What is Nationalism?
Nationalism is broadly defined as the belief that the nation is the central principle of political organisation.
All forms of Nationalism contain the following key beliefs:
- Humankind is naturally divided into distinct nations
- The nation is the most appropriate, and perhaps only legitimate, unit of political rule
- The nation is an organic community (this belief that nations are ancient and deep-rooted is called primordialism).
When did Nationalism originate?
The idea of Nationalism was born during the French revolution. Previous to this, countries had been thought of as “realms”, “principalities” or “kingdoms”, and the inhabitants called “subjects”. The closest they had to a political identity was their allegiance to a ruler or ruling dynasty, rather than any sense of national identity or patriotism (love for one’s country). This was changed when the revolutionaries in France rose up against Louis XVI in 1789 in the name of the people, or the ‘French nation’, rather than in the name of the Crown. Nationalism was, at this time, revolutionary and democratic.
What is a nation? Are there different types of Nationalism?
“A nation is a collection of people bound together by share values and traditions, a common language, religion and history, and usually occupying the same geographical area.” – Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood.
Nationalism is sometimes said to he based on ethnic/racial criteria, but then what about people who move to a new country and gain citizenship? These differing beliefs mark the two main strands of Nationalism: inclusive civic nationalism aka multicultural liberalism, and exclusive ethnic nationalism aka conservative fascism.
There is also liberal nationalism, conservative nationalism, expansionist nationalism and anti-colonial and postcolonial nationalism.
– The oldest form of Nationalism, dating back to the French Revolution and embodying many of its values.
– Defence of popular sovereignty and the ‘general will’.
– Popular self-government + liberal principles = liberal nationalism.
– Came about because the multinational empires which nationalists fought against were autocratic and oppressive.
– The nationalist ideology was largely forged by applying liberal ideas, initially developed in relation to the individual, to the nation and to international policies.
– Liberalism was founded in defence of individual freedom, traditionally expressed in the language of rights. Nationalists believe nations to be sovereign entities (possessing supreme or ultimate power), entitled to liberty and also possessing rights, especially to the right of self-determination. Therefore, Liberal nationalism is a liberating force in the sense that:
1. It opposes all forms of foreign domination and oppression, whether by multinational empires or colonial powers.
2. It stands for the ideal of self-government, reflected in practice in a believe in representation and constitutionalism (a system in which government power is distributed and limited by a system of laws that the rulers must obey).
– Liberal nationalists believe in political democracy rather than autocracy; they believe that nations, like individuals, are equal and thus equally entitled to the right of self-determination.
– Liberals also believe that the principle of natural harmony applies to the nations of the world and not just to individuals. Widespread self-determination would establish a peaceful and stable world, which would then prevent wars as democratic nation-states would respect the sovereignty of their neighbours and have no incentive to initiate war or subjugate others. Free trade would also make the costs of war far too great. For a liberal, nationalism does not divide nations from one another; it is a force capable of promoting unity.
– The ultimate goal of liberal nationalism is the construction of a world of independent nation-states (a sovereign political association within which citizenship and nationality overlap; one nation within a single state), not just the unification or independence of a particular nation.
Conservative Nationalism e.g. Margaret Thatcher
– Believe that nationalism is a natural ally to maintain social order and defending traditional institutions like the army and the monarchy.
– Social cohesion and public order (fuelled by patriotism) are more important than self-determination.
– Believe that society is organic, therefore nations emerge naturally from humans wanting to live with other people who share their views, habits and appearance. They seek security and meaning.
– Some conservative nationalists believe that nationalism is the solution to social revolution, as the nation includes the working class.
– Believe that military victories are defining moments of a nation’s history. Traditional institutions like the monarchy are also used as symbols of national identity (e.g. national anthem is God Save the Queen).
– Conservative nationalism is particularly popular when the sense of national identity is felt to be threatened by issues such as immigration and supranationalism (national/global bodies imposing laws on countries, for example the European Union), because there is a belief that cultural diversity leads to instability and conflict – this stems from the idea that stable and successful societies must be based in shared values and a common culture.
– Expansionist nationalism is an extreme form of nationalism.
– Belief that national pride is linked to the possession of an empire.
– Nations are not equal in their right to self-determination; some are superior to others due to ethnic or cultural purity.
– Expansionist nationalism is the aggressive form of nationalism which was taken on by the “white” people of Europe and America in the late 19th Century (in the conquest of Africa) and by Germany in the early 20th Century.
– Individuals and independent groups are less important than the all powerful nation.
– Feeds from the portrayal of another nation or race as a threat or an enemy, as the nation draws together and experiences an intensified sense of its own identity and importance.
– Belief that developed countries have a duty to less developed countries to bring aspects of civilisation to them.
– Military glory and conquest are the ultimate evidence of national greatness; the civilian population is militarised, absolutely loyal and dedicated and willing to sacrifice theirself for their nation – this makes this type of Nationalism emotional rather than rational, as all sense of Self is lost. When the honour or integrity of the nation is in question, the lives of ordinary citizens become unimportant.
– International anarchy
Anti-Colonial and Post-Colonial Nationalism
– The experience of colonial rule helped the citizens of Asia and Africa to forge a sense of nationhood and a desire for national liberation.
– Many of the leaders of the nationalist movements in Africa and Asia were inspired by the governing powers in Europe and the ideas of liberal nationalism. They became aware that they were less economically advanced and were attracted to socialism as they sought both economic and political liberation.
– Socialism embodies the ideals of cooperation and community which already existed in African and Asian countries. It also provided insight on inequality and exploitation which they could relate to, as they saw colonialism as equivalent to the class struggle spoken about by those such as Karl Marx.
– Socialism became an appeal to a unifying national interest. African socialism was based not on Soviet style state socialism but on traditional communitarian values and the desire to lessen tribal rivalry in lieu of economic progress.
What do other ideologies think about the nation?
Socialists regard the nation as an artificial division of humans, used to disguise social injustice and solidify the established order. Socialism should be international and inclusive.
Anarchists do not accept the state or the nation as a concept, as it is another system of oppression designed to promote obedience and subjugation in the interests of the ruling elite. (Find out more by keeping an eye out for my upcoming post on Anarchism )
Liberals places much emphasis on political allegiance as on cultural unity. Nations are moral entities in the sense that they are endowed with rights, notably an equal right to self-determination (define).
Conservatives regard the nation as an “organic’ entity, bound together by a common ethnic identity and shared history. As the source of social cohesion and collective identity, the nation us perhaps the most politically significant of social groups.
Fascists view the nation as an organically unified social whole, often designed by race, which gives purpose and meaning to individual existence. However, nations are pitted against each other in a struggle for survival.
Fundamentalists regard nations as, in essence, religious entities: communities of ‘believers’.
So is Trump a nationalist? Yes. Was Hitler a nationalist? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that all nationalists are bigoted or nazi sympathisers.