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Nationalism is an ideology which holds that the nation, ethnicity or national identity is a "fundamental unit" of human social life, and makes certain political claims based upon that belief; above all, the claim that the nation is "the only legitimate basis for the state", and that "each nation is entitled to its own state". In this form, nationalism is a universal ideology; but the term also refers to the specific ideology of nationalist movements, which make political claims on behalf of specific nations. These movements may dispute each others specific claims; but nevertheless, they share the same general nationalist ideology.

Nationalists define individual nations on the basis of certain criteria, which distinguish one nation from another; and also determine "who is a member of each nation". These criteria might include a shared language, a shared culture, and/or shared values; but the most important is probably now ethnicity, the belonging to or membership of an ethnic group. National identity refers both to these defining criteria, and to the "sense of belonging" to that group. Nationalists see membership of nation as exclusive and involuntary, meaning that you can not simply "join it", like any other association.

Nationalism sees most human activity as national in character. Nations have national symbols, a national character, a national culture, a national music and national literature; national folklore, a national mythology and - in some cases - even a national religion. Individuals share national values and a national identity; admire the national hero, eat the national dish and play the national sport.

Nationalism has had an enormous influence upon world history and geopolitics, since the nation-state has become the dominant form of state. Most of the world's population now lives in states which are, at least nominally, nation-states. The word 'nation' is often inaccurately used as a synonym for these states. The nation state is intended to guarantee the existence of a nation, to preserve its distinct identity, and to provide a territory where the national culture and ethos are dominant. Most nation-states appeal to a cultural and historical mythos to justify their existence, and to give them "legitimacy".

Nationalists recognise that 'non-national' states exist; indeed, the struggles of early nationalist movements were often directed against empires, such as Austria-Hungary. The Vatican City exists to provide a sovereign state for the leadership of the Catholic Church; not for a nation. The global Caliphate sought by some Islamists is another example of a non-national state.

Anyone who identifies with a nation, and sees nation-states as legitimate, can be described as a "nationalist". In this sense, most adults are "passive nationalists". However, the modern vernacular use of nationalism refers to political (and sometimes military) action, in support of nationalist demands. That action may include separatism, irredentism, militarism and in extreme cases "ethnic cleansing". Political scientists (and the media) usually tend to focus on these more extreme forms of nationalism.

Background and problems

Nationalism is a controversial term, as its most general definition is broad, and has been controversial throughout history; and specific examples of nationalism are extremely diverse. Extreme emotions are aroused, when discussing nationalism, and that makes it difficult to describe and define nationalism. A recurring problem is that people define nationalism on the basis of their local experience. To a Breton nationalist, the central issue is state nationalism versus cultural nationalism; elsewhere that distinction may be irrelevant. Often supporters of nationalism fear that the negative consequences of conflicting nationalisms, ethnic tension, war, and political conflicts within states, are taken for nationalism itself, leading some to view the general concept of nationalism negatively. They argue that viewing nationalism through its most negative consequences distorts the meaning of the term. The emphasis upon specific conflicts has certainly diverted attention from general issues; for instance, the characteristics of nation-states.

Nationalist movements may or may not claim that their nation is better than others. They may simply claim that the population of a given nation is better off when it is permitted to govern themselves; which is the principle of self-determination. However, conflicts often result in ideological attacks upon the identity and legitimacy of the 'enemy'. In the Israeli-Palestinian_conflict, both sides claim that the other is not a real nation; and therefore has no right to a state. "Jingoism" and "chauvinism" make exaggerated claims about the superiority of one nation over another. National stereotypes are also common, and are usually insulting. These are nationalist phenomena; and are worthy of attention, but they are not a sufficient basis for a general theory of nationalism.

Issues in nationalism theory

The first studies of nationalism were generally historical accounts of nationalist movements. At the end of the 19th century, Marxists and socialists produced political analyses of the nationalist movements, then active in central and eastern Europe. Most sociological theories of nationalism date from after the Second World War.

Some nationalism theory is about issues which concern nationalists themselves, such as who belongs to the nation and who does not, and what belonging to a nation means. Recent general theory has looked at underlying issues, and above all with the question of which came first, nations or nationalism. Nationalist activists see themselves as representing a pre-existing nation, and the primordialist theory of nationalism agrees. It sees nations, or at least ethnic groups, as a social reality dating back thousands 20 years.

