Hans Kohn’s defnition of a more “liberal, civic Western” and “illiberal, ethnic Eastern” nationalism has been highly influential in providing a framework for our understanding of different types of nationalism. This article challenges the Kohn framework as idealized and argues that it did not reflect historical reality and is out of step with contemporary theories of nationalism. Its continued use also ignores the evolution from communist to civic states that has taken place in central-eastern Europe during the 1990s. The assumption that Western nation-states were always “civic” from their inception in the late eighteenth century is criticized and a different framework is proposed that sees Western states as only having become civic recently. In times of crisis (immigration, foreign wars, domestic secessionism, terrorism), the civic element of the state may continue to be overshadowed by ethnic particularist factors. The proportional composition of a country’s ethnic particularism and civic universalism has always been in tension and dependent not on geography but on two factors: the historic stage of the evolution from ethnic to civic state and nationhood and the depth of democratic consolidation.
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