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Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension

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Abstract

The categories of ethnicity, homogeneity and the nation partially contradict each other, but they also overlap. In order to examine this tension, this article will consider these terms in the context of the question that mediates their relationship, namely, the stability and instability of political orders. My aim is to articulate a conceptual framework that makes it possible to discuss this relationship of tension and sketch it from a theoretical perspective.
Theoria, Issue 167, Vol. 68, No. 2 (June 2021): 66-81 © Author(s)
doi:10.3167/th.2021.6816703 • ISSN 0040-5817 (Print) • ISSN 1558-5816 (Online)
Ethnicity, Homogeneity,
Nation
A Relationship of Tension
Samuel Salzborn
Abstract: The categories of ethnicity, homogeneity and the nation par-
tially contradict each other, but they also overlap. In order to examine
this tension, this article will consider these terms in the context of the
question that mediates their relationship, namely, the stability and insta-
bility of political orders. My aim is to articulate a conceptual framework
that makes it possible to discuss this relationship of tension and sketch
it from a theoretical perspective.
Keywords: democracy, ethnicity, homogeneity, nation, political order,
political theory
The categories of ethnicity, homogeneity and the nation partially
contradict each other, but they also overlap. In order to examine this
tension, this article will consider these terms in the context of the
question that mediates their relationship, namely, the stability and
instability of political orders. My aim is to articulate a conceptual
framework that makes it possible to discuss this relationship of ten-
sion and sketch it from a theoretical perspective.
There has been much discussion on this topic, producing, amongst
other things, a series of case studies in international contexts. Yet
little work has been done to reflect conceptually and systematically
on the formation and disintegration of political orders (cf. Fuku-
yama 2011, 2014). This may have to do with the fact that the cir-
cumstances of individual cases are, of course, specific. However, it
may also have to do with the fact that the perspective of comparative
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 67
research on democracy and autocracy strongly focusses on fram-
ing its questions in terms of political systems as concrete forms of
organisation. This research tends less towards considering these
systems abstractly as (competing) political orders. In this regard,
considering individual cases makes it difficult to identify general
tendencies on a global political scale both historically and in the
present moment.
In order to grasp the relevance that notions of ethnicity and
nationhood have for the stability or instability of political orders,
it is necessary to look at the central category of modern political
thought: the state. The formation and disintegration of states are
phenomena indicating that the modern state itself should not be
understood as something stable and unchanging but as a process.
In the language of Georg Jellinek (1900): the state is never a sub-
stance, but always only a function. And this understanding is cen-
tral, in equal measure, for the emergence and dissolution of states,
since as a state this institutionalised form takes shape, transforms
or ceases to exist only, and always, when this process is actively
carried out by human beings. In this regard, the state is in no way
sacrosanct; it always derives its legitimacy from the fact that a suf-
ficient mass of people trust this legitimacy and thus the state itself.
The formation and disintegration of political orders can in prin-
ciple thus also be described in terms of erosions in the systems of
legitimation. Here, trust in the respective concrete state is linked
with the hope that the concrete state will be functional as the
embodiment of the abstract state. Or to put it precisely the other
way around: in these erosions, this hope is denied, with reference to
competing ideas of political order such as the empire, the ekklesia,
the Tiānxià, the umma, pan-ideologies, tribalism or anarchy (cf.
Salzborn 2017). The key to understanding the formation and disin-
tegration of political orders is thus the question of legitimacy.
The State and Legitimacy
During the transition from the pre-modern state of the Middle Ages,
which was based on personal allegiances, to the institutional state
of modern times, a political understanding of a new system of rule
developed. This system was based on a clearly defined territory
68 Samuel Salzborn
with a monopolised central power and a state population admin-
istered with expectations of continuity and permanence. At the
threshold between the pre-modern and modern periods, numerous
strands of development cumulated in a process in which the modern
nation state took shape, in the sense defined by Jellinek (1900), as
an entity characterised in constitutional terms by a unity of its ter-
ritory, sovereignty and population. This legally established three-
dimensionality of the concept of the state (which is often called the
‘doctrine of three elements’) gives rise to the range of variations in
the question of legitimacy. If a state’s territoriality, sovereignty and
population are its constitutive criteria, they also represent modes
that can serve not only to legitimise it but also to delegitimise it.
These criteria are therefore fundamentally ambivalent and constitu-
tive for the abstract state only as functional categories. As substan-
tial categories, by contrast, they can also invalidate concrete states.