The modernist theories imply that until around 1800, no-one had more than local loyalties. National identity and unity were imposed from above, by European states, because they were necessary to modernise economy and society. In this theory, nationalist conflicts are an unintended side-effect.

The more recent theorists of nationalism are influenced by postmodernism and emphasise that nations are a socially constructed phenomenon. Benedict Anderson, for example, described nations as "imagined communities". Ernest Gellner comments: "Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist." (Anderson and Gellner deploy terms such as 'imagined' and 'invent' in a neutral, descriptive manner. The use of these terms in this context is not intended to imply that nations are fictional or fantastic.) Modernisation theorists see such things as the printing press and capitalism as necessary conditions for nationalism.

Anthony Smith proposes a synthesis of 'post-modernist' and traditional views. According to Smith, the preconditions for the formation of a nation are a fixed homeland (current or historical), high autonomy, hostile surroundings, memories of battles, sacred centres, languages and scripts, special customs, historical records and thinking. Smith considers that nations are formed through the inclusion of the whole populace (not just elites), constitution of legal and political institutions, nationalist ideology, international recognition and drawing up of borders.

Historical evolution of nationalism

Prior to 1900


Most theories of nationalism assume a European origin of the nation-state. The modern state is often seen as emerging with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This treaty created the Westphalian system of states, which recognised each others sovereignty and territory. Some of the signatories, such as the Dutch United Provinces, could be seen as a nation state, but there was no German equivalent. In 1648 most states in Europe were still non-national. The theory of the Westphalian origin of the modern state system is disputed.

The major transition to nation-states is often seen as originating in the late 18th and 19th centuries, although this is disputed. Beginning with romantic nationalism, nationalist movements arose throughout Europe. Some of them were separatist, directed against large empires, others sought to unify a divided or fragmented territory, most notably in Germany and Italy. These movements promoted a national identity and culture, and they were successful. By the end of the 19th century most people accepted that Europe was divided into nations, and personally identified with one of these nations. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire after the First World War accelerated the formation of nation-states.

According to the standard view, before the 19th century people had local, regional, or religious loyalties, but no idea of nationhood. The typical state in Europe was a dynastic state, ruled by a royal house: if there were any loyalties above regional level, then they were owed to the king and the ruling house. Dynastic states could acquire territory by royal marriage, and lose it by division of inheritance - which is now seen as absurd. Going further back, the ancient Greeks called everyone who was not Greek a barbarian (because their different language sounded like 'bar-bar' to greek speaking people), but the Greek city states often fought amongst themselves for dominance. Nationalism introduced the idea that each nation has a specific territory, and that beyond this point the claims of other nations apply. Nation-states, in principle, do not seek to conquer territory. However, nationalist movements rarely agreed on where the border should be. As the nationalist movements grew, they introduced new territorial disputes in Europe.

Nationalism also determined the political life of 19th century Europe. Where the nation was part of an empire, the national liberation struggle was also a struggle against older autocratic regimes, and nationalism was allied with liberal anti-monarchical movements. Where the nation-state was a consolidation of an older monarchy, as in Spain, nationalism was itself conservative and monarchical. Most nationalist movements began in opposition to the existing order, but by the 20th century, there were regimes which primarily identified themselves as nationalist.

The standard theory of the 19th-century origin of nation-states is disputed. One problem with it is that the South American independence struggles, and the American War of Independence, predate most European nationalist movements. Some countries, such as the Netherlands and England, seem to have had a clear national identity well before the 19th century.

20th Century nationalism

By the end of the 19th century, nationalist ideas had begun to spread to Asia. In India, nationalism began to encourage calls for the end of British rule. The 20th century nationalist movement in India is generally thought to have been led by Mahatma Gandhi, although many other leaders were involved as well. 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" to form Japanese imperialism, as extreme nationalism often leads to imperialism.

World War I led to new nation-states, as several multi-nation empires (Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire) disintegrated. The Russian Empire also lost territory. 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, multi-nation and multi-ethnic states survived; and two new ones emerged, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

World War II initiated a new wave of nation-state formation, by the emergence of fascism and Naziism ("national socialism") before the War, and by independence from European colonial Empires, which fell apart, exhausted after the War. The most dramatic decolonisation was in Africa, which was transformed from a collection of dependent territories into a continent of nation-states. Few of them corresponded to the European ideal of "a single people, with one language" and a clear territory, but they survived. Ironically, the one that best met those criteria, Somalia, disintegrated.

