views updated May 14 2018


Theory in Depth
Theory in Action
Analysis and Critical Response
Topics for Further Study
See Also


who controls government? State officials

how is government put into power? Crisis situation

what roles do the people have? Support the nation

who controls production of goods? Owners of capital

who controls distribution of goods? Owners of capital

major figures Ernest Renan; Johann Gottfried Herder

historical example Republic of Turkey, 1923– present

Nationalism is sometimes labeled a political phenomenon or ideology that is not truly a theory. Some political activists and scholars see nationalism not as something to be theorized about but merely as a strong, sentimental feeling about one's own country, a patriotic fervor directed toward advancing the "national interest." Others view nationalism as the driving philosophy behind social movements that can both infect and inspire (depending on one's viewpoint) large numbers of people living in the same geographical region to attack other groups or countries for the anticipated benefit of one's interests. Still others see nationalism as a phenomenon that can be appropriately conceptualized and described, analyzed, and explained in theoretical terms. The variety of perspectives on nationalism—whether, for example, nationalism simply exemplifies overzealous feelings for one's country or is rightfully placed within the scope of political theories—has fluctuated over time. At certain periods in history, no one talked about "nationalism" per se, although the concept of "nations" appeared during European Middle Ages, if not earlier. Nationalist movements seem not to have occurred before the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Beginning with the fall of the French Emperor Napoleon in the early 1800s and the expansion of European imperialism across Africa and Asia in the late nineteenth century, nationalism increasingly appeared as a phenomenon whereby those seeking independence from imperial powers claimed rights to self–determination and gathered support for their national liberation movements.

In the late twentieth century, particularly after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the study of nationalism became a well–developed field, crossing the disciplinary boundaries of political science, sociology, anthropology, international relations, and history. Theories of nationalism can be divided into roughly two major categories: ethnic nationalism, based on concepts of shared ethnic identity, and civic nationalism, based on shared appreciation and respect for key political values.


c. 1142:      Dekanawidah establishes the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy of five Native American nations.

1320:      Growing nationalism among the Scots and warfare with England results in the Scots' Declaration of Arbroath.

1800:      German theologian Johann Gottfried Herder publishes his Outline of a Philosophy of a History of Man.

1806–1807:      German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte delivers his lectures, "Addresses to the German Nation."

1882:      Ernest Renan lectures on "Qu'est–ce qu'une nation?" ("What is a nation?").

1914–1918:      World War I devastates Europe.

1939–1945:      World War II ravages Europe, North Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

1944:      Hans Kohn publishes The Idea of Nationalism: A Study of Its Origins and Background.

1950s—1960s:      National liberation movements in many African colonies of European imperial powers produce a rapid succession of newly independent African states.

1981:      Anthony D. Smith publishes The Ethnic Revival in the Modern World.

1983:      Ernest Gellner publishes Nations and Nationalism.

Other theorists, including scholars from the developing world, have viewed the theoretical construction of national identities and of nationalism as something far more complex than can be adequately summarized into two categories. Similarly, differences of opinion are to be found as to whether nationalism is a modern phenomenon, appearing only when societies shifted from feudalism to capitalism and began to form independent states, or whether nationalism has existed for centuries, if not millennia, as the natural expression of people's deepest sense of their cultural and ancestral roots. By the late twentieth century, many assumptions typical of the earlier theoretical approaches to nationalism were challenged by the rise of movements throughout the world advocating ethnic separatism and irredentism ("consolidationist" movements, in the words of Deborah Larson of the University of California at Los Angeles, as cited by Kristen Williams in Despite Nationalist Conflicts). The growing demands of indigenous peoples for political and cultural self–determination and the increasing heterogeneity of populations in multicultural societies in much of the developed world also are challenging traditional notions of nationalist theory at the start of the new millennium.


Nationalism, as a field of study, is fraught with controversial interpretations, including disagreement over when nationalist thinking and nationalist movements first appeared. The historical review presented here of the development of nationalism in theory and in practice thus should be read with an awareness of this lack of consensus among scholars as to the exact nature of nationalism, the causes for its arising in particular societies and periods of history, and the best way it should be theorized.


