Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 1992


In Copyright


This lecture offers an analysis and defense of the right of self-determination of peoples. The argument begins by analyzing self-determination into its universalist and nationalist components. The universalist component of self-determination is satisfied wherever institutions of government are majoritarian. The nationalist component of self-determination is satisfied to the extent that institutions of government are identified with particular communities. The universalist compoent is now widely recognized as an authoritative principle of international law. The nationalist component remains controversial, particularly outside of the particular context of the dismantling of European colonial empires. The lecture proceeds to defend the nationalist component by attacking the reduction of self-determination to the rights of individuals. The lecture argues that group autonomy achieves the distinctive good of enabling and preserving group identity. Conceding that group identities are contingent rather than natural or immutable, it nevertheless argues that such identities are valuable, because we can define and advance our moral ends only through joint action. The lecture concludes by arguing that we are justified in forming political communities for the pursuit of those ends.

Publication Title

Stanford Journal of International Law

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