The collapse of the Soviet Union led to an unexpected revival of national movements in Europe around 1990. Its constituent states became independent, for the second time (in modern history) in the case of the Baltic states.

In the second half of the 20th century, some trends emerged which might indicate a weakening of the nation-state and nationalism. The European Union is widely seen transferring power from the national level to both sub-national and supra-national levels. Critics of globalization almost always see it as a threat to national identity, culture, and sovereignty. Free trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the GATT, and the increasing internationalisation of trade markets, are seen as damaging to the national economy, and have led to a revival of economic nationalism. Protest movements vehemently oppose these negative aspects of globalization, (see Anti-globalisation).

Not all anti-globalists are nationalists, but nationalism continues to assert itself in response to those trends. Nationalist parties continue to do well in elections, and most people continue to have a strong sense of attachment to their nationality. Moreover, globalism and European federalism are not always opposed to nationalism. For example, theorists of Chinese nationalism within the People's Republic of China have articulated the idea that China's national power is substantially enhanced, rather than being reduced, by engaging in international trade and multinational organizations. For a time sub-national groups such as Catalonian autonomists and Welsh nationalists supported a stronger European Union in the hope that a Europe of the regions would limit the power of the present nation-states. However, with Euroscepticism now widespread in the EU, this transformation is no longer on its political agenda.

Language and nationalism

A common language has been a defining characteristic of the nation, and an ideal for nationalists. For example, in France before the French Revolution, regional languages such as Breton and Occitan were spoken, which were mutually incomprehensible. Standard French was also spoken in large parts of the country and had always been the language of administration, but after the Revolution it was imposed as the national language in non-French-speaking regions. For instance, in Brittany, Celtic names were forbidden. The formation of nation-states, and their consolidation after independence, was generally accompanied by policies to restrict, replace, or abandon minority languages. That accelerates the tendency noted in sociolinguistic research, that high-status languages displace low-status languages. See also: Language policy in France.

Some theorists believe that nationalism became pronounced in the 19th century simply because language became a more important unifier due to increased literacy. With more people reading newspapers, books, pamphlets and so on, which were increasingly widely available to read since the spread of the printing press, it became possible for the first time to develop a broader cultural attachment 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 use of traditional languages, such as Celtic languages, Hebrew, and Hindi. (See also: Language revival.)

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 eradicated during World War I; French and Italian have nearly disappeared from 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.

In the Arab World during the colonial period, the Turkish language, French language, Spanish language and English language were often imposed, although the intensity of imposition varied widely. When the colonial period ended (mostly after World War Two), a process of "Arabisation" began; reviving Arabic to unify their states and to facilitate a broader Arab identity, motivated by Pan-Arabism. Countries such as Algeria and Western Sahara underwent large scale Arabisations, changing from French and Spanish to Arabic respectively.

However within the Arab World, some nationalistic attempts were made to emancipate a domestic vernacular and treat classical Arabic as a formal foreign language. It was often incomprehensible to the non-literate population of nominally Arab countries, which were politically - but not necessarily linguistically, culturally or ethnically, Arabized. These policies were first promoted in Egypt in the mid 20th century by the Egyptian scholar and nationalist Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid, who called for the formalization of the Egyptian Vernacular as the native language of the Egyptian people. More recently Bayoumi Andil, an Egyptian Linguist and Egyptologist, did research in what he nationalistically defines as the "Modern Egyptian Language", which led him to declare it "irrelevant" to Arabic. He claimed that it was the fourth phase of the ancient Egyptian language descended from Coptic, with which it is intimately related, syntactically, morphological, and phonologicaly.

Similar attempts to emphasise minority languages completely independent of Arabic were made by the Nubians who are split between Egypt and Sudan, and relatively more successfully by the Amazigh (also known as Imazighen or Berber) in Morocco.

Prominent figures

See the List of prominent figures in nationalism.

Types of nationalism

Nationalism may manifest itself as part of official state ideology or as a popular (non-state) movement and may be expressed along civic, ethnic, cultural, religious or ideological lines. These self-definitions of the nation are used to classify types of nationalism. However such categories are not mutually exclusive, and many nationalist movements combine some or all of these elements to varying degrees. Nationalist movements can also be classified by other criteria, such as scale and location.

