This essay begins from a question that is often asked in practice but rarely in theory: What is the relationship between the good citizen and the good man or woman? This problem was a particular concern of ancient theorists of the polis, for whom it made little sense to consider the goods of the person apart from the goods of the community. I consider the question here in the context of nationalism, which has variously been described as a modern form of religion, of community, of belief system and social tie. Under all such descriptions, the nation—in all of its imagined breadth and scope—demands our sacrifices through the institutions that represent it. We sacrifice in the name of an ultimate good, of which we believe our own goods to be a part. It is possible, then, that the same question that animated thinkers of the polis may also help us to understand the triumph of the nation-state. Indeed, I argue here that it is our failure adequately to theorize the ethical dimensions of nationalism that has masked from us the institutional sources of nationalism's successes.
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