Thus, to take one example, it is accepted in research into theo-
ries of the state that a clearly demarcated and well-defined state
territory is a characteristic of the (abstract) state. Nevertheless, the
ethno-nationalist claims of regionalist and separatist movements
constantly demonstrate that the territory of concrete states is dis-
puted. Hence, all three constitutive elements of the state – territory,
sovereignty and population – are also potential areas of conflict that
can lead to the disintegration of a concrete political order and the
formation of one (or more) new orders.
State sovereignty is structurally characterised by the establish-
ment and maintenance of a monopoly on the use of violence. To
follow Max Weber (1921) and Ernest Renan (2018), the legitimacy
of this monopoly rests upon an act of continuous acceptance; the
state’s claim to a monopoly on the legal use of physical force, both
internally and externally, nevertheless manifests itself in its claim
to unity. At the same time, this claim to unity also decisively shapes
and supports a state’s sovereignty, at least in the material sense. A
state’s territory situates the sphere of rule and thus influence of the
respective state system, thereby limiting the scope of state sover-
eignty while unifying it in its double orientation – inwards as the
sovereignty of the people and outwards as the sovereignty of a sin-
gle state actor. This, in turn, necessarily and inevitably generates,
in the words of Niklas Luhmann (1998), a structure of inclusion
and exclusion. However, this inclusion and exclusion is concretely
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 69
determined according to fundamentally differing criteria. A state’s
border, which clearly separates its territory from other states on
land, at sea, and in the air, territorially limits the influence of all
state institutions. And at the same time, from the perspective of its
inner space, it presumes to territorially guarantee these institutions.
The most controversial of these three points is a state’s popu-
lation. The minimal legal approach that Immanuel Kant follows
defines a state as a ‘union of a multitude of human beings under
laws of right’ (1797: 456–457). Kant’s concern is with the a priori
justification of these laws and the normative force of this ‘idea’ as
being in accordance with ‘pure principles of right’ for ‘every actual
union into a commonwealth’. But he leaves out any concrete discus-
sion of the key question relevant to the issue at hand, namely: who
becomes or can become a citizen of a state, and according to which
criteria? In the social sciences, two models are typically employed
here to answer this question: one that is republican and one that is
based on the notion of a nation. That is, scholars either use a model
of affiliation based on a (rational) political declaration or a model
based on (irrational) factors such as birth or descent. Both proce-
dures generate a particular efficacy for conceptions of inclusion
and exclusion. The only formal-rational regulation of the question
of who belongs to a state’s population is the empirically verifi-
able affiliation to a nation state by means of formalised regulations
governing nationality. However, the promulgation of such regula-
tions always remains controversial in structural terms because the
political pre-conditions that allow nationality to be legally justified
remain controversial (cf. Gosewinkel 2016).
Processes of state disintegration can begin with any of these three
elements. They can accordingly begin by questioning a state’s sov-
ereignty, territory or population, claiming that the respectively valid
agreements in any concrete state do not correspond to the subjec-
tively intended ideal of the abstract state. Such a critique gives rise
to a demand for change: both non-violent (which, as a rule, would
not be called ‘disintegration’ but ‘transformation’) and violent
(through internal and/or external forces, including separatism and
civil war as well as intervention and occupation). This also shows
that the process of state disintegration is moderated not only by
the axis of differentiation of internal–external, but also of above–
below. The impulse that initiates instabilities of the (homogeneous)
70 Samuel Salzborn
system of norms, up to state disintegration, can lie on both levels:
that of the degeneration of the structure of rule and thus of the polit-
ical system, as well as that of political culture, that is, of society.
Material and Substantial Sovereignty
Although processes of state disintegration can be applied to all
dimensions of state differentiation, they nevertheless manifest a
specificity that corresponds to the question of sovereignty. Sover-
eignty in a material sense, that is, as realised executive power to
rule, is the necessary pre-requisite for establishing and stabilising
the monopoly on the use of violence. However, it would be too
quick to narrow the conceptualisations of sovereignty, both in the
history of ideas and in actual history, to this one moment as most
prominently articulated by Carl Schmitt (1922) in reference to the
state of emergency. Sovereignty can and must be conceptualised
not only from an executive perspective, but always also from a
legislative one. Sovereignty in the executive sense only exists if the
(executive) sovereign is able to decide on the state of emergency.
