“Come back home!” — About nationality in a global world

Posted by Pierre-Antoine Ullmo

May 19th, 2020


“Come back home!”


This paradoxical sentence in a globalised world could make us rethink our attachment to the nation and find out reasons to reinforce our democracy.

Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that

“The pandemic will strengthen the state and reinforce nationalism… We will see a further retreat from hyper-globalisation, as citizens look to national governments to protect them and as states and firms seek to reduce future vulnerabilities.”

Indeed, since the beginning of the pandemic, citizens have been looking to their national governments for protection. Many of the expatriated have gone back to their homeland, with governments taking care of their repatriation. One and a half million foreign nationals have left Spain since the lockdown started. One million Britons on holiday or on business trips abroad have been asked to return to the UK immediately by the Foreign Office. “Where commercial routes don’t exist, our staff are working round the clock to give advice and support to UK nationals,” said the Foreign Secretary.

Is this bad? Should we fear a resurgence of nationalism?

In the words of Patrick Weil, a Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School and a senior research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, “The nation is the place you feel at home in a world that has become much more complicated to understand.”

Professor Weil joined EXP-Editions with a contribution about “nationality and citizenship”, two key concepts in our quest to better understand the world we live in.

“Look at what’s happening now with the coronavirus crisis. People, come back home! They are being asked to come back home! All governments are saying: get on the first flight you can and come back home! “We’ll take care of you here!”

Far from considering this move as a retreat from globalisation, a repli sur soi, Weil stresses the importance of “the unit where you deposit your confidence, where you have your deepest feeling, where you have a home”.

In his article From conditional to secured and sovereign: The new strategic link between the citizen and the nation-state in a globalized world, Weil wrote that “Far from being dépassé, national-state citizenship has developed a new vitality […and] reached a new stage of its development as an element of an unalienable sovereignty.”

We could therefore argue that to reinforce democracy or to bring back democracy should mean to reinforce everywhere in every nation, the role and the rights of individual citizens and of citizenry as a collective power.

Is nationalism a threat? For this naïve question, Weil has a straight answer: “Being attached to a nation doesn’t mean that you hate others. You may be self-confident, or even a narcissist, and that doesn’t lead you to hate others. The same is true for attachment to your nation. This attachment is even perhaps a way to like other nations. When this attachment is too strong and becomes obsessional, it starts to be dangerous and a proof of sickness. But a minimum attachment is not at all a sickness. It absolutely permits liking others and respecting them.”

What this crisis may lead us to is to rethink our vision of nationality and citizenship towards a more democratic nation-state, one more respectful of minorities, of genders and so on.

To explore more in depth:

The Sovereign Citizen: Denaturalization and the Origins of the American Republic
By Patrick Weil
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.



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