Nationalism in depth


The word 'nation' has been used since the thirteenth century and derives from the Latin nasci, meaning to be born. In the form of nation, it referred to a group of people united by birth or birthplace. In its original usage, `nation' thus implied a breed of people or a racial group, but possessed no political significance. It was not until the late eighteenth century that the term acquired political overtones, as individuals and groups started to be classified as 'nationalists'. The term 'nationalism' was first used in print in 1789 by the anti-Jacobin French priest Augustin Barruel. By the mid-nineteenth century, nationalism was widely recognised as a political doctrine or movement; for example, as a major ingredient of the revolutions that swept across Europe in 1848.

Nationalism can be defined broadly as the belief that the nation is the central principle of political organisation. As such, it is based on two core assumptions. First, humankind is naturally divided into distinct nations, and second, the nation is the most appropriate, and perhaps only legit­imate, unit of political rule. Classical political nationalism, therefore, set out to bring the borders of the state into line with the boundaries of the nation. Within so-called nation-states, nationality and citizenship would therefore coincide. However, nationalism is a complex and highly diverse ideological phenomenon. Not only are there distinctive political, cultural and ethnic forms of nationalism, but the political implications of nationalism have also been wide-ranging and sometimes contradic­tory Although nationalism has been associated with a principled belief in national self-determination, based on the assumption that all nations are equal, it has also been used to defend traditional institutions and the established social order, as well as to fuel programmes of war, conquest and imperialism. Nationalism, moreover, has been linked to widely contrasting ideological traditions, ranging from liberalism to fascism.


The idea of nationalism was born during the French Revolution. Previously, countries had been thought of as 'realms', `principalities' or 'kingdoms'. The inhabitants of a country were 'subjects', their political identity is formed by an allegiance to a ruler or ruling dynasty, rather than any sense of national identity or patriotism. However, the revolutionaries in France who rose up against Louis XVI in 1789 did so in the name of the people, and understood the people to be the 'French nation'. Their ideas were influenced by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the new doctrine of popular self-government. Nationalism was, therefore, a revolutionary and democratic creed, reflecting the idea that 'subjects of the crown' should become 'citizens of France'. The nation should be its own master. However, such ideas were not the exclusive property of the French. During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1 7 92-1 8 1 5) , much of continental Europe was invaded by France, giving rise to both resentment against France and a desire for independence. In Italy and Germany, long divided into a collection of states, the experience of conquest helped to forge, for the first time, a consciousness of national unity, expressed in a new language of nationalism, inherited from France. Nationalist ideas also spread to Latin America in the early nineteenth century, where Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) , 'the Liberator', led revolutions against Spanish rule in what was then New Grenada, now the countries of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, as well as in Peru and Bolivia.

In many respects, nationalism developed into the most successful and compelling of political creeds, helping to shape and reshape history in many parts of the world for over two hundred years. The rising tide of nationalism re-drew the map of Europe in the nineteenth century as the autocratic and multinational empires of Turkey, Austria and Russia started to crumble in the face of liberal and nationalist pressure. In 1848, nationalist uprisings broke out in the Italian states, among the Czechs and the Hungarians, and in Germany, where the desire for national unity was expressed in the creation of the short-lived Frankfurt parliament. The nineteenth century was a period of nation building.


Patriotism (from the Latin patria, meaning 'fatherland') is a sentiment, a psychological attachment to one's nation, literally a 'love of one's country'. The terms 'nationalism' and 'patriotism' are often confused. Nationalism has a doctrinal character and embodies the belief that the nation is in some way the central principle of political organisation. Patriotism provides the affective basis for that belief, and thus underpins all forms of nationalism.

It is difficult to conceive of a national group demanding, say, political independence without possessing at least a measure of patriotic loyalty or national consciousness. However, not all patriots are nationalists. Not all of those who identify with, or even love, their nation, see it as a means through which political demands can be articulated.

Italy, once dismissed by the Austrian Chancellor Metternich as a 'mere geographical expression', became a united state in 1861, the process of unification being completed with the acquisition of Rome in 1870. Germany, formerly a collection of 39 states, was unified in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that nationalism was either an irresistible or a genuinely popular movement during this period. Enthusiasm for nationalism was largely restricted to the rising middle classes, who were attracted to the ideas of national unity and constitutional government. Although middle-class nationalist movements kept the dream of national unity or independence alive, they were nowhere strong enough to accomplish the process of nation-building on their own. Where nationalist goals were realised, as in Italy and Germany, it was because nationalism coincided with the ambition of rising states such as Piedmont and Prussia. For example, German unification owed more to the Prussian army (which defeated Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866 and France in 1870-1) than it did to the liberal nationalist movement.

However, by the end of the nineteenth-century nationalism had become a truly popular movement, with the spread of flags, national anthems, patriotic poetry and literature, public ceremonies and national holidays. Nationalism became the language of mass politics, made possible by the growth of primary education, mass literacy and the spread of popular newspapers. The character of nation­alism also changed. Nationalism had previously been associated with liberal and progressive movements but was taken up increasingly by conservative and reactionary politicians. Nationalism came to stand for social cohesion, order and stability, particularly in the face of the growing challenge of socialism, which embodied the ideas of social revolution and international working-class solidarity. Nationalism sought to integrate the increasingly powerful working class into the nation, and so to preserve the established social structure. Patriotic fervour was no longer aroused by the prospect of political liberty or democ­racy but by the commemoration of past national glories and military victo­ries. Such nationalism became increasingly chauvinistic and xenophobic.

Imperialism is, broadly, the policy of extending the power or rule of the state beyond its boundaries, typically through the establishment of an empire. In its earliest usage, imperialism was an ideology that supported military expansion and imperial acquisition, usually by drawing on nationalist and racialist doctrines. In its traditional form, imperialism involves the establishment of formal political domination or colonialism and reflects the expansion of state power through a process of conquest and (possibly) settlement. Neo-imperialism (sometimes called 'neocolonialism') is characterised less by political control and more by economic and ideological domination; it is often seen as a product of structural imbalances in the international economy and/or biases that operate within the institutions of global economic governance.

Each nation claimed its own unique or superior qualities, while other nations were regarded as alien, untrustworthy, even menacing. This new climate of pop­ular nationalism helped to fuel policies of imperialism that inten­sified dramatically in the 1870s and 1880s and, by the end of the century, had brought most of the world's population under European control. It also con­tributed to a mood of international rivalry and suspicion, which led to world war in 1914.

The end of World War I saw the completion of the process of nation building in central and eastern Europe. At the Paris Peace Conference, US President Woodrow Wilson advocated the principle of national self-determination. The German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires were broken up and eight new states created, including Finland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. These new countries were designed to be nation-states that conformed to the geography' of existing national or ethnic groups. However, World War I failed to resolve the serious national tensions that had precipitated conflict in the first place. Indeed, the experience of defeat, and disappoint­ment with the terms of the peace treaties, left an inheritance of frustrated ambition and bitterness. This was most evident in Germany, Italy and Japan, where fascist or authoritarian movements came to power in the inter-war period by promising to restore national pride through policies of expansion and empire. Nationalism was therefore a powerful factor leading to war in both 1914 and 1939.

During the twentieth century the doctrine of nationalism, which had been born in Europe, spread throughout the globe as the peoples of Asia and Africa rose in opposition to colonial rule. The process of colonialism had involved not only the establishment of political control and economic dominance, but also the importation of western ideas, including nationalism, which began to be used against the colonial masters themselves. Nationalist uprisings took place in Egypt in 1919 and quickly spread throughout the Middle East. The Anglo­Afghan war also broke out in 1919, and rebellions took place in India, the Dutch East Indies and Indochina. After 1945, the map of Africa and Asia was re-drawn as the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese empires each disinte­grated in the face of nationalist movements that succeeded in either negotiating independence or winning wars of 'national liberation'.

Anti-colonialism not only witnessed the spread of western-style nationalism to the developing world, but also generated new forms of nationalism. Nation­alism in the developing world has embraced a wide range of movements. In China, Vietnam and parts of Africa, nationalism has been fused with Marx­ism, and national liberation has been regarded not simply as a political goal but as part of a social revolution. Elsewhere, developing-world nationalism has been anti-western, rejecting both liberal democratic and revolutionary socialist conceptions of nationhood. This has been particularly evident in the rise of forms of religious nationalism and especially in the emergence of religious fundamentalism. The relationship between nationalism and religious fundamentalism is examined later in the chapter, in association with postcolonial nationalism.



The basic belief of nationalism is that the nation is, or should be, the central principle of political organisation. However, much confusion surrounds what nations are and how they can be defined. In everyday language, words such as `nation', `state', 'country' and even `race' are often confused or used as if they are interchangeable. Many political disputes, moreover, are really disputes about whether a particular group of people should be regarded as a nation, and should therefore enjoy the rights and status associated with nationhood. This applies, for instance, to the Tibetans, the Kurds, the Palestinians, the Basques, the Tamils, and so on.

On the most basic level, nations are cultural entities, collections of people bound together by shared values and traditions, in particular a common language, religion, culture and history, and usually occupying the same geographical area. From this point of view, the nation can be defined by 'objective' factors: people who satisfy a requisite set of cultural criteria can be said to belong to a nation; those who do not can be classified as non-nationals or members of foreign nations. However, to define a nation simply as a group of people bound together by a common culture and traditions raises some very difficult questions. Although particular cultural features are commonly associated with nationhood, notably language, religion, ethnicity, history and tradition, there is no blueprint nor any objective criteria that can establish where and when a nation exists.

Language is often taken to be the clearest symbol of nationhood. A language embodies distinctive attitudes, values and forms of expression that produce a sense of familiarity and belonging. German nationalism, for instance, has traditionally been founded on a sense of cultural unity, reflected in the purity and survival of the German language. Nevertheless, at the same time, there are peoples who share the same language without having any conception of a com­mon national identity: Americans, Australians and New Zealanders may speak English as a first language, but certainly do not think of themselves as members of an 'English nation'. Other nations have enjoyed a substantial measure of national unity without possessing a national language, as is the case in Swit­zerland where, in the absence of a Swiss language, three major languages are spoken: French, German and Italian.

Religion is another major component of nationhood. Religion expresses common moral values and spiritual beliefs. In Northern Ireland, people who speak the same language have been divided along religious lines: most Protestants regard themselves as Unionists and wish to preserve their links with the UK, while many in the Catholic community favour a united Ireland. Islam has been a major factor in forming national consciousness in much of North Africa and the Middle East. On the other hand, religious beliefs do not always coincide with a sense of nationhood. Divisions between Catholics and Protestants in mainland UK do not inspire rival nationalisms, nor has the remarkable religious diversity found in the USA threatened to divide the country into a collection of distinct nations. At the same time, countries such as Poland, Italy, Brazil and the Phil­ippines share a common Catholic faith but do not feel that they belong to a unified 'Catholic nation'. Nations have also been based on a sense of ethnic or, in certain circumstances, racial unity. This was particularly evident in Germany during the Nazi period. How­ever, nationalism usually has a cultural rather than a biological basis; it reflects an ethnic unity that may be based on race, but more usually draws on shared values and common cultural beliefs. The nationalism of US blacks, for example, is based less on colour than on their distinctive history and culture. Nations thus usually share a common history and traditions. Not uncommonly, national identity is preserved by recalling past glories, national independence, the birthdays of national leaders or important military victories. The USA celebrates Independ­ence Day and Thanksgiving; Bastille Day is commemorated in France; in the UK, ceremonies continue to mark Armistice Day. However, nationalist feelings may be based more on future expectations than on shared memories or a common past. This applies in the case of immigrants who have been 'naturalised', and is most evident in the USA, a 'land of immigrants'. The journey of the May­flower and the War of Independence have no direct relevance for most Americans, whose families arrived centuries after these events occurred.

The cultural unity that supposedly expresses itself in nationhood is therefore very difficult to pin down. It reflects a varying combination of cultural fac­tors, rather than any precise formula. Ultimately, therefore, nations can only be defined 'subjectively', by their members, not by any set of external factors. In this sense, the nation is a psycho-political entity, a group of people who regard themselves as a natural political community and are distinguished by shared loyalty or affection in the form of patriotism. Objective difficulties such as the absence of land, a small population or lack of economic resources are of little significance if a group of people insists on demanding what it sees as 'national rights'. Latvia, for example, became an independent nation in 1991 despite hav­ing a population of only 2.6.million (barely half of whom are ethnic Lats) , no source of fuel and very few natural resources. Likewise, the Kurdish peoples of the Middle East have nationalist aspirations, even though the Kurds have never enjoyed formal political unity and are at present spread over parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

The fact that nations are formed through a combination of objective and sub­jective factors has given rise to rival concepts of the nation. While all nation­alists agree that nations are a blend of cultural and psycho-political factors, they disagree strongly about where the balance between the two lies. On the one hand, 'exclusive' concepts of the nation stress the importance of ethnic unity and a shared history. By viewing national identity as 'given', unchanging and indeed unchangeable, this implies that nations are characterised by com­mon descent and so blurs the distinction between nations and races. Nations are thus held together by 'primordial bonds', powerful and seemingly innate emotional attachments to a language, a religion, a traditional way of life and a homeland. To different degrees, conservatives and fascists adopt such a view of the nation. On the other hand, 'inclusive' concepts of the nation, as found in civic nationalism, highlight the importance of civic consciousness and patri­otic loyalty. From this perspective, nations may be multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and so forth. This, in turn, tends to blur the distinction between the nation and the state, and thus between nationality and citizenship. Liberals and socialists tend to adopt an inclusive view of the nation.


Although nationalists may disagree about the defining features of the nation, they are unified by their belief that nations are organic communities. Humankind, in other words, is naturally divided into a collection of nations, each possessing a distinctive character and separate identity. This, nationalists argue, is why a 'higher' loyalty and deeper political significance attaches to the nation than to any other social group or collective body. Whereas, for instance, class, gender, religion and language may be important in particular societies, or may come to prominence in particular circumstances, the bonds of nationhood are more fundamental. National ties and loyalties are found in all societies, they endure over time, and they operate at an instinctual, even primordial, level. Nevertheless, different explanations have been provided for this, the most significant being based on the ideas of primordialism, modernism and constructivism.

Primordialist approaches to nationalism portray national identity as historically embedded: nations are rooted in a common cultural heritage and language that may long pre-date statehood or the quest for independence, and are character­ised by deep emotional attachments that resemble kinship ties. All nationalists, in that sense, are primordialists. Anthony Smith (1986) highlighted the impor­tance of primordialism by stressing the continuity between modern nations and pre-modern ethnic communities, which he called 'ethnies'. This implies that there is little difference between ethnicity and nationality, modern nations essentially being updated versions of long-established ethnic communities, although Smith rejected the idea that these proto-nations have existed from time immemorial.

In contrast, modernist approaches to nationalism suggest that national identity is forged in response to changing situations and historical challenges. Ernest Gellner (1983) thus emphasised the degree to which nationalism is linked to modernisation, and in particular to the process of industrialisation. He stressed that, while pre-modern or 'agro-literate' societies were structured by a network of feudal bonds and loyalties, emerging industrial societies promoted social mobility, self-striving and competition, and so required a new source of cul­tural cohesion. This was provided by nationalism. Although Gellner's theory suggests that nations coalesced in response to particular social conditions and circumstances, it also implies that the national community is deep-rooted and enduring, as a return to pre-modern loyalties and identities is unthinkable. Ben­edict Anderson (1983) also portrayed modern nations as a product of socio­economic change, in his case stressing the combined impact of the emergence of capitalism and the advent of modern mass communications, which he dubbed 'print-capitalism'. In his view, the nation is an 'imagined community', in that, within nations, individuals only ever meet a tiny proportion of those with whom they supposedly share a national identity.

The idea that nations are 'imagined', not organic, communities has nevertheless been seized on by critics of nationalism. Constructivist approaches to nationalism regard national identity as very largely an ideological construct, usually serving the interests of powerful groups. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm (1983),

For example,. highlighted the extent to which nations are based on 'invented traditions'. Hobsbawm argued that a belief in historical continuity and cultural purity is invariably a myth, and, what is more, a myth created by nationalism itself Constructivism suggests that nationalism creates nations, not the other way round. In the case of Marxism, nationalism has been viewed as a device through which the ruling class counters the threat of social revolution by ensur­ing that national loyalty is stronger than class solidarity, thereby binding the working class to the existing power structure.


Nationalism as a political ideology only emerged when the idea of national community encountered the doctrine of popular sovereignty. This occurred during the French Revolution and was influenced by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although Rousseau did not specifically address the question of the nation, or discuss the phenomenon of nationalism, his stress on popular sovereignty, expressed in the idea of the 'general will', was the seed from which nationalist doctrines sprang. As a result of the Polish struggle for independence from Russia, he came to believe that this is vested in a culturally unified people. Rousseau argued that government should be based not on the absolute power of a monarch, but on the indivisible collective will of the entire community. During the French Revolution, these beliefs were reflected in the assertion that the French people were 'citizens' possessed of inalienable rights and duties, no longer merely 'subjects' of the crown. Sovereign power thus resided with the 'French nation'. The form of nationalism that emerged from the French Revolution was therefore based on the vision of a people or nation governing itself In other words, the nation is not merely a natural community: it is a natural political community.In this tradition of nationalism, nationhood and statehood are intrinsically linked. The litmus test of national identity is the desire to attain or maintain political independence, usually expressed in the principle of national self-determination.

The goal of nationalism is therefore the founding of a 'nation-state'. To date, this has been achieved in one of two ways. First, it may involve a process of unification. German history, for instance, has repeatedly witnessed unification. This occurred in medieval times under Charlemagne through the Holy Roman Empire; in the nineteenth century under Bismarck; and when the 'two Ger­manies' (East Germany and West Germany) were reunited in 1990. Second, nation-states can be created through the achievement of independence. For example, much of Polish history has witnessed successive attempts to achieve independence from the control of various foreign powers. Poland ceased to exist in 1793 when the Poles were partitioned by Austria, Russia and Prussia. Recognised by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, Poland was proclaimed in 1918 and became an independent republic. However, in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany and repartitioned, this time between Germany and the Soviet Union. Although Poland achieved formal independence in 1945, for much of the post-war period it remained firmly under Soviet control. The election of a non-communist government in 1989, therefore, marked a further liberation of the country from foreign control.

For nationalists, the nation-state is the highest and most desirable form of polit­ical organisation. The great strength of the nation-state is that it offers the pros­pect of both cultural cohesion and political unity. When a people who share a common cultural or ethnic identity gain the right to self-government, nation­ality and citizenship coincide. Moreover, nationalism legitimises the authority of government. Political sovereignty in a nation-state resides with the people or the nation itself Consequently, nationalism represents the notion of popular self-government, the idea that government is carried out either by the people or for the people, in accordance with their 'national interest.This is why national­ists believe that the forces that have created a world of independent nation-states are natural and irresistible, and that no other social group could constitute a meaningful political community. The nation-state, in short, is the only viable political unit.

However, it would be misleading to suggest that nationalism is always asso­ciated with the nation-state or is necessarily linked to the idea of self-determination. Some nations, for instance, may be satisfied with a measure of political autonomy that stops short of statehood and full independence. This can be seen in the case of Welsh nationalism in the UK, and Breton and Basque nationalism in France. Nationalism is thus not always associated with separatism, but may instead be expressed through federalism or devolution. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether devolution or even federalism establishes a sufficient measure of self-government to satisfy nationalist demands. The grant­ing of wide-ranging powers to the Basque region of Spain has failed to end ETA's separatist campaign, even though the organisation switched from military to democratic tactics in 2011 and completely disarmed in 2017. Similarly, the creation of a Scottish Parliament in the UK in 1999 has not ended the Scottish National Party's campaign to achieve an independent Scotland, which continues despite the failure of the 2015 independence referendum. In the case of the autonomous, community of Catalonia in Spain, an independence referendum held in 2017, declared illegal by the Spanish government, resulted in a 91 per cent 'yes' vote and gave impetus to the long-standing struggle for secession


Although 'classical' nationalism is associated with political goals — most commonly the pursuit, or defence, of independent statehood — other forms of nationalism are related more closely to ethnocultural aspirations and demands. This applies particularly in the case of cultural nationalism and ethnic nationalism. Cultural nationalism is a form of nationalism that 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 people with a means of 'recreating' itself. An example being the revival of native North American indigenous cultures in the twentieth Century

Whereas Rousseau is commonly seen as the 'father' of political civic national­ism, Johann Herder (see below) is usually viewed as the architect of cultural nationalism. Herder, together with writers such as Johann Fichte (1762-1814) and Friedrich Jahn (1778-1852), highlighted what they believed to be the uniqueness and superiority of German culture, in contrast to the ideas of the French Revolution. Herder believed that each nation possesses a Volksgeist which reveals itself in songs, myths and legends, and provides a nation with its source of creativity. Herder's nationalism therefore amounts to a form of culturalism. In this light, the role of nationalism is to develop an awareness and appreciation of national traditions and collective memories rather than to provide the basis for an overtly political quest for statehood. The tendency for nationalism to be expressed through cultural regeneration was particularly marked in nineteenth-century Germany, where it was reflected in the revival of folk traditions and the rediscovery of German myths and legends. The Brothers Grimm, for example, collected and published German folk tales, and the com­poser Richard Wagner (1813-83) based many of his operas on ancient myths.

Although cultural nationalism has often emerged within a European context, with early German nationalism sometimes being viewed as its archetypal form, cultural nationalism has been found in many parts of the world. It was, for instance, evident in black nationalism in the USA, as articulated by figures such as Marcus Garvey (see below) and by 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. However, there has been disagreement about the implications of viewing nations primarily as cultural communities rather than political communities. On the one hand, cultural forms of nationalism have been viewed as being tolerant, and consistent with progressive political goals, in which case cultural nationalism clearly differs from ethnic nationalism, even though the terms 'culture' and `ethnicity' overlap. 'Ethnicity' refers to loyalty towards a distinctive population, cultural group or territorial area. The term is complex because it has both racial and cultural overtones. Members of ethnic groups are often seen, correctly or incorrectly, to have descended from common ancestors, suggesting that ethnic groups are extended kinship groups, united by blood. A further indication of ethnic belonging is a link with an ancient or historic territory, a 'homeland', as in the case of ZionismKey concept ... RACISM

Racism ('racism' and 'racialism' are now generally treated as synonymous) is, broadly, the belief that political or social conclusions can be drawn from the idea that humankind is divided into biologically distinct races. Racist theories are thus based on two assumptions. The first is that there are fundamental genetic, or species-type, differences among the peoples of the world — racial differences matter. The second is that these genetic divisions are reflected in cultural, intellectual and/or moral differences, making them politically or socially significant. Political racism is manifest in calls for racial segregation (for example, apartheid) and in doctrines of 'blood' superiority or inferiority (for example, Aryanism or anti-Semitism). 'Institutionalised' racism operates through the norms and values of an institution.

As it is not possible to 'join' an ethnic group (except perhaps through intermar­riage) , ethnic nationalism has a clearly exclusive character and tends to over­lap with racism (see above). On the other hand, cultural and ethnic forms of nationalism have been viewed as closely related, even as part of the same phe­nomenon, commonly termed 'ethnocultural nationalism'. In this view, a dis­tinction is drawn between inclusive or 'open' political nationalism and exclusive or 'closed' cultural nationalism. Cultural nationalism, from this perspective, is often taken to be, either implicitly or explicitly, chauvinistic or hostile towards other nations or minority groups, being fuelled by a mixture of pride and fear. To the extent that cultural nationalism is associated with demands for assimila­tion and cultural 'purity', it becomes incompatible with multiculturalism


Political nationalism is a highly complex phenomenon, being characterised more by ambiguity and contradictions than by a single set of values and goals. For example, nationalism has been both liberating and oppressive: it has brought about self-government and freedom, and it has led to conquest and subjugation. Nationalism has been both progressive and regressive: it has looked to a future of national independence or national greatness, and it has celebrated past national glories and entrenched established identities. Nationalism has also been both rational and irrational: it has appealed to principled beliefs, such as national self-determination, and it has bred from non-rational drives and emotions, including ancient fears and hatreds. This reflects the capacity of nationalism to fuse with and absorb other political doctrines and ideas, thereby creating a series of rival nationalist traditions. The oldest and, some argue, 'classical' nationalist tradition is liberal nationalism.

Liberal nationalism dates back to the French Revolution and embodies many of its values. Its ideas spread quickly through much of Europe and were expressed most clearly by Giuseppe Mazzini . They also influenced the remarkable exploits of Simon Bolivar, who led the Latin American independ­ence movement in the early nineteenth century and expelled the Spanish from much of Hispanic America. US President Woodrow Wilson's 'Fourteen Points', proposed as the basis for the reconstruction of Europe after World War I, were also based on liberal nationalist principles. Moreover, many twentieth-century anti-colonial leaders were inspired by liberal ideas, as in the case of Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925), one of the leaders of China's 1911 Revolution, and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) , the first prime minister of India.

The ideas of liberal nationalism were clearly shaped by Rousseau's defence of popular sovereignty, expressed in particular in the notion of the 'general will'

As the nineteenth century progressed, the aspiration for popular self-government was fused progressively with liberal principals. The fusion was brought about by the fact that the multinational empires against which nationalists fought were also autocratic and oppressive. Mazzini, for example, wished the Italian states to unite, but this also entailed throwing off the influence of autocratic Austria. For many European revolutionaries in the mid-nineteenth century, liberalism and nationalism were virtually indistinguishable. Indeed, their nationalist creed was largely forged by applying liberal ideas, initially developed in relation to the individual, to the nation and to international politics.

Liberalism was founded on a defence of individual freedom, traditionally expressed in the language of rights. Nationalists believed nations to be-sover­eign entities, entitled to liberty, and also possessing rights, the most important being the right of self-determination. Liberal nationalism is therefore a liber­ating force in two senses. First, it opposes all forms of foreign domination and oppression, whether by multinational empires or colonial powers. Second, it stands for the ideal of self-government, reflected in practice in a belief in consti­tutionalism and representation. Woodrow Wilson, for example, argued in favour not only of a Europe composed of nation-states, but also one in which political democracy rather than autocracy ruled. For him, only a democratic republic, on the US model, could be a genuine nation-state.

Furthermore, liberal nationalists believe that nations, like individuals, are equal, at least in the sense that they are equally entitled to the right of self-determination. The ultimate goal of liberal nationalism is, therefore, the con­struction of a world of independent nation-states, not merely the unification or independence of a particular nation. In Considerations on Representative Government ([1861] 1972), John Stuart Mill expressed this as the principle that 'the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of nationality'. Mazzini formed the clandestine organisation 'Young Italy' to promote the idea of a united Italy, but he also founded 'Young Europe' in the hope of spreading nationalist ideas throughout the continent. At the Paris Peace Conference, Woodrow Wilson advanced the principle of self-determination not simply because the break-up of the European empire served US national interests, but because he believed that the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and so on all had the same right to political independence that Americans already enjoyed.

Liberals also believe that the principle of balance or natural harmony applies to the nations of the world, not just to individuals within society. The achievement of national self-determination is a means of establishing a peaceful and stable international order. Wilson believed that World War I had been caused by an 'old order', dominated by autocratic and militaristic empires. Democratic nation-states, on the other hand, would respect the national sovereignty of their neighbours and have no incentive to wage war or subjugate others. For a liberal, nationalism does not divide nations from one another, promoting distrust, rivalry and possibly war. Rather, it is a force that is capable of promoting both unity within each nation and brotherhood among all nations on the basis of mutual respect for national rights and characteristics. At heart, liberalism looks beyond the nation to the ideas of cosmopolitanism and internationalism.


Internationalism is the theory or practice of politics based on transnational or global cooperation. It is rooted in universalist assumptions about human nature that put it at odds with political nationalism, the latter emphasising the degree to which political identity is shaped by nationality. However, internationalism is compatible with nationalism in the sense that it calls for cooperation or solidarity between or among pre-existing nations, rather than for the removal or abandonment of national identities altogether. Internationalism thus differs from cosmopolitanism (see p. 198), the latter implying the displacement of national allegiances by global allegiances. `Weak' forms of internationalism can be seen in doctrines such as feminism, racism and religious fundamentalism, which hold that national ties are secondary to other political bonds. 'Strong' forms of internationalism have usually drawn on the universalist ideas of either liberalism or socialism.

Liberal internationalism is grounded in a fear of an international 'state of nature'. Liberals have long accepted that national self-determination is a mixed blessing. While it preserves self-government and forbids foreign control, it also creates a world of sovereign nation-states in which each nation has the freedom to pursue its own interests, possibly at the expense of other nations. Liberal nationalists have certainly accepted that constitutionalism and democracy reduce the tendency towards militarism and war, but when sovereign nations operate within conditions of 'international anarchy', self-restraint alone may not be sufficient to ensure what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) called `perpetual peace'. Liberals have generally proposed two means of preventing a recourse to conquest and plunder. The first is national interdependence, aimed at promoting mutual understanding and cooperation. This is why liberals have traditionally supported the policy of free trade: economic interdependence means that the material costs of international conflict are so great that warfare becomes virtually unthinkable. Second, Liberals have proposed that national ambition should be checked by the construction of international organisa­tions capable of bringing order to an otherwise lawless international scene. This explains Woodrow Wilson's support for the first, if flawed, experiment in world government, the League of Nations, set up in 1919, and the far wider support for its successor, the United Nations, founded by the San Francisco Conference of 1945. Liberals have looked to these bodies to establish a law-governed state system to make possible the peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

However, critics of liberal nationalism have sometimes suggested that its ideas are naïve and romantic. Liberal nationalists see the progressive and liberating face of nationalism; their nationalism is rational and tolerant. However, they perhaps ignore the darker face of nationalism, the irrational bonds or tribalism that distinguish `us' from a foreign and threatening 'them'. Liberals see nation­alism as a universal principle, but have less understanding of the emotional power of nationalism, which has, in times of war, persuaded individuals to kill or die for their country, regardless of the justice of their nation's cause. Liberal nationalism is also misguided in its belief that the nation-state is the key to polit­ical and international harmony. The mistake of Wilsonian nationalism was the belief that nations live in convenient and discrete geographical areas, and that states can be constructed that coincide with these areas. In practice, all so-called `nation-states' comprise a range of linguistic, religious, ethnic or regional groups, some of which may also consider themselves to be 'nations'. For exam­ple, in 1918 the newly created nation-states of Czechoslovakia and Poland con­tained a significant number of German speakers, and Czechoslovakia itself was a fusion of two major ethnic groups: the Czechs and the Slovaks. The former Yugoslavia, also created by the Treaty of Versailles, contained a bewildering variety of ethnic groups — Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians and so on — which have subsequently realised their aspiration for nationhood. In fact, the ideal of a politically unified and culturally homogeneous nation-state can only be achieved by forcibly deporting minority groups and imposing an out­right ban on immigration.


In the early nineteenth century, conservatives regarded nationalism as a radical and dangerous force, a threat to order and political stability. However, as the century progressed, conservative statesmen such as Disraeli, Bismarck and even Tsar Alexander III became increasingly sympathetic towards nationalism, seeing it as a natural ally in maintaining social order and defending traditional institutions. In the modern period, nationalism has become an article of faith for most conservatives in most parts of the world. Conservative nationalism tends to develop in established nation-states, rather than in those that are in the process of nation building. Conservatives care less for the principled nationalism of universal self-determination and more about the promise of social cohesion and public order embodied in the sentiment of national patriotism. For conservatives, society is organic: they believe that nations emerge naturally from the desire of human beings to live with oth­ers who possess the same views, habits and appearance as themselves. Human beings are thought to be limited and imperfect creatures, who seek meaning and security within the national community. Therefore, the principal goal of conservative nationalism is to maintain national unity by fostering patriotic loyalty and `pride in one's country', especially in the face of the divisive idea of class solidarity preached by socialists. Indeed, by incorporating the working class into the nation, conservatives have often seen nationalism as the antidote to social revolution. Charles de Gaulle, French president 1959-69, harnessed nationalism to the conservative cause in France with particular skill. De Gaulle appealed to national pride by pursuing an independent, even anti-American, defence and foreign policy, and by attempting to restore order and authority to social life and build up a powerful state. In some respects, Thatcherism in the UK amounted to a British form of Gaullism, in that it fused an appeal based on nationalism, or at least national independence within Europe, with the promise of strong government and firm leadership.

The conservative character of nationalism is maintained by an appeal to tradition and history; nationalism thereby becomes a defence for traditional institutions and a traditional way of life. Conservative nationalism is essentially nostalgic and backward-looking, reflecting on a past age of national glory or triumph. This is evident in the widespread tendency to use ritual and com­memoration to present past military victories as defining moments in a nation's history. It is also apparent in the use of traditional institutions as symbols of national identity. This occurs in the case of British, or, more accurately, English nationalism, which is closely linked to the institution of monarchy. Britain (plus Northern Ireland) is the United Kingdom, its national anthem is 'God Save the Queen', and the royal family plays a prominent role in national celebrations such as Armistice Day, and on state occasions such as the opening of Parliament.

Conservative nationalism is particularly prominent when the sense of national identity is felt to be threatened or in danger of being lost. The issues of immi­gration and supranationalism have therefore helped to keep this form of nationalism alive in many modern states. Conservative reservations about immigration stem from the belief that cultural diversity leads to instability and conflict. As stable and successful societies must be based on shared values and a common culture, either immigration, particularly from societies with dif­ferent religious and other traditions, should be firmly restricted or minority ethnic groups should be encouraged to assimilate into the culture of the `host' society. This puts conservative nationalism clearly at odds with multiculturalism. Conservative nationalists are also concerned about the threat that supranational bodies, such as the EU, pose to national iden­tity and so to the cultural bonds of society. This is expressed in the UK in the form of`Euroscepticism', particularly strong within the Conservative Party, with similar views being expressed in continental Europe by a variety of far-right groups such as the French National Front. Eurosceptics not only defend sov­ereign national institutions and a distinctive national currency on the grounds that they are vital symbols of national identity, but also warn that the 'European project' is fatally misconceived because a stable political union cannot be forged out of such national, linguistic and cultural diversity.

Although conservative politicians and parties have derived considerable political benefit from their appeal to nationalism, opponents have sometimes pointed out that their ideas are based on misguided assumptions. In the first place, con­servative nationalism can be seen as a form of elite manipulation. The 'nation' is invented and certainly defined by political leaders who may use it for their own purposes. This is most evident in times of war or international crisis, when the nation is mobilised to fight for the `fatherland' by emotional appeals to patriotic duty. Furthermore, conservative nationalism may also serve to promote intolerance and bigotry. By insisting on the maintenance of cultural purity and established traditions, conservatives may portray immigrants, or foreigners in general, as a threat, and in the process promote, or at least legitimise, racist and xenophobic fears.


In many countries the dominant image of nationalism is one of aggression and militarism, quite the opposite of a principled belief in national self-determination. The aggressive face of nationalism became apparent in the late nineteenth century as European powers indulged in a 'scramble for Africa' in the name of national glory and their 'place in the sun'. The imperialism of the late nineteenth century differed from that of earlier periods of colonial expansion in that it was supported by a climate of popular nationalism: national prestige was linked increasingly to the possession of an empire and each colonial victory was greeted by demonstrations of public approval. In the UK, a new word, jingoism, was coined to describe this mood of popular nationalism. In the early twentieth century, the growing rivalry of the European powers divided the continent into two armed camps, the Triple Entente, comprising the UK, France and Russia, and the Triple Alliance, containing Germany, Austria and Italy. When world war eventually broke out in August 1914, after a prolonged arms race and a succession of international crises, it provoked public rejoicing in all the major cities of Europe. Aggressive and expansionist nationalism reached its high point in the inter-war period when the authoritarian or fascist regimes of Japan, Italy and Germany embarked on policies of imperial expansion and world domination, eventually leading to war in 1939.

What distinguished this form of nationalism from earlier liberal nationalism was its chauvinism, a term derived from the name of Nicolas Chauvin, a French soldier who had been fanatically devoted to Napoleon I. Nations were not thought to be equal in their right to self-determination; rather, some nations were believed to possess characteristics or qualities that made them superior to others. Such ideas were clearly evident in European imperialism, which was justified by an ideology of racial and cultural superiority. In nineteenth-century Europe it was widely believed that the 'white' peoples of Europe and America were intellectually and morally superior to the 'black', 'brown' and 'yellow' peoples of Africa and Asia. Indeed, Europeans portrayed imperialism as a moral duty: colonial peoples were the 'white man's burden'. Imperialism supposedly brought the benefits of civilisation, and in particular Christianity, to the less fortunate and less sophisticated peoples of the world.

More particular varieties of national chauvinism have developed in the form of pan-nationalism. In Russia this took the form of pan-Slavism, sometimes called `Slavophile nationalism', which was particularly strong in the late nine¬teenth and early twentieth centuries. The Russians are Slays, and enjoy linguis¬tic and cultural links with other Slavic peoples in eastern and south-eastern Europe. Pan-Slavism was defined by the goal of Slavic unity, which many Russian nationalists believed to be their country's historic mission. In the years before 1914, such 'ideas brought Russia into growing conflict with Austria-Hungary for control of the Balkans. The chauvinistic character of pan-Slavism derived from the belief that the Russians are the natural leaders of the Slavic people, and that the Slays are culturally and spiritually superior to the peoples of central or western Europe. Pan-Slavism is therefore both anti-western and anti-liberal. Forms of pan-Slavism have been re-awakened since 1991 and the collapse of communist rule in Russia.

Traditional German nationalism also exhibited a marked chauvinism, which was born out of defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. Figures such as Johann Fichte and Friedrich Jahn reacted strongly against France and the ideals of its revolu­tion, emphasising instead the uniqueness of German culture and its language, and the racial purity of its people. After unification in 1871, German nation­alism developed a pronounced chauvinistic character with the emergence of pressure groups such as the Pan-German League and the Navy League, which campaigned for closer ties with German-speaking Austria and for a German empire, Germany's 'place in the sun'. Pan-Germanism was an expansionist and aggressive form of nationalism that envisaged the creation of a German-dominated Europe. German chauvinism found its highest expression in the racialist and anti-Semitic doctrines developed by the Nazis. The Nazis adopted the expansionist goals of pan-Germanism with enthusiasm, but justified them in the language of biology rather than politics.

National chauvinism breeds from a feeling of intense, even hysterical nation­alist enthusiasm. The individual as a separate, rational being is swept away on a tide of patriotic emotion, expressed in the desire for aggression, expansion and war. Charles Maurras called such intense patriotism 'integral nationalism'. Such militant nationalism is often accompanied by militarism. Military glory and conquest are the ultimate evidence of national greatness and have been capable of generating intense feelings of nationalist commitment.Key Concept: Fascism

Fascism is a political ideology whose core theme is the idea of an organically unified national community, embodied in a belief in 'strength through unity'. The individual, in a literal sense, is nothing; individual identity must be entirely absorbed into the community or social group. The fascist ideal is that of the 'new man', a hero, motivated by duty, honour and a willingness to sacrifice his life for the glory of his nation or race, and to give unquestioning obedience to a supreme leader. While Italian fascism was essentially an extreme form of statism, based on absolute loyalty towards a 'totalitarian; state', German fascism, or Nazism, was founded on racial theories, which portrayed the Aryan people as a 'master race' and advanced a virulent form of anti-Semitism.

The civilian population is, in effect, militarised: it is infected by the martial val­ues of absolute loyalty, complete dedication and willing self-sacrifice. When the honour or integrity of the nation is in question, the lives of ordinary citizens become unimportant. Such emotional intensity was amply demonstrated in August 1914, and perhaps also underlies the emotional power of jihad (crudely defined as `holy war') from the viewpoint of militant Islamist groups.

National chauvinism has a particularly strong appeal for the isolated and powerless, for whom nationalism offers the prospect of security, self-respect and pride. Militant or integral nationalism requires a heightened sense of belonging to a distinct national group. Such intense nationalist feeling is often stimulated by 'negative integration', the portrayal of another nation or race as a threat or an enemy. In the face of the enemy, the nation draws together and experiences an intensified sense of its own identity and importance. National chauvinism therefore breeds from a clear distinction between `them' and 'us'. There has to be a 'them' to deride or hate in order to forge a sense of `us'. In politics, national chauvinism has commonly been reflected in racist ideologies, which divide the world into an 'in group' and an 'out group', in which the 'out group' becomes a scapegoat for all the misfortunes and frustrations suffered by the 'in group'. It is, therefore, no coincidence that chauvinistic political creeds are a breeding ground for racist ideas. Both pan-Slavism and pan-Germanism, for example, have been characterised by virulent anti-Semitism


Nationalism may have been born in Europe, but it became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to imperialism. The experience of colonial rule helped to forge a sense of nationhood and a desire for 'national liberation' among the peoples of Asia and Africa, and gave rise to a specifically anti-colonial form of nationalism. During the twentieth century, the political geography of much of the world was transformed by anti-colonialism. Although the Treaty of Versailles applied the principle of self-determination to Europe, it was conveniently ignored in other parts of the world, where German colonies were simply transferred to UK and French control. However, during the inter-war period, independence movements increasingly threatened the overstretched empires of the UK and France. The final collapse of the European empires came after World War II. In some cases, a combination of mounting nationalist pressure and declining domestic economic performance persuaded colonial powers to depart relatively peacefully, as occurred in India and Pakistan in 1947 and in Malaysia in 1957. However, decolonisation in the post-1945 period was often characterised by revolution, and sometimes periods of armed struggle. This occurred, for instance, in the case of China, 1937-45 (against Japan), Algeria, 1954-62 (against France), and Vietnam, 1946-54 (against France) and 1964-75 (against the USA).

In a sense, the colonising Europeans had taken with them the seed of their own destruction: the doctrine of nationalism. For example, it is notable that many of the leaders of independence or liberation movements were western-educated. It is therefore not surprising that anti-colonial movements sometimes articulated their goals in the language of liberal nationalism, reminiscent of Mazzini or Woodrow Wilson. However, emergent African and Asian nations were in a very different position from that of the newly created European states of the nine­teenth and early twentieth centuries. For these African and Asian nations, the quest for political independence was closely related to their awareness of eco­nomic under-development and their subordination to the industrialised states of Europe and North America. Anti-colonialism thus came to express the desire for national liberation in both political and economic terms, and this has left its mark on the form of nationalism practised in the developing world.

Some forms of anti-colonial nationalism nevertheless distanced themselves more clearly from western political traditions by constructing non-Euro­pean models of national liberation. This had a range of implications, how­ever. For example, the Indian spiritual and religious leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) advanced a political philosophy that fused Indian nationalism with an ethic of non-violence and self-sacrifice that was ultimately rooted in Hinduism. `Home rule' for India was thus a spiritual condition, and not merely a political one, a stance underpinned by Gandhi's anti-industrialism, famously embodied in his wearing of home-spun clothes. In contrast, the Martinique-born French revolutionary theorist Frantz Fanon (1925-61) emphasised links between the anti-colonial struggle and violence. His theory of imperialism stressed the psy­chological dimension of colonial subjugation. For Fanon (1965), colonisation was not simply a political process, but also one through which a new 'species' of human is created. He argued that only the cathartic experience of violence is powerful enough to bring about this psycho-political regeneration.

However, most of the leaders of Asian and African anti-colonial movements were attracted to some form of socialism, ranging from the moderate and peaceful ideas represented by Gandhi and Nehru in India, to the revolutionary Marxism espoused by Mao Zedong (1893-1976) in China, Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) in Vietnam and Fidel Castro (1926-2016) in Cuba. On the surface, socialism is more clearly related to internationalism than to nationalism. This reflects the stress within socialism, first, on social class, class loyalties having an intrinsically transnational character, and, at a deeper level, on the idea of a common humanity. Marx (see p. 67) thus declared in The Communist Manifesto that 'working men have no country'.

Socialist ideas nevertheless appealed powerfully to nationalists in the developing world. This was partly because socialism embodies values such as community and cooperation that are deeply entrenched in traditional, pre-industrial societies. More important, socialism, and in particular Marxism, provided an analysis of inequality and exploitation through which the colonial experience could be understood and colonial rule challenged. During the 1960s and 1970s, in particular, develop­ing-world nationalists were drawn to revolutionary Marxism, influenced by the belief that colonialism is in practice an extended form of class oppression.

The Russian Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin (1870— 1924) had earlier provided the basis for such a view by portraying imperialism as essentially an economic phe­nomenon, a quest for profit by capitalist countries seeking investment oppor­tunities, cheap labour and raw materials, and secure markets (Lenin, [1916] 1970). The class struggle thus became a struggle against colonial exploitation and oppression. As a result, the overthrow of colonial rule implied not only political independence, but also a social revolution which would bring about economic as well as political emancipation.

In some cases, developing-world regimes have openly embraced Marxist—Leninist principles. On achieving independence, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia moved swiftly to seize foreign assets and nationalise economic resources. They founded one-party states and centrally planned economies, closely following the Soviet model. In other cases, states in Africa and the Mid­dle East have developed a less ideological form of nationalistic socialism, as has been evident in Algeria, Libya, Zambia, Iraq and South Yemen. The 'socialism' proclaimed in such countries usually took the form of an appeal to a unifying national cause or interest, in most cases economic or social development, as in the case of so-called 'African socialism', embraced, for instance, by Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Angola.

The postcolonial period has thrown up quite different forms of national­ism, however. With the authority of socialism, and especially the attraction of Marxism—Leninism, declining significantly since the 1970s, nation building in the postcolonial period has been shaped increasingly by the rejection of west­ern ideas and culture more than by the attempt to reapply them. If the West is regarded as the source of oppression and exploitation, postcolonial nationalism must seek an anti-western voice. In part, this has been a reaction against the dominance of western, and particularly US, culture and economic power in much of the developing world.

The principal vehicle for expressing such views has been religious fundamental­ism. Although Islam in particular has thrown up a comprehensive programme of political renewal, in the form of Islamism, most fundamentalist religious move­ments have been more narrowly concerned with helping to clarify or redefine national or ethnic identity, examples being associated with Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. Hindu fundamentalism has been expressed in calls for the `Hinduisation' of Muslim, Sikh and other communities in India. The Bhara­tiya Janata Party (BJP) has been the largest party in the Indian parliament since 1996, articulating, as it does, the newly prosperous middle classes' ambivalence towards modernity and, particularly, its concerns about a weakening of national identity. The more radical World Hindu Council preaches 'India for the Hindus', while its parent body, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), aims to create a `Greater India', stretching from Burma to Iraq. Sikh fundamentalism is associ­ated with the struggle to found an independent nation-state, lhalistan', located in the present-day Punjab, with Sikhism as the state religion and its government obliged to ensure its unhindered flourishing. Jewish fundamentalists have trans­formed Zionism into a defence of the 'Greater Land of Israel', characterised by territorial aggressiveness. In the case of Israel's best-known fundamentalist group, Gushmun Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) , this has been expressed in a campaign to build Jewish settlements in territory occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967. Buddhist nationalism has been evident in both Sri Lanka and Burma, in the former case being associated with the `Sinhalisation' of national identity and the war waged against Tamil separatism, finally crushed in 2009.