barroso referred to the European Union as
having a “dimension of empire”. The EU is a form of modern imperialism
on our continent.


Democrats acknowledge the possession of equal rights by all citizens
of a state, as well as equality of human rights between people of
different sex, race, religion, age and nationality, based on their
common humanity. Ethnic minorities are entitled to have their rights
protected within a democratic state. Majority rights and minority
rights are different from one another, but are not in principle
incompatible. The struggle against racism, sexism, ageism and national
oppression are all democratic questions, concerned with equality.

By contrast, the traditional issues that divide political Right and
Left in modern industrial societies, proponents of capitalism and
socialism, are concerned with inequality – in ownership and control of
society’s productive forces, in power, possessions, income and social
function. The mass democracy that historically was first achieved
under capitalism serves to legitimise and make more tolerable the
inequalities of power, wealth and income of capitalist society.

Traditional leftwing thought holds that capitalism creates the
material conditions for the application of the principle of democracy
to the economic sphere, in the form of socialism, social democracy or
a social market economy. Socialism, or indeed any other “-ism”,
requires the prior attainment of national independence. The old adage
holds: “Attain first the political kingdom and then all other values
will be added unto you.”

Traditional rightwing thought extols the rights of the individual
against the collective as embodied in the state and upholds market
provision of goods and services as more efficient than state
provision. Conventional leftwing thought tends to extol collective as
against individual rights and champions public provision of essential
goods and services. Sensible people acknowledge that both public and
private provision are necessary in their respective spheres, that
there needs to be a creative tension between them and that their
boundaries are always shifting in line with technological developments
and the changing balance of class forces in society.

Political parties and movements on Right and Left tend to be divided
between those that understand the importance of national independence
and national democracy and those that do not.


The notion that “globalization” makes the nation state out of date is
an ideological one. Globalization is at once a description of fact and
an ideology, a mixture of “is” and “ought”. It refers to important
trends in the contemporary world: ease of travel, free trade, free
movement of capital, the internet, the world-wide impact of pandemics
and climate change. The effect of these on the sovereignty of states
is often exaggerated. States have always been interdependent to some
extent. There was relatively more globalization, in the sense of freer
movement of labour, capital and trade, in the late nineteenth century
than today, although the volumes involved were much smaller. At that
time also most states were on the gold standard, a form of
international money. By contrast modern states do more for their
citizens, are expected by them to do more, and impinge more intimately
on peoples’ lives than at any time in history, most obviously in
providing public services and redistributing the national income.

Globalization imposes new constraints on states, but constraints there
always have been. States adapt to such changes, but they do not cause
nation states to disappear or become less important. Globalization as
an ideology refers to the interests of transnational capital, which
wishes to be free of state control on capital movements and seeks
minimal social constraints on private capital owners. The relation of
transnational capital to sovereign states is ambivalent. On the one
hand it seeks to erode the sovereignty of states in order to weaken
their ability to impose constraints on private profitability and
restrain “the furies of private interest”. On the other hand
transnational capital looks to its own state, where the bulk of its
share ownership is usually concentrated, to defend its political and
economic interests internationally when needed.

Liberal individualism is the ideology of the opponents of national
sovereignty and those whose income and lifestyle make them
beneficiaries of globalization. It proposes to erode the solidarities
of nation, community and family in the interest of creating a society
of atomised consumers and homogenized producers, global in extent,
where transnational capital decides fundamental policy and national
sovereignty is weakened or abolished.


People on the political Left want the state to legislate leftwing
measures, people on the political Right want rightwing ones; but
neither can have either unless they are citizens of an independent
state in the first place, which possesses the relevant legislative
power and competence to decide. That is why people who are politically
Right or Left share an objective common interest in establishing and
maintaining an independent nation state and a government which
represents and is responsible to the nation.

Likewise within each state different social interests align themselves
for and against the maintenance of state sovereignty, seeking either
to uphold or to undermine national democracy. This is a central theme
of the politics of our time. It is why democrats in every European
country today, whether on the political Centre, Left or Right, are
potentially part of an international movement in defence of the nation
state and national democracy, and against the political and economic
forces that seek to undermine these – most obviously the European
Union in our part of the world.


There is no international, positive or natural legal right that
entitles people to migrate to live and work in other peoples’
countries – apart from political asylum seekers, who are recognised as
possessing such rights under international and natural law. All
independent states have the right to decide who shall settle in their
territories and how newcomers may acquire rights of citizenship. At
the same time, once people of different national or ethnic origins
have settled in a country, they have the right to be treated the same
as everyone else.

It is evidence of how the European Union erodes the sovereignty of its
members that the government of each EU country must now extend such
classical components of citizenship as rights to residence, work and
social maintenance to the citizens of all other EU member states as a
requirement of supranational EU law. The EU member states themselves
have surrendered the right to decide such matters, something that is a
fundamental abandonment of their sovereignty and democracy by their
europhile politicians. Two distinct democratic principles are
involved in assessing international migration policy: the right of
national communities to protect their social and cultural cohesiveness
and integrity, and their labour standards, in face of uncontrolled or
excessive immigration, and the right to equal treatment of all people
within a country. Confusing these two rights impedes rational
discussion of migration issues.


International action to protect human rights should be grounded in
respect for state sovereignty. No one state or group of states has the
right to constitute itself an international policeman over the
domestic affairs of other states. This principle can be overborne
only in accordance with the generally recognised principles of
international law and on the basis of a broad consensus of the world
community – the two recognised conditions for such international
intervention nowadays being if one state violates another’s frontiers
by force or if a state attempts genocide against an ethnic group
within its territory.


The human race is some one million years old, history some 5000
years, industrialism 300 or so, and political democracy, understood as
provision of the universal franchise and the recognition that all men
and women possess human rights regardless of where they live, has
existed for little more than a century.

Over much of the world these rights are still denied and many nations
that seek statehood are denied their right to self-determination. At
the same time the universal franchise is only one dimension of
democracy. It is of limited value in the absence of fair and
proportional voting systems and controls on electoral spending to
prevent the rich and powerful “buying” votes.

Other desirable dimensions of political democracy on the basis of the
universal franchise, but which most states do not yet recognise, are
direct legislation by citizens through referendums, the right of a
specific number of citizens to initiate a referendum and rules for
fairness in referendums, the institution of term-limits for holders of
public office to encourage the circulation of political elites,
provision for the recallability of public representatives who flout
their election pledges by enabling voters to force a by-election if an
agreed percentage demand it, and establishing an optimal balance of
central and local government to encourage citizen participation in
public administration and efficient provision of public services.
People will be struggling to establish such democratic rights as these
for centuries to come.

* * *

This document has been compiled by Anthony Coughlan for the National
Platform EU Research and Information Centre, 24 Crawford Avenue,
Dublin 9, Ireland; Tel.: 00-353-1-8305792. People are free to use or
adapt it as they see fit and to disseminate it more widely without any
reference to or acknowledgement of its source. If changes are made to
the text, however, they should not be ascribed to its author.April 2020
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