Nevertheless, and even more so, the executive and thus material
sovereign only acquires this power at all because this power is
granted by the legislative and thus material sovereign in a relation-
ship of legitimate representation. This is crucial because the con-
cept of sovereignty describes a reciprocal relationship that Thomas
Hobbes and Niccolò Machiavelli had already emphasised as cen-
tral: the power to be allowed to decide on the state of emergency
(not: to be able to decide – that is another question) is something the
material sovereign attains exclusively by virtue of the fact that that
this power is entrusted to the material sovereign by the substantial
sovereign, that is, the citizens (cf. Salzborn 2015). What is at stake
here, as Jellinek (1900) has argued, is thus a sovereign state that is
the expression, result and starting point for conflicts of interest that
are based on social, that is, reversible human relations. Material
sovereignty must be seen as the foundation (though not as a guar-
antee) for any democratic development that is expected to be sus-
tainable and produce political stability. To state the point in terms
of Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde’s (1976) paradoxical-yet-correct
phrase: the material sovereignty of the executive must guarantee
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 71
normative homogeneity, which is something it can never guarantee
on account of substantial sovereignty.
The actual historical core of sovereignty is economic – it con-
sists in securing property relations and enabling relationships of
exchange. Moreover, the fundamental core of sovereign relation-
ships is also a relationship of exchange: the material sovereign was
empowered to act by the substantial sovereign and assumed, in
return, a guarantee for the latter: to safeguard individual freedoms.
If a sovereign forfeits this mandate, its legitimate authorisation to
exercise the monopoly on violence also lapses. This is crucially
important because one ultimately finds, in the concepts of mate-
rial and substantial sovereignty or external (state) sovereignty and
internal (popular) sovereignty, the lever for the development of a
number of processes of state disintegration. This is because abol-
ishing the legitimising foundation of sovereignty is tantamount to
calling into question its monopoly on the use of violence, regardless
of whether this is carried out gradually or radically.
Moreover, considering the option of a state of emergency, the
question of the monopoly on the use of violence ultimately deter-
mines the question of stability or instability of states. Unlike author-
itarian or totalitarian systems, democratic systems are characterised
by conflicts of interest and power struggles that do not contest sov-
ereignty but rather enable its legitimacy in the first place. As Her-
mann Heller writes: ‘Social homogeneity can . . . never mean the
suspension of the necessary antagonistic social structure’ (1928:
428). Based on the freedom and equality of people, this legitimate
sovereignty consists in recognising the sphere of private life, in
which individuals live freely and in self-determination as individual
citizens, that is, with the ability to exercise, without state influence
and interference, their basic rights and freedoms up to the point
where these rights and freedoms would violate those of other indi-
viduals. It is essential that the sovereign state become the space
enabling social and political conflicts with fault lines that are not
homogeneous but heterogeneous, meaning that they are constantly
changing and may even overlap in some cases. It is in this sense that
the permanent tension between a homogeneous normative order
and social heterogeneity is the truth of the modern nation state.
In this relationship of tension between external form as a state
in itself and the lack or absence of internal conditions as a state for
72 Samuel Salzborn
itself is thus the essential legitimising moment for the disintegra-
tion and subsequent formation processes of political orders. In the
UN system of international law, for instance, all concrete states are
accorded the quality of being states in itself. However, the major-
ity of these states do not meet the requirements for being a state
for itself. For although these states evince a political system, in
autocratic or totalitarian systems the state’s monopoly on the use
of violence is based not on sovereignty but on repressive violence.
Especially in autocratic systems, the legitimising function of sov-
ereignty, that is, the safeguarding and granting of individual free-
doms, is questionable.
To put it another way, these systems are undemocratic not only
because their constitutional norms are internally homogeneous but
also because there is an expectation that their constitutional reality
be homogeneous – through a forced suspension of social heteroge-
neity. A homogeneous system of norms and a heterogeneous reality
constitute, abstractly speaking, the basic structure of democracy.
A homogeneous system of norms and a homogeneous reality con-
stitute the basic structure of autocracy. A heterogeneous system of
norms and a homogeneous reality constitute the basic structure of
totalitarian systems. And a heterogeneous system of norms and a
heterogeneous reality constitute that the basic structure of anarchy.
