Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Kurdistan, Palestine, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan, Chechnya…?

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National self-determination really just means democracy – the principle of majority rule. Democracy is based on the nation; sovereignty of the people means sovereignty of the nation. If a smaller nation is dominated by another, larger nation that imposes its majority on it, the smaller nation may reasonably feel that this majority is alien and illegitimate. A genuine nation rests on the consent of its members, which means they agree to be ruled by its majority, even if they support the minority.

In other words, true democracy must be pluralistic; it involves respect for the minority alongside rule by the majority. Consequently, for a nation to determine its own destiny freely, it must be able to choose freely between different, legitimate options. Scottish independence vs union with the rest of the UK; Catalan independence vs union with the rest of Spain; Brexit vs Remain. And not so long ago, Croatian and Slovenian independence vs united Yugoslavia; Jewish national statehood (Zionism) vs opposition to Jewish statehood (anti-Zionism). There can be no self-determination if there is only one permitted choice, and no national unity unless we respect our co-nationals who choose differently.

Modern history has involved the continuous emergence of new independent nation-states, from the secessions of the Netherlands, Sweden and Portugal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the American, Haitian, Belgian and Greek revolutions; the independence of Brazil and break up of the Spanish empire in Latin America; the break-up of the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires; independence of Norway, Ireland and Iceland; the Turkish and Israeli wars of independence; the establishment of the British Empire’s Dominions; post-WW2 decolonisation; the independence of Algeria, Bangladesh and Eritrea; the fall of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia; Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce; up to the independence of Montenegro, Kosovo and South Sudan.

There is every reason to believe that as the human world continues to grow and evolve, the process will continue and more independent states will emerge – Kurdistan, Palestine, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan, Chechnya…? But the question of which nations or countries will become independent, as opposed to remaining parts of larger unions, is not predetermined. It depends – among other things – upon the will of their respective peoples. It is up to us to ensure that, while these difficult, weighty questions are being decided, the spirit of pluralism and tolerance is preserved.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019 - Posted by | Catalonia, Chechnya, Kurds, Marko Attila Hoare, Palestine, Scotland

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