Why does the Singaporean media enforce multiculturalism

Collective identity beyond the nation state


A nation is a community of individuals who strive to unite in a state. The nation has its origin in a people. According to the cultural conception of the nation, the unity of a people is rooted in historically grown families and tribes with a common collective memory, common symbols and traditions. If the members of the nation succeed in forming a state, the people become the bearers of sovereignty. It is both the central object of loyalty and the basis of collective solidarity between members of the community. The political conception of the nation with the principles of popular sovereignty and equality of all members comes to the fore.

The nation-state emerges from the combination of nation and state, which is based on cultural identities that go back a long way as well as on the abstract ideals of political conception. A nation-state is inevitably more extensive than any previous community. Because of its size, the citizens of the state do not know each other personally. This phenomenon is described by the term imaginary community. The achievement of the nation state is therefore to unite a large number of social units that are only loosely linked to one another into a national body.

In the 1990s in particular, the ability of the nation state to still exercise such an integration and identification function was questioned. According to these considerations, the ability of national governments to act and shape is restricted by globalization. In order to remain competitive in an increasingly interdependent world economy, adjustments to the logic of global markets are necessary. This means that the states lose their sovereignty over certain parts of the system.

However, globalization also has a cultural dimension and through this influence on society. With global media, communication and transportation, people are becoming more and more citizens of the world. Territorial boundaries are blurring and becoming less important. In large parts of Europe, the abolition of borders through the free movement of people is already a reality. It is no longer the nation state alone that gives people the feeling of being part of a larger whole. People can look for their affiliation either in smaller, regional units or on a supranational level. In increasingly differentiated and individualized societies, it is conceivable that the collective identity of a people will lose importance. It would then no longer be able to unite the population under one roof from a common memory, language and culture. The question arises whether another principle could take over this function. On the basis of these considerations, the following question will be dealt with in this essay: Is there a mechanism that can replace the integration function of nation-state identity?


As mentioned above, there are basically two alternatives to nation-state identity. On the one hand, the turn to regional units that express themselves in the interest of the local language and culture and can lead to secessionist aspirations and, on the other hand, the detachment from all territorial ties and the feeling of being a citizen of the entire world. Identification with supranational entities such as the European Union or the United Nations is conceivable.

Regionalization tendencies can be observed in many European countries. In the Basque Country, the ETA is using terrorist methods to force the area to be separated from the Spanish state, in Italy the Lega Nord party is demanding more autonomy for the economically stronger north of the country, and in Belgium one government after another is breaking up over the apparently insurmountable conflict between Flemings and Walloons. What these movements have in common is that they question the nation-state in its current form and aim to change the prevailing conditions. The state is in danger of falling apart. Furthermore, secessionist movements often invoke ethnic and cultural characteristics that distinguish the areas in question and the people living there from the rest of the country. If the discourse on the relationship between central and regional states is conducted along ethnic lines of conflict, there is always the risk that one ethnic group will place itself above the others and assert claims to superiority. In the worst case, such a development will result in ethnic cleansing. Thus, ties to regional units cannot be the solution to the problem of the dwindling national identity.

The alternative is a detachment from all territorial ties and identifications. But humans are gregarious animals and so they will always be on the lookout for a group to join. Given the extent of global mobility and networking that can be observed today, it is conceivable that the desire to belong is projected onto supranational units. But what should such a bond be based on?

This question should be answered by considering the European Union (EU). It serves as an example of the integration of nation states into a supranational structure with far-reaching competencies.

The EU is a top-down project. The national governments of the European states have come to believe that joining together to form a union is sensible and desirable. This decision was not preceded by the development of a European identity at the citizen level. Thus, the EU has had to struggle with a legitimacy deficit since its inception. What entitles them to make decisions about their lives on behalf of all Europeans? With the Treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon, the EU's proximity to the citizens should be gradually expanded and democratic participation strengthened. The aim was to give citizens the same amount of freedom to shape the EU as they are entitled to through their nation states. But it seems that the democratization of the EU is still in its infancy. Elections to the European Parliament take place at the state level and thus according to the country logic. The parties up for election are only partially organized on a European level, remain connected to their national electorate and are only marginally represented in the public discourse of the member states. A Frenchman stays French and a German stays German. Just because they are called every five years to vote for a European parliament that is far from where they live does not suddenly turn them into Europeans. So what has to be done?

According to Jürgen Habermas, solidarity and the feeling of togetherness between the citizens of a state are fed by the public, discursive formation of opinions and will. Democratic legitimacy is guaranteed by linking political decisions to opinions articulated in civil society. The articulation of these opinions takes place in public. The public is created by communicative actors and an interested audience. The media offer the platform on which civil society forms its opinions, which are then represented by parties and interest groups in the political system.

The prerequisite for broad solidarity and a transnational feeling of togetherness in Europe is therefore a European public. In this public sphere, Europeans, as free and equals, can reach a consensus on the structure of their coexistence, on rights, duties and rule. This consensus can be expressed in a constitution. The principles enshrined in the constitution are in the interests of all and thus obtain the consent of all. Habermas calls this approval and its effect on citizens constitutional patriotism. Accordingly, the political institutions and the democratic process create a collective identity. Culture as the basis of the community is not completely eliminated, but it is reduced to a minimum. A European constitution should have certain points of contact with the national political cultures, but Habermas is convinced that a European political culture does not have to be based on an ethnic, linguistic and cultural origin common to all citizens.

The attempt to pass a European constitution in 2004 failed due to parliamentary resistance from individual EU member states. Instead of the constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon was passed five years later, which even in the EU's own presentation is simply referred to as a “reform treaty”. This clearly shows that the member states are not yet ready to commit to a pan-European constitution. Identifying with the nation states is still more important than with the European Union. If you follow Habermas' argument, this is due to the lack of a European public. There are certainly mechanisms that contribute to cultural standardization within Europe. These include the common internal market, monetary union, the free movement of people, tourism, pan-European organizations such as interest groups, NGOs and professional associations, as well as European media. A common public space for a discursive discussion of these mechanisms could emerge from this. However, in Europe there is a lack of both a transnational civil society that could pursue this dispute and a pan-European party system that could convert the results into political decisions. To make matters worse, Europe is linguistically highly segmented and has no common lingua franca.


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