The doctrine of self-determination means the right of every distinct nationality to form a separate government of its own choice. It consists of certain sentiments and ideals which a group of people cherish in common.
J.S. Mill was the first philosopher to defend this doctrine in his book Representative Government. He advocated the doctrine of “one nationality, one state.” He was one of the opinion that where the sentiment of nationality existed, people should be allowed to have a separate government of their own.
Every nationality would then be in a position to develop its own life without being unduly influenced by a superior power and most of the quarrels and misunderstandings would die out.
In his opinion, it is in general a necessary condition, of free institutions that the boundaries of the government should coincide with those of nationalities-
According to the advocates of the doctrine, nationality should possess the following rights :
1. Right to exist:
The right to exist is considered to be the first and the most natural right of a nationality. It implies that no attempt, direct indirect should be made by the sovereign states either to denationalize the nationalities or to suppress their separate individuality. Every nationality should be allowed to maintain its separate and corporate existence.
2. Right to develop Language and Literature:
Every nationality should have an unrestricted right to develop its language and literature. Language is a medium of expression and literature embodies the aspirations of the people.
A nationality should have the liberty to use its own language as its medium of instruction and for the conduct of public business
3. Right to preserve its Customs, Traditions and Culture:
It is the moral right of nationalities to preserve and conserve their customs, traditions and culture. These constitute the life and soul of a distinct group of people and as such they cannot be denied on any rational grounds.
The influence of the principle of ‘one nationality and one state’ was very profound towards the close of 19th century and in the beginning of 20th century. It was responsible for the disintegration of certain old multi-national states like Turkey, Russia, Austria and Hungary.
This principle was also responsible for the integration of certain small states belonging to the same nationality. Germany and Italy were united into single state under the influence of this doctrine. Thus this doctrine was both an integrating as also a disintegrating force.
The sentiment of nationality became very strong after World War I. President Woodrow Wilson stressed the necessity of reorganizing the post-war Europe states on the basis of this principle.
Thus the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and the Central European states of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia came into existence. After the second world war, Asia and Africa, were liberated fully under this doctrine.