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European Journal of Political Research 35: 255–286, 1999.

© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Cultural pluralism, nationalism and federalism:

A revision of democratic citizenship in plurinational states

Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain

Abstract. This article poses three questions related to the current revision of democratic
citizenship in plurinational states. The first question focusses on the analytical limits of the
term ‘multicultural’ and on the question of where nationalist movements stand within cultural
pluralism. The second question asks whether it is possible to overcome the inherent difficulties
in the traditional concept of liberal-democratic citizenship in plurinational states. Finally,
the third question asks whether federalism is an adequate framework to regulate a revised
concept of democratic citizenship in plurinational states. These three questions are developed
in three sections. In the first I put forward a typology that allows us to identify four kinds of
cultural pluralism movements that are present within the current liberal democracies. In the
second section I identify some of the shortcomings of the traditional concept of citizenship
with respect to the plurinational integration of some democracies, making special reference to
the standard liberal version by Rawls. I defend the right of the minority liberal nationalisms
to be included in a revision of the concept of democratic citizenship for the next century.
Finally, I discuss the role of federalism, paying special attention to the case of Catalonia and
Spain within Europe, and to possible ‘asymmetrical’ reforms to the concept of democratic


In the field of political theory, the 1990s are proving to be prone to revision-
ism. Concepts such as pluralism, citizenship or federalism have always been
considered to be firmly established within the liberal-democratic tradition.
However, these concepts are now being found in the difficult position of
having to deal with empirical situations characterized by increasing interna-
tionalization and cultural pluralism for which they do not appear to be as well
prepared as was first thought.
This article poses three questions related to the current revision of de-
mocratic citizenship and its integrative character in plurinational states. The
first question is an analytical one and has two parts: on the one hand, is the
term ‘multicultural’ suitable for the study of pluralism in present-day democ-
racies? On the other hand, where do nationalist movements stand within
cultural pluralism? The second question is of a normative nature: is it possible

to overcome the inherent difficulties in the traditional concept of liberal-

democratic citizenship in plurinational states? Finally, a third question of an
institutional nature, which is rooted in the Spanish state: is federalism an
adequate framework to regulate a revised concept of democratic citizenship
in plurinational states?
These three questions will be developed in three sections. In the first, I
will put forward a typology that allows us to identify four kinds of cultural
pluralism movements that are present within the liberal democracies of the
1990s: those which defend a ‘single issue’ (feminism, sexual minorities, etc),
those of a nationalist nature; those representing immigrants, and those which
defend the rights of indigenous peoples. In the second section, I will identify
some of the shortcomings of the traditional concept of liberal-democratic
citizenship with respect to the plurinational integration of some democracies.
Here I will make special reference to the standard liberal version expressed
in Political Liberalism (1993) by J. Rawls. I will defend the right of the
liberal nationalisms to be included in a revision of the concept of democratic
citizenship for the next century. The aim, in short, is to increase the legiti-
macy of liberal democracies based on a more open and plural conception of
citizenship. Finally, I will discuss the role of federalism in regulating a stable
and strong legitimacy for plurinational liberal-democracies. Here I will pay
special attention to the case of Catalonia and Spain within Europe, and to
possible ‘asymmetrical’ reforms to the concept of democratic citizenship. A
revision of liberalism and democratic nationalism involves readapting some
of the normative and institutional features of present-day liberal democra-
cies in order to improve the link between their theoretical premises and their
practical expression.

Types of cultural pluralism

Is the term ‘multicultural’ suitable for an analysis of the pluralism of present-

day democracies? I believe that the answer is no. This is because the concept
of multiculturalism covers a number of very distinct phenomena that require
different theoretical and empirical treatment. It is a confusing concept in
descriptive terms, and one that is not very useful in explanatory or norma-
tive terms. I think that before discussing normative or institutional ques-
tions it is necessary to differentiate between the main kinds of ‘multicultural’
phenomena present in democratic societies at the end of this century.1
The last two decades have seen the emergence of a number of new polit-
ical and social movements, such as the feminists and the ecologists, or those
which defend the rights of sexual minorities or immigrants. At the same time,
a number of older political movements, such as those representing national

minorities, have reappeared. Each one of these movements constitutes a series

of challenges to the theory and especially to the institutional practice of the
liberal democracies. A common feature of the different cultural pluralism
movements has been both a criticism of some of the tenets that the liberal
democracies have long taken for granted, and a defence of a collective di-
mension neglected in the theoretical presuppositions of traditional liberalism.
However, the differences between these movements are as significant as the
similarities. We shall now consider some of these similarities and differences
with the aid of a number of discriminatory criteria: temporality, territoriality,
basic political aims, and the demand for or lack of collective representation
and self-government.
The first criterion is temporality, that is to say, the transitory or permanent
nature of the different cultural pluralism movements in relation to the claims
they make, whether these be rights, institutions, or procedural principles to
be included in the democratic rules of the game. As a result, the movements
that centre their attention on a single issue are normally transitory because
their claims are temporary and only last until they achieve equality with the
rest of society with respect to a perceived inequality. This is the case, for
example, of specific egalitarian rights or of positive discrimination policies
promoted by some feminist organizations or certain sexual minorities. On the
other hand, many of the claims of nationalist movements, or of immigrant
or indigenous peoples, are of a permanent nature. They are usually collec-
tive claims designed to maintain or develop specific cultural characteristics
(religion, language, customs, etc) considered valuable in themselves.
The second criterion is territoriality. While some movements link their
claims to groups scattered all over a state, others are centred on collectives
which are mainly found in one specific territory. The former include move-
ments which defend a single issue or immigrant groups, while the latter
include mainly the non-state nationalisms.
The third criterion concerns the political objectives pursued by the differ-
ent movements. These objectives can be classified into two aspects: cultural
and political. The first aspect depends on whether the ultimate goal is to
include in the concept of democratic citizenship certain cultural aspects that
until that moment have been excluded, increasing the scope of the classic
concept of political equality; or whether it is to incorporate certain cultural
aspects that differentiate certain citizens from others, creating what is usu-
ally called a ‘differentiated citizenship’. The first case involves an extension
of the concept of citizenship to mean a set of rights and duties which are
common to all citizens. The second case also involves an extension of the
concept of citizenship, but this extension will now be based on the normal-
ization of a set of specific cultural rights which instead of including all the

citizens of the state, are aimed at one specific group. In this case the con-
cept of democratic citizenship must include a series of group differences,
in contrast with the traditional vision of citizenship as a uniform status for
all individuals. The majority of feminist claims, for example, belong to the
first category, whereas some aspects of nationalist movements or of immi-
grant groups (exemptions from dress, or food codes, religious holidays, etc)
belong to the second category.2 The second aspect of this criterion depends
on whether the political objective is the egalitarian and effective integration
of specific collectives into the political system when they have been poorly
integrated in practical terms, or whether what is being pursued is the political
differentiation of these collectives within the institutional framework of the
Finally, the fourth and fifth discriminatory criteria for cultural pluralism
movements are those related, on the one hand, with the demand for or lack
of collective representation in democratic institutions and, on the other hand,
with the demand for or lack of political self-government. At one end we find
the majority of single-issue movements, which have not made either of these
two claims, and at the other end we find a number of the nationalist and
indigenous movements, which have traditionally expressed their preference
for both claims. In contrast to the former, these last two movements make
claims for political representation and self-government from both empirical
and normative standpoints.
The joint application of these criteria allows us to distinguish at least
four basic types of movement within present-day cultural pluralism: single-
issue, non-state nationalist, immigrant, and indigenous movements. These
four types of cultural pluralism movement present qualitative differences that
must be treated differently in more refined versions of 21st century liberal-
democracies. Table 1 summarizes this proposed typology.4 I will tackle the
concepts of citizenship and federalism in the sections that follow from the
perspective of non-state nationalist movements (second row of the table) and
their relationship with liberal-democratic premises.5

Liberal nationalism and democratic citizenship

Political liberalism and nationalism

Relations between defenders of non-state nationalisms and defenders of the

liberal tradition have often been tense. We should ask ourselves why. In gen-
eral terms, it is the result of mutual misunderstandings that have their origins
in the different logics that impregnate the two points of view. The difficulties
explained by the main versions of the liberal tradition when they attempt
Table 1. Typology of movements

Cultural pluralism Temporality Territoriality Group rights Federal Isolation within

movements Individual/collective use solutions the constitutional
Political Representation in Self framework
aims state institutions government


