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Nationalism is a concept of identity which members of a particular government, nation, society, or territory may collectively feel. Nationalists strive to create or sustain a nation based on various notions of political legitimacy. Many nationalist ideologies trace their development from the Romantic theory of "cultural identity" while others are based on the Liberalist argument that political legitimacy is derived from the consent of a region's population.

Nationalism is a frequently misunderstood term, as its most general definition is broad and has been controversial throughout history. Often the most negative consequences of the clash of nationalisms, ethnic tension, war, and political conflicts within states, are taken for nationalism itself. Under many definitions, nationalism does not necessarily imply that one nation is better than another, simply that nations are better off when they are permitted to govern themselves, following their own political, economic, and cultural interests independently. Jingoism is a more extreme ideology that emphasizes the superiority of one nation over another.

Several theorists, such as Benedict Anderson, have argued that the necessary conditions for nationalism include the development of the printing press and capitalism. Anderson also argues that the concept nations and nationalisms are socially constructed phenomenons, terming them imagined communities. Ernest Gellner further discusses the concept: "Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-conciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist."

Evolution of Nationalism

The nation-state was born in Europe with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). Nationalism was still an elite phenomenon for a couple of centuries after that, but during the 19th century in Europe it spread widely and became popularized. Nationalism has dominated European and even global politics ever since. Much of 19th century European politics can be seen as a struggle between newer nationalist movements and old autocratic regimes. In some cases nationalism took a liberal anti-monarchical face whereas in other cases nationalist movements were co-opted by conservative monarchical regimes. Gradually through that century the old multi-national states such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to lose their grip, and various localized states were absorbed into larger national entities, most notably Germany and Italy.

By the end of the 19th century, nationalistic ideas had began to spread into Asia. In India, nationalism began to encourage calls for the end of British rule. In China, nationalism created a justification for the Chinese state that was at odds with the idea of the universal empire. In Japan, nationalism combined with Japanese exceptionalism.

The First World War marked the final destruction of several multinational states (Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to some extent Russia). The Versailles Treaty was marked by an attempt to recognize the principle of nationalism, as most of Europe was divided into nation states in an attempt to keep the peace. However, several multinational states and empires survived. The 20th century has also been marked by the slow assertion of nationalism around the world with the destruction of European colonial Empires, the Soviet Union, and various other smaller multinational states.

At the same time, particularly in the latter half of the century, anti-nationalistic trends have taken place, notably often driven by elites. The European Union is now transferring power from the national level to both local and continental bodies. Trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the GATT, and the increasing internationalization of trade markets are also weakening the sovereignty of the nation state.

However, nationalism continues to assert itself in opposition to those trends. Globalization is violently opposed in street demonstrations (see ATTAC), nationalistic parties continue to do well in elections, and the most people continue to have a strong sense of attachment to their nationality.

Forms of Nationalism

Civic nationalism (also civil nationalism) is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry, the "will of the people"; "political representation". An individual in such a nation must believe that the state's actions somehow reflect his will, even when specific actions go against his will. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who first developed this theory, devised the concept of the General Will to explain how that could work. Rousseau put down his theory in various writings, particularly On the Social Contract. (See Social contract theories for a more in-depth discussion of the historical development of this philosophy.)

Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism. It is the theory behind constitutional democracies such as the United States and France.

Ethnic nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from historical cultural or hereditary groupings (ethnicities). This was developed by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who introduced the concept of the Volk.

Romantic nationalism (also organic nationalism, identity nationalism) is the form of ethnic nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy as a natural ("organic") consequence of race; in the spirit of Romanticism and opposed to Enlightenment rationalism. Romantic nationalism relies upon the existence of a historical ethnic culture which meets the Romantic Ideal; folklore developed as a Romantic nationalist concept. The Brothers Grimm were inspired by Herder's writings to create an idealized collection of tales which they labeled as ethnic German. See Populism and Nationalism.

Giuseppe Mazzini (Italy), Jules Michelet (France), Johann Gottlieb Fichte (Germany), Roman Dmowski (Poland).

Religious nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy as a consequence of shared religion. Zionism is an example, though many, if not most, forms of ethnic nationalism are in some ways religious nationalism as well. For example, Irish nationalism is associated with Catholicism; Indian nationalism is associated with Hinduism. In general, religious nationalism is viewed as a form of ethnic nationalism.

Sometimes however religion is more of a marker of a group than the motivation for their nationalism. For example although most Irish nationalist leaders of the last 100 years are Catholic, in the 19th century and especially in the 18th century many nationalistic leaders were Protestant. Irish nationalists are not fighting for theological distinctions like transubstantiation, the status of the Virgin Mary, or the primacy of the Pope. Rather they are fighting for an ideology that identifies the geographical island of Ireland with a particular view of Irish culture, which for some nationalists does include Catholicism but has as a more dominant element other elements of culture. For many nations that had to struggle against the consequences of the imperialism of another nation, nationalism was linked to the persuit of an ideal of freedom.

Islam is fiercely opposed to any notion of Nationalism, Tribalism, Racism, or any other categorization of people not based on one's beliefs. However, Islamist groups can be considered as racist and nationalist (and are therefore by some not recognized as truly Islamic).

The modern vernacular use of nationalism refers to the political (and military) exercise of ethnic and religious nationalism.

Fascism is usually marked by ethnic nationalism, the most extreme example being National Socialism in Nazi Germany.

In some cases there has been a reaction against nationalism. An example was the perception in pre-World War I, European socialist movements that nationalism was being used to prevent workers uniting against capitalism. Another example is in present day Germany, Israel and Ireland where there are people who are not comfortable with any nationalistic, patriotic, or even cultural symbols, because these have become associated (and permanently discredited in their view) with violent nationalism (see self-hatred).

Commonalities of all Forms of Nationalism

Some political theorists make the case that any discrimination of forms of nationalism is false. All forms of nationalism rely on the population being a nation; that is, that all the members of the population believe that they share some kind of common culture, and culture can't be wholly separated from ethnicity. Even the supposedly ethnically neutral "civic culture" of the United States, for example, relies on English as the one national language, has "God" on its coinage and in its Pledge of Allegiance, and designates official holidays, which promote cultural biases.

See also the concept of Manifest Destiny, American nativism, the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Nationalist theorists

Benedict Anderson has stated, "only face-to-face contact can sustain community: nations are in some sense an illusion." [2] ( (see also [3] (

Historical nationalism

Historical events in which nationalism played an essential role:

Ethnic nationalist conflicts

(Includes most wars between the 18th century and World War I. Excludes conflicts driven primarily by other ideologies such as religion, communism, or democracy.)

Ethnic nationalist organizations

(Not including governments and formal armies)

Nationalism and patriotism

Patriotism and chauvinism are nowadays often based in nationalism, but can for instance also come from a feeling of affiliation with an imperial dynasty.

Nationalism and language

A common language has been one of the main presuppositions for nationalism; in France, for example, before the French Revolution patois such as Breton and Occitan were spoken in the various regions which were incomprehensible to each other. Following the Revolution, French was imposed as the national language. For instance, in Brittany Celtic names were forbidden. Although in some instances, as in France and Sweden, local languages or dialects were consciously suppressed, some were absorbed more organically into a larger whole.

Some theorists believe that nationalism became pronounced in the 19th century for the simple reason that language became more important as unifier due to increased literacy. With increasing numbers of people reading newspapers, books, pamphlets, etc... which were increasingly widely available and read since the spread of the printing press, it became possible for the first time to develop a broader cultural attachment that went beyond the local community. At the same time, differences in language solidified, breaking down old dialects, and excluding those from completely different language groups.

Nationalist movements from Ireland to India promote the teaching, preservation, and usage of traditional languages, such as Celtic, Hebrew, and Hindi.

Even the United States, a country which supposedly transcends nationality, has a long tradition of discrimination for other languages than English. Prominent examples are the German language which was nearly erradicated during World War I. French and Italian have nearly disappeared from U.S. everyday life. TOday Spanish is a large second language across large portion of the country. Some politicians, such as Pat Buchanan have consciously opposed the rise of Spanish as a second American language for fear that it would undermine traditional institutions.

Nationalism and racism

Although nationalism does not necessarily imply a belief in one's own superiority over others, excesses of nationalism have not infrequently led to racist variants of the theory (see Jingoism). Excessive nationalism or self-pride has convinced many European powers that they were morally justicied to impose their rule to smaller or militarily weaker nations.

Around the beginning of the 20th century in many countries all over the world a tendency existed to mix nationalism with racism. One of the clearest examples of racist nationalism was embodied in the Nazi movement in Germany with the resulting Holocaust.

However there are other examples of racism that could have been motivated through nationalism, including ethnic cleansings during the Yugoslav secession war in the 1990s, the removal of Germans from the Wolga Republic during the 1940s, the repressions against blacks in the United States during the 1930s, the extermination of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, terror bombing and gas attacks by the British army in Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s, killing of the Boers in British concentration camps at the end of the 19th century, and others.

What makes nationalism so attractive?

The reason why nationalism has maintained its appeal over the centuries might be that belonging to a culturally, economically or politically strong nation makes you feel better regardless of your own contribution to this strength.

Nationalism and pride

Exceeding or violated pride or in the worst case both together can be the most potent driving forces for the rise of nationalism. In Germany the soil for nationalism was prepared by a sequence of a period with exceeding pride followed by a period of defeat and devastation. Whereas during the "Wilhelminian" era exceeding pride has been risen by the German government, the period after WWI was determined by violated pride due to defeat and the conditions of the Versailles treaty. In conjunction with the resulting economic devastation due to hyperinflation (1922, 1923, and 1929), this lead to the rise of Nazism and in the last consequence to WWII.


Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities