Civic nationalism, also known as liberal nationalism, is a form of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. Ernest Renan and John Stuart Mill are often thought to be early civic nationalists. Civic nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly.
Civic nationhood is a political identity built around shared citizenship in a democratic state. Thus, a "civic nation" isn't defined by its language or culture, but by its political institutions and liberal principles, which its citizens pledge to uphold. Membership in the civic nation is open to anyone who shares these values.
In theory, a civic nation or state does not aim to promote one culture over another. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas argued that immigrants to a liberal-democratic state need not assimilate into the host culture, but only need to accept the principles of the country's constitution.
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Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary, as in Ernest Renan's classical definition in "Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?" of the nation as a "daily referendum" characterized by the "will to live together". Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France (see the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789).
The Corsican nationalist movement organized around the FLNC is giving a civic definition of the Corsican nation ("destiny communauty") in the continuity of Pasquale Paoli and the ideas of the Lumières.
The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, which advocate independence of their respective nations from the United Kingdom, proclaim themselves to be civic nationalist parties, in which they advocate the independence and popular sovereignty of the people living in their nations society, not individual ethnic groups.
Civic nationalism contrasts with more heritage-based forms, such as ethnic nationalism.
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