Some political theorists make the case that any distinction between forms of nationalism is false. In all forms of nationalism the population believe that they share some kind of common culture, and culture can never be wholly separated from ethnicity. Even the supposedly ethnically neutral "civic culture" of the United States, for example, has "God" on its coinage and in its Pledge of Allegiance, and designates official holidays, which promote cultural biases. The United States has an ideology of its national Manifest Destiny, an ethnic theory of being American (nativism), and had a committee to investigate Un-American Activities.

Civic nationalism (also civil nationalism) is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry, from the degree to which it represents the "will of the people". It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the Social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract. Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary. Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France.

Ethnic nationalism defines the nation in terms of ethnicity, which always includes some element of descent from previous generations. It also includes ideas of a shared culture, shared between members of the group and with their ancestors, and usually a shared language. Membership of the nation is hereditary. The state derives political legitimacy from its status as homeland of the ethnic group, and from its function to protect the national group and facilitate its cultural and social life, as a group. Ideas of ethnicity are very old, but modern ethnic nationalism was heavily influenced by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who promoted the concept of the Volk, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Ethnic nationalism is now the dominant form, and is often simply referred to as "nationalism". Note that the theorist Anthony Smith uses the term 'ethnic nationalism' for non-western concepts of nationalism, as opposed to western views of a nation defined by its geographical territory.

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 and expression of the nation, or race. It reflected the ideals of Romanticism and was opposed to Enlightenment rationalism. Romantic nationalism emphasised 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 idealised collection of tales which they labelled as ethnic German. Historian Jules Michelet exemplifies French romantic-nationalist history.

Ethnic nationalism and romantic nationalism later inspired many populist campaigns for national purity, sometimes with a xenophobic component, see Roman Dmowski (Poland).

Cultural nationalism defines the nation by shared culture. Membership of the nation is neither voluntary (you cannot instantly acquire a culture), nor hereditary (children of members may be considered foreigners if they grew up in another culture). Chinese nationalism is said to be a good example of cultural nationalism, partly because of the many national minorities in China. (The 'Chinese nationalists' include those on Taiwan who reject the mainland Chinese government but claim the mainland Chinese state).

State nationalism is a variant on civic nationalism, very often combined with ethnic nationalism. It implies that the nation is a community of those who contribute to the maintenance and strength of the state, and that the individual exists to contribute to this goal. Italian fascism is the best example, epitomised in this slogan of Mussolini: "Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato." ("Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State"). It is no surprise that this conflicts with liberal ideals of individual liberty, and with liberal-democratic principles. The Jacobin creation of a unitary and centralist French state, is often seen as the original version of state nationalism. Franquist Spain, and contemporary Turkish nationalism are later examples of state nationalism.

However, the term state nationalism is often used in conflicts between nationalisms, and especially where a secessionist movement confronts an established nation state. The secessionists speak of state nationalism, to discredit the legitimacy of the larger state, since state nationalism is perceived as less authentic and less democratic. Flemish separatists speak of Belgian nationalism as a state nationalism. Basque separatists (ETA) and Corsican separatists refer to Spain, and France in this way. In return, the larger state calls them terrorists. There are no external criteria to assess which side is right, and the result is usually that the population is divided by conflicting appeals to its loyalty and patriotism.

Religious nationalism defines the nation in terms of shared religion. If the state derives political legitimacy from adherence to religious doctrines, then it is may be more of a theocracy than a nation-state. In practice, many ethnic and cultural nationalisms are in some ways religious in character. The religion is a marker of group identity, rather than the motivation for nationalist claims. Irish nationalism is associated with Catholicism, and most Irish nationalist leaders of the last 100 years were Catholic, but many of the early (18th century) nationalists were Protestant. Irish nationalism never centred on theological distinctions like transubstantiation, the status of the Virgin Mary, or the primacy of the Pope, but for some Protestants in Northern Ireland, these pre-Reformation doctrines are indeed part of Irish culture. Similarly, although Religious Zionism exists, the mainstream of Zionism is more secular in nature, and based on culture and ethnicity. Since the partition of British India, Indian nationalism is associated with Hinduism. In modern India, a contemporary form of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva has been prominent among many followers of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Diaspora nationalism (or, as Benedict Anderson terms it "long-distance nationalism") generally refers to nationalist feeling among a diaspora such as the Irish in the United States, or the Lebanese in the Americas and Africa[1]. Benedict Anderson states that this sort of nationalism acts as a "phantom bedrock" for people who want to experience a national connection, but who do not actually want to leave their diaspora community.

