Self-determination  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The principle of self-determination, often seen as a moral and legal right, is that every nation is entitled to a sovereign territorial state, and that every specifically identifiable population should choose which state it belongs to, often by plebiscite. It is commonly used to justify the aspirations of an ethnic group that self-identifies as a nation toward forming an independent sovereign state, but it equally grants the right to reject sovereignty and join a larger multi-ethnic state.

Although there is a consensus that international law recognizes the principle of self-determination, the principle does not, by itself, define which group is a nation, which groups are entitled to sovereignty, or what territory they should get for that purpose. Its application in international law creates a tension between this principle and the principles of territorial integrity and non-intervention in internal affairs.

The principle of self-determination formally expresses a central claim of nationalism, namely the entitlement of each nation to its own nation state. It has itself become a typical demand of nationalist movements. However, the formal expression of the principle came later than the nationalist movements, and the first nation-states. In the 20th century the principle was central to the process of decolonisation, but its use is not limited to contesting colonialist or imperialist rule.

Some interpretations of the principle in ethics treat it as a translation or extension of universal rights of individuals (political freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of speech) to a group. Sometimes it is treated as a specific collective right, distinct from individual rights. It is a disputed principle in ethics, with some arguing that no such entitlement exists, other than perhaps the right to resist or secede from tyranny.

History and overview

The principle that a state should be sovereign and autonomous has long been associated with the idea of the state itself. The ideal of self-determination by a specific population (rather than their rulers) is of later origin. Early statements of the principle can be found in the Declaration of Independence of the United States. In 1859 John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty that political communities are entitled collectively to determine their own affairs. He argues that states should be seen as self-determining communities even if their internal political arrangements are not free; self-determination and political freedom are not equivalent terms.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Self-determination" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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