Nationalism Theory

Origins and develpoment

  • Born during the French Revolution – revolutionary creed – reflects the idea that ‘subjects of the crown’ should become ‘citizens of France’ – Jean Jacques Rousseau.
  • Nationalism is at heart the simple belief that the nation is the natural and proper unit of government.

Core values

  • The nation – the nation should be the central principle of political organisation. Most basic level – nations are cultural entities, collections of people bound together by shared values and traditions (common language, religion and history), and usually occupying same geographic area. Nation can thus be defined by objective factors: people who satisfy a requisite set of cultural criteria belong to a nation; those who do not are non-nationals. However, there is neither a blueprint nor any objective criteria that can establish where and when a nation exists.
  • Language often taken to be clearest symbol of nationhood – German nationalism – founded on sense of cultural unity, reflected in the purity and survival of German language. However there are shared languages in countries without any sense of common identity (America, New Zealand and England).
  • Religion is another component – expresses common moral values and spiritual beliefs.
  • Ethnic or racial unity – usually has a cultural rather than biological basis. Often share common history and traditions usually preserved by recalling past glories, national independence etc. Some nationalist feelings based more on future expectations than shared memories – applies in the case of immigrants who have been ‘naturalised’ – USA – ‘land of immigrants’.
  • Organic community – humankind is naturally divided into a collection of nations, each possessing a distinctive character and separate identity. National ties and loyalties are found in all societies – they endure over time and operate at an instinctual, even primordial, level. ‘Primordialist’ approach – national identity is historically embedded: Anthony Smith highlighted the continuity between modern nations and pre-modern ethnic communities – implies there is little difference between ethnicity and nationality, modern nations essentially being updated versions of immemorial ethnic communities. ‘Situtationalist’ approach – national identity is forged in response to changing situations – Ernest Gellner – degree to which nationalism is linked to modernisation.
  • National community is a particular kind of community – Ferdinand Tonnies – gemeinschaft – typically found in traditional societies and is characterised by natural affection and mutual respect. Emphasis on community – notion of creating unity – everyone has a role and common goal.
  • Self-determination – Rousseau’s stress on popular sovereignty (‘general will’). Government should be based on the indivisible collective will of the entire community. Nationhood and statehood are intrinsically linked – maintaining political independence, usually expressed in the principle of national self-determination: the goal is the founding of a ‘nation-state’ (one nation within a single state). This can be achieved through unification and independence. Most desirable form of political organisation – when a people who share a common identity gain the right to self-government, nationality and citizenship coincide. Nationalism also legitimises the authority of the government – popular self-government. Not always associated with this concept of separatism, however – may instead by expressed through federalism.
  • Identity – nationalism tells people who they are: gives people history, forges social bonds and collective spirit, creates a sense of destiny larger than individual existence. However, cultural nationalism emphasises the strengthening or defence of cultural identity over overt political demands – political nationalism is ‘rational’, cultural is ‘mystical’.
  • Importance of a distinctive national consciousness – Herder – each nation possesses a volksgeist (national spirit) – role of nationalism is to develop an awareness of nation’s culture and traditions.

Liberal nationalism

  • Mazzini – ‘prophet’ of Italian unification who believed that individual liberty would be improved through nationalism
  • Rousseau – defence of popular sovereignty – fusion of popular self-government and liberal principles brought about by the fact that the multinational empires against which nationalists fought were autocratic and oppressive.
  • Wilson – ideas on self-determination at the end of World War I, which promoted the idea of self- rule and rejected imperialism.
  • Nationalists believed nations to be sovereign entities, entitled to liberty, and also possessing rights, most importantly the right to self-determination. Liberal nationalism is liberating as it opposes all forms of foreign domination and oppression and it stands for the ideal of self-government – reflected in belief in constitutionalism and representation.
  • Believe that nations are equal, in the sense that they are equally entitled to the right to self-determination. Ultimate goal of liberal nationalism is the construction of a world of independent nation-states – “the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of nationality” (J.S. Mill).
  • Principle of balance or natural harmony applies to the nations of the world. For liberals, nationalism is a force that is capable of promoting unity within each nation amongst all nations on the basis of mutual respect for national rights and characteristics.
  • Ignores the darker face of nationalism – the irrational bonds of tribalism and the powers of nationalism emotionally which results in people dying for their country for a just reason or not. Also misguided in its belief that nation-states provide political and international harmony – in all so-called nation-states there is a range of languages etc.

