Culturalism is a way of understanding nationhood which emphasises shared culture, history, traditions literature and rituals. British history and Shakespeare are required content in all UK schools. These are seen to represent not only the nation but what is best about the nation. It is the view that people have an emotional connection with their country that draws them together. Whereas civic nationalism, like liberal nationalism, are based on a rational approach to nationhood, culturalism argues that people have a deeper, emotional tie to their country. It can also suggest that some national cultures are superior or civilised. These ideas were commonly used to justify imperialism or to make claims about the cultural inferiority of enemies in time of war.
This Punch Cartoon represent a contrast between the British culture and Irish which is shown as anarchic but also racially inferior.
Advocates of culturalism believe that each nation has an essence that is tied up in its music, art, folklore and language. German intellectual Johann Gottfried von Herder wrote about culturalism in the 18th century, claiming that each nation has its own unique volksgeist - folk spirit, a culmination of its own unique experiences, history and culture. For Herder, no nation could be the same as any other, and each nation's culture was as valuable as any other's.
Herder is seen by many as the developer of culturalism, but his ideas have been used in a darker way by some to support the idea of expansionist nationalism. This is the idea that one nation's unique spirit can be superior to that of other nations, thereby justifying imperialism and domination. However, Herder himself rejected this idea, writing that 'notwithstanding the varieties of the human form, there is but one and the same species of man throughout the whole earth'.
Culturalism has strong links with the concept of patriotism - having a significant emotional connection with a country. Rituals remember sacrifices and cultural identity. Patriotism may even result in a willingness to make significant sacrifices to defend 'our way of life'. In this way, patriotism is the embodiment of national cultural identity.
Unlike civic nationalism, which argues that nationhood can be virtually instant, cultural views of nationalism say that membership of a nation takes time to develop. For example, a person may be able to become a French citizen and be able to speak French fluently, but this does not necessarily make them truly French. They may technically be French, but they will only become 'genuinely' French after they have spent years living as a French person, absorbing themselves in French culture and the French way of life. culturalism is concerned with protecting a nation's unique culture, without necessarily focusing on specific ambitions for statehood. An often-used example of this is Wales. The Welsh are proud of their unique culture within the United Kingdom, and many wish to revive the Welsh language in schools and ensure that Welsh folklore and songs continue and are not lost.
Cultural nationalism emphasises the strengthening or defence of cultural identity over overt political demands. Its principal stress is on the regeneration of the nation as a distinctive civilisation, with the state being viewed as a peripheral, if not as an alien, entity. Whereas political nationalism is ‘rational’ and may be principled, cultural nationalism tends to be ‘mystical’, in that it is based on a romantic belief in the nation as a unique historical and organic whole. Typically, cultural nationalism is a ‘bottom-up’ form of nationalism that draws more on popular rituals, traditions and legends than on elite or ‘higher’ culture. Although it usually has an anti-modern character, cultural nationalism may also serve as an agent of modernisation, providing a people with a means of ‘recreating’ itself. In the 19th Century and early 20th an interest in folk culture and the revival of folk traditions reflected the fear that national cultures were threated by mass produced cultural artefacts.
So like nationalism generally Culturalism can be seen as liberal and liberating- restoring and protecting cultural diversity and rights- it can also be a closed and restrictive doctrine emphasising 'us' and 'them'- cultural superiority or exclusion. If I shout 'black lives matter' am I asking you to acknowledge existing racism and historical injustice or am I excluding white lives? For me it is clearly the former.
Culturalism is also associated with Marcus Garvey and groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Muslims (later the Nation of Islam). Similarly, it has been apparent in India, in forms of nationalism that have been based on the image of India as a distinctively Hindu civilisation. It is also evident in modern China in the increasing prominence given by party and state officials to the idea of 'Chineseness' , expressed, among other things, in a revival of traditional cultural practices and an emphasis on 'Chinese' principles and moral values.