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What actually constitutes a national community

Crime of honor
VALUES / What does it mean to be Norwegian, or more specifically to be part of a Norwegian community of values? The philosopher Immanuel Kant – now 300 years after his birth – may be relevant to the debate about 'Norwegian values', here related to Bjøranger and Svensson's new book.


Norway is a democratic state governed by the rule of law with equality before the law regardless of family, kinship and friendship. A large number of societies in today's world, on the other hand, are based on klaner or ethnic-religious groups, with collectivist notions of honour. This difference concerns incompatible norms for social organisation, which in a multicultural Norway can lead to serious conflicts. The book Crime of honor by Terje Bjøranger and Gunnar Svensson has contributed to increased attention to such conflicts.

An important part of the issue concerns what it means to be Norwegian, or more precisely to be part of a Norwegian community of values. It is this community that immigrants from clan cultures must integrate into, it is often claimed. Others believe that the important thing is not the specifically Norwegian in 'Norwegian values', but supranational, universal norms and principles. This debate actualizes the philosophical question of what actually constitutes a nationally community.


The philosophy behind it ethnonationalism is that the nation's value base is found in a culture that has taken shape over several generations and with which it is therefore natural for the citizens to identify. In this sense, the community of values ​​is not least a community of traditions. This means that it is not justified universalistically, with claims of validity for "everyone", but particularistically, for those who are covered by a certain traditional culture.

The problem with this is that a thinking person who wonders why a state of the Norwegian type is worth preserving cannot settle for the fact that it is the result of a specific historical process. If you only note that, you do not take a stand on the process, and the result is an objectification of your own opinions into something you just 'have' – on the same lines as body weight or hair colour. In that way, the value of living in a democratic rule of law cannot be anchored democratically in the citizens' free, independent convictions.

Do we have to choose between thin, rational values ​​and thick, partly irrational traditions?

For the same reason, it becomes pointless to engage in dialogue with advocates of other political cultures, who can also only point to their collective history. And what should one say to citizens of countries with barbaric traditions, for example to a German who thinks everything in the nation's distant and recent past is something to build on?

Constitutional patriotism

In Germany, Jürgen has habermas and others instead advocated for so-called constitutional patriotism: Regardless of tradition and ethnicity, a country's citizens can be united in support for a modern, democratic rule of law. That is to say, the nation-state social contract serves to realize universally valid norms for interpersonal intercourse. In Germany as much as in Norway, the current constitution can therefore be something the citizens have good reasons to celebrate.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that this type patriotism becomes too 'thin'. Or is it nothing more than the UN's declaration of human rights that we celebrate on Constitution Day? Although the value base is universal, the cohesion around it in a nation-state also has its own value – which is strengthened through the awareness of how it came to be. Do we then have to choose between thin, rational values ​​and thick, partly irrational traditions? I think this dilemma can be resolved through a non-traditionalist awareness of history.

Normative history

What we should celebrate and learn about in school and education is not all possible 'Norwegian'. Rather, it is the genesis of the modern Norway as a normative history with increasingly clear awareness of freedom, equality and human dignity. Among other things, it can be linked to the rise of political institutions, to 17 May, 1 May, 8 March, 7 June and other anniversaries, to the country's labor and women's movement as well as to important names in science, politics, art and literature.

The point is not that we should think for ourselves because Kant said so.

Much of the philosophical inspiration for this development can be found in John Locke, with Immanuel Kant and in other Enlightenment thinkers' confrontations both with tyrannical states and with collectivism in clan and honor cultures. There we also find answers to questions that naturally arise from the normative awareness of history.

To the extent that citizens are socialized into universal norms and values ​​that are characterized by the Enlightenment, is that not as authoritarian as socialization into pre-modern, traditional thinking? Because in both cases isn't it a question of taking on board thoughts that others have thought? Or, as it was once argued in a religious debate: Lace is known for his maxim "Think for yourself!", but why is it more rational to make children and young people familiar with it than to tell them about God?

This objection is misconceived. The point is not that we should think for ourselves because Kant said so. It is that the formulation of the maxim contributes to an awareness of our own rational abilities – which we can use, among other things, to criticize Kant. In that way, the knowledge of what the Enlightenment tradition actually is thinkers have thought and done, a form of self-knowledge. The same may be the case with modern Norwegian politics history of creation. Becoming familiar with it can contribute to a deeper understanding of our common human ability to live together in a democratic state of law.

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