Not to be confused with Patriotism.
This article is about the ideology. For other uses, see Nationalist (disambiguation).

Nationalism is a complex, multidimensional concept involving a shared communal identification with one's nation. It is expressed as a political ideology oriented towards achieving and maintaining communal autonomy, and sometimes sovereignty, over a territory of historical significance to the group. Additionally, it is further oriented towards the development and maintenance of a common communal identity based on shared characteristics typically including culture, language, religion, political goals and/or a belief in a common ancestry.[1][2] An individual's membership within a nation, and their support of the associated nationalism, is illustrated by their concomitant national identity.

From a political or sociological perspective, there are approximately three main paradigms for understanding the origins and basis of nationalism. The first, known alternatively as Primordialism or Perennialism, is a perspective that describes nationalism as a natural phenomenon. This view holds that although the formal articulation of the concept nationhood may be recent, nations have always existed. The second paradigm is that of Ethnosymbolism, which is a complex perspective seeking to explain nationalism by contextualizing it throughout history as a dynamic, evolutionary phenomenon and by further examining the strength of nationalism as a result of the collective nation's subjective ties to national symbols imbued with historical meaning. The third, and most dominant, paradigm is Modernism, which describes nationalism as a recent phenomenon that requires the structural conditions of modern society in order to exist.[3]

There are various definitions for what constitutes a nation, however, which leads to several different strands of nationalism. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group, or that multinationality in a single state should necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities.[4] The adoption of national identity in terms of historical development has commonly been the result of a response by influential groups unsatisfied with traditional identities due to inconsistency between their defined social order and the experience of that social order by its members, resulting in a situation of anomie that nationalists seek to resolve.[5] This anomie results in a society or societies reinterpreting identity, retaining elements that are deemed acceptable and removing elements deemed unacceptable, in order to create a unified community.[5] This development may be the result of internal structural issues or the result of resentment by an existing group or groups towards other communities, especially foreign powers that are or are deemed to be controlling them.[5]

National flags, national anthems and other symbols of national identity are commonly considered highly important symbols of the national community.[6][7][8][9]


The word nation was used before 1800 in Europe to refer to the inhabitants of a country as well as to collective identities that could include shared history, law, language, political rights, religion and traditions, in a sense more akin to the modern conception.[10]

Nationalism is a newer word; in English the term dates from 1844, although the concept is older.[11] It became important in the 19th century.[12] The term increasingly became negative in its connotations after 1914. Glenda Sluga notes that "The twentieth century, a time of profound disillusionment with nationalism, was also the great age of internationalism."[13]


The growth of a national identity was expressed in a variety of symbolic ways, including the adoption of a national flag. Pictured, the Union Jack of a newly created United Kingdom in 1801.

"Nationalism" is the term historians used to characterize the modern sense of national political autonomy and self-determination from the late 18th century onwards.[14] For example, German nationalism emerged as a reaction against Napoleonic control of Germany around 1805-1814.[15][16] Linda Colley in Britons, Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (Yale University Press, 1992) explores how the role of nationalism emerged about 1700 and developed in Britain reaching full form in the 1830s. Typically historians of nationalism in Europe begin with the French Revolution (1789), not only for its impact on French nationalism but even more for its impact on Germans and Italians and on European intellectuals.[17]

With the emergence of a national public sphere and an integrated, country-wide economy in the 18th-century the British people began to identify with the country at large, rather than the smaller units of their family, town or province. The early emergence of a popular patriotic nationalism took place in the mid-18th century, and was actively promoted by the British government and by the writers and intellectuals of the time.[18] National symbols, anthems, myths, flags and narratives were assiduously constructed by nationalists and widely adopted. The Union Jack was adopted in 1801 as the national one.[19] Thomas Arne composed the patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!" in 1740,[20] and the cartoonist John Arbuthnot invented the character of John Bull as the personification of the English national spirit in 1712.[21]

