Talking with Nationalists and Patriots: An Examination of Ethnic and Civic Approaches to Nationalism and their Outcomes in Quebec and Flanders

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

Kent State University

Cedarville University School or Department

History and Government

First Advisor

Andrew Barnes

Second Advisor

Landon Hancock

Third Advisor

Steve Hook


Nationalism, secession, dissolution, ethnic, civic, Quebec, Flanders


Separatist/nationalist political parties exist in many states in the developed world, yet there has not been a successful case of secession since 1921 when the Irish Free State effectively seceded from the United Kingdom. One issue is that these nationalist political parties have rarely been popular enough to form a government even amongst their core ethnic group. Relatedly, demography has changed in the developed world given relatively high levels of immigration. Nationalist parties have historically been unable to win support from immigrants or people outside their core ethnic and/or linguistic group. Given this context, three central questions were posed in this study including: whether—and also why—any of the nationalist parties have transitioned from ethnic-based to civic-based policy platforms? And, why have these nationalist parties not yet achieved independence?

This study examines two cases—Quebec in Canada, and Flanders in Belgium—to investigate how nationalist political parties are approaching the issue of independence. Through an investigation of five different areas of public policy—language, culture, immigration, political autonomy, and economics—this study answers the questions of whether and why any of these nationalist parties have adopted civic-based policy platforms instead of ethnic-based platforms. Three different types of qualitative research methods were used in this study including interviews, survey/polling data, and archival research. The main research contribution of this dissertation is twenty-seven elite level interviews with nationalist political leaders and members of their staff.

The results show that the Parti/Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie in Flanders have both started to make a transition towards civic-based nationalist party platforms, but that the transition is only halfway complete. Vlaams Belang (also in Flanders), in contrast, has retained significant ethnic-based policy platforms. The results also show that a combination of institutions, interests, and ideas have stifled the respective nationalist movements. In Belgium, there are institutional blockages that make independence for Flanders very difficult. In Quebec, however, there is a path to independence through a referendum, but interests in favor of Canada, and ideas opposing secession, have stifled the nationalist movement. Secession remains a very challenging endeavor in the developed world.