Nationalism in times of crisis

A team of Penn philosophers examine whether it’s morally acceptable for the government to prioritize its own people’s interests and needs during a global pandemic.

In 2007, a philosopher and professor of political theory, proposed a thought experiment: a pandemic has broken out and vaccines are in limited supply. Knowing that people in other countries are more vulnerable, is it wrong for the government to vaccinate its own people before sending any surplus abroad?

Map of the world with vials of COVID vaccine on top of the map in different countries.

In “Crisis Nationalism: To What Degree Is National Partiality Justifiable During a Global Pandemic?” an article published in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Kok-Chor Tan, professor of philosophy, Eilidh Beaton, and doctoral candidates Mike Gadomski and Dylan Manson explore whether governments are morally justified in favoring their own people during global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concept of “crisis nationalism,” a term the authors coined to describe prioritizing compatriots during a pandemic, stems from national partiality—the thought that countries are allowed, or even morally required, to favor their own populations’ needs over other nations’.

National partiality challenges moral impartiality, which is the belief that everyone should be treated equally, a foundation of modern moral philosophy. But there are complications to moral impartiality, says Manson, whose dissertation tackles nationalism more broadly. “Most people would agree that we shouldn’t treat friends and family the same way we treat strangers. There’s something about those relationships that means we owe them perhaps more than we owe others.” Manson further explains that proponents of national partiality, sometimes called “liberal nationalists,” argue that a similar relationship applies to people with whom we share a nation.

This story is by Duyen Nguyen. Read more at OMNIA.