Movement 1 issue Transitory Individual equality Not No
(e.g. feminist, sexual for members of applicable
minority movements) the group
No + No No
National movements in Permanent Cultural Asymmetrical No
plurinational states differences federalism
Yes + Yes/No Yes
Immigrant movements Permanent Cultural Not No
differences applicable
No + No No
Indigenous movements Permanent Cultural ‘Federacies’ Yes
Yes + Yes/No Yes


to understand those nationalisms that fail to conform to the model of the

nation-state are related to three characteristics of liberal theory: individual-
ism, universalism, and statism. On the other hand, some nationalist traditions
have defended a more collective or ‘organic’ than individual form of political
organization, far removed from the premises of liberalism. This is a fact that
has often led to the ‘liberal’ rejection of non-state nationalisms for being
‘particularist’ and ‘emotional’ remote from the ‘rational’ principles that are
supposed to exist in the liberal Western democracies.
Broadly speaking we can say that from the perspective of cultural plural-
ism, what most horrifies liberals is the violation of the rights and values of
democratic citizenship in favour of particular ‘cultural identities’. And what
most horrifies a nationalist is the violation of national linguistic or cultural
features which make up most of their individual identity in favour of a nor-
mative universalism, which is in reality promoting the implicit acceptance of
another set of particular linguistic and cultural features that are hegemonic
in their territory. At the root of these misunderstandings is a different vision
of what ‘democracy’ should mean; to the extent that at one extreme nation-
alism is, for some, incompatible with democracy; while for others without
the recognition of national identities a system cannot be considered truly
democratic. Yet, the issue is neither so simple in theory nor needs to be so
dramatic in practice if certain traditional features of both perspectives are
It is well known that classic political liberalism was, fundamentally, a
theory of the state. A theory that established the convenience of a ‘limited
state’ capable of guaranteeing the protection of certain rights of citizenship. In
contrast to the hierarchical and inegalitarian character of the Ancien Régime,
it was thought that individuals, considered in abstract terms to be ‘free and
equal’, should move in two clearly differentiated spheres that had their own
rules: the private sphere and the public sphere. In most liberal tendencies,
the majority of distinguishing features that allow individuals to ‘understand’
or ‘recognize’ each other as such, are outside the public sphere. This is the
case of ‘national’ differences that do not coincide with the ‘nation’ that all
states try to create through their institutions. According to the standard liberal
approach, an egalitarian and universal recognition should prevail in the public
sphere: the recognition of the individual rights of citizenship. This is the only
recognition that is conceived to be compatible with the liberal-democratic
organization of the public sphere. Moreover, we should be distrustful, we
are told, of all kinds of approaches involving ‘group rights’ – there are only
individual rights.7 The fact is, however, that in practice the state cannot be
culturally neutral. Apart from recognizing the rights of citizenship, liberal
institutions introduce a whole range of hegemonic linguistic and cultural traits

and values into the public sphere in order to create a homogeneous ‘national’
identity from above, which has a direct effect on individual rights. The result
of this in a plurinational state is that it is much more difficult for some groups
to fit comfortably into one state than it is for others, as they have to pay a
higher price in terms of their own personal identity – in the name of equality
and non-discrimination, differences of identity are discriminated against and
excluded. For some collectives, the price they have to pay for equality of
citizenship has been their own inequality and assimilation, mainly in terms of
linguistic and cultural identity.8
Liberal-democratic rights and rules of the game constitute the minimum
normative foundations that underpin the public sphere of liberal democracies
in which we recognize ourselves as citizens. But, contrary to what some well-
known liberals would have us believe, these foundations have never been
‘neutral’ as far as individual identities are concerned, because those rights
and rules include a whole range of implicit particularist cultural values (such
as language, reconstructions of history, ‘common’ traditions, etc.) which go
beyond mere procedural and universalist issues.
One of the aspects involved in the revision of communitarian liberalism
is a deeper understanding of what is meant by liberal ‘neutrality’, and what
the ‘foundations’ should be so that they are suitable for present-day realities.
In this sense, the objective of this revision is not so much to change what we
are seeing, but how we are seeing it; in other words, this entails a change of
viewpoint. A change of viewpoint that would allow us to move away from the
inequalities inherent in the recognition of present-day national identities that
characterize the professed universalism of traditional liberal equality, to an
organized recognition and regulation of national differences. From the point
of view of personal identity, language, for example, is never a ‘neutral’ issue.
It consists of a whole range of semantic and pragmatic references that all go
to make up identity (Wittgenstein). For a liberal-democratic state to ‘recog-
nize’ the national identities that have existed and still exist in its territory
means putting them on an equal footing and in the same public sphere as
the individual rights of citizenship.9 This is not to suggest that the organi-
zational rights and principles of liberalism, or what others have called its
‘art of separation’,10 should be swept aside, but that they should both be put
into practice in a more radical way than the strictly uniform, individualistic
and statist versions that characterize traditional liberalism. To sum up, it is
necessary to ‘improve’ both the liberal values of individual liberty, equality,
and dignity so that they include the collective differences that go to make up
individuality; and value pluralism, understood from the premise that diversity
is valuable in itself and not, as often happens, just an inconvenient fact that
must be regulated in order to ensure better ‘coexistence’.11

Democratic citizinship in plurinational states

The concept of citizenship has been interpreted in different ways throughout

history. Nevertheless, since the time of classical Greece it has always been
taken to refer to an individual member of a political community, and con-
sidered to be one of the basic references of individual and collective identity
of this community.12 The liberal and democratic concept of citizenship has
never been a static concept. It is a notion that has established a series of
liberal, democratic, social, national and functional normative principles over
the last 200 years. Now it seems to be the turn of the principle of cultural
pluralism. During this century, the standard conception of liberal-democratic
citizenship, associated with a uniform set of individual rights and duties, has
undergone two significant ‘revisions’. These have been closely linked with
the democratizing reforms that took place after the First World War and with
the welfare states that emerged after the Second World War. The last two
centuries have seen an increasing universalization of citizenship as questions
of gender, race and property have been eliminated as conditions for acquiring
the rights and duties of citizenship. However, the process of European inte-
gration and the recent emergence of cultural pluralism movements at the end
of this century have presented a different kind of challenge to the concept
of citizenship. What is now being questioned is not only the status of the
democratic citizen as the depositary of a set of rights, duties and even public
‘virtues’ and responsibilities, but also the inclusion of citizenship as identity,
or in other words, the sense of individuals belonging to a specific political
collective.13 This extension of the concept of citizenship modifies what is
meant by a ‘liberal politics of recognition’ both for supra-state organizations
and within democratic states themselves.
My aim is to put forward an internal review of liberalism from the per-
spective of non-state nationalisms of a liberal nature. In other words, what
is being proposed is not a kind of synthesis between liberalism and a non-
liberal ‘communitarianism’ that defends cultural ‘collective values’. What is
being defended is a review of the rules and rights of liberal democracies that
will allow those democracies to achieve their own ideal of creating a tolerant
and pluralist society of free and equal people. The aim is to include cultural
pluralism as a value worth protecting, and not as just an unwelcome fact that
must be tolerated as best one can.14
It is very well known that the historical relationship between liberal and
democratic perspectives has been full of tensions. These are two normative
perspectives dominated by different concepts, values and logics, that have
often turned out to be contradictory in practice. However, this has not pre-
vented both perspectives from being linked in the organizational principles
of these surprising historical products that are the liberal democracies.15 It