Political Culture and Political Orders
We can classify empirical processes of state disintegration in terms
of this model. The model distinguishes between internal and exter-
nal factors, as well as between a state’s political system and political
culture, as the sites where conflicts can be located. And it differenti-
ates, on the horizontal level, between a state’s sovereignty, territory
and population. But it still lacks an analytical instrument that would
allow us to explain û not only descriptively but also theoretically, in
terms of a theory about the state – how processes of (national) state
disintegration occur. We lack a tool that would allow us to under-
stand these processes. A potential for stabilisation and simultaneous
destabilisation of the political order is inherent within the relation-
ships of power or rule institutionalised within any state system. This
potential mediates the relationship, in a state’s political culture,
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 73
between this order’s legality and legitimacy, and for this reason the
key to the question of stability is that of legitimacy. It may be the
case that, in the horizontal axes of a state’s processes of coming to
a common understanding regarding its sovereignty, territory and
population, an agreement regarding the needs of a state’s subjects
is achieved that they interpret as sufficient. In this case, there are
no tensions in the vertical axis between the political system and the
political culture. However, the greater the perception of difference
is in one or more of the fields on the horizontal axis, the greater
the tensions will be on the vertical axis. A conceptual instrument
from the field of cultural research on politics can help clarify how
constellations of conflict might arise and develop: to wit, the model
of one or more ‘unwritten constitutions’ or ‘unwritten rules’ (Birsl
and Salzborn 2014).
In the context of the history of ideas in German scholarship, the
concept of an unwritten constitution refers to discussions on con-
stitutional law from the period of the Weimar Republic. These dis-
cussions conceptually differentiated between constitutional norm
and constitutional reality (Verfassungswirklichkeit and Verfassung-
srealität), and this issue is still common in German jurisprudence
today. In his Constitutional Theory, Schmitt (1928) had criticised
the approaches of normativism and positivism with their respec-
tive focuses on the closed system of norms and the positive con-
stitutional order, pointing to a processual dynamic in the political
sphere that, he argued, could never be made comprehensible by a
purely positive understanding of law. In addition to the positiv-
ist shaping of political orders through the assertion of norms, the
individual and collective processes of processing and reflection
within the societies Schmitt studied also played a central role –
especially that of political will. This entails the conclusion that the
existence and knowledge of norms is not synonymous with their
acceptance. Legal-sociological discussions in the wake of Schmitt
have adopted this differentiation between norms and reality. But
they have questioned his decisionist articulation and voluntaristic
re-accentuation of social reality, which for him took the shape of an
ethnically homogeneous ideal of community. This ideal led Schmitt
to postulate the primacy of extra-legal categories (will, a people,
the common good, morals, etc.) for law-making (cf. Fraenkel 1941;
and Neumann 1944). In its relevance for theories of the state and
74 Samuel Salzborn
of law, this debate therefore emphasises conflicts between constitu-
tional norms and constitutional reality and thus between written and
unwritten constitution(s) or rules that hold the keys to analysing the
beginning, intensity and progress of processes of state disintegra-
tion.
As variants on the vertical axis, three fields of possibility arise
for determining the relationship between unwritten rules and estab-
lished norms:
1. The unwritten rules of the political within a society are
(largely) identical to, or at least do not conflict with, its for-
mal rules and institutions (cf. Göhler 1997; and Lauth and
Liebert 1999). In this respect, constitutional reality supports
the constitutional norm and the unwritten rules lead to a stable
constitutional order.
2. The unwritten constitution(s) contradict the written consti-
tution and thus engender tension between the constitutional
norm and the constitutional reality. These unwritten rules
have the effect of pushing for changes in existing norms,
which can be either constructive or destructive in the sense of
(an increase of) democratisation and (an increase of) autocra-
tisation.
3. The unwritten rules of the political give rise to political apathy
and thus also lead to stability, since their actors do not become
socially or politically active in any way. In liberal democra-
cies, there has been talk for some time of disenchantment
with politics or parties; this is in fact a diagnosis of a situation
in which the actors concerned do not want to participate and
are therefore apathetic in the traditional sense articulated by
Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba (1963).
If one summarises these forms of modelling, then the following
conceptual framework emerges for processes by which political
orders disintegrate – and at the same time also vice versa for those
by which political orders emerge: the horizon towards which each
concrete state aims consists in a procedural approach to an ideal-
typical (and thus never attainable) freedom from conflict between
the elements of the abstract state (i.e. between a state’s sovereignty,
territory and population). The questioning of these three elements,
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 75
whether in isolation or even as overlapping, derives from the fact
that none of them can be defined in a legally conclusive manner
insofar as their object is itself social in nature and must therefore
remain a matter of conflict and disagreement.
And this is precisely wherein the dialectic of the formation and
disintegration of political orders lies: every concrete state exists
in the knowledge that it is finite, since it was itself the product of
the disintegration or destruction of a previous, different political
order – a nuance towards which Hobbes’ (1651) prominent meta-
phor of the ‘mortal god’ already nods.
Every concrete state tries to achieve the highest possible degree
of congruence between the norms it proclaims and the acceptance
of these norms within its territory. However, these norms always
remain at least in conflict with the claim of the abstract state and,
above all, in reality, with competing conceptions for alternative
forms of the concrete state as another state. Only the sovereign
dimension of state rule can be objectively measured (i.e. the ques-
tion of the relationship between internal and external sovereignty,
or between substantive and material sovereignty). In addition to
horizontal differentiation, vertical differentiation also plays a role
here. This vertical differentiation reflects, in particular, the relation-
ship between internal and external causes of state disintegration
processes. For this reason, depending on the concrete constellation,
the responsibility for initiating processes of disintegration lies not
only in the political culture – and thus the subjective dimension of
the political – but also in the structural factors at play.
Social Belief in Ethnicity and Political Instability
This is also the point at which the gradual question of the necessity
of having normative homogeneity in relation to social heterogene-
ity becomes relevant for the continued existence of the concrete
(national) state: conflicts within societies and between social sub-
groups can be integrated only under one condition: if the degree
of internal (popular) sovereignty is at least considered sufficient
from the subjective perspective of those affected. In all other cases,
the political-social claims that are formulated in ethno-cultural
terms generate partial or general processes of disintegration of the
76 Samuel Salzborn
concrete political order – and this always occurs when a “belief in
common ethnicity” (Weber 1921: 389) is formulated in a certain
way: as a pre-political belief with a claim to produce collective and
socially homogeneity, which counteracts pluralistic heterogeneity
and calls into question the social basis of the normative order.
Not all nationalisms are equal, after all. Combined with a col-
lectively homogenising belief in ethnicity, nationalism becomes
a basis to undo the normative order of democracy. In the terms
used by Norbert Elias, nationalism can be described as ‘one of
the most powerful, if not the most powerful, social belief systems
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’. It represents a world
view constructed in particular along the ascribed collective iden-
tity of language, culture, religion and history, which facilitates the
social creation, political mobilisation and psychological integration
of larger associations of solidarity – such as, in recent times, the
nation. The nation initially functions merely as an ‘imagined com-
munity’ (Anderson 1983) and ‘order conceived in thought’ (Wehler
2001: 13), which develops through the inclusion of the traditions of
an association of rulers and is transformed by nationalism, gradu-
ally and continually, into a unit of action. As a phenomenon of
the modern period, nationalism is linked to a politicisation of the
concepts of a people (Volk) and nation, whose previously sepa-
rately retrievable uses in terms of specific strata and groups were
standardised and, at the same time, made ideological – always in
connection with an ostensible openness directed towards the future
(cf. Koselleck 1992).
In this respect, nationalism as an ideology of integration creates
an awareness of belonging together linked with the awareness of
having a common past, common opponents and common goals
for the future. The nation thereby makes a moral, political, social
and historical claim as an ‘ultimate value’ (Dieter Langewiesche)
or ‘ultimate instance’ (Reinhart Koselleck) and thus as the highest
source of legitimacy, which cannot be undone or exceeded in its
effectiveness by any other authority.
Despite all the common features of national ideology, the differ-
ence between types of nationalism, which is decisive with regard to
their integrative or disintegrative effect, ultimately lies in how the
relationship between inside and outside that is initially constitutive
for nationalism as such is concretely expressed. This is because
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 77
the question of who may and who may not belong to a nation is
answered in fundamentally different ways in the civic model of the
nation, as Anthony D. Smith (1991) called it, compared to the eth-
nic conception of the nation.
Ideally, the civic nation justifies its conceptions of inclusion
and exclusion through political commitment and a declared will to
belong to the nation, and it binds these to the free self-determina-
tion of the individual, thus guaranteeing a homogeneous normative
order as well as social heterogeneity. In the theory of the ethnic
nation, on the other hand, the nation is based on an ethnic inter-
pretation of the nation as a people. The concept of a people is not
understood here in its pre-modern, situational meaning in the sense
of masses or subjects, but in its existential, völkisch meaning as a
‘people of culture and blood’. This ethnic nationalism strives for an
identity and homogeneity between members of the ethnic group, the
territory the group inhabits and its formal affiliation to the respec-
tive state organisation. It is, in other words, structurally disintegra-
tive and directed against the factual reality of modern societies as
socially heterogeneous places of continuous migration; it aims to
compel social homogeneity and thus a homogeneous reality that
never actually exists.
