In terms of structure, Chapter 1 prepares the ground for the fulfilment of the critical aim I just introduced. It defines more precisely what methodological nationalism actually is, distinguishes between different versions of the argument of social theory’s methodological nationalism, reviews the two waves around which the debate on methodological nationalism has taken place within social theory – during the 1970s and Ulrich Beck’s recent critique – and eventually expands on the reasons why it must be rejected. After this critical review, Chapter 2 introduces the framework for the more positive side of my argument. It advances the thesis that social theory can only escape from methodological nationalism on the basis of its claim to universalism and attempts to do just that
by breaking apart the equation between the nation-state and society from either side in turn. On the one hand, from the historical end of the equation, social theory’s claim to universalism points to the thesis that despite historical, cultural and geographical variation the nation-state needs to be understood as one single form of socio-political arrangement. This conceptualisation is what this book refers to as the historical elusiveness, sociological equivocations, and normative ambiguity that constitute the opacity of the nation-state in modernity. On the other, from the theoretical end of the equation, social theory’s claim to universalism advances the proposition that, rather than the empirical definition of a nation-state, society has fulfilled the role of a regulative ideal. Throughout the history of social theory, society’s most systematic role has had less to do with the definition of an empirical reference and more with an abstract conceptualisation of the nature of modern social life. The emphasis on social theory’s claim to universalism upon which Chapter 2 is based implies taking seriously the challenge of finding the right balance between being sensitive to empirical differences, historical variations and normative disagreement without pre-deciding against the possibility of making claims with universalistic intent. It is a way of responding to post-modern relativism without having to fall back on any form of fundamentalism or unwarranted metaphysics.