Nationalism within nations

With the establishment of a nation-state, the primary goal of any nationalist movement has been achieved. However, nationalism does not disappear but remains a political force within each nation, and inspires political parties and movements. The terms nationalist and 'nationalist politician’ are often used to describe these movements, nationalistic would be more accurate. Nationalists in this sense typically campaign for:

Nationalist parties and nationalist politicians, in this sense, usually place great emphasis on national symbols, such as the national flag.

The term 'nationalism' is also used by extension, or as a metaphor, to describe movements which promote a group identity of some kind. This use is especially common in the United States, and includes black nationalism and white nationalism in a cultural sense. They may overlap with nationalism in the classic sense, including black secessionist movements and pan-Africanists.

Nationalists obviously have a positive attitude to their own nation, although this is not a definition of nationalism. The emotional appeal of nationalism is visible even in established and stable nation-states. The social psychology of nations includes national identity (the individual’s sense of belonging to a group), and national pride (self-association with the success of the group). National pride is related to the cultural influence of the nation, and its economic and political strength - although they may be exaggerated. However the most important factor is that the emotions are shared: nationalism in sport includes the shared disappointment if the national team loses.

The emotions can be purely negative: a shared sense of threat can unify the nation. However, dramatic events, such as defeat in war, can qualitatively affect national identity and attitudes to non-national groups. The defeat of Germany in World War I, and the perceived humiliation by the Treaty of Versailles, economic crisis and hyperinflation, created a climate for xenophobia, revanchism, and the rise of Nazism. The solid bourgeois patriotism of the pre-1914 years, with the Kaiser as national father-figure, was no longer relevant.

Post-2001 nationalism in the United States

The Texas A&M Band on September 22, 2001 forms a giant "USA" on the field while the stadium crowd is dressed in red, white, or blue in honor of those who died on September 11, 2001
The Texas A&M Band on September 22, 2001 forms a giant "USA" on the field while the stadium crowd is dressed in red, white, or blue in honor of those who died on September 11, 2001

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States led to a wave of nationlist expression, unparalled since the Germans in the Second World War. While there was a groundswell of international outrage and support for the US public after the attacks, the link between the War on Terrorism, the 2003 Iraq war, and US nationalism has been difficult for some outside the US. Modern Western Europeans, particularly in the United Kingdom (perhaps due to its imperial history) and Germany, have tended to view any ostentatious display of flags and national symbols as small-minded, jingoistic or, what is worse, racist. While nationalist statements appear to have played well to the US domestic audience, they necessarily exclude foreigners. Further, many abroad feel that the attributes described as typically or exclusively American—such as freedom and democracy—are not only found in the United States, and to claim so is inflammatory.

Many believe that the surge in nationalism enabled a number of major changes in national policy. The (significantly named) USA PATRIOT Act, which was signed into law on October 26, 2001, was designed ostensibly to combat terrorism but is considered by many to constitute a harmful assault on civil liberties. It is also possible that the nationalist surge created a political climate for the Bush Administration's wars in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War.

Like almost all wars, the wars themselves appear to have increased nationalist feeling. As casualties have mounted and opposition to the war has increased, a pattern seen earlier in the Vietnam War has reemerged: those in favor of war consider that those who oppose it are unpatriotic, or even outright traitors. Several conservative commentators have indicated they feel that news that paints the US in a negative light is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Since war opponents understandably resent such accusations, the political debate has taken place in an atmosphere of increasing anger. It is important to note however, that a leading figure of the anti-war movement within the U.S., Micheal Moore, has openly stated that he supports the Iraqi insurgency, calling them "minutemen" and "the revolution". Moore made no distinction between Saddam Hussein loyalists(the backbone of the insurgency), foreign jihadists, and Iraqi nationalists--leaving the impression that he supports them all. This is important because Moore has a significant following amongst (mostly) young people and also some older left-wingers, with no one ostensibly disagreeing with him on that statement. Many people who dont consider themselves left-wing, and probably some that do, feel that these statements by Micheal Moore represent the real anti-war movement that isn't exposed because of its obvious political unpopularity. So in this case, it might be legitimate to argue that these statements are giving aid to the "enemy" by supporting them explicitly.

It has been claimed that nationalist fervor has decreased the ability of Americans to obtain objective or even simply rational information about the world situation. In particular, the journal Political Science Quarterly published research showing that those who obtained their news from outlets that appear to make a concerted effort to be patriotic were more likely to have factual misconceptions about the Iraq war. These misperceptions were: that weapons of mass destruction had been found, that evidence linked Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, and that world public opinion favored the war. Respondents that received their news from public broadcasting, conversely, were far less likely to hold these perceptions.

Patriotism and extremism

Bookcover of The ABC of a Russian Nationalist by A.P. Barkashov
Bookcover of The ABC of a Russian Nationalist by A.P. Barkashov

Although nationalism influences many aspects of life in stable nation-states, its presence is often invisible, since the nation-state is taken for granted. Michael Billig speaks of Banal nationalism, the everyday, less visible forms of nationalism, which shape the minds of a nations inhabitants, on a day to day basis. Attention concentrates on extreme aspects, and on nationalism in unstable regions. Nationalism may be used as a derogatory label, for groups which may be no more nationalist than the rest of the population. In western democracies, xenophobic and anti-immigrant groups often refer to themselves as nationalist, to avoid the even more pejorative term racist. These parties may have a large electorate, and be represented in parliament. Smaller but highly visible groups, such as nationalist skinheads, also self-identify in this way, although it may be a euphemism for national-socialist or white supremacist. Activists in other countries are often referred to as ultra-nationalists, with a clearly pejorative meaning. In Continental Europe, nationalism refers more to an ethnic group or nation, while patriotism connotes a state or country, and sometimes its government. See also chauvinism and jingoism.

Nationalism is a component of other political ideologies, and above all fascism, and the term extremism is often used in this context. However it is not accurate to simply describe fascism as a more extreme form of nationalism. Fascism in the general sense, and the Italian original, were marked by a strong combination of ethnic nationalism and state nationalism. That was certainly evident in Nazism. However the geopolitical aspirations of Adolf Hitler are probably better described as imperialist, and Nazi Germany ultimately ruled over vast areas where there was no historic German presence. The Nazi state was so different from the typical European nation-state, that it was sui generis (requires a category of its own).

That could be said of Stalinism as well. Josef Stalin was an expert on nationalism, and his definition of a nation is quoted in all theoretical works. Under his regime, the Soviet Union pursued a policy of defining and encouraging national identities in the Soviet Republics and autonomous regions. Nevertheless, they were denied sovereignty, and in many cases there was a contradictory Russification policy. A similar approach was taken to the countries in Eastern Europe occupied by Soviet troops in 1945. The regime also encouraged an ambiguous 'Soviet' (in reality Russian) identity, with a strong nationalist character, especially during World War II (the Great Patriotic War).


Nationalism does not necessarily imply a belief in the superiority of one nation over others, but in practice many nationalists think that way about their own nation. Occasionally they believe another nation can serve as an example for their own nation, see Anglophilia. There is a specific racial nationalism which can be considered an ethnic nationalism, but some form of racism can be found within almost all nationalist movements. It is usually directed at neighbouring nations and ethnic groups.

Racism was also a feature of colonialist ideologies, which were especially strong at the end of the 19th century. Strictly speaking, overseas colonies conflict with the principles of the nation-state, since they are not part of the historic homeland of the nation, and their inhabitants clearly do not belong to the same ethnic group, speak its language, or share its culture. In practice, nationalists sometimes combined a belief in self-determination in Europe, with colonisation in Africa or Asia.

Explicit biological race theory was influential from the end of the 19th century. Nationalist and fascist movements in the first half of the 20th century often appealed to these theories. The Nazi ideology was probably the most comprehensively racial ideology in history, and race influenced all aspects of policy in Nazi Germany. The defeat of Nazi Germany, and above all the Holocaust, discredited race theories and racial nationalism after 1945.

Nevertheless racism continues to be an influence on nationalism. Ethnic cleansing is often seen as both a nationalist and racist phenomenon. It is part of nationalist logic that the state is reserved for one nation, but not all nation-states expel their minorities. The best known recent examples of ethnic cleansing are those during the Yugoslav secession war in the 1990s. Other examples seen related to racism include the removal of Germans from the Volga Republic during the 1950s, and the extermination of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Opposition and critique

Nationalism is an extremely assertive ideology, which makes far-reaching demands, including the disappearance of entire states. It is not surprising that it has attracted vehement opposition. Much of the early opposition to nationalism was related to its geopolitical ideal, of a separate state for every nation. The classic nationalist movements of the 19th century rejected the very existence of the multi-ethnic empires in Europe. This resulted in severe repression by the, generally autocratic, governments of those empires. That tradition of secessionism, repression, and violence continues, although by now a large nation typically confronts a smaller nation. (No states currently describe themselves as an empire). Even in that early stage, however, there was an ideological critique of nationalism. That has developed into several forms of anti-nationalism in the western world. The Islamic revival of the 20th century also produced an Islamic critique of the nation-state.

In the liberal political tradition there is widespread criticism of ‘nationalism’ as a dangerous force and a cause of conflict and war between nation-states. Liberals do not generally dispute the existence of the nation-states. The liberal critique also emphasises individual freedom as opposed to national identity, which is by definition collective, see communitarianism.

The pacifist critique of nationalism also concentrates on the violence of nationalist movements, the associated militarism, and on conflicts between nations inspired by jingoism or chauvinism. National symbols and patriotic assertiveness are in some countries discredited by their historical link with past wars, especially in Germany.

The anti-racist critique of nationalism concentrates on the attitudes to other nations, and especially on the doctrine that the nation-state exists for one national group, to the exclusion of others. It emphasises the chauvinism and xenophobia of most nationalisms.

Political movements of the left have often been suspicious of nationalism, again without necessarily seeking the disappearance of the existing nation-states. Marxism has been ambiguous towards the nation-state, and in the late 19th century some Marxist theorists rejected it completely. For some Marxists the world revolution implied a global state (or global absence of state), for others it meant that each nation-state had its own revolution. A significant event in this context was the failure of the social-democratic and socialist movements in Europe, to mobilise a cross-border workers opposition to World War I. At present most, but certainly not all, left-wing groups accept the nation-state, and see it as the political arena for their activities.

In the Western world the most comprehensive ideological alternative for nationalism is cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitanism is often inaccurately labelled internationalism, and vice versa. (Inter-nationalism, by definition, implies cooperation among nations, and therefore the existence of nations). Ethical cosmopolitanism rejects one of the basic ethical principles of nationalism: that humans owe more duties to a fellow member of the nation, than to a non-member. It rejects such important nationalist values as national identity and national loyalty. In turn, nationalists are deeply suspicious of cosmopolitan attitudes, which they equate with treason and betrayal.

However there is also a political cosmopolitanism, which has a geopolitical programme to match that of nationalism: it seeks some form of world state, with a world government. Very few people openly and explicitly support the establishment of a global state, but political cosmopolitanism has influenced the development of international criminal law, and the erosion of the status of national sovereignty.

One of the most far-reaching alternatives to nationalism and the nation-state comes from some radical Islamists, who reject the existence of any state on any basis other than Islam. For them, the unity of Islam means that there can be only one government on earth, in the form which is usually titled caliphate (khilafa). It is not a state in the usual western sense, but all existing states are incompatible with this ideal, including the Islamic nation-states with Islam as official religion. Only a minority of Islamists take this view, but insofar as Al-Qaeda has an ideology, it includes the goal of the caliphate.

As a universal religion, Islam is nominally opposed to any categorisation of people not based on one's beliefs. Islam promotes a strong feeling of community among all Muslims, who collectively constitute the Ummah. There is no doubt that many Muslims do strongly identify with the religious community, probably more so than Christians. Shared observances such as the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca), contribute to this identification. The word "Ummah" is often incorrectly translated into English as "Islamic nation" but it is not a nation in this sense. The Nation of Islam in the United States has been criticised by some Muslims, who find the comparison between Islam and an earthly nation offensive. 'Ummah' is not a synonym of 'caliphate', but the idea is associated with the historic caliphates.

Similarly, since anarchism rejects nation-states, anarchists reject nationalism. Instead of nations, anarchists usually advocate for the creation of cooperative societies based on free association and mutual aid without regard to ethnicity or race.

Historical effect of nationalism

Historical events (not just wars) in which nationalism played an essential role included:

indian nationalist movement led by gandhi-1915-1947.

See also

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  • Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. ISBN 0860913295.
  • Benedict Anderson. 1998. The Spectre of Comparison: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the Wolrd. London: Verso. ISBN 1859841848.
  • Francis Fitzgerald. 1972. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Boston: Back Bay Books. ISBN 0316159190.
  • Mark Juergensmeyer. The New Cold War: Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993. ISBN 0520086511.
  • Anthony D. Smith. 1986. The Ethnic Origins of Nations London: Basil Blackwell. pp 6–18.
  • Michael Billig. Banal Nationalism. ISBN 0803975252.
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