The moment of ethnicity is crucial here, especially as the constitu-
tive foundation of the people understood as the most comprehensive
possible ethnic collective. This view regards ethnic differentiation
as a genuine feature of human existence. As a postulate, its theoreti-
cal core is the assumption that human social bonds have an ines-
capably ethnic basis. Ethnicity thus becomes a ‘question of being’,
as Eugeen Roosens (1995: 35) puts it. In this respect, this position
rejects the universalist postulate of equality and assumes that an
essentialist ethnic difference and ethnic determination of human
beings underlies all political and social action. The focus here is
on an understanding of the ‘ethnic community of fate’ as a natural
community, which rejects an orientation towards the individual as
subject.
The creation of the subjective sense of belonging to the collective
that is necessary for the concept of an ethnic nation structurally pro-
duces an image of the other alongside that of the collective itself,
and this distinction theoretically anticipates a segregation carried out
in reality. In constructing an ethnic history with myths, traditions,
78 Samuel Salzborn
symbols, legends, special ways of dressing and cooking, rites, etc.,
ethno-national argumentation finds it necessary to exclude all those
factors that might undermine a homogeneous image of the distinct
(collective) self. In the very process of exclusion, the other becomes
a potential threat to this distinct collective identity, because as soon
as the rigid boundaries of self-reassurance soften, the separate
identity that is created would also be endangered. Another socio-
logically decisive factor is that the ethnic collective is assigned a
superior position over the individual; this position is linked to the
demand for community homogeneity and thus for a social reality
that it expects to be homogenised. The collective is considered to be
a ‘unique, “organic” community’ (Kreutzberger 1993: 8) that must
assert itself vis-à-vis its environment. Social conflicts of interest
that objectively always exist within ethnic communities are edited
out of the reality of people’s lives, since ethnic primacy denies the
actual relevance of these communities. To use Claus Gatterer’s
term: this ethno-nationalism is thus a ‘total nationalism’ (1972:
101), since ethnic identity is not seen as a question of private belief.
Rather, through the dissolution of the space for possible political
action, it is transformed from an individual offering of identity to a
collective and normative compulsion to act.
Homogeneous Normative Order and Social Heterogeneity
State systems in the modern age are based on interests that must
always stand in conflict with each other. Every system of conflict,
however, also requires political unity as a homogeneous normative
order, lest its existence be at risk. To cite Konrad Hesse’s way of
formulating this tension: establishing political unity does not mean
‘producing a harmonious state of general agreement’ (1999: 6).
Hesse sees conflicts as the ‘moving force’ of a system that thereby
protects society from immobility and paralysis. Nevertheless: the
dilemma of modern rule is precisely that of equally guaranteeing both
political unity and political conflict and, in this respect, not abandon-
ing either the one or the other. From a constructivist perspective,
then, conceptions of ethnicity can be justifiably labelled as socially
created and invented, that is, as ultimately illegitimate. It remains a
fact, however, that conceptions of ethnicity are given credence by a
Ethnicity, Homogeneity, Nation: A Relationship of Tension 79
considerable number of people. They thus shape and often dominate
social realities, perhaps precisely because they are irrational. The per-
manent tension between the homogeneous normative order and the
heterogeneous reality of societies is objectively contested by ethno-
national conceptions to the extent that these notions undermine social
heterogeneity while, at the same time, remaining capable of exerting
a subjectively integrative effect on the social level. This assumes, of
course, that it is possible to consistently transfer these concepts, in
the pre-political form in which they exist in reality, into the private
sphere, and thus that it is possible to politically neutralise them.
If this succeeds, then it becomes possible to formulate the ques-
tion of how to reorder a homogeneous normative order beyond the
nation state – and this reordering would articulate minimal pre-con-
ditions that could be used to establish a new, universalistic narrative
as a normative model.
Samuel Salzborn is Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the
Institute of Political Science at the University Giessen, Germany. His
current research focusses on political theory, antisemitism and right-
wing extremism. E-mail: samuel.salzborn@sowi.uni-giessen.de
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