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Nationalism generally involves the identification of an ethnic identity with a state.nation is of primary importance. It is also used to describe a movement to establish or protect a homeland (usually an autonomous state) for an ethnic group. In some cases the identification of a homogeneous national culture is combined with a negative view of other races of cultures.

In former eras, people were generally loyal to a city or to a particular leader rather than to their nation. Nationalism is usually considered to be a modern phenomenon, with origins in the 18th century, in the ultra-nationalist party in Francemarker during the French Revolution. Nationalism is sometimes reactionary, calling for a return to an idealized version of the national past and sometimes for the expulsion of foreigners. Other forms of nationalism are revolutionary, calling for the establishment of an independent state as a homeland for an ethnic underclass.

Nationalism emphasises collective identity - a 'people' must be autonomous, united, and express a single national culture. However, some nationalists stress individualism as an important part of their own national identity.


The term was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder (nationalismus) during the late 1770s. Precisely where and when nationalism emerged is difficult to determine, but its development is closely related to that of the modern state and the push for popular sovereignty that came to a head with the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Since that time, nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history, perhaps most notably as a major influence or cause of World War I and especially World War II. Fascism, which stresses absolute loyalty and obedience, and the idea that one nation, race, or group is naturally superior to all others, and has a right to conqueror or exterminate inferior nations, races, or groups, is an extreme form of nationalism.Koln, Hans; Calhoun, Craig. The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in its Origins and Background. Transaction Publishers. Pp 20.
University of California. 1942. Journal of Central European Affairs. Volume 2.

Varieties of nationalism


When nationalism is pushed to an extreme, it not only justifies wars against other nations, as in the Germanmarker invasion of Polandmarker at the beginning of World War II, but it is also used to justify attacks against ones fellow citizens, as in the Nazi assertion that Jews are not really citizens. This kind of nationalism often has as its avowed goal racial, ethnic, or religious purity. Since most states are multicultural, nationalism often leads to conflict within a state, as well as between states, and in its extreme form leads to war, secession, or genocide.National flags, national anthems, and other symbols of national identity are often considered sacred, as if they were religious rather than political symbols. Deep emotions are aroused. Some scholars see the word "nationalism" as pejorative, standing in opposition to a more positive term, patriotism.

Fascism is a form of authoritarian ultra-nationalismKoln, Hans; Calhoun, Craig. The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in its Origins and Background. Transaction Publishers. Pp 20.
University of California. 1942. Journal of Central European Affairs. Volume 2. which promotes national revolution, national collectivism, a totalitarian state, and irredentism or expansionism to unify and allow the growth of a nation. Fascists often promote ethnic nationalism but have at times promoted cultural nationalism including cultural assimilation of people outside a specific ethnic group. Fascism stresses the subservience of the individual to the state, and the need to absolute and unquestioned loyalty to a strong ruler.

National purity

Some nationalists exclude certain groups. They view people who are, in fact, citizens of their nation, as beling not really citizens, in some sense, and therefore not protected by the rights afforded "real" citizens. For example, George H. W. Bush said, "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

Sometimes a mythic homeland is more important for the national identity than the actual territory occupied by the nation.

Nationalism may manifest itself as part of official state ideology or as a populist movement independent of or even in conflict with the government.

Civic nationalism

Civic nationalism defines the nation as an association of people with equal and shared political rights, and allegiance to similar political procedures. According to the principles of civic nationalism the nation is not based on common ethnic ancestry, but is a political entity, whose core is not ethnicity. This civic concept of nationalism is examplified by Ernest Renan in his lecture in 1882 "Where is the nation?", where he defined the nation as a "daily plebiscite dependent on the will of its people to continue living together".

Ethnic nationalism

Ethnic nationalism is based on the hereditary connections of people. Ethnic nationalism specifically seeks to unite all people of a certain ethnicity heritage together. Ethnic nationalism does not seek to include people of other ethnicities.

Expansionist nationalism

Expansionist nationalism promote expansion into new territories, usually with the claim that the existing territory is too small or is not able to physically or economically sustain the nation's population. One example of this is Adolf Hitler's territorial demands.

Left-wing nationalism

Many nationalist movements in the world 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.

Left-wing nationalism (also occasionally known as "socialist nationalism") refers to any political movement that combines left-wing politics with nationalism. Notable examples include Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement that launched the Cuban Revolution ousting the American-backed Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Irelandmarker's Sinn Fein, Labor Zionism in Israelmarker and the African National Congress in South Africa.

Stateless Nationalism

With the establishment of a nation-state, the primary goal of any nationalist movement has been achieved. However, nationalism does not disappear but remains a political force within the nation, and inspires political parties and movements. The development of state nationalism leads to the development of stateless nationalism movements that feel oppressed by the mainstream nationalistic conception of the nation — such as the "eternal Spain", "La Grande France" - and aspire at setting up their own state either within the nation state or a state of its own.

Stateless Nationalists in this sense typically campaign for:
  • Defending from strengthening national unity, including campaigns for national salvation in times of crisis.
  • Confronting nation state policies that attempt to impose a model of political behaviour from the top.
  • Unlike state nationalism, it is more open to foreign influences. Influenced by civic liberalism, stateless nationalists reject the extreme xenophobia of state nationalist parties.
  • Attempting to make borders flexible so as to collaborate with neighbouring territories sharing common interests.
  • Redefining the national territory which is considered part of the national homeland. This is called irredentism, from the Italian movement Italia irredenta.
  • Small nations cannot survive unless they are opened to foreign trade so that they reject economic nationalism of nation states.

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

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

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


Nationalism does not necessarily imply a belief in the superiority of one ethnicity over others, but some people believe that some so-called nationalists support ethnocentric protectionism or ethnocentric supremacy. Studies have yielded evidence that such behaviour may be derived from innate preferences in humans from infancy.

In the USA for example, non-indigenous ethnocentric nationalist movements exist for both so-called "black" and "white" peoples. These forms of "nationalism" often promote or glorify foreign nations that they believe can serve as an example for their own nation, see Anglophilia or Afrocentrism.

Explicit biological race theory was influential from the end of the 19th century. Nationalist and Fascist movements in the first half of the 20th century often appealed to these theories. The National Socialist ideology was amongst the most comprehensively "racial" ideologies: the concept of "race" influenced aspects of policy in Nazi Germany.In the 21st century the term "race" is no longer regarded by many people as a meaningful term to describe the range of human phenotype clusters ; the term ethnocentrism is a more accurate and meaningful term.

Ethnic cleansing is often seen as both a nationalist and ethnocentrist phenomenon. It is part of nationalist logic that the state is reserved for one nation, but not all nationalist nation-states expel their minorities.

Opposition and critique

Nationalism is sometimes an extremely assertive ideology, making far-reaching demands, including the disappearance of entire states. It has attracted vehement opposition. Much of the early opposition to nationalism was related to its geopolitical ideal of a separate state for every nation. The classic nationalist movements of the 19th century rejected the very existence of the multi-ethnic empires in Europe. This resulted in severe repression by the (generally autocratic) governments of those empires. That tradition of secessionism, repression, and violence continues, although by now a large nation typically confronts a smaller nation. 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 analyses that were critical of the nationalist movements then active in central and eastern Europe (though a variety of other contemporary socialists and communists, from Lenin (a communist) to Józef Piłsudski (a socialist), were more sympathetic to national self-determination). Most sociological theories of nationalism date from after the Second World War.

In the liberal political tradition there is widespread criticism of ‘nationalism’ as a dangerous force and a cause of conflict and war between nation-states. Nationalism has often been exploited to encourage citizens to partake in the nations conflicts. Such examples include The Great War and World War Two, where nationalism was a key component of propaganda material. Liberals do not generally dispute the existence of the nation-states. The liberal critique also emphasizes individual freedom as opposed to national identity, which is by definition collective (see collectivism).

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. Famous pacifist Bertrand Russell criticizes nationalism of diminishing individual's capacity to judge his or her fatherland's foreign policy. William Blum has said this in other words: "If love is blind, patriotism has lost all five senses"

The anti-racist critique of nationalism concentrates on the attitudes to other nations, and especially on the doctrine that the nation-state exists for one national group, to the exclusion of others. It emphasizes the chauvinism and xenophobia that have often resulted from nationalist sentiment.

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

Anarchism has developed a critique of nationalism that focuses on its role in justifying and consolidating state power and domination. Through its unifiying goal it strives for centralization both in specific terrotories and in a ruling elite of individuals while it prepares a population for capitalist exploitation. Within anarchism this subject has been trated extensively by Rudolf Rocker in Nationalism and Culture and by the works of Fredy Perlman such as Against His-Story, Against Leviathan and "The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism".

In the Western world the most comprehensive current ideological alternative to nationalism is cosmopolitanism. Ethical cosmopolitanism rejects one of the basic ethical principles of nationalism: that humans owe more duties to a fellow member of the nation, than to a non-member. It rejects such important nationalist values as national identity and national loyalty. However, there is also a political cosmopolitanism, which has a geopolitical program to match that of nationalism: it seeks some form of world state, with a world government. Very few people openly and explicitly support the establishment of a global state, but political cosmopolitanism has influenced the development of international criminal law, and the erosion of the status of national sovereignty. In turn, nationalists are deeply suspicious of cosmopolitan attitudes, which they equate with eradication of diverse national cultures.

While internationalism in the cosmopolitan context by definition implies cooperation among nations and states, and therefore the existence of nations, proletarian internationalism is different, in that it calls for the international working class to follow its brethren in other countries irrespective of the activities or pressures of the national government of a particular sector of that class. Meanwhile, most (but not all) anarchists reject nation-states on the basis of self-determination of the majority social class, and thus reject nationalism. Instead of nations, anarchists usually advocate the creation of cooperative societies based on free association and mutual aid without regard to ethnicity or race.

See also

Related lists


  1. Thomas Blank and Peter Schmidt, National Identity in a United Germany: Nationalism or Patriotism? An Empirical Test with Representative Data, in Political Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 2, (2003)
  2. Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism, p. 17-20, Polity, 2002, ISBN: 978-0745626598.
  3. Laqueuer, Walter." Comparative Study of Fascism" by Juan J. Linz. Fascism, A Reader's Guide: Analyses, interpretations, Bibliography. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976. Pp. 15 "Fascism is above all a nationalist movement and therefore wherever the nation and the state are strongly identified."
  4. Laqueur, Walter. Fascism: Past, Present, Future. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 90. "the common belief in nationalism, hierarchical structures, and the leader principle."
  5. "Goebbels on National-Socialism, Bolshevism and Democracy, Documents on International Affairs, vol. II, 1938, pp. 17-19. Accessed from the Jewish Virtual Library on February 5, 2009. [1]Joseph Goebbels describes the Nazis as being allied with countries which had "authoritarian nationalist" ideology and conception of the state "It enables us to see at once why democracy and Bolshevism, which in the eyes of the world are irrevocably opposed to one another, meet again and again on common ground in their joint hatred of and attacks on authoritarian nationalist concepts of State and State systems. For the authoritarian nationalist conception of the State represents something essentially new. In it the French Revolution is superseded.".
  7. Roger Griffin, Fascism, Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN:978-0192892492.
  8. Madalyn O'Hair, Can George Bush, with impunity, state that atheists should not be considered either citizens or patriots? : The History of the Issue,
  9. Smith, Anthony D. 1986. The Ethnic Origins of Nations London: Basil Blackwell. pp 6–18. ISBN 0-631-15205-9.
  10. Political Science, Volume 35, Issue 2; Class and Nation: Problems of Socialist Nationalism
  11. ISBN 0805848576, ISBN 9780805848571
  12. Russell Speaks His Mind, 1960. Fletcher and son Ltd., Norwich, United Kingdom
  13. Blum in his book Rogue State

Further reading


  • Breuilly, John. 1994. Nationalism and the State. 2nd ed. Chicago: Chicago University Press. ISBN 0-226-07414-5 .
  • Brubaker, Rogers. 1996. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57224-X .
  • Greenfeld, Liah. 1992. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-60319-2
  • Hobsbawm, Eric J. 1992. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43961-2 .

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