Expansionist nationalism/right-wing nationalism

  • The aggressive face of nationalism became apparent in the late nineteenth century.
  • Jingoism – mood of nationalist enthusiasm and public celebrations provoked by military expansion or imperial conquest.
  • Distinguishes from liberal nationalism as it is chauvinistic – derived from Nicolas Chauvin, a French soldier who had been fanatically devoted to Napoleon. Nations are not thought to be equal in their right to self-determination, rather some nations are believed to possess characteristics or qualities that make them superior to others.
  • National chauvinism breeds from a feeling of intense, even hysterical nationalist enthusiasm. Charles Maurras called such intense patriotism “integral nationalism”: individuals and independent groups lose their identity within an all-powerful ‘nation’, which has an existence and meaning beyond the life of any single individual. This is often accompanied by militarism.
  • National chauvinism has particularly strong appeal for the isolated and powerless, for whom nationalism offers the prospect of security, self-respect and pride. Often stimulated by ‘negative integration’, the portrayal of another nation or race as a threat or an enemy. In the face of the enemy, the nation draws together and experiences an intensified sense of its own identity and importance.

Conservative nationalism

  • Disraeli and Bismarck – belief nationalism maintains social order and defends traditional institutions.
  • Conservative nationalism tends to develop in established nation-states. Conservatives care less about self-determination and more about the promise of social cohesion and public order embodied in the sentiment of national patriotism. Society is organic – nations emerge naturally from the desire of human beings to live with others who possess the same views, habits and appearance. Humans are imperfect who seek security within national community. Principal goal is thus to maintain national unity by fostering patriotic loyalty and ‘pride in one’s country’. By incorporating the working glass into the nation, conservatives have often seen nationalism as an antidote to social revolution (Disraeli). De Gaulle harnessed nationalism to conservative cause by pursuing an independent, even anti-American defence and foreign policy in France and attempted to restore order and authority to build a powerful state. Thatcherism is similar to Gaullism – national independence within Europe.
  • Conservative character of nationalism is maintained by an appeal to tradition and history; nationalism thereby becomes a defence for traditional institutions and a traditional way of life – con. nat. Is essentially nostalgic and backward looking, reflecting on a past age of national glory or triumph.
  • Particularly prominent when the sense of national identity is threatened or in danger of being lost – issues of immigration and supranationalism have helped to keep this form of nationalism alive. Conservative reservations about immigration stem from belief that cultural diversity leads to instability and conflict. Enoch Powell and his “rivers of blood” speech is a good example of the importance of immigration to many conservatives. Stable and successful societies must be based on shared values and a common culture – immigration should by firmly restricted. Conservative nationalists concerned about supranational bodies such as the EU posing threats to cultural and national bonds.

Racial nationalism

  • In countries where nationalism is based on ethnic identity, racialism is a key part.
  • Racial superiority and exclusivity, unifying the racial group in one state and therefore expansionist.
  • Exemplified by Houston Chamberlain and Arthur de Gobineau and their belief in racial superiority, which justified the subjugation of other  inferior nations.
  • This was not just in Europe but also in Africa, where many nations were considered to be inferior and therefore it was the duty of the Nordic and Germanic peoples to educate them
  • This idea was taken on by the Nazis to promote the idea of an Aryan race.

Cultural nationalism

  • Form of nationalism that emphasises the strengthening or defence of cultural identity over overt political demands.
  • Not uncommonly, cultural nationalists view the state as a peripheral if not an alien entity. Cultural nationalism is ‘mystical’ in that it is based on a romantic belief in the nation as a unique historical and organic whole.
  • Typically draws more on popular rituals, traditions and legends than on elite or ‘higher’ culture.
  • Von Herder was a strong believer in the unity given to a nation by its shared culture and history.

Post-colonial nationalism

  • Nationalism is a powerful tool when a country is trying to gain its independence, as it seeks to ensure that there is a direct and coherent opposition to the imperial power, based on social unity and national identity.
  • Many newly independent states are actually authoritarian, as the boundaries of those states are often determined in an arbitrary way, and therefore, incorporate multicultural groups.
  • This was a problem again in Africa with the division of many countries cutting across cultural and tribal lines. As a result people like Charles Nyerere used dislike of former colonial powers as a way of creating some form of national identity.

Socialist nationalism

  • Socialism is used in conjunction with nationalism to underpin independence and self-determination and to distance them from the former independence and self-determination and to distance them from the formal imperial and capitalist power. Socialism is used to create solidarity, national purpose and unity through justice.
  • Charles Nyerere combined his distrust of the west with his left wing beliefs, creating strong state provision for health and education.
  • Lenin used this type of nationalism when Russia was being invaded by the White Army in the Russian Civil War.
sign up to revision world banner