Right of Self-Determination in Mill’s Doctrine of the Nation State. As stated in the preceding article, it is one of the characteristic features of modern nationalism that most people who constitute a nationality aspire either to be independent and to live, under a state organization of their own choice and creation or at least to be accorded a large political autonomy, where they are united with another nationality or nationalities in the same state.
Toward the middle of the nineteenth century, the principal came to be asserted that every such people have a sort of natural right to determine their own political destiny. States composed of different nationalities came to be regarded as unnatural unions, and peoples Who were willing partners in such unions had, therefore, a right to dissolve the partnership by withdrawal and to establish new states on national foundations. As pointed out above, this is What has actually happened in a large number of instances in Europe.
President Wilson in various addresses during the World War defamed the right of self-determination without qualification. Self-determination, he said,
Is not a mere phrase it is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril. Carried to its logical limits the theory may be formulated as follows Every nationality a state.
Can such a right be defended and if so, would the actual exercise of it be desirable? As Lord Curzon remarked at the Lausanne Peace Conference (1923), the right of, self-determination is like a two-edged sword and can be admitted only with reservations.
It is and has been in the past a unifying force, but it may be and has recently become, also disintegrating force. Manifestly, if the theory were actually applied in all cases, it would lead to the disruption of some of the oldest existing states of the world.
It would mean the separation of Scotland, Wales, and perhaps South Africa and French Canada from the British Empire and the establishment of four new states within the present limits of the Empire, it would mean the division of Belgium into two states, one Walloon and the other Flemish of Switzerland into three states, and so on.
If pushed still further, it would give the Bretons in France, the Catalans in Spain, the province of Voralberg in Austria, Yucatan in Mexico, the German, Norwegian, and Italian portions of the United States, and the Italian districts of Argentine, their political independence.
It would allow the Dalmatian cities on the Adriatic coast to separate themselves from the hinterland. If itis true, as President Masaryk asserted in his pamphlet on Small Nations in the European Crisis, that there are 68 distinct nationalities in Europe, Europe would come to be divided into 68 states instead of 28, where the principle every nationality a state carried Out in practice. It is hardly conceivable that such a multiplication of petty states would be an advantage either for themselves or for the general peace and welfare.
Limitations of the Right of Self-Determination:-
Manifestly, there are limits beyond which the doctrine of self-determination as applied to nationalities cannot be admitted. If the right of every group, however small, which may happen to be ethnically and linguistically distinct from the rest of the population, to separate and organize itself into a new state, were admitted and exercised, in practice, it would lead to chaos and anarchy.
In 1920 a committee of eminent jurists was appointed by the Council of the League of Nations to give an Advisory Opinion as to the right of the people of the Aland Islands to separate from Finland and unite with Sweden. By plebiscites held in 1918 and again in 1919, they had voted almost unanimously in favor of separation.
The committee of jurists in its opinion stated that there was no rule of positive international law which recognized the right of fractions of peoples as such to separate themselves by a simple act of their own will from an established state of which they form a part, any more than it recognizes the rights of other states to demand such separation.
Generally speaking, it said, the grant or refusal of the right to a portion of its population of determining ing its own political fate by plebiscite or by some other method is exclusively an attribute of the sovereignty of any state which is definitively constituted.
It added that the recognition of the right of self-determination in the form asserted by the inhabitants of the Aland Islands would amount to an infringement upon the sovereignty of existing states, would lead to the destruction of the stability which the very word state implies, and would endanger the interests of the international community.
Mill’s Doctrine of the Nation-State:-
This saying of John Stuart Mill has often been quoted that It is in general a necessary condition of free institutions, that the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities. Mill admitted that this view represented an ideal, since, for geographical reasons, it could not always be realized in fact, for the reason that it often happens that different nationalities are so intermingled as to make it impracticable to organize each into a separate state.
This is true, for example, of the Germans in Poland and Czechoslovakia. In places, they constitute islands, as it were, in a sea of Poles and Czechs. The Turks in Yugoslavia and Rumania and the Saxons in Rumania is in somewhat the same situation.
Apparently Mill’s ideal was that of a world parceled out among a multitude of states, for the most part, petty in the area and not-self-sufficing in resources. It is an ideal which now has few supporters. Mill further said Where the sentiment of nationality exists in any force, there is a prima facie case for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government and a government to themselves apart.
This is merely saying that the question of government ought to be decided by the governed. One hardly knows what any division of the human race should be free to do, if not to determine with which of the various collective bodies of human beings they choose to associate themselves.
This is equivalent to saying that the people who constitute a nationality have the undoubted right of self-determination, the right to decide for themselves with whom they shall be politically associated. From this, it follows as a corollary that they have a right to separate from those with whom they are politically united and to establish new connections or to organize themselves in a new state.
We can only repeat that such a right, while it may be admitted as a general principle, is one which is subject to limitations that cannot be passed without breaking up into fragments many long-established states. Mill expressed a third Opinion which has also been contested, namely, that Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.
Among a people, without fellow feeling, he added, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public Opinion necessary to the working of representative government cannot exist. The history of Switzerland, however, affords a striking refutation of the truth of this proposition.
The population of this country consists of three distinct nationalities, French, Germans, and Italians, not to mention the small Romanschspeaking element-who have lived together peaceably for a long time and without disruptive tendencies. It would manifestly be contrary to the truth to say that free institutions do not exist in Switzerland or that representative government does not work successfully there because of the lack of a united public opinion.
So in Belgium, where the population is divided between two different races who read and speak different languages, free institutions and representative government exist to a highly developed degree. It is true that dissension regarding the language question has not been lacking, but it has never been sufficiently serious to threaten the disruption of the state.
Finally, the United States furnishes an example of a state composed of a mixture of many races, whole regions of which are inhabited by peoples of foreign races who still speak, in large measure, their native languages. Yet the system of representative government here has worked with greater success perhaps than in many states having an ethnically homogeneous population, and certainly, it would be hard to deny that free institutions exist to a high degree.
Criticism of the Doctrine of the Mono-National State:-
The theory Lof the mono national state, that is, the state whose political boundaries coincide with those of a single nationality, has been attacked by many writers. Thus Gumplowicz asserted that there is no historical or sociological justification for the view that such a state necessarily possesses elements of strength that are lacking in those composed of a number of distinct nationalities. On the contrary, he maintained that there is often a large degree of popular freedom in poly-national states than in those whose populations are ethnically homogeneous, and he cited Switzerland as a striking example.
Likewise, Bluntschli asserted that a state may gain in breadth and variety by the inclusion of foreign elements, Which serve to establish and keep open communication with the civilization of other peoples. Such an admixture, he added, may serve as an alloy to give strength and currency to the nobler metal. De Parieu quoted Emperor Francis II of Austria as Once saying to the French ambassador My people are strangers to one another and yet it is for the better.
They never have the same ills at the same time. In France when there is an epidemic of fever, you all have it the same day. I have Hungarians in Italy and Italians in Hungary. Each watches his neighbor they never understand one another and in fact, detest one another. Their antipathies, however, conduce to order, and their mutual hate to the general peace.