The political convulsions of the late 18th century associated with the American and French revolutions massively augmented the widespread appeal of patriotic nationalism.[22][23]

The Prussian scholar Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) originated the term in 1772 in his "Essay on the Origins of Language." stressing the role of a common language.[24][25] He attached exceptional importance to the concepts of nationality and of patriotism   "he that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole worlds about himself", whilst teaching that "in a certain sense every human perfection is national".[26]

19th century

The political development of nationalism and the push for popular sovereignty culminated with the ethnic/national revolutions of Europe. During the 19th century nationalism became one of the most significant political and social forces in history; it is typically listed among the top causes of World War I.[27][28]

Napoleon's conquests of the German and Italian states around 1800-1806 played a major role in stimulating nationalism and the demands for national unity.[29]


In the German states west of Prussia Napoleon abolished many of the old or medieval relics, such as dissolving the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.[30] He imposed rational legal systems and demonstrated how dramatic changes were possible. For example, his organization of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 promoted a feeling of nationalism. Nationalists sought to encompass masculinity in their quest for strength and unity.[31] It was Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck who achieved German unification through a series of highly successful short wars against Denmark, Austria and France which thrilled the pan-German nationalists in the smaller German states. They fought in his wars and eagerly joined the new German Empire, which Bismarck ran as a force for balance and peace in Europe after 1871.[32]


Italian nationalism emerged in the 19th century and was the driving force for Italian unification or the "Risorgimento" (meaning the Resurgence or revival). It was the political and intellectual movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The memory of the Risorgimento is central to Italian nationalism but it was based in the liberal middle classes and proved weak.[33] Two major groups remained opposed, the South (called the Mezzogiorno) and the devout Catholics. The new government treated the South as a conquered province with ridicule for its "backward" and poverty stricken society, its poor grasp of the Italian language, and its traditions. The liberals had always been strong opponents of the pope and the very well organized Catholic Church. The pope had been in political control of central Italy; he lost that in 1860 and lost Rome in 1870. He had long been the leader of opposition to modern liberalism and refused to accept the terms offered by the new government. He called himself a prisoner in the Vatican and forbade Catholics to vote or engage in politics. The Catholic alienation lasted until 1929. The liberal government under Francesco Crispi sought to enlarge his political base by emulating Bismarck and firing up Italian nationalism with a hyper-aggressive foreign policy. It crashed and his cause was set back. Historian R.J.B. Bosworth says of his nationalistic foreign policy that Crispi:

pursued policies whose openly aggressive character would not be equaled until the days of the Fascist regime. Crispi increased military expenditure, talked cheerfully of a European conflagration, and alarmed his German or British friends with this suggestions of preventative attacks on his enemies. His policies were ruinous, both for Italy's trade with France, and, more humiliatingly, for colonial ambitions in East Africa. Crispi's lust for territory there was thwarted when on 1 March 1896, the armies of Ethiopian Emperor Menelik routed Italian forces at Adowa ... in what has been defined as an unparalleled disaster for a modern army. Crispi, whose private life (he was perhaps a trigamist) and personal finances...were objects of perennial scandal, went into dishonorable retirement.[34]

Meanwhile a third major group emerged that was hostile to nationalism as radical socialist elements became a force in the industrial North, and they too rejected liberalism. Italy joined the Allies in the First World War after getting promises of territory, but its war effort was a fiasco that discredited liberalism and paved the way for Benito Mussolini and his fascism. That involved a highly aggressive nationalism that led to a series of wars, an alliance with Hitler's Germany, and humiliation and hardship in the Second World War. After 1945 the Catholics returned to government and tensions eased somewhat, but the Mezzogiorno remained poor and ridiculed. The working class now voted for the Communist Party, and it looked to Moscow not Rome for inspiration, and was kept out of the national government even as it controlled industrial cities across the North. In the 21st century the Communists are gone but political and cultural tensions remained high as shown by separatist Padanian nationalism in the North.[35]

Beginning in 1821, the Greek War of Independence began as a rebellion by Greek revolutionaries against the ruling Ottoman Empire.


The Greek drive for independence from the Ottoman Empire in he 1820s and 1830s inspired supporters across Christian Europe, especially in Britain. France, Russia and Britain intervened to make this nationalist dream become reality.[36]


Breakup of Yugoslavia

For centuries the Orthodox Christian Serbs were ruled by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. The success of the Serbian Revolution against Ottoman rule in 1817 marked the birth of the Principality of Serbia. It achieved de facto independence in 1867 and finally gained international recognition in 1878. Serbia had sought to liberate and unite with Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west and Old Serbia (Kosovo and Macedonia) to the south. The Serbians developed a larger vision for nationalism in Pan-Slavism and with Russian support sought to pull the other South Slavs out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[37][38] Yugoslavist revolutionaries assassinated Archduke Ferdinand. Austria-Hungary, with German backing, tried to crush Serbia in 1914 but Russia intervened, thus igniting the First World War in which Austria dissolved into nation states.[39]

In 1918, the region of Vojvodina proclaimed its secession from Austria-Hungary to unite with the pan-Slavic State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs; the Kingdom of Serbia joined the union on 1 December 1918, and the country was named Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. It was renamed Yugoslavia, and a Yugoslav identity was promoted, which ultimately failed, the country breaking up in the 1990s.[40]


The cause of Polish nationalism was repeatedly frustrated before 1918. In the 1790s, Germany, Russia and Austria partitioned Poland. Napoleon set up the Duchy of Warsaw, a new Polish state that ignited a spirit of nationalism. Russia took it over in 1815 as Congress Poland with the tsar as King of Poland. Large-scale nationalist revolts erupted in 1830 and 1863-64 but were harshly crushed by Russia, which tried to Russify the Polish language, culture and religion. The collapse of the Russian Empire in the First World War enabled the major powers to reestablish an independent Poland, which survived until 1939. Meanwhile Poles in areas controlled by Germany moved into heavy industry but their religion came under attack by Bismarck in the Kulturkampf of the 1870s. The Poles joined German Catholics in a well-organized new Centre Party, and defeated Bismarck politically. He responded by stopping the harassment and cooperating with the Centre Party.[41][42]

In the late 19th and early 20th century, many Polish nationalist leaders endorsed the Piast Concept. It held there was a Polish utopia during the Piast Dynasty a thousand years before, and modern Polish nationalists should restore its central values of Poland for the Poles. Jan Poplawski had developed the "Piast Concept" in the 1890s, and it formed the centerpiece of Polish nationalist ideology, especially as presented by the National Democracy Party, known as the "Endecja," which was led by Roman Dmowski. There was no place in the Piast Concept for a multicultural Poland.[43]

General Simón Bolívar, (1783–1830), a leader of independence in Latin America.

The Piast concept stood in opposition to the "Jagellon Concept," which allowed for multiculturalism and Polish rule over numerous minorities. The Jagellon Concept was the official policy of the government in the 1920s and 1930s. Soviet leader Josef Stalin at Tehran in 1943 rejected the Jagellon Concept because it involved Polish rule over Ukrainians and Belorussians. He instead endorsed the Piast Concept, which justified a massive shift of Poland's frontiers to the west.[44] After 1945 the Communist regime wholeheartedly adopted the Piast Concept, making it the centerpiece of their claim to be the true inheritors of Polish nationalism. After all the killings and population transfers during and after the war the nation was 99% "Polish."[45]

Nationalism causes Spain to lose its colonies

An upsurge in nationalism in Latin America in 1810s and 1820s sparked revolutions that cost Spain nearly all its colonies there.[46] Spain was at war with Britain from 1798 to 1808, and the British Royal Navy cut off its contacts with its colonies so nationalism flourished and trade with Spain was suspended. The colonies set up temporary governments or juntas which were effectively independent from Spain. The division exploded between Spaniards who were born in Spain (called "peninsulares") versus those of Spanish descent born in New Spain (called "criollos" in Spanish or "creoles" in English) The two groups wrestled for power, with the criollos leading the call for independence. Spain tried to use its armies to fight back but had no help from European powers. Indeed, Britain and the United States worked against Spain, enforcing the Monroe Doctrine. Spain lost all of its American colonies, except Cuba and Puerto Rico, in a complex series of revolts from 1808 to 1826.[47]

Twentieth century


Main article: Chinese nationalism

The awakening of nationalism across Asia helped shape the history of the continent. The key episode was the decisive defeat of Russia by Japan in 1905, demonstrating the military superiority of non-Europeans in a modern war. The defeat which quickly led to manifestations of a new interest in nationalism in China, as well as Turkey, and Persia.[48] In China Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) launched his new party the Kuomintang (National People's Party) in defiance of the decrepit Empire, which was run by outsiders. Kuomintang recruits pledged:

from this moment I will destroy the old and build the new, and fight for the self-determination of the people, and will apply all my strength to the support of the Chinese Republic and the realization of democracy through the Three Principles, . . . for the progress of good government, the happiness and perpetual peace of the people, and for the strengthening of the foundations of the state in the name of peace throughout the world.[49]

The Kuomintang largely ran China until the Communists took over in 1949. but the latter had also been strongly influence by Sun's nationalism as well as by the May Fourth Movement in 1919. It was a nationwide protest movement about the domestic backwardness of China and has often been depicted as the intellectual foundation for Chinese Communism.[50] The New Culture Movement stimulated by the May Fourth Movement waxed strong throughout the 1920s and 1930s. According to historian Patricia Ebrey:

Nationalism, patriotism, progress, science, democracy, and freedom were the goals; imperialism, feudalism, warlordism, autocracy, patriarchy, and blind adherence to tradition were the enemies. Intellectuals struggled with how to be strong and modern and yet Chinese, how to preserve China as a political entity in the world of competing nations.[51]


Kenneth Kaunda, an anti-colonial political leader from Zambia, pictured at a nationalist rally in colonial Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1960

In the 1880s the European powers divided up almost all of Africa (only Ethiopia and Liberia were independent). They ruled until after World War II when forces of nationalism grew much stronger. In the 1950s and 1960s the colonial holdings became independent states. The process was usually peaceful but there were several long bitter bloody civil wars, as in Algeria,[52] Kenya[53] and elsewhere. Across Africa nationalism drew upon the organizational skills that natives learned in the British and French and other armies in the world wars. It led to organizations that were not controlled by or endorsed by either the colonial powers not the traditional local power structures that were collaborating with the colonial powers. Nationalistic organizations began to challenge both the traditional and the new colonial structures and finally displaced them. Leaders of nationalist movements took control when the European authorities exited; many ruled for decades or until they died off. These structures included political, educational, religious, and other social organizations. In recent decades, many African countries have undergone the triumph and defeat of nationalistic fervor, changing in the process the loci of the centralizing state power and patrimonial state.[54][55][56]

South Africa, a British colony, was exceptional in that it became virtually independent by 1931. From 1948 to 1994, it was controlled by white Afrikaner nationalists focused on racial segregation and white minority rule known officially as apartheid. The black nationalist movement fought them until success was achieved by the African National Congress in 1994 and Nelson Mandela was elected President.[57]

Sociological interpretation

The sociological or modernist interpretation of nationalism and nation-building argues that nationalism arises and flourishes in modern societies that have an industrial economy capable of self-sustainability, a central supreme authority capable of maintaining authority and unity, and a centralized language understood by a community of people.[58] Modernist theorists note that this is only possible in modern societies, while traditional societies typically lack the prerequisites for nationalism. They lack a modern self-sustainable economy, have divided authorities, and use multiple languages resulting in many groups being unable to communicate with each other.[58]

Prominent theorists who developed the modernist interpretation of nations and nationalism include: Carlton J. H. Hayes, Henry Maine, Ferdinand Tönnies, Rabindranath Tagore, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, Arnold Joseph Toynbee and Talcott Parsons.[58]

Henry Maine in his analysis of the historical changes and development of human societies noted the key distinction between traditional societies defined as "status" societies based on family association and functionally diffuse roles for individuals; and modern societies defined as "contract" societies where social relations are determined by rational contracts pursued by individuals to advance their interests. Maine saw the development of societies as moving away from traditional status societies to modern contract societies.[59]

Ferdinand Tönnies in his book Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887) defined a gemeinschaft (community) as being based on emotional attachments as attributed with traditional societies, while defining a Gesellschaft (society) as an impersonal society that is modern. While he recognized the advantages of modern societies he also criticized them for their cold and impersonal nature that caused alienation while praising the intimacy of traditional communities.[59]

Émile Durkheim expanded upon Tönnies' recognition of alienation, and defined the differences between traditional and modern societies as being between societies based upon "mechanical solidarity" versus societies based on "organic solidarity".[59] Durkheim identified mechanical solidarity as involving custom, habit, and repression that was necessary to maintain shared views. Durkheim identified organic solidarity-based societies as modern societies where there exists a division of labour based on social differentiation that causes alienation. Durkheim claimed that social integration in traditional society required authoritarian culture involving acceptance of a social order. Durkheim claimed that modern society bases integration on the mutual benefits of the division of labour, but noted that the impersonal character of modern urban life caused alienation and feelings of anomie.[59]

Max Weber claimed the change that developed modern society and nations is the result of the rise of a charismatic leader to power in a society who creates a new tradition or a rational-legal system that establishes the supreme authority of the state. Weber's conception of charismatic authority has been noted as the basis of many nationalist governments.[59]

Primordialist evolutionary interpretation

Another approach emerging from biology and psychology looks at long-term evolutionary forces that might lead to nationalism. The primordialist perspective is based upon evolutionary theory.[60]  :[61][62]

This approach has been popular with the general public but is typically rejected by experts. Laland and Brown report:

the vast majority of professional academics in the social sciences not only ... ignore evolutionary methods but in many cases [are] extremely hostile to the arguments."[63]

The evolutionary theory of nationalism perceives nationalism to be the result of the evolution of human beings into identifying with groups, such as ethnic groups, or other groups that form the foundation of a nation.[60] Roger Masters in The Nature of Politics describes the primordial explanation of the origin of ethnic and national groups as recognizing group attachments that are thought to be unique, emotional, intense, and durable because they are based upon kinship and promoted along lines of common ancestry.[64]

The primordialist evolutionary view of nationalism has its origins in the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin that were later substantially elaborated by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides.[65] Central to evolutionary theory is that all biological organisms undergo changes in their anatomical features and their characteristic behaviour patterns.[65] Darwin's theory of natural selection as a mechanism of evolutionary change of organisms is utilized to describe the development of human societies and particularly the development of mental and physical traits of members of such societies.[66]

In the case of a national group, the example of seeing the mobilization of a foreign military force on the nation's borders may provoke members of a national group to unify and mobilize themselves in response.[67] There are proximate environments where individuals identify nonimmediate real or imagined situations in combination with immediate situations that make individuals confront a common situation of both subjective and objective components that affect their decisions.[68] As such proximate environments cause people to make decisions based on existing situations and anticipated situations.[68]

Nationalist and liberal pressure led to the European revolutions of 1848

This is evident in many cases such as the French and American revolutions. The fear of loss of identity, traditions and economic disparity led to the banding together of citizens to achieve what was once theirs. Whatever the nation-state may have done that it shouldn’t have, the citizens of the state still knew that it was theirs, or at least that they were its. They knew what the state could require of them, and they accepted their duties as a condition of the rights that came with them. They recognized. therefore, the principal grounds of rights and duties themselves. In short, there prevailed a sense of collective interest and purpose that gave substance to individual aspirations as well as to those of the group. The loss of this sense is a serious loss in a society such as ours that has found nothing to replace it.[69]

Critics argue that primordial models relying on evolutionary psychology are based not on historical evidence but on assumptions of unobserved changes over thousands of years and assume stable genetic composition of the population living in a specific area, and are incapable of handling the contingencies that characterize every known historical process. Robert Hislope argues:

the articulation of cultural evolutionary theory represents theoretical progress over sociobiology, but its explanatory payoff remains limited due to the role of contingency in human affairs and the significance of non-evolutionary, proximate causal factors. While evolutionary theory undoubtedly elucidates the development of all organic life, it would seem to operate best at macro-levels of analysis, “distal” points of explanation, and from the perspective of the long-term. Hence, it is bound to display shortcomings at micro-level events that are highly contingent in nature.[70]

English Historian G.P. Gooch in 1920 argued that:

While patriotism is as old as human association and has gradually widened its sphere from the clan and the tribe to the city and the state, nationalism as an operative principle and an articulate creed only made its appearance among the more complicated intellectual processes of the modern world.[71]


Risorgimento and Integral nationalism

There are different types of nationalism including Risorgimento nationalism and Integral nationalism.[72][73] Whereas risorgimento nationalism applies to a nation seeking to establish a liberal state (for example the Risorgimento in Italy and similar movements in Greece, Germany, Poland during the 19th century or the civic American nationalism), integral nationalism results after a nation has achieved independence and has established a state. Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany, according to Alter and Brown, were examples of integral nationalism.

Some of the qualities that characterize integral nationalism are anti-individualism, statism (plans by the few ideology), radical extremism, and aggressive-expansionist militarism. The term Integral Nationalism often overlaps with fascism, although many natural points of disagreement exist. Integral nationalism arises in countries where a strong military ethos has become entrenched through the independence struggle, when, once independence is achieved, it is believed that a strong military is required to ensure the security and viability of the new state. Also, the success of such a liberation struggle results in feelings of national superiority that may lead to extreme nationalism.

Civic nationalism and Liberal nationalism

Main article: Civic nationalism
Liberty Leading the People (Eugène Delacroix, 1830) is a famous example of nationalist art.

Civic nationalism (also known as liberal nationalism) defines the nation as an association of people who identify themselves as belonging to the nation, who have equal and shared political rights, and allegiance to similar political procedures.[74] According to the principles of civic nationalism, the nation is not based on common ethnic ancestry, but is a political entity whose core identity is not ethnicity. This civic concept of nationalism is exemplified by Ernest Renan in his lecture in 1882 "What is a Nation?", where he defined the nation as a "daily referendum" (frequently translated "daily plebiscite") dependent on the will of its people to continue living together.[74]

Civic nationalism is a kind of non-xenophobic nationalism that is claimed to be compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.[75][76][77] Ernest Renan[78] and John Stuart Mill[79] are often thought to be early liberal nationalists. Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives,[80][81] and that liberal democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly.[82][83]

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 must be voluntary, as in Ernest Renan's classic definition of the nation in What is a Nation? (1882). Renan argued that factors such as ethnicity, language, religion, economics, geography, ruling dynasty and historic military deeds were important but not sufficient. Needed was a spiritual soul that allowed as a "daily referendum" among the people.[84] Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France.

German philosopher Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach does not think liberalism and nationalism are compatible, but she points out there are many liberals who think they are. She states:

Justifications of nationalism seem to be making a headway in political philosophy. Its proponents contend that liberalism and nationalism are not necessarily mutually exclusive and that they can in fact be made compatible. Liberal nationalists urge one to consider nationalism not as the pathology of modernity but as an answer to its malaise. For them, nationalism is more than an infantile disease, more than "the measles of mankind" as Einstein once proclaimed it to be. They argue that nationalism is a legitimate way of understanding one's role and place in life. They strive for a normative justification of nationalism which lies within liberal limits. The main claim which seems to be involved here is that as long as a nationalism abhors violence and propagates liberal rights and equal citizenship for all citizens of its state, its philosophical credentials can be considered to be sound.[85]

Ethnic nationalism

Whereas nationalism in and of itself does not necessarily imply a belief in the superiority of one ethnicity or country over others, some nationalists support ethnocentric supremacy or protectionism.

Religious nationalism

Main article: Religious nationalism

Religious nationalism is the relationship of nationalism to a particular religious belief, dogma, or affiliation where a shared religion can be seen to contribute to a sense of national unity, a common bond among the citizens of the nation. Hindutva, Pakistani nationalism (Two-Nation Theory), Religious Zionism are some examples.

National purity

Some nationalists exclude certain groups. Some nationalists, defining the national community in ethnic, linguistic, cultural, historic, or religious terms (or a combination of these), may then seek to deem certain minorities as not truly being a part of the 'national community' as they define it. Sometimes a mythic homeland is more important for the national identity than the actual territory occupied by the nation.[86]

Left-wing nationalism

Parts of Caracas slums friendly to former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez often feature political murals with anti-American and anti-imperialist messages.

Left-wing nationalism (occasionally known as socialist nationalism, not to be confused with national socialism)[87] refers to any political movement that combines left-wing politics with nationalism.

Many nationalist movements are dedicated to national liberation, in the view that their nations are being persecuted by other nations and thus need to exercise self-determination by liberating themselves from the accused persecutors. Anti-revisionist Marxist–Leninism is closely tied with this ideology, and practical examples include Stalin's early work Marxism and the National Question and his Socialism in One Country edict, which declares that nationalism can be used in an internationalist context, fighting for national liberation without racial or religious divisions.

Other examples of left-wing nationalism include Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement that launched the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cornwall's Mebyon Kernow, Ireland's Sinn Féin, Wales's Plaid Cymru, the Awami League in Bangladesh, the African National Congress in South Africa and numerous movements in Eastern Europe.[88][89]

Territorial nationalism

Nationalist slogan "Brazil, love it or leave it", used during the Brazilian military dictatorship

Territorial nationalists assume that all inhabitants of a particular nation owe allegiance to their country of birth or adoption.[90] A sacred quality is sought in the nation and in the popular memories it evokes. Citizenship is idealized by territorial nationalists. A criterion of a territorial nationalism is the establishment of a mass, public culture based on common values, codes and traditions of the population.[91]


Main article: Pan-nationalism

Pan-nationalism is unique in that it covers a large area span. Pan-nationalism focuses more on "clusters" of ethnic groups. Pan-Slavism is one example of Pan-nationalism. The goal is to unite all Slavic people into one country. They did succeed by uniting several south Slavic people into Yugoslavia in 1918.[92]

Anti-colonial nationalism

This form of nationalism came about during the decolonization of the post war periods. It was a reaction mainly in Africa and Asia against being subdued by foreign powers. It also appeared in the non-Russian territories of the Tsarist empire and later, the USSR, where Ukrainianists and Islamic Marxists condemned Russian Bolshevik rule in their territories as a renewed Russian imperialism. This form of nationalism took many guises, including the peaceful passive resistance movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian subcontinent.[93]

Benedict Anderson argued that anti-colonial nationalism is grounded in the experience of literate and bilingual indigenous intellectuals fluent in the language of the imperial power, schooled in its "national" history, and staffing the colonial administrative cadres up to but not including its highest levels. Post-colonial national governments have been essentially indigenous forms of the previous imperial administration.[94][95]

Racial nationalism

Main article: Racial nationalism

Racial nationalism is an ideology that advocates a racial definition of national identity. Racial nationalism seeks to preserve a given race through policies such as banning race mixing and the immigration of other races. Specific examples are black nationalism and white nationalism.

Sports nationalism

Main article: Nationalism and sport

Sport spectacles like football's World Cup command worldwide audiences as nations battle for supremacy and the fans invest intense support for their national team. Increasingly people have tied their loyalties and even their cultural identity to national teams.[96] The globalization of audiences through television and other media has generated revenues from advertisers and subscribers in the billions of dollars, as the FIFA Scandals of 2015 revealed.[97] Jeff Kingston looks at football, the Commonwealth Games, baseball, cricket, and the Olympics and finds that, "The capacity of sports to ignite and amplify nationalist passions and prejudices is as extraordinary as is their power to console, unify, uplift and generate goodwill."[98] The phenomenon is evident across most of the world.[99][100][101] The British Empire strongly emphasized sports among its soldiers and agents across the world, and often the locals joined in enthusiastically.[102] It established a high prestige competition in 1930, named the British Empire Games from 1930–1950, the British Empire and Commonwealth Games from 1954–1966, British Commonwealth Games from 1970–1974 and since then the The Commonwealth Games.[103]

The French Empire was not far behind the British in the use of sports to strengthen colonial solidarity with France. Colonial officials promoted and subsidized gymnastics, table games, and dance and helped football spread to French colonies.[104]


Main article: Anti-nationalism

Critics of nationalism have argued that it is often unclear what constitutes a "nation", or whether a nation is a legitimate unit of political rule. Nationalists hold that the boundaries of a nation and a state should coincide with one another, thus nationalism tends to oppose multiculturalism.[105] In doing so, nationalism serves to marginalize minorities who live within a nation-state but do not share the necessary characteristics to be considered part of the nation.[106][107] It can also lead to conflict when more than one national group finds itself claiming rights to a particular territory or seeking to take control of the state.[1]

Philosopher A.C. Grayling describes nations as artificial constructs, "their boundaries drawn in the blood of past wars". He argues that "there is no country on earth which is not home to more than one different but usually coexisting culture. Cultural heritage is not the same thing as national identity".[108]

A snack bar sign advertising "American" fries at Knott's Berry Farm. The sign formerly read "French".

Nationalism is inherently divisive because it highlights perceived differences between people, emphasizing an individual's identification with their own nation. The idea is also potentially oppressive because it submerges individual identity within a national whole, and gives elites or political leaders potential opportunities to manipulate or control the masses.[109] 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. 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.

At the end of the 19th century, Marxists and other socialists (such as Rosa Luxemburg) produced political analysis that were critical of the nationalist movements then active in central and eastern Europe. Although a variety of other contemporary socialists and communists, from Vladimir Lenin (a communist) to Józef Piłsudski (a socialist), were more sympathetic to national self-determination.[110]

In his classic essay on the topic George Orwell distinguishes nationalism from patriotism, which he defines as devotion to a particular place. Nationalism, more abstractly, is "power-hunger tempered by self-deception."[111]

For Orwell, the nationalist is more likely than not dominated by irrational negative impulses:

There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist—that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating—but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him.[111]

In the liberal political tradition there was mostly a negative attitude toward nationalism as a dangerous force and a cause of conflict and war between nation-states. The historian Lord Acton put the case against "nationalism as insanity" in 1862. Nationalism suppresses minorities, it places country above moral principles and especially it creates a dangerous individual attachment to the state. However Acton opposed democracy and was trying to defend the pope from Italian nationalism.[112] Since the late 20th century liberals have been increasingly divided, with some philosophers such as Michael Walzer, Isaiah Berlin, Charles Taylor and David Miller emphasizing that a liberal society needed to be based in a stable nation state.[113]

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. British pacifist Bertrand Russell criticizes nationalism for diminishing the individual's capacity to judge his or her fatherland's foreign policy.[114] Albert Einstein stated that "Nationalism is an infantile disease. ... It is the measles of mankind."[115]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Symbols of national identity.


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