The emergence of modern, uncontested national identities was linked to the success of the liberal order and its emancipatory project. In those states where liberal or bourgeois ideas succeeded, the old world of monarchical courtiers, corporate interests, and social estates disappeared, replaced by an abstract society of politically equal individuals and, as a result, a single national identity within existing political borders. By contrast, in those states where the liberal revolution failed (or happened late in time), the preservation of spatially defined barriers (inequalities) led to a break between the (old) center and one or more national peripheries or communities. I test the hypothesis by looking at the evolution of Jewish political identity employing a regression discontinuity design that exploits the differential political treatment of Polish and Russian Jews under Tsarism, complemented with a broader comparison of Zionism across American and European countries. The results show that the existing canonical explanations of modern national identity, which stress the role of societal modernisation, education and/or the imaginary projects of elites, are endogenous to the political (pro-liberal) transformations that marked the birth of the contemporary era.
Carles Boix is the Robert Garrett Professor of Politics and Public Affairs in the Department of Politics and the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He teaches and does research on political economy and comparative politics, particularly on empirical democratic theory, the choice of institutions and their consequences for growth and inequality. He is a Faculty Associate at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, and the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance. He is the Director of the Institutions & Political Economy Research Group at the University of Barcelona.
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