Debating within liberal nationalism: the linguistic disputes in Catalonia and Flanders
This thesis addresses the following question: do proponents and opponents in the linguistic disputes in Catalonia and Flanders prioritise individual or group-oriented rights? The dispute in Catalonia is about the use of languages in the Catalan education system, while the dispute in Flanders is about the linguistic regime in certain municipalities around Brussels. Crucially, both are made of competing normative-laden political arguments. Drawing on interviews and document analysis, the thesis situates the conflicting political arguments within the scholarship on the compatibility between liberalism and nationalism. The central argument of the thesis is that the Catalan and Flemish linguistic disputes occur within liberal nationalism. Proponents in Catalonia and Flanders argue in a form of liberal nationalism that is more nationalist than liberal, although the nationalist dimension is more explicit in Catalonia; opponents in Flanders combine liberal nationalism with classical liberalism; and opponents in Catalonia argue in a form of classical liberalism that relies on liberal nationalist elements. In short, the four positions in the two debates participate in different forms and to different degrees in liberal nationalism. The findings suggest that nationalism is an important factor in making sense of the paradox that the normative consensus on political liberalism does not translate into political consensus in these specific cases. It is hoped that the findings of this thesis will make two main contributions. The first is an explanatory contribution to improve the understanding of the Catalan and Flemish linguistic disputes: the disputes are not between liberals and nationalists, but between liberal nationalists. The second is a theory-building contribution to refine the theoretical debate about individual and group-specific rights: liberal nationalist scholars run the risk of being unable to account for the national attachments many people experience in ‘the real world’ if, in their efforts to build acceptable liberal theories, they circumscribe their defence of national membership to its instrumental role for individual autonomy. In addition, their conceptualisation of nations as bounded and homogeneous seems to be built upon flimsy empirical grounds.