Liberal nationalism and territorial rights

Tamar Meisels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay sets out from the strain of liberal political thought which, in recent years, has come to the defence of nationalism, and raises some preliminary thoughts concerning its appropriate application to the very concrete issue of national territorial rights. It asks what type of justifications could be morally acceptable to “liberal nationalism” for the acquisition and holding of territory. To this end, the paper takes a brief look at five central arguments for territorial entitlement which have become predominant in political debates. These are: so called “historical rights” to territory; demands for territorial restitution; efficiency arguments; claims of entitlement to territories settled by co-nationals; and lastly, territorial demands based on claims of equal entitlement to the earth’s natural resources. These popular arguments point towards several potential criteria for the arbitration of territorial conflicts. The paper attempts to outline the morally relevant guidelines for thinking about territorial issues that flow from, or are at least consistent with, applying liberal values to the national phenomenon. It places the territorial aspect of nationalism at the head of the liberal nationalist agenda and offers an initial common ground for discussion (including disagreement) among liberals, and for the mediation of claims between nations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-43
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Applied Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003


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