That said, it is worth noting that early examples of the concept of the nation can be found in both the European and the non–European world, together with rather precise political formulations of how nations should function and work together. For example, at some point between the eleventh century and the early sixteenth century (estimates of the exact date range from 1142 to 1450), Dekanawidah, known as The Peacemaker, emerged from the Native American nation of the Hurons in the Great Lakes region to establish the Haudenosaunee (pronounced "ho–dee– no–sho–nee," known by the French as the Iroquois), a political confederation of five (later, six) Native American nations living in the northeastern region of what would later be the United States of America.

Across the Atlantic, at about the same time, the system of feudal states and monarchical rule established during the European Middle Ages gradually was reshaped as commerce grew, urban areas developed, and the Renaissance introduced new concepts of the position of man (and woman) within European society. Among the earliest European groups to build a national identity were the Scots, who between 1296 and 1328 fought King Edward I (1239–1307) and the English in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Prepared on April 6, 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish nation's formal declaration of independence from England, was drawn up at the Monastery of Arbroath in Scotland and sealed by 38 Scottish lords. Addressed to the Pope, the Declaration spoke of the Scottish nation and urged the Pope to disregard the English claim on Scotland, which the Pope subsequently did.

On October 24, 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed between the King of France, the Holy Roman Emperor, and their allies, ending the Thirty Years' War between Catholics and Protestants in Europe and marking new boundaries for European states. For the most part, however, a genuine sense of national identity had yet to develop among the peoples living in each of these European states. Although religious influence on political affairs would continue to shape history, governments would now be based more on a secular rather than religious rule. In 1690, a half–century after the Treaty of Westphalia, English physician John Locke (1632–1704) published his "Second Treatise on Government," further developing English philosopher Thomas Hobbes' (1588–1679) "social contract theory" to identify civil government as resting on the consent of the governed. Locke's writings are now seen by many as having sparked the "Age of Enlightenment" in Europe—a period in history when the rights of individuals were enumerated and exalted and the concept of government based on the will of the people took hold. Interest in democratic self–governance and political self–determination grew among European and American philosophers and ordinary citizens alike.


France, one of the most powerful European countries at the time, underwent profound political changes in 1789. On July 14 an angry mob stormed the Bastille Prison in Paris, sparking the French Revolution with the goal of achieving "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" for all citizens living in France. The growth of a "bourgeois" middle class had led to demands by commoners for a greater say in their governance, which up to then had been controlled mainly by the

clergy and the nobility. October 16, 1793 saw the execution by guillotine of Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV of France, ending royal rule in France and paving the way for an attempt at democratic rule. However, the repression and violence visited upon those unwilling to subscribe to the new method of government was so enormous that the country fell back into disarray under the "Reign of Terror" of the Jacobins, who wished to instill an excessive degree of control and order on French society and to eliminate all who they deemed enemies. A decade later, Napoleon Bonaparte, a general in the French army, led the French people on an expansive campaign to conquer Europe.

Witnessing the transformation of European states away from monarchical rule, German theologian Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) published his Outline of a Philosophy of a History of Man, a set of theories developed by Herder between 1774 and 1781, which detailed his views on the proper identity of nations and on the growth of nationalism. In this document and others he wrote over the next two decades, Herder promoted the idea that true nations are comprised of persons who share a common ancestry and linguistic heritage, along with common cultural and religious traits. His idea of "romantic nationalism" was one of the earliest theoretical portraits of nationalism as stemming from the desires of language communities to shape their own destinies and to create their own territorial states.

Johann Gottfried Herder

Johann Gottfried Herder was one of the earliest of the European writers on nationalism. His principal works include A Treatise upon the Origin of Language (1772) and Outline of a Philosophy of the History of Man (1784–91). Herder's concept of nationalism focused on the cultural side of nation formation, with ethnicity figuring much more significantly in the development of nationhood than the more "civic" aspects featured by later theorists. In Herder's Social and Political Thought: From Enlightenment to Nationalism, F.M. Barnard described Herder's life and the development of his nationalist vision, noting that Herder's conception of nationalism emerged during the German Romantic period that began in the eighteenth century. At that time, the idea of a German national identity grew in popularity across the feudal states that eventually would be united as the German Confederation of 1815 and later, in 1871, as the German Empire.


Johann Gottfried Herder

Johann Gottfried Herder was born on August 25, 1744, in Mohrungen, East Prussia, a Central European state with a population largely Germanic in ancestry. Herder began his formal academic studies in the field of medicine but later switched to theology. Listening to lectures of the famous philosopher Emanuel Kant during his studies from 1762–64, Herder became particularly interested in Kant's geography lectures on the relationships among "meteorological, physical, and human factors." Through his studies with Kant, Herder also came to know the writings of French philosopher Jean–Jacques Rousseau and the English empirical philosophers. In 1764 Herder moved to Riga in the Russian Empire, where he preached and taught for five years. In 1767 Herder was ordained a minister, served in two churches in Riga, and taught in the Cathedral School there. Increasingly well known and respected as a writer, Herder published his first book, Uber die neuere deutsche Litteratur. Fragmente (Excerpts from Recent German Literature) at age twenty–three.

In 1769 Herder moved to France, keeping a diary of his voyage by sea, which was published after his death and revealed his hopes of becoming a world– famous writer and a significant political actor. Herder apparently wished to reform the Russian education system and to devise a new constitution for Russia.

After arriving in France, Herder increasingly saw himself as German and felt depressed by the decay of French political and social life in the decades preceding the French Revolution. In 1770 Herder was invited to tutor the son of the Prince of Holstein back in Prussia and to travel with his young student to Italy.

Disenchanted by life in the French capital and attracted by this new offer, Herder quickly left Paris and moved to Eutin, Holstein's capital city, in March 1770 to begin tutoring. On the way to Italy with the prince's son, Herder stopped in Hamburg and Darmstadt, where he met the woman he later would marry, Caroline Flachsland. However, apparently feeling humiliated by how he was treated as a tutor, Herder quit his job after reaching Strasbourg with the prince's son in July 1770. There, Herder sought treatment at the Strasbourg Faculty of Medicine for an eye problem that had afflicted him since childhood. While in Strasbourg, Herder started up a lifelong friendship with the German poet Goethe, leading to his eventual move to Weimar, where Goethe was minister of the court of Duke Karl August. In 1776, Goethe convinced the Duke to make Herder Superintendent of Schools, Chief Pastor, and Court Preacher. Herder came to Weimar, where he spent a quarter of a century, dying there on December 18, 1803.

Despite his personal charisma and ability to attract others to take part in stimulating intellectual discussions and correspondence with him, Herder became increasingly isolated in his work and views and dissatisfied with life as he aged. Nonetheless, he reportedly was a keen observer of his surroundings and enjoyed being of service to others. Herder's discontent with the social and political life of his times had much to do with the lack of democratic practices in eighteenth century German society. Concerned with social justice, Herder objected to the exclusionary nature of German hereditary politics, nobility, and feudal structures, to the arbitrariness of political tyrants, and to the continual warfare of nations that sought to dominate each other. He was especially opposed to slavery and colonialism.

Religiously taught and inspired, Herder drew from the Bible, secular humanist principles, and the humanitarian writings and philosophy of the Renaissance and the European Enlightenment periods in developing his theory of nationalism. He found the Hebrew people particularly interesting, for he viewed them, according to Barnard, as the "oldest example of a Volk [people] with a developed national consciousness and of an 'organic' community in which socio–political organization grew naturally out of the socioeconomic functions of its members." This concept of "Volk" was key to Herder's understanding of nationalism. The character of a Volk, in Herder's mind, was shaped in particular by language, which brought people together into a community and allowed them to express their innermost spiritual qualities in a natural way. Herder saw language and ethnicity as needing to correspond to a political, territorial state. Consequently, mixtures of ethnic communities living in the same territorial region would not form as vital or cohesive a state as a single language community would.

In some ways, Herder's conception of nationalism overlaps with "civic nationalism." He believed that self–government and the choice of individuals to be governed by a state were essential. However, in his theory of "linguistic nationalism," Herder assumed that when a state coincided with an ethnic community, legislation would not need to be coercive, since laws would flow naturally from the social awareness of the Volk. While he valued the creation of individual states, each corresponding to a specific Volk, Herder also viewed the respect of different peoples for each other and for international cooperation as extremely important. Thus, the right of one particular ethnic community to self–determination could be exercised only if self–governance did not prevent another Volk from governing themselves. Rather than advocating a formal world government structure, however, Herder believed international cooperation could best be achieved through looser associations of nations where mutual interests would be advanced by peaceful cooperation.

Historical events in Europe just after Herder's death created new boundaries for major European states and inspired further thought among political philosophers on the nature of the nation and the phenomenon of nationalism. Between 1806 and 1807, the French army under the leadership of Napoleon defeated Prussia. During these same years German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) delivered a series of lectures, "Addresses to the German Nation," advancing the idea that common "civic" values are the basis for nations; that is, a liberal citizenry is fundamentally based on shared respect for individual freedoms and liberties and that government is created of, by, and for those governed. Having grown ever more dictatorial and autocratic, Napoleon's rule eventually came to an end. Crowning himself Emperor of France, Napoleon eventually met his downfall at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium in 1815, where the Prussian army halted Napoleon's murderous, self– annihilating campaign. In the same year, the German Confederation was formed, linking thirty–nine German feudal states (thirty–five monarchies and four free cities), a significant step toward the unification of Germany to take place in 1871 under King Wilhelm I (1797–1898).

Throughout the nineteenth century, dramatic political changes continued to occur in Europe, sparked by the growing number, size, and economic importance of capitalist industries and the appearance of a solid middle class. Political and economic discontent grew at mid–century, especially among the lower– level aristocrats and the bourgeoisie—the newly appearing middle class consisting largely of businessman and businesswomen—who saw their interests inadequately represented in the governing structures of Europe. In 1848 economic problems, discontent by the middle class over their lack of opportunity for political participation, and growing nationalist movements led to revolutionary attempts to establish a new political order. To a substantial measure, the growing influence of Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels' (1820–1895) writings on socialism and communism as alternatives to capitalism inspired political insurgencies and economic riots in many European cities that year. Though the revolts failed to establish more liberal, socialist governments, nationalist movements gained momentum throughout Europe from the tumultuous events of that year.

Building Nations

Following the French expulsion of Austrians from power in Northern Italy by 1859 and the uniting of southern Italian city–states under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882), Italy became a single kingdom in 1861 under Victor Emmanuel II (1820–1878), acclaimed by popular vote. Ten years after Italy was united, King Wilhelm I was crowned emperor of the new German Empire, at the conclusion of the Franco–Prussian War. The unification of Prussia and the thirty–nine German states and cities of the German Confederation culminated the campaign to unify Germany into a single state by the military conquests of Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia. Nation building in Europe was at a high point. A decade later, on March 11, 1882, French philosopher Ernest Renan (1823–1892) lectured on "Qu'est–ce qu'une nation?" ("What is a nation?") at the Sorbonne, Paris' premier university. His lecture, published in Paris by Calmann–Levy later that year, explored questions of the essence of national identity and national unification movements and marked out new theoretical territory in developing a civic conception of nationalism.

Around this time, concepts of national identity became ever more exclusive, with the criteria for supposed membership in national groups growing increasingly specific and focused on culture and "race." The growth of anti–Semitism in France and Germany during the late 1870s reflected growing popular sentiment toward what it meant to be a member of a nation, this time in a cultural and racial sense. In terms of political party activity, nationalism was becoming an increasingly dangerous phenomenon by the 1890s, especially for those deemed unworthy of inclusion as members of the nation. The growth of anti–immigrant parties such as the "Know–Nothing Party" in the United States and the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s in France—a case of anti–Semitic action directed against Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935), a French general staff officer who was convicted of treason despite insubstantial evidence—marked the dangerous turn nationalism was taking in both Europe and America.

For the African continent, the most significant event of the nineteenth century arguably was the 1884–85 Conference of Berlin, involving the heads of several European states, among them France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. At this series of meetings, the participating European countries established their "rights" to stake out colonial claims and extend their political and economic control in Africa. Only Liberia, colonized by freed American and Caribbean slaves beginning in 1822 and made independent in 1847, and Ethiopia, historically an independent kingdom (except under Mussolini's Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941), escaped the ravages of the European imperialists in the decades that followed the Berlin Conference. What came to be known as the "Scramble for Africa" had begun, with dire consequences for the indigenous nations across the African continent, from the Arab Maghreb in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the south.

At the close of the nineteenth century, an international conference in Europe offered the promise of a future world where national sovereignty would be better respected and nations would cooperate in peace. In 1899 this First International Peace Conference was held in the Belgium city of The Hague to establish the fundamentals of multilateral diplomacy and light the way for a future world federation of nations working collectively toward peace and security. Although the principal goals of the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 and the Hague Conference of 1907—including goals for disarmament—have not yet been realized a century later, the Hague Conference represented a new step forward in seeking the means to settle differences without violence, putting forth a greater respect for the rights of all.

World War

Unfortunately, the resolve to create a more peaceable means to settling disputes did not prevent the outbreak of a massive war in Europe a few years later. From 1914 to 1918 the First World War raged across Europe. Engendered by nationalistic claims to territory in the Balkan Mountains region of southeastern Europe, the war entangled Europe's major states in what came to be the bloodiest war in history. Toward the close of the war, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States gave his "Fourteen Points" speech before a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress on January 8, 1918, outlining his recommended program to resolve the problems associated with the First World War and to prevent future outbreaks of violence among nation–states. As his fourteenth point, Wilson recommended the following: "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."

Although the cease–fire, or Armistice, of November 11, 1918 ended World War I, the peace agreement formally concluding the First World War was the treaty signed at the Palace of Versailles just outside of Paris on June 28, 1919. While the Treaty of Versailles reinforced Wilson's plan to create the League of Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it simultaneously laid the groundwork for future wars. By requiring the German state to pay costly war reparations, the Treaty of Versailles virtually guaranteed that Germany would face severe economic problems in the years to come. The war reparations and consequent downslide in the German economy, further undermined by the Wall Street stock market crash 1929, fostered sufficient discontent among the German people that the charismatic political actor Adolf Hitler managed to take the reins of power in Germany. Capitalizing on the desire of the German people to rekindle their national pride and to carve out a significant place for themselves in Europe and the world, Hitler's popularity in Germany grew rapidly during the difficult times of the 1920s and early 1930s. The attention given by the German National Socialist Party ("Nazi" Party) to Germany's economic troubles, coupled with rising racist sentiment and the growth of nationalist ideology and rhetoric, appears to have made Hitler's extremist party more successful in gathering public and electoral support than other extremist parties of that time. Although his popularity had begun to decline when he was named German Chancellor by President Hindenburg of Germany on January 30, 1933—a move largely the result of political infighting—his promotion to Chancellor placed him in a political position where he could wreak increasing havoc on the peoples of Germany and the rest of Europe.

Between 1939 and 1945 the Second World War devastated Europe and the Asian Pacific region as ultra–nationalist leaders sought to enlarge their political jurisdiction and create societies that matched their plans for advancing their own peculiar perspectives on what best constitutes a nation. The 1930s saw the build–up of Hitler's genocidal campaign by the Nazis, a disastrous attempt to rebuild the German nation by exterminating those Hitler and his cohorts considered "non–Aryan" and consequently "racially inferior": essentially, all who were non–white, non–Protestant, and non–German—specifically, minorities such as Jews, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Roman Catholics, and the mentally and physically disabled—were targeted. Even before Hitler's sudden rise to power, Italian military commander Benito Mussolini had begun his fascistic campaign to heighten Italy's position in Europe, and his own position as well. As Hitler's popularity in grew and Germany built itself into a state to be reckoned with, Mussolini struck out on his own nationalist, murderous campaign across Italy, the Balkans, and North Africa, based on the ideology that the Italian state could reclaim the former glory of the Roman Empire. Japanese Emperor Hirohito (1901– 1989) did likewise with his genocidal treatment of the peoples of China, Korea, and other countries in Southeast and East Asia as he sought to increase the power of the Japanese state.

The United Nations Before the Second World War had fully ended, a new international organization of sovereign states, the United Nations (UN), was founded in hopes of preventing future wars by encouraging cooperative efforts of nation–states acting together to foster peace and development through a system of collective security. An event of lasting international importance was the conference held in October 1945 in San Francisco, involving the political leaders of the five principal states of the Allied Alliance that had fought in World War II—the United States, France, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China. The leaders of these states gathered to write a charter for a new international organization, one that despite its shortcomings would be vastly more effective than the failed League of Nations. Whereas the League had lacked the power to enforce its members' decisions and could not stop the rise of Hitler or the other Axis leaders, the UN was designed to provide measures by which states could reinforce directives to nations failing to comply with standards of international law and behavior. Additionally, the new UN ideally would promote peaceful economic and social development in all parts of the world, for the benefit of all.

It is worth noting here that one problematic aspect of the United Nations has to do with its composition as a collective body of states rather than of individual nations, nationalities, or peoples. Most of the member states of the UN actually comprise a mixture of nations—for example, Great Britain's population includes not only the English but also the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish minorities along with members of many other nations who voluntarily immigrated or were brought to Britain's shores. Other nationalities such as the Kurds, the Palestinians, and the Basques lack their own nation–states as well as UN representation. These stateless peoples have been at a decided disadvantage in international arenas like the UN, a problem many hope eventually will be overcome as more nations are granted their own territorial states and as international recognition and representation are granted to at least some stateless peoples, including the indigenous nations often called "First Nations" or the "Fourth World."

The Cold War Despite the good intentions of those who created the United Nations, the "Cold War" that was waged between the United States and its democratic allies and the Soviet Union and its communist allies from the late 1940s until the break–up of the Soviet Union in 1991 all but prevented the UN from achieving many of its goals for several decades. Pitting democratically governed states whose economies were primarily capitalist or mixed (socialist blended with capitalist) against totalitarian, communist states, the Cold War monopolized the political attention and the military and economic resources of much of the developed world for over four decades. Since the weapons of mass destruction developed in the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States included myriad nuclear missiles and other highly destructive arms, direct warfare could not be conducted between these two superpowers. Instead, many proxy (substitute) wars came to be waged between "Western bloc" colonies (developing nation–states influenced and financed by the United States) and those of the "Eastern bloc," influenced and financed by the Soviet Union. These wars entailed the deaths and maiming of countless civilians and combatants in the very parts of the world that suffered most from poverty, malnutrition, poor health, and underdevelopment.

Third World Independence

During the Cold War period, however, not all political events in what came to be known as the "Third World" (less–industrialized, less economically developed regions) were unwelcomed by their peoples. Beginning in the early 1950s and extending through the 1960s, numerous African nations achieved their independence from the European imperial powers that had colonized them and had deprived them of their rights, their land, and their economic resources. Nationalist independence movements in many African colonies developed momentum as one after another of Europe's former colonies liberated themselves from their former rulers. In a relatively quick succession of declarations of independence, the newly established African states typically agreed to set their territorial boundaries along the lines of those established arbitrarily by the European imperialists during the Scramble for Africa. This meant, however, that many tribal and ethnic groups came to be divided across two or more countries, despite their common heritage and culture. The implications of the construction of national boundaries by the Europeans in the nineteenth century and of the subsequent legal reinforcement of these boundaries upon independence in the 1950s and 1960s were that in many countries, interethnic warfare would be waged toward the end of the twentieth century as ethnic groups sought to establish their authority to govern themselves and improve their economic and social lot.

In both Africa and Europe a substantial rise in internal strife within states appeared toward the close of the twentieth century. From 1981 through the early 1990s, popular democratic uprisings took place in Eastern Europe and brought the end of communist rule. The Polish Solidarity (Solidarnosza) movement, started in 1981 among striking shipyard workers in the Polish city of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea, climaxed with the electoral victory of President Lech Walesa (1943–) in 1990 and the inauguration of a democratically elected parliament. The execution of communist dictator Nicolas Ceausescu of Romania and his wife in October of 1989 marked the culmination of dramatic public protests against Ceausescu's autocratic rule and the triumph of the Romanian people, among the most impoverished in Europe during the years of communist rule. Perhaps most exhilarating for both Western and Eastern observers was the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall that had divided East and West Berlin since 1961, culminating in the reunification of East Germany with West Germany in 1990. The democratization of other countries in Eastern Europe and the declarations of independence of many of the republics of the former USSR after its break–up in August 1991 similarly astounded the world at large. Many of these popular movements were stimulated not only by the desire to end autocratic communist rule but also by growing national movements that have sought to reclaim the ethnic and national identities of the people of Europe and Asia submerged under communism.

Problematic Nationalism

Not all nationalist movements in Europe in the post–Cold War period have been positive, however. In the southeast region of Europe, for example, violent warfare in Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990s, spurred on by attacks from Bosnian Serbs supported by the Serbian Army of Yugoslavia, led to the first genocide in Europe since World War II, followed a few years later by genocidal war in Kosovo and revenge killings in Serbia. By creating a federated country in the Balkans—Yugoslavia—from previously separate states along the Adriatic Sea, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles had brought a mixture of ethnic and religious groups together into one federated nation–state that would survive the years of communist rule, only to crumble disastrously into brutal interethnic warfare and genocide in the early 1990s when communist control in Eastern and Southeastern Europe dissolved. Manipulated by unscrupulous political leaders wishing to hold onto power at all costs despite the end of communist rule, the peoples of the former socialist Yugoslavia witnessed and became victims of some of the worst interethnic fighting and atrocities of the twentieth century.

Political developments in other parts of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Latin America in the post–World War II period have similarly represented the interplay of various forces, including autocratic repression as well as democratic, nationalist movements whose participants have aimed to express or reassert their ethnic identities and claims for civil governance by attaching their demands to a national state. Not all efforts have succeeded in realizing self–determination, but many nationalist leaders and activists have established themselves as viable political actors and forces to be reckoned with on the international stage. Increasingly during the 1990s and into the early twenty–first century, as an after–effect of the end of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for allies and influence, local conflicts have escalated into wide–ranging interethnic violence that has been difficult to control.

These "low–intensity" wars have killed and injured countless people, and conflict resolution efforts have been only minimally successful at quelling their violence. Not only have interethnic conflicts taken place in the developing world, but also in countries such as Northern Ireland and Cyprus, plagued with what sometimes appear to be never–ending conflicts (often labeled "intractable") between ethnic and national groups. In many cases, the problems have centered on competing claims for the assertion of political authority at the state level by numerous stateless nations such as the Basque minority in Spain and the Palestinians in the Middle East.

Other nationalist challenges are perhaps less violent but more long–standing and equally hard to resolve—for example, the struggle of indigenous peoples worldwide to secure their own territory and resources in the face of a dominant ethnic group that controls state governance. The case of the Saami of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula of Russia is one such case where the level of direct violence in the late twentieth century was relatively low compared to the violence experienced by ethnic and religious groups contending for power in such places as Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and the Philippines. As with many Native American groups, the problems faced by the Saami and other indigenous minority nations stem from a state authority's imposing its will through internal colonization and the negation of previous treaties and formal agreements—or at least from the perception by stateless peoples that this is taking place. In such cases no clear arbiter other than, perhaps, the United Nations or the International Court of Justice (the World Court) in The Hague exists to decide how such claims should be settled. Furthermore, what Norwegian peace theorist Johann Galtung has termed "structural" violence—violence indirectly wrought by oppressive social, political, and economic structures and discriminatory practices—afflicts indigenous communities worldwide but is particularly hard to correct since the violence is occurring at the systemic level.


Definitions of "Nation":

Crucial to the concept of "nationalism" is the definition of "nation" and its distinction from the notion of "state." To begin with, a "state" in a political sense can be defined as a politically governed territory with distinct boundaries, having the sovereign authority to control its own domestic affairs and to represent the interests of its polity (i.e., those living within and governed by the political authority of the state) in deliberations and interactions with other states. The concept of the polity as a collection of persons sharing specific political values (such as the preservation of individual freedoms and liberties or the notion that all individuals in the polity should have the right to make political decisions together) or certain common characteristics (for example, language ties or a common cultural heritage) does not really come into play in the strict definition of a state. In contrast, the idea of the "nation-state" brings together the belief that territorial boundaries, political authority, and the composition of the population inhabiting the territory somehow should coincide, theoretically with the population all belonging to the same homogeneous nation. Few nation–states actually fit this strict definition, since nearly all states in the twenty–first century are composed of a multiplicity of peoples from many national groups.

In defining the nation, scholars have produced both culturally and civic–oriented definitions, although some, such as Anthony D. Smith, have attempted to combine elements of both. To Smith, a nation is a group of people who share the same geographical territory as well as certain common elements of history, culture, economy, and law.

In his 1882 lecture, "Qu'est–ce qu'une nation?" ("What is a nation?"), Frenchman Ernest Renan described a nation as

a large–scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation's existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual's existence is a perpetual affirmation of life.

Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, defines a nation as "an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." Anderson is one of the key theorists of "constructed nationalism," where nationalism is viewed as a socially constructed idea meant to serve the interests and needs of the members of a nation and those participating in nationalist movements. Presenting the view that nations are "imagined communities" created in the minds of those who live in them, Anderson's book represents a departure from the views of the "primordialists" who considered nationalism an outgrowth of an innate human need for ethnic community.

Definitions of "Nationalism":

Theories of nationalism range from explanations focusing on the why and wherefore of the formation of social movements that take on a nationalist tone to attempts to explain the basis of the concept of "nation" and campaigns to promote a nationalist agenda. Whether the motivation to identify with a "nation" is a biologically based, "primordial" given, characteristic of all populations, whether it is something cultivated by political philosophers and activists seeking to promote specific agendas under the guise of ethnic identity, or whether it is something in between continues to be hotly debated. Many theorists look at nationalism as having existed only from the seventeenth or eighteenth century onward and as having its origins in Western European philosophical thought. Others view nationalism as a phenomenon with a more ancient history and interpret the drives to create great empires among the peoples of antiquity as synonymous with attempts in recent times to forge nation–states aligned to the ethnic identity or political values of the inhabitants.