is interesting to point out here that the liberal and democratic components
also maintain different relationships with nationalist groups according to their
own concepts and values. In fact, many of the criticisms directed at nationalist
groups (and at other phenomena of cultural pluralism) in the name of democ-
racy come from the liberal perspective more than from the strictly democratic
perspective.16 Many of these criticisms are similar to those put forward in the
last century to restrict the establishment of institutions and democratic rules
that clashed with the liberalism of the time (rights of association and referen-
dum, universal suffrage, etc.). Opposition to the democratization of liberalism
was based on two fundamental elements of the contractualist theses, which
have been repeated until the present day: individualism and universalism.
However, in the normative versions of traditional liberalism and in those of
today, what could be called the ‘hidden element’ of standard liberal contrac-
tualism is neglected: statism. This element defines the interpretation of the
other two. Thus, liberal conceptions do not always distinguish between two
senses of the concept of universality. This concept sometimes refers to all
the elements of a specific political collective (when it is said, for example,
that health care in welfare states should be ‘universal’ for all the citizens
regardless of their income), and on other occasions it is used to refer to all
the individuals who make up humanity, regardless of what political collective
they belong to (this is the case of certain ‘universalist’ liberal ethics, or of the
usual justification for human rights). In this way, when it is said that certain
rights or obligations of any human being must be ‘universalizable’ in certain
conditions, for example, rights relating to one’s national identity (language,
culture, etc), this should not be interpreted according to the first, ‘state’, sense
of universality, but in the sense that these rights must apply to all individuals,
regardless of which national collective they belong to.
Furthermore, when one attempts to discuss the normalization of some
group rights, which are defended by the different movements of present-day
cultural pluralism, what we have referred to as the standard liberal version
opposes it in the name of individualism: only individuals have rights, not
groups. However, in reality, what is often being defended by this standard
version is not that the inadmissability of the normalization of group rights is
due to the fact that these rights are not individual, because they sometimes
are, but that they are not ‘universal’ in the first of the two senses mentioned.
In other words, these rights are considered to be inadmissable because they
are not aimed at all the citizens of a particular state, but only at some of
them. I believe that part of the incomprehension of traditional liberalism
towards group rights is due to the fact that it uses a universalist language
to refer to a particular group, the citizens of a state, which takes for granted a
uniform identity of citizenship created from the premises of an implicit statist

nationalism. The result is a form of liberalism that dubs as particularist and

‘against the common interest’ any attempts to regulate the rights of a national
group whenever these fail to coincide with the particularist interests of the
hegemonic group that the state defines as ‘national’.
Rather paradoxically, it can be said that the standard liberal standpoint
gives rise to communitarian interpretations of the universalism it purports to
defend. It is not only that universalist liberalism is the particular communitari-
anism of western societies, as has been pointed out from different standpoints
by Walzer and Parekh, but also that it is within these societies that statist liber-
alisms have promoted a series of collective particularist values and identities
of a national nature, to the detriment of the national values and identities of
other minority collectives. In the name of an alleged universalism based on
the individual, the collective values of minority groups are sacrificed in favour
of the values, also collective, of majority groups. In reality, all democracies
have defended state nationalism. And, in my opinion, this fact damages the
normative nucleus of the liberal perspective in plurinational states when it
fails to include the internal cultural pluralism of different national collectives
in the concept of democratic citizenship.
A revision of the concept of citizenship that is in tune with the defence of
cultural pluralism, considered as a value worth protecting and not just as an
unwelcome fact, implies the presence of this pluralism within the normative
and organizational structure of the liberal democracies. As far as the norma-
tive structure is concerned, ‘taking rights seriously’ in a plurinational state
will have to mean the inclusion of certain values and rights of different na-
tional groups. As far as the organizational structure is concerned, it will mean
including the territorial and self-government components of these collectives
in the symbolic, institutional and power levels of the liberal-democratic rules
of the game. Both in the normative sphere and in the organizational sphere
treating what is different by means of a uniform equality is no longer adequate
nowadays, not only in ‘democratic’ terms, but even in ‘liberal’ terms.
The liberal and democratic aim is for the ‘politics of recognition’ of na-
tions to be included in the principles, institutions and collective decision-
making rules of the liberal democracies, to a much greater extent than their
inherent state nationalism has allowed up to now. This does not imply the
adoption of a favourable position in relation to something like the juxtaposi-
tion of a variety of uniform communitarianisms. Nowadays, fortunately, no
nation is, or needs to become, homogeneous. The recent example of Bosnia
should serve as a reminder of what must be avoided: an outdated national-
ism based on ‘ethnic purity’ which brings together the worst aspects of state
and non-state nationalisms. When we demand the inclusion of group rights
within normative and organizational spheres of the democracies, we do so

from the ‘liberal’ perspective of ensuring a series of external protective rights

for national minorities in relation to the majority, and never in terms of a
purely communitarian or ‘democratic’ interpretation, not liberal in any sense,
of those rights that might bring about standardizing legitimations within the
minorities.17 This implies a set of changes in the symbolic, institutional and
power spheres within the state (as we will see below) without undermining
the liberal perspective that individuals should always be able to break their
links with the group.18 In other words, going beyond the uniform statism of
standard liberal vision involves constitutionalising a plurality of ways of be-
longing to and participating in the polity. Or, put another way, in the different
polities of an increasingly interconnected world, in which the concept of the
nation-state is becoming less and less decisive.
Let us see, very briefly and in order to show the limits of standard polit-
ical liberalism, if a revision of one of its best-known versions, the theory of
liberal-democratic citizenship put forward by Rawls in Political Liberalism,
can be adapted to the case of cultural pluralism in plurinational states.

‘In the beginning there was John Rawls’ (or at least it seems that way

In general terms, I believe that of the four cultural pluralism movements

mentioned in the last section, Rawls’ conception is well suited for the first
case: single-issue movements; it offers possibilities of adaptation for some
of the demands of immigrant movements; but it is not very well suited for
movements that combine the features of territoriality and self-government, or,
in other words, when it is applied to nationalist and indigenous movements.19
One of the main differences between Political Liberalism and his better-
known Theory of Justice is the increasing importance of the category of
‘citizen’ as opposed to that of ‘person’. What is now important when es-
tablishing the principles of justice in a ‘well-ordered’ society is, above all, to
establish a ‘political conception.20 Thus, we are faced with a more political
and less ethical presentation of those principles. This change seems to suggest
from the start that there will be more opportunities to link the cultural plural-
ism of plurinational states to the principles of justice. At the very least, these
opportunities seem greater than those suggested by the more individualistic
and traditional focus of his earlier work. It seems that an ‘ethical’ dimension
should be added to the most ‘moral’ perspective included in the principles of
Theory of Justice, specially when this dimension is based on such concepts
as the ‘fact of reasonable pluralism’ and the ‘burdens of judgement’.
Nevertheless, the adoption of an implicitly statist conception, according to
which a liberal society is the ‘national’ society defined by the state, greatly
limits the capacity of the overlapping consensus that operates in political life

to incorporate the pluralism of different citizens’ national identities. Rawls

confuses the perspectives of citizenship as status and citizenship as identity.
Citizenship, which governs the public sphere, continues to be conceived as a
homogeneous identity, in contrast to the heterogeneity that governs the sphere
of ‘private’ identities. And it seems that in order to protect the ‘neutral’ char-
acter of citizenship from any alleged contamination, any national identities
that do not coincide with that of the state can only be accommodated in the
pluralism of the civil society and are excluded from the rules that regulate
the public sphere. Rawls’ conception remains firmly rooted at this phase of
statist nationalism of the traditional liberal theories, which, it should not be
forgotten, were ‘theories of the state’. With respect to the cultural pluralism
of present-day democracies it seems that we have yet to free ourselves of the
difficulties inherent in the standard liberal versions. Furthermore, from the
point of view of identity, this seems to be a long way from the ‘neutrality’
that he purports to pursue in the public sphere.21 What we should be seeking,
in my view, is not to push aside this neutrality, but to put it into practice. To do
so it will be necessary to perfect the normative, institutional and procedural
principles that regulate citizenship in the public sphere.
National identity is normally one of the basic components of individual
self-identity. However, sharing this component with the majority of the rest
of the citizens does not in any way imply sharing with them what Rawls calls
the same ‘comprehensive conception of the good life’. In reality it is a kind of
identity, with the full scale of mutual intensities and bonds, that cuts obliquely
through the ‘fact of moral pluralism’. To fail to include this dimension in the
concept of citizenship, in the democratic rules of the game, or to include it in
a subordinate position, is an infringement of the liberal values of autonomy,
dignity and self-respect that make up Rawls normative nucleus for liberal
Rawls conception seems to be designed for societies with a very low level
of political and social conflict.22 But what happens when more or less perma-
nent conflicts emerge between the identity of citizenship, in the limited terms
in which Rawls conceives it, and ‘private’ identities? It would seem that we
should opt for one of the following courses of action:

1. Abandon our belief in a theoretical foundation of citizenship in liberal

democracies in favour of a more pragmatic approach. Agreements in the
public sphere are possible, but they should be based on real agreements
closely linked to what has been called a position of modus vivendi. In our
case, this would involve preventing conflicts between groups of distinct
national identity by means of empirical agreements. These agreements
would not be based on ‘strong’ normative criteria, but would be the result

of the relative strength and the negotiating capacity of the political actors
2. Abandon the quest for ‘neutrality’ by establishing a ‘perfectionist’ model
of citizenship which favours, among other things, state nationalism. From
this position, the organizational rights and principles of the public sphere
can be justified from the premises of a ‘superior or integrative national
identity’, in detriment to the non-state national identities; or they can
be justified from a number of ‘universalist’ premises that present any
national identity, including that which the state itself represents, as some-
thing remote from the ‘cosmopolitan and enlightened’ perspective that
should be the basis of any ‘truly liberal society’.
3. Defend a limited liberal citizenship, restricted normatively to the defence
of property rights and negative individual liberties, in that it defends the
rights of the individual against interference by the public powers and
other citizens, without worrying about which kind of identity should be
imposed in practice.
4. Revise the agreement proposed in the public sphere (the principles of
justice) by attempting to combine the different normalizing elements (lib-
eral, democratic, national, etc) into the idea of citizenship, despite being
aware that this might cause conflicts when it is put into practice. In this
way one does not attempt to avoid conflict between the different nor-
mative perspectives of the idea of citizenship. On the contrary, one ac-
tively promotes the establishment of suitable institutional and procedural
mechanisms designed to channel and solve any conflict that may arise.
It seems that Rawls has to choose between readapting the principles of
justice to make them suitable for the normative demands of cultural pluralism,
or abandoning his fundamentalising or neutrality aspirations.23 None of the
so-called theories of justice is capable of bringing together in a single theory
all the traditions that make up the normative base of the liberal democracies.
And this is even less feasible if all the non-liberal and non-democratic legit-
imizing conceptions that are present in empirical democracies are added to
the equation. From the point of view of political science, rather than from a
single moral perspective, it can be said that philosophical ideas of justice do
not do what they want to do, they do what they can.
One of the features of present-day ‘post-enlightement’24 is that the ‘reality
of reasonable pluralism’ is present in the field of democratic fundamentation,
and not only in the moral sphere. One of the most attractive aspects of Rawls’
theory is the fact that he, better than other rival theorists, synthesizes some
of the most important normative traditions that have appeared in the modern
era. But it continues to display shortcomings when, as occurs with some types
of cultural pluralism, it has to deal with facts and values that are alien to its

premises. Could we find a place, for example, for national group rights as
prerequisites for a true ‘politics of recognition’ in the overlapping consensus
of a plurinational state that adopted the perspective of Political Liberalism?
Without moving away from Rawls conception this should be regulated, from
the logic of the ‘least advantaged’ included in the ‘principle of difference’,
or from a new list of ‘primary goods’ which are necessary to develop a full
sense of citizenship. The first path is, I believe, possible in order to regulate
some group rights and the positive discrimination policies demanded by some
single-issue movements, as long as it is taken into account that different kinds
of disadvantages require different kinds of rights. But this first path does not
appear to be suitable for movements of a permanent nature which demand
territory and self-government, as is the case of nationalist movements. The
second path, the enlargement of ‘primary goods’, seems at first sight to be
more promising, if the semantic sense of ideas such as self-esteem and self-
respect is enlarged. However, here it is also necessary to introduce normative
pluralism into the public sphere. The existence of different societies will also
imply a different list of primary goods. In our case, it would imply that the lin-
guistic and cultural characteristics that make up national identities should be
integrated into the principles that regulate the public sphere of plurinational
democracies. This is absent in Rawls’ theory.25
I believe that Rawls’ theory displays, to a certain extent, a kind of ‘Amer-
ican liberal communitarianism’ that fails to take sufficiently seriously the
conceptual changes that the linguistic swing implies for contemporary ra-
tionality. In contrast with Habermas’ conception, Rawls fails to give enough
attention to the relationship between linguistic pragmatic dimensions (the acts
of speech) and political pragmatic dimensions (the overlapping consensus).
In the words of Hegel and Habermas: while Rawls stresses the moral and
strategic components of practical rationality, the liberal perspective that is
defended in these pages also asserts the ethical components of this rationality.
In other words, those components that are related to the interpretation of the
identities and cultural values of specific collectives, which are largely ignored
in the traditional liberal approaches when they do not coincide with those
which are defined and promoted by the state. If in politics the main chal-
lenge of ethics is its applicability, it cannot be reduced to a simple question
of ‘principles’ which are based only on the moral and strategic components
of practical rationality. Or in more philosophical terms: the inclusion of the
ethical components of practical rationality in the ‘political fundamendation’
of liberal democracies will help to denoumenize the theoristic excesses of
Kantian origin from Rawls’ conception, still present in Political Liberalism.
This is the case, for example, of the inclusion of more pragmatic than seman-
tic references to the symbolic and sentimental world of the national identities

that affect, although not exclusively, the understanding that citizens have of
themselves and of the collectives that they belong to.26
If in the name of abstraction and universality we abandon core aspects of
human self-identity, the result will be an impoverished anthropology of demo-
cratic citizenship and moral impartiality, incapable of explaining or regulating
essential aspects of the political life of empirical citizens (not that of the styl-
ized noumenic individuals of philosophical constructions). And it seems clear
that if the cultural components of national identity are one of the fundamental
ingredients of individuality for the majority of citizens, a liberal political
organization based on the recognition and respect for individuality should
include identity in the concept of citizenship, and not just in the ‘liberality’ of
the society. The same liberal ideas of individual dignity, self-respect and self-
esteem should not be excluded from that identity. To continue to interpret the
cultural values and rights of a given group as a threat to ‘individual’ values
and rights is to see the world from an out-of-date liberal perspective. But
neither are non-state nationalisms per se contradictory to liberalism, nor has
the latter been ‘neutral’ with respect to state nationalism. What is normatively
contradictory is the fact that democratic liberalism fails to include the plural
nature of national identities in the constitutional rules of the game. One of
the current tasks of liberal political theory is to offer effective answers to the
link between state and non-state national identities. To do so it must offer a
revised conception of its individualist and universalist premises which goes
beyond the implicit statism of traditional political liberalism. To live in an
increasingly plural society in cultural terms will be one of the essential values
of the liberal democracies of the future.

Federalism in plurinational societies: The Spanish case

Once we have pointed out the qualitative differences between cultural move-
ments, and have focused on some shortcomings of classical liberalism when
it attempts to include plurinational realities in its statist perspective, we can
address a more institutional question: Is the federal state a good model to
regulate democratic citizenship in plurinational societies? I believe that the
possible answers to this question are to be found somewhere between ‘no’
and a hesitant or reluctant ‘maybe’.

General aspects

In the words of one of its best known analysts, classic liberal federalism ‘is
designed to prevent tyranny without preventing governance’, on the one hand
and, on the other hand, it ‘has to do with the need of people and polities to

unite for common purposes yet remain separate to preserve their respective
integrities. It is rather like wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too’.27 It
is a model that in principle is unrelated, historically or normatively, to any
regulation of cultural pluralism. Any discussion about federalism is irrelevant
to some forms of cultural pluralism; for example, those related to feminist
or immigrant movements.28 It may be relevant, however, in the case of cul-
tural pluralism movements characterized by territoriality and self-government
(nationalist and indigenous movements).
Both institutional and normative analyses of federalism have been domi-
nated, moreover, by the historical example of the USA. This is an empirical
case historically not linked to cultural pluralism.29 If we remain within the
orbit of American federalism, the answer to the question about the possibili-
ties of regulating democratic citizenship in plurinational societies is basically
a negative one. The reasons are both historical and organizational.
It is fundamentally a ‘territorial’ model,30 and one that is governed by ho-
mogenizing interpretations of the democratic concept of ‘popular sovereign-
ty’ – which avoids the basic question, unanswered in democratic theory, about
who the people are, and who decides who they are – as well as ideas about
equality of citizenship and equality between the federated units. In my view,
it is practically impossible from these presuppositions to include the idea of
citizenship as identity in the constitutional rules of the game of plurinational
societies.31 However, starting from strictly liberal premises there are other
federal models with greater potential to include the cultural pluralism of a
variety of national identities within the same state. In what follows, I will
defend asymmetrical federalism as a better model for this kind of cultural
After a period of relative neglect within academic circles, over the past
few years interest in the possibilities and limitations of ‘asymmetrical fed-
eralism’ has increased. In 1965, Charles D. Tarlton published an article in
which he identified a number of deficiencies in the usual analyses of federal-
ism, especially those of a judicial nature, that often presupposed symmetrical
relations between member states and the federation. In general terms, federal
asymmetry refers to the degree of heterogeneity that exists in the relations
between each member state and the federation, and between the member
states themselves. Tarlton’s suggestion was that in order to understand the true
logic of federal states, the analysis should not be so focused on the judicial
and constitutional considerations of ‘sovereignties’ or on the distribution of
powers, but on the different political links that each member state establishes
with the central government and with the other member states, whether these
links were constitutionally regulated or not.32

A constitutional solution for different national realities is not only a ques-

tion of distribution of powers, which may be solved, once and for all, by a
‘closed’ constitutional model. It is a question that also affects the symbolic,
institutional and procedural framework of the state in a social and techno-
logical context characterized by its dynamism. A constitutional model that
is suitable for plurinational societies should be flexible and ‘open’, and of-
fer the different national realities it regulates stability and future prospects.
According to historical and comparative analysis, these requisites are very
difficult to achieve from the premises of a regional state that decentralizes
itself, or from those of territorial or symmetrical federalism.33 If the ‘politics
of recognition’ for national realities should be based on the liberal-democratic
organizational principles, it seems slightly out of place to insist on equality
between ‘regions’ or between the federated units of the territorial federalism
model. These politics imply that equality between nations should be inte-
grated into a revised concept of equality of citizenship, beyond the implicit
statism of traditional liberalism. To equate national to regional, or to just
another member of a much bigger group of federated units is intrinsically
unegalitarian, both in substantive and procedural terms. And it is also une-
galitarian in the individual and universalist terms of a concept of citizenship
based on the liberal view of identity, and not only, as is common in liberal
tradition, from the point of view of status of a group that is uniform in rights
and duties.
It is in this sense that I believe that the model of federal asymmetry is
more able to integrate plurinationalism into the concept of citizenship and
the liberal-democratic rules of the game. Or, put in negative terms, without
asymmetrical mechanisms it would be very difficult to achieve recognition of
the plurinationality of a state. This does not mean that certain issues cannot,
or even must not, be regulated in symmetrical or ‘cooperative’ terms. From
the standpoint of traditional liberalism, asymmetrical federalism is normally
seen as merely an intermediate step towards the establishment of confederal
agreements, or towards the complete independence of the different nation-
alities involved. However, to maintain the inevitability of this process is, I
believe, an out-of-date attitude, at least in Western Europe. In the context of
the European Union, the processes of integration and regionalisation have
ceased to be contradictory aspects and have become complementary aspects
of the same process.

Plurinationalism and federalism

The internal logic of the Spanish Estado de las Autonomías is fundamentally

based on an approach in which decentralization prevails over the permanent
regulation of the national asymmetries of the state.34 It is a model that finds

it difficult to regulate a ‘liberal politics of recognition’ and a revised con-

cept of democratic citizenship which are suitable for Spain’s internal national
pluralism. In my opinion, any discussion nowadays of territorial organization
should concentrate more on the future than on settling past scores. The dis-
cussion about Catalonia’s symbols, institutions, and responsibilities should
focus more on the second half of the 21st century than on the largely essen-
tialist concepts and approaches of the last century. In this sense, any modern
perspective about how national realities like Catalonia fit into the political
organizations of other territories must involve the process of European in-
tegration. The existence of the EU changes the grounds of the federalising
discussion within the states of the Union. In the first instance, the future
of all nationalisms, including those of nation-states, is inextricably linked
to ‘European regionalism’. So, from the perspective of present-day Catalan
nationalism, it is no longer a question of achieving the highest number of
instrumental ‘state’ competences as possible, as this is clearly obsolete in
view of the current process of economic and technological internationaliza-
tion. It is more important to achieve the highest possible level of democratic
self-government (symbolic, institutional and functional/financial presence) in
those areas that reinforce and develop Catalonia’s national personality as far
beyond its borders as possible.
The aim of the following points is only to illustrate some aspects of a
possible federalizing reform in Spain in order to give the national realities a
more comfortable and operative fit than the one that the current constitutional
model of the ‘Estado de las Autonomias’ permits. A reform that, in my view,
would have to include fearless asymmetrical regulations as a feasible way to
establish real recognition and self-government for the different nations that
make up the Spanish state. Thus, the aim here is not to establish a detailed
‘party’ programme, but to show a set of illustrative elements of a federalizing
model to regulate Spain’s plurinational character with the focus on the future
and on the EU.

The symbolic and linguistic spheres

The regulation of symbolic and linguistic aspects is a key issue in order to
ensure that the nations ‘fit comfortably’ into the state and into Europe. In this
sense, in the case of Catalonia an asymmetrical federalizing regulation would
have to include the following:

Symbols. Symbols of national character are very important elements as far as

individual identity is concerned, i.e. with respect to how individuals under-
stand themselves and their own dignity in relation to the groups they live in.
The representative symbols of the Spanish state continue to be a source of

problems as far as their use and legitimization is concerned, especially in the

Basque Country and Catalonia. Therefore, the use of the national group’s own
symbols (flag, anthem, etc.) should be regulated on an optionally preferential
basis by the institutions of the Catalan Government (Generalitat), in rela-
tion to the symbols of other levels of political organization (State, European
Union). At present, neither the Spanish symbols nor their use reflects the
plurinational character of the state.35

Languages. Although this is a neglected issue in liberal-democratic theory,

languages have never been a neutral issue in liberal politics. This is a fun-
damental subject for a liberal recognition of national entities. Official lan-
guages have usually been important in nation-building processes, and they
have sometimes been imposed by liberal institutions regardless of the plurilin-
guistic and plurinational reality that they were dealing with. In Spain, plurilin-
gualism is a fundamental feature of state plurinationality, and as such should
be part of the policies of the state institutions (education, culture, etc) and not
only those of the autonomous communities with their own languages.36 The
present linguistic regulation is asymmetrical as far as the territories of some
autonomous communities are concerned, but the formal and practical sym-
metrical prevalence of only one language (Spanish) is established throughout
the state’s territory. This should be changed in favour of the prevalence of
the Catalan language (defined as the autochthonous language by the Catalan
Constitutional Law) in the Catalan territory, while Spanish would also remain
as an ‘official’ language. I have called this ‘the regulation of asymmetrical

The institutional sphere

The second chamber. Nowadays, hardly anybody denies that the second cham-
ber should be closely linked to the autonomous communities and not to the
administrative ‘provinces’ inherited from the last century. Two questions stand
out in the discussion about the reform of the Senate: that which affects its
composition, and that which affects its competences. From a ‘minimalist’
point of view, I believe that the senators should be chosen through the institu-
tions of the autonomous communities in secondary elections, and not directly
by the citizens. This is because it is inadvisible for possible malfunctions to
exist between the senators and the autonomous community they represent.
It is debatable whether the senators should be chosen by the executive of
the autonomous communities or by its parliament (or by both). There are
arguments for both methods. What seems institutionally out of place, both
from a representative and from a functional point of view, is for the sena-
tors to be chosen directly by the electorate. Nevertheless, due to the national

asymmetries inherent in Spain, it would not be out of place to adopt a more

‘maximalist’ approach to the composition of the Senate, involving the group-
ing of different autonomous communities, for example those who display
similar linguistic and cultural characteristics, in a small number of ‘regions’
that would elect the representatives in the upper chamber in a similar way as
in Canada.
First of all, a federal structure, especially if it includes elements of asym-
metrical federalism, requires a certain degree of ‘symmetrical bicameralism’.
If the Estado de las Autonomías is to live up to its name, the Senate cannot be
a lesser chamber, more ‘second division’ than second reading, as it is now. Its
power should be similar to that of the lower chamber, although not in the same
spheres. To this effect, it would be necessary to establish special competences
for the two chambers of the central parliament, in the same way as in other
federations (including symmetrical ones). The Senate must have precedence
in the creation, handling and final decision-making of issues relating to auto-
nomic policy, both for issues at state level and at European level. Secondly, in
order to guarantee a regulation that openly includes national asymmetries, the
representatives of the historical nationalities in the Senate should have power
of veto over issues that affect their national characteristics (language, culture,
representation and aspects of foreign policy, etc). Here the mere distribution
of competences is clearly insufficient.

Judicial power. Another institutional element is the integration of the pluri-

national character of the state in the composition of the Constitutional Court
and in the structure of the judiciary. The Constitutional Court is not an insti-
tution of the central power of the state, but an institution of the state itself. As
such, it would be better if its composition reflected the state’s plurinational
character. Moreover, the present structure of the judiciary continues to be
that of a centralized state. The Estado de las Autonomías has not altered this
fact, unlike the structure of the executive and the legislature. The federal-
ization of the judiciary is another unresolved matter for Spanish institutional
reform, at least in the territories of the nationalities. So, the main Catalan
Court, the ‘Tribunal Superior de Justícia’ should become the supreme court
in cultural and linguistic matters, as well as in those which are related to
Catalan self-government.

Federated units. The increased size of the model to include 17 units starting
from a basically symmetrical approach means that the content of the national
groups has almost inevitably been watered down. And this is a problem not
only for these collectives, but for the whole system. Therefore, I believe it
is necessary to create executive cooperation mechanisms between the au-

tonomous communities and the central government as well as between the

different autonomous communities. At present these mechanisms are insuffi-
cient, and some of them are even blocked constitutionally (those that affect
the relations between autonomous communities). I am referring to mecha-
nisms that for specific reasons would develop only between a few commu-
nities (this would be the case of Mediterranean, linguistic, migration, cul-
tural policies, etc.), depending also on the degree of self-government enjoyed
by each community. The homogenization of the current Estado de las Au-
tonomías makes it difficult to achieve a kind of integration that minimizes the
reservations the national groups have of being part of a state when they are
treated like any other of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities (plus two
towns on the coast of north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, which also have their
own ‘statute of autonomy’).

Administrative rationalization. Functionally speaking, only two basic admin-

istrative levels would be necessary: the national (Catalan) and the municipal.
Central power and, in the future, that of the European Union can operate
through the Catalan administration, as is the case of other federations (Ger-
many). This decreases the need to maintain the ‘provinces’ as an administra-
tive unit of the state (or as electoral districts)

The sphere of competences

Linguistic and cultural policies. Territories endowed with a national character
should be able to dictate cultural and linguistic policies without the interfer-
ence of other territorial powers. These policies are fundamental to achieve
a real politics of recognition of the national entities in different arenas. Re-
garding these issues, they should be able to act as independent states, that
is, with a ‘cultural sovereignity’ that includes the international dimension of
these policies.

Internal competences. Real self-government of national entities implies a

broad regulation of a set of specific competences such as health care and
social security services, civil law, public order, local power, infrastructures,
education, and universities, among others. In practical terms this objective
requires the adoption of asymmetrical regulations in order to guarantee that
nations will not simply be treated as ‘Spanish regions’ in these areas.

European and international spheres. Any politics of national recognition

should include the presence of nationalities within the EU and other insti-
tutions and international decision-making processes (e.g. UNESCO). The
presence in these spheres constitutes one of the most important elements

for the recognition and self-government of any national unity, apart from its
symbolic effects, which are also important.

Constitutional laws and territoriality. A radical change is necessary in rela-

tion to the treatment of two questions that suppose a restrictive interpretation
of political self-government: the meaning of the Spanish constitutional laws,
and the intervention of the central government when an autonomous com-
munity’s exclusive competence is exercised beyond its own borders. Both
suppositions imply a deformation of the contents of self-government, even
from the barely pluralist point of view of the current Spanish constitutional
model. Firstly, the content of some of the constitutional laws passed in the last
decade proved to be centralizing instruments in matters of joint responsibility
(local government, universities, civil servants, etc). This content should, in
my opinion, permit, and even in some cases encourage, a series of option-
ally asymmetrical regulations by the autonomous communities. Secondly,
the supra-autonomic ‘taking back’ by the central government of competences
exclusive to the autonomous communities when the scope of the matter goes
beyond the autonomous territory constitutes a constant threat to these com-
munities of being relegated to a subordinate role. This affects different mat-
ters (transport, insurance, etc) over which the central government does not
in principle have exclusive competence, but only the right to dictate basic
legislation. At times this point has been interpreted not symmetrically, but
simply from a centralist standpoint.37

Taxes. The Generalitat should have exclusive rights to collect taxes in its own
territory, use them for its own government, and hand over a previously agreed
amount to the central Spanish government and to the institutions to the Euro-
pean Union.38 In practical terms, this is a central element of self-government,
regardless of whether it is regulated on a symmetrical or asymmetrical ba-
sis. Solidarity or subsidiarity cannot be principles used against national self-
government. It is rather more coherent, for example, to invoke the principle of
solidarity when the self-government of national realities is fully developed.
We could say that, in order to regulate solidarity well, it is necessary to dis-
tinguish between the differences that must be corrected and the differences
that must be maintained and consolidated. National differences may belong
to the second group.

Summary and conclusions

The aim of this article has been to focus on liberal non-state nationalism
as a new way of approaching liberal democracies. A way that focuses on

some conceptual limits of classical liberalism, as well as a way of improv-

ing the normative and institutional premises of liberal democracies in the
increasingly culturally pluralistic societies of the end of 20th century.
In the first section, once I have pointed out the confusing character of the
term ‘multicultural’, I establish a typology consisting of four types of present-
day cultural pluralist movements by combining five discriminatory criteria.
The qualitative differences that exist between these movements also require
different institutional regulations in present-day liberal democracies. The de-
cisive challenge for an integrative concept of democratic citizenship, faced
with the growing cultural pluralism of the 1990s, are those movements, like
non-state nationalisms, that feature territoriality and self-government. The
‘republican’ approach supported by these movements does not fit comfortably
into the implicit republican approach inherent in state nationalism, which has
usually been overlooked by standard liberal versions of democracy.
In the second section, after indicating the two standpoints of status and
identity in the concept of citizenship, I point out some limits of the standard
concept of citizenship based on individualism, universalism, and statism of
the liberal tradition when it refers to plurinational societies. It is necessary to
revise these limits when regulating a ‘liberal politics of recognition’ for the
different national identities that exist within the same political organization.
Even Rawls’ sophisticated theory displays shortcomings when it attempts
to regulate national pluralism in the concept of citizenship and in the very
rules of the game of democratic systems. There are inherent and non-critical
assumptions regarding ‘common nationality’ in classical liberalism that take
for granted a statist approach which justifies some particular nation-state col-
lectivities marginalising the non-state nations that exist within its borders.
Nationalism and democratic liberalism do not exclude each other. They are
two unavoidable principles of practical rationality present in empirical liberal
democracies which can improve the liberal and democratic normative and
institutional aims, especially when each one is considered from the perspec-
tive of the other one. In fact, an accurate cosmopolitan and pluralist approach
must include both the universal and particular normative perspectives which
are present in the legitimatory processes of liberal-democracies. The inclu-
sion of non-state liberal nationalism provides a different and more refined
normative view when we discuss the meaning and content of concepts such
as citizenship, group rights, or specific policies related to cultural patterns.
Finally, in the third section I establish that traditional ‘territorial’ federal-
ism is a bad model to regulate a concept of democratic citizenship based on
the liberal politics of recognition of plurinational states. I have pointed out
the need to establish asymmetrical regulations, and have given a number of
specific examples for the case of the plurinational Spanish state. The concept

of asymmetrical federalism has traditionally been controversial from the per-

spective of classical liberalism. Different authors have pointed out a lack of
limits in the concept of asymmetry, focusing on the likely continuity between
federal asymmetrical regulations and the final seccesion from the federation
of the asymmetrical member-state. Different images have been suggested to
clarify this process towards the final constitution of an independent state: a
‘slippery slope’ or a ‘stepping stone’ towards independence. However, I think
that these images are misleading at least in the European context. They still
reflect an excessively statist approach. The process towards a European Union
goes some way to dilute the importance of the state as an organization, and
the bipolarity that always characterizes competition between the processes
of nation-building and state-building within plurinational states. On the one
hand, this new multipolar context will probably introduce asymmetrical reg-
ulations among the states’ members. On the other hand, in contrast to past
agreements, the Maastricht Treaty (1992) included the political role of the
regions within the EU. That is, Maastricht has begun to consider the ‘regions’
as legitimate political actors, in contrast to the previous community laws that
stem from the Treaty of Rome, in which they were looked on merely as
the objects of policies while playing no part in the decision-making process.
The fact that a process of gradual unification is taking place within the EU
may mean that not only the member states but also the ‘regions’ will find
their place in the institutions and collective decision-making processes of
the Union. In fact, Maastricht has begun to recognize that European inte-
gration and regionalization are two features of the same process. And the
‘regions’ which are also nations such as Catalonia have added reasons to
show their support for the process of European integration. I believe that to
reduce the state’s monopolistic role as a political actor, as well as the dualism
between the different forms of nationalism, are necessary conditions for the
institutional expression of a future ‘liberal politics of recognition’ within the
concept of European citizenship. To live in increasingly plural societies is one
of the essential values of democratic organizations, and some asymmetrical
regulations will be needed in order to link European (state and non-state)
national pluralism in the decades to come. Without any doubt, the dilution
of statism that characterizes the European order since Westphalia will be a
slow process full of obstacles, but I believe that it is very likely that, at the
end of the coming century, European regulation of different kinds of national
pluralism and an effective European citizenship will be two parts of the same
And if not, ‘We’ll always have Paris’ (or Brussels-New York)


This article is a revised version of the paper awarded the ‘Rudolf Wilden-
mann Prize’ (Bern, March 1997) for the best workshop paper presented at
the Oslo Joint Sessions of the European Consortium for Political Research.
I am grateful for the comments of the participants at the ECPR workshop,
as well as those received at the presentations at The Johns Hopkins Univer-
sity (Baltimore, USA), at the Political and Social Sciences Institute, and at
Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona).


1. For example, when we consider if it is appropriate to formalize certain cultural group

rights within the concept of citizenship in democratic systems. A very bad approach
is to set group rights and values against individual rights and values. Firstly, because
many group rights demanded by present-day movements for cultural pluralism – which
the liberal-democratic tradition has tended to ignore – are still rights that are exercised
individually. And secondly, because the liberal tradition in its defence of ‘individual’
rights has often implicitly favoured specific group rights to the detriment of others. I
prefer the analytical use of the term ‘group rights’ to the more common ‘collective rights’
for reasons of accuracy. Collective rights include a wide variety of rights that are not
specifically group rights, such as those of an associative and trade unionist nature; those
related to public goods (e.g. ecological rights); etc. In historical terms, we can say that
liberal democracies are entering a fourth stage in the regulation of rights after the civil,
political and social stages. See Spinner (1994), Kymlicka (1995), Gutmann (1993), Fraser
(1995). See also Bellamy (1993).
2. The claim that feminist or gay rights movements are ‘single issue’ movements may seem
misleading as they sometimes address a broad range of social issues. Moreover, to regard
them as a form of ‘cultural pluralism’ may also be controversial. Certainly, there are
reasons to support both criticisms. However, I think that it is better that they are included
when we are dealing with the revision of the traditional meaning of ‘democratic citizen-
ship’ based on a non-unitarian or homogeneous concept of political equality. See Young
(1990: ch 6).
3. In general terms, egalitarian political integration rather than political differentiation has
been a characteristic of immigrant movements. From a normative perspective, this is more
than a contingent feature of most immigrant movements in liberal democracies. From an
empirical perspective this is a temporary aspect that could change in the near future. Po-
litical integration does not mean cultural assimilation. However, as different authors have
pointed out, there are normative reasons based on the articulation of historical processes
with the concept of democratic citizenship that exclude immigrants from specific-group
participation in the institutional framework of the state. I do not develop these statements
here, but see Kymlicka (1995: ch 4). Nevertheless, ‘cultures’ are not just ‘contexts of
choice’, but also frameworks of identity that should be recognized.
4. Obviously, regarding typologies we can say something similar to what was said about
dictionaries or watches before the atomic era: none is perfect, but it is better to have
one than not to have one. As has usually happened with other typologies, there are some

groups that do not fit into this typology, i.e., African-Americans or the Amish. However,
on the one hand, this typology goes a step beyond other proposals like Kymlicka’s differ-
entiation between ‘multinational’ and ‘polytechnic’ situations. On the other hand, its five
criteria are complementary in relation to the voluntary and ascriptive criteria pointed out
by Spinner as distinguishing between different forms of cultural pluralism. See Kymlicka
(1995: ch 3) and Spinner (1994: ch 1 & 2). The most important thing, as these two authors
have rightly pointed out, is to realise that these cultural movements present qualitative and
not only quantitative differences, and that these differences must also be treated differently
in the normative and institutional spheres of current liberal democracies.
5. The two last columns of Table 1 focus on the suitability of federal solutions and on the
potential constitutional isolation of these different movements. These two columns refer
to the third section.
6. There is no universally accepted concept of nationalism that covers all the empirical cases
we know of. The studies that have proliferated in recent years have stressed both the
plurality and the theoretical and empirical complexity of nationalist movements. After
many analyses of the different types of nationalisms, agreement has yet to be reached on
two basic questions: (1) the relationship between nation and nationalism when the first
can no longer be included within other variables such as ethnicity or the state process
of nation-building, and (2) an explanation why, starting from similar social conditions,
nationalist movements develop in some places but not in others. Until quite recently
analyses that are reductionist in method and particularist in object have predominated in
political and social science. Thus, for example, non-state nationalisms have been reduced,
often without distinguishing between those of a liberal-democratic and those of an anti-
liberal nature, to being the consequence of exogenous factors such as industrialization,
modernization, class interest, etc, based on conceptions that have little validity on an
empirical level. There are also important gaps in the consideration of the normative and
cultural consequences of the increasing process of state-nationalisation promoted by the
democratization processes in the 19th and 20th centuries. Analysis of different kinds of
nationalisms continues to be a poorly explained and an inaccurately considered field of
contemporary social science from a normative point of view.
7. This last idea is intellectually unable to conceive of cultural ‘differences’ of identity. In
other words, to think in terms of group rights and values within the borders of a state
that also constitutes a particular political reality, but which usually legitimizes its internal
politics through a universalist language and which, in practice, establishes a homogeniz-
ing discourse that is ‘blind’ (or at least short-sighted) when faced with these differences.
For an analysis of universalism, see the contrast established by Walzer between the ‘re-
iterative’ universalist version and its later application to the case of nationalisms, Walzer
(1989). With respect to the discussion on liberalism and American communitarianism,
which is related to the problem of nationalism see Avineri-Shalit (1992), Beiner (1992),
Budziszewski (1992), Kymlicka (1988), Larmore (1990), Sandel (1982), Taylor (1992,
1989), Walzer (1990, 1984).
8. On the potential compatibility of nationalism and liberalism, see Canovan 1996), Miller
(1995), Smith (1995), Yack (1995), Tamir (1993), Laforest (1993), Nodia (1992), Mar-
galit & Raz (1990), and also Kymlicka (1995), and Spinner (1994). For a criticism of the
ethnocentrism displayed by the liberal and nationalist conceptions, Parekh (1995). See
also Norman (1995), Williams (1995) and Baker (1995).
9. ‘The thesis’, writes Taylor, ‘is that our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its
absence, often by the misrecognition of others (. . . ) Non-recognition or misrecognition

can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false distorted,
and reduced mode of being’ (Taylor 1992: 25, emphasis in the original). See also Tully
(1994), and Gutmann (1993).
10. See Walzer (1990, 1994).
11. ‘Value pluralism’ writes Raz, ‘is the view that many different activities and incompatible
forms of life are valuable. (. . . ) Liberal multiculturalism stems from a concern for the
well-being of the members of a society. That well-being presupposes respect for one’s
cultural group and its prosperity. But none of this is opposed to change. Change is re-
sisted most when it comes as a result of the hostility of the dominant culture. It is also
resisted when it arouses fear that one’s culture will disappear altogether – diluted and then
assimilated by others. In a country where multiculturalism is practised by the government
and accepted by the population, the first fear should not arise. The second is less easily
laid to rest’. Raz (1994: 72, 74); a critical position in Bi-Hwan (1996).
12. There are in fact two interpretations of the concept of citizenship in contemporary states,
which, for the sake of simplicity, are generally referred to as the ‘French’ and ‘German’
concepts. They are two theoretical types which, despite having played a part in the evo-
lution of contemporary France and Germany, are not present in their original form in the
empirical reality of these two countries. In reality, the process of construction of the Eu-
ropean institutions has diminished the differences between the two countries. The French
concept is inclusive and territorial. It is defined by birth and residence and, in spite of a
number of legal restrictions, the second generation of an immigrant family may usually
acquire citizenship. The German concept is, in contrast, exclusive and ethnocultural. Here
birth and residence are not decisive factors, as these are defined by a number of ethnic and
cultural criteria that make up ‘identity’. This means that immigrants find it much more
difficult to obtain citizenship. See Brubaker (1992). If we compare these two concepts
of citizenship with the two basic forms of nationalism, state and non-state, four possible
intersecting groups emerge, see Requejo (1996).
13. On this point I follow both aspects of the current discussion on democratic citizenship
examined by Norman & Kymlicka (1994). On the one hand, the debate about citizenship
as status is related to the revision of the welfare states in the 1980s and 1990s, and the
economic and political responsibilities of individuals with respect to themselves, the fam-
ily, the state and the international sphere. The discussion asks where and to what extent it
is desirable to design the model of an ‘active democratic citizen’ in different spheres (the
market, associationism, education, participation, etc). On the other hand, the discussion on
democratic citizenship as identity is related to the cultural pluralism movements. For both
aspects the normative discussion lies within the liberal paradigm. This article is mainly
centred on the aspect of citizenship as identity. For both aspects see also Cohen & Arato
(1992: esp. ch 3); Wolin (1993).
14. The concept of pluralism is sometimes unclear in political science analysis, covering dif-
ferent descriptive and normative meanings. What I mean by cultural pluralism is the belief
and intellectual attitude that cultural differences are valuable for both political principles
and ‘the good life’ in liberal democracies. I do not develop this point here, but I hold that
the boundaries of cultural pluralism in liberal societies need revising and are related to
the concepts of public reasonableness, personal autonomy, and democratic citizenship.
15. I have developed this point in Requejo (1990, 1994: ch. 5 and 6).
16. Here we focus on the normative review of political liberalism with respect to group rights
relating to cultural pluralism at the end of this century. However, it should be noted that
strict democratic tradition also employs a series of concepts that favour a standardizing

view of the collective subjected to a particular state. This is the case of the concepts of
‘popular sovereignty’ or of the ‘democratic’, not liberal, conception of political equality.
17. The distinction between external protections and internal restrictions is common in the
current debate about citizenship and group rights. See references in Kymlicka (1995: ch
3). See also Tamir (1993: ch 2–4).
18. The aim is to maintain the ‘subversive’ character of liberalism with regard to individual
identities, while supporting the collective values that empirical free societies maintain for
their symbols, institutions and procedural mechanisms.
19. S. Moller Okin (1989, 1994) has rightly pointed out the possibilities of Rawls’ theory
when we are dealing with gender inequalities, despite its inherent ambiguities regarding
the relationship between families and the public sphere.
20. ‘First, the priority of right means (in its general meaning) that the ideas of the good
used must be political ideas, so that we need not rely on comprehensive conceptions
of the good but only on ideas tailored to fit within the political conception. Second, the
priority of right means (in its particular meaning) that the principles of justice set limits
to permissible ways of life: the claims that citizens make to pursue ends transgressing
those limits have no weight. The priority of right gives the principles of justice a strict
precedence in citizens’ deliberations and limits their freedom to advance certain ways of
life.’ Rawls (1993: 209). A critical version from the perspective of political legitimation
is in Klosko (1993).
21. Even an author like Walzer (1983), who criticizes many points of standard liberalism,
is off-target on this point. Despite his insistence on distinguishing between different
‘spheres of justice’ controlled by different principles, his concept of plurinationalism is
still mainly based on traditional liberal statism. For a perspective of nationalism as a
Western phenomenon, see Parekh (1995).
22. See Neal (1993) and Lund (1996).
23. I have dealt with the impossibility of combining the diverse legitimizing logics of political
liberalism in a single theory in Requejo (1994).
24. See Rengger (1995).
25. Nevertheless, I am frankly sceptical of the possibilities of establishing ‘synthetic’ theories
of justice; attempting something akin to locating Taylor’s ‘politics of recognition’ within
Rawls’ conception and categories. I am more in favour of establishing an overlapping
consensus between different normative conceptions (not only for justice) as partial fun-
damentations of equally partial aspects of the liberal democracies. The normative and
institutional complexity of the latter goes beyond the possibilities of general theories (of
democracy, justice, etc). The very existence of different underlying logics to the various
ethical, moral and pragmatic normativities, and the existence within each of them of the
liberal, democratic, social, national, postmaterialist, etc traditions makes the consideration
of a series of overlaps, of practical and partial mosaics, more plausible than theoretical
and global normative designs. Especially if what one is trying to do is to arrive at effective
conclusions of applicability in the institutional spheres and of the practical decision-
making processes. This is partly present in the changes that Rawls himself has made
between A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. However, social unity and political
stability are questions also connected with a sense of shared identity (or membership),
and not only with principles of justice.
26. As will be said in the following section, this is a consideration that is also related to the
way that the liberal tradition has tackled federalism. See McCarthy (1994), Habermas
(1993), Tweedy & Hunt (1993). However, Habermas’ approach presents its own prob-

lems, especially regarding his Esperanto concept of ‘postnationalism’ or ‘constitutional

27. Elazar (1987: 129, 33).
28. See the two last columns in Table 1.
29. In contrast to those federal states which embrace their plurinational character, such as
Canada Belgium, and to a lesser extent, Switzerland See Bakvis & Chandler (1987). In
the analytical field, traditional studies of federalism have often committed the fallacy
of taking a part, the USA, to represent the whole. For a current general overview of
federalism see Watts (1995). For a general empirical perspective of federalism see Elazar
30. Resnick (1994). I maintain Resnick’s duality between territorial and plurinational feder-
alism because it has become a common point of reference. I think, however, that it is
not very accurate: all federalisms are territorial. Perhaps it would be better simply to talk
about uninational and plurinational federalisms (R. Pelletier, ‘Les arrangements institu-
tionels d’un partenariat Canadien’, unpublished paper). For the latest trend in Canada, see
McRoberts (1997).
31. I focus here on plurinational states which have failed to develop a strong and fundamen-
tally uncontroversial sense of nation-state building compatible with the maintenance of
non-state national identities (like Belgium, Canada, or Spain). Clearly, there are other
plurinational states that have been successful in combining both aspects (like Switzer-
land). In this last case classical federalism offers a better way to relate national pluralism
with the republican unity of the ‘demos’.
32. This is a model that is able to draw together the perspectives that Elazar calls workable
polity and just polity, in contrast to other territorial models that are more ‘comprehensive’
in the constitutional sphere.
33. It should not be forgotten that federalism is not based on decentralization, but on non-
centralization. For a consideration of asymmetrical arrangements for recognition, see
Villiers (1995), Webber (1994), Lenihan, Robertson & Tassé (1994). From a European
perspective see MacCormick (1996).
34. The current Spanish Constitution (1978) does not recognize the plurinational character
of the Spanish State. After recognizing the existence of ‘nationalities and regions’ (art.
2), it treats these two entities in fundamentally egalitarian terms referring to them as ‘au-
tonomous communities’ in the rest of the text. The differences between those autonomous
communities, which the constitutional text considers to be more or less asymmetrical, are
largely transitory in character (differences in institutions, competences, and procedures
for achieving autonomy). Only the reference to tax policies in the Basque Country and
Navarre, and the reference, not without its ambiguities, to linguistic and cultural dif-
ferences are related to asymmetrical considerations. The perspective of a homogenizing
symmetry was reinforced in the 1980s by the post-constitutional political pacts of 1981.
The current Spanish constitutional model is not based on a ‘liberal politics of recognition’
of the plurinational reality which it tries to regulate. In this section, I will concentrate on
the case of Catalonia. See Fossas (1995).
35. Another issue is Catalonia’s representation in international sporting events (world and
European championships, Olympic Games, etc). This is another aspect of symbolic rep-
resentation that should not be ruled out in future asymmetrical political regulations. An-
other sphere which has barely been explored by the Spanish plurinational reality is the
education system. Outside the territories of the historical nationalities, knowledge of
non-Castilian culture is still very poor. This encourages empoverished attitudes of

homogenization-separation on both sides. For example, the standard of analysis of the

history, literature and culture of the Catalan, Basque, and Galician nationalities in some
textbooks is very low.
36. Banknotes and coins, stamps, personal documents (passport, identity cards, etc), or the
name of the state itself should also reflect the plurilinguistic character of the state. The
peseta, for example, is a currency which speaks only one language, Spanish, in con-
trast to other European currencies (Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Ireland).
Paradoxically, the peseta was ‘born’ in Catalonia in the 19th century.
37. A recent case is the Constitutional Court sentence (STC 330/1994) which rules on the
appeal of unconstitutionality of private insurance presented by the Executive Council of
the Generalitat. See the private vote formulated by the judge Carles Viver (supported by
the judges Cruz Villalón and Mendizábal Allende) which illustrates the point made above.
38. This is already the current situation in the Basque Country and Navarre. The recent con-
troversies surrounding the transfer of 15%, and later of 30%, of personal income tax is
simply ridiculous in federal terms, even in terms of symmetrical federalism.

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Address for correspondence: Ferran Requejo, Pompeu Fabra University, Political and Social
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