Most Western–trained scholars view nationalism as a modern phenomenon, but some continue to insist that nations and nationalism originated much further back in time. Disagreement also persists as to whether the desire to establish territorial states coinciding with national groups is biologically determined or is shaped by political actors. The "primordialists"—those who see the quest for ethnic identity and solidarity as rooted physically in the human animal—see ethnicity as related to the official announcement of the species and the preservation of one's own community, however defined. In contrast, many "modernization theorists" tend to believe that the impetus for nationhood and the development of distinct national identities are integrally connected to the rise of capitalism and the end of political empires and monarchies that began with the period of the European Enlightenment in the seventeenth century. Other modernizationists view ethnic identity formation and the growth of nationalism as phenomena of the post–Napoleon era, beginning only in the early nineteenth century.

Civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism From the mid–twentieth century on, if not earlier, many scholars of nationalism came to view the range of differences in theoretical approaches to nationalism in a fairly dichotomous (i.e., two–category) way, distinguishing between "ethnic nationalist" and "civic nationalist" approaches. Michel Seymour, Jocelyne Couture, and Kai Nelson summarized the main differences between these two conceptualizations of nationalism in the introduction to their edited volume, Rethinking Nationalism. Aligned with the views of Ernest Renan, civic nationalists believe "that a nation is a voluntary association of individuals." A good example would be the French Revolution. The ethnic nationalist's approach is "based upon language, culture, and tradition, and thus appeals to more or less objective features of our social lives." Nationalism in Germany during German Romanticism is ethnic nationalism, as are Johann Gottfried Herder's views.

However, as the authors further note, "A careful reader of Renan and Herder will protest that this is an oversimplification of their views, for both authors integrate objective and subjective features in their characterization of the nation." Consequently, theories of nationalism cannot accurately be categorized into two distinct groups, since the features of certain theoretical formulations of nationalism labeled "ethnic" may well overlap with aspects of a mainly "civic" nationalism.

Like Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), but contrasting with Johann Gottfried Herder—two of nationalism's early theorists who wrote at the start of the nineteenth century—Renan viewed nations as resulting from political efforts to define a physical space for democratic governance by those who share similar civic values such as the preservation and promotion of individual rights, freedoms, and liberties. Cultural, linguistic, and ethnic identities do not predetermine national movements, Renan claimed. Instead, it is the political action of those who seek to unify a people based on a notion of shared experience and destiny.

Renan's famous lecture at the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1882, "Qu'est–ce qu'une nation?" ("What is a nation?"), raised questions about the origins of nations and the nature of their identity. After briefly examining the history of a number of nations, empires, and dynasties, Renan concluded,

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial.

To Renan, nation building requires "that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things."

Renan saw nations as a relatively modern phenomenon, "brought about by a series of convergent facts."

Sometimes unity has been effected by a dynasty, as was the case in France; sometimes it has been brought about by the direct will of provinces, as was the case with Holland, Switzerland, and Belgium; sometimes it has been the work of a general consciousness, belatedly victorious over the caprices of feudalism, as was the case in Italy and Germany.


"Qu'est–ce qu'une nation?"

Ernest Renan's lecture, "Qu'est–ce qu'une nation?" ("What is a nation?"), delivered at the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1882, examined basic issues touching upon nations and nationalism. Exploring the various circumstances through which nations have been formed, Renan developed his civic conception of nationalism. He concluded that common racial or ethnic characteristics do not necessarily produce separate nations. Renan maintained that "there is no pure race and… to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera. The noblest countries, England, France, and Italy, are those where the blood is the most mixed…. We touch here on one of those problems in regard to which it is of the utmost importance that we equip ourselves with clear ideas and ward off misconceptions." Instead, Renan determined that a nation is built on historical events that have produced a common legacy for a group of people who share in the present the desire to bind themselves together as one. In his words, Renan asserted, "A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present–day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form…. To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more—these are the essential conditions for being a people." Renan concluded that a shared past and a continuing sense of wanting to live together in the present are the most–critical factors in the building of nations.

In his views of what constitutes a nation, Renan opposed Herder and subsequent philosophers who claimed that ethnicity, language, and culture have more to do with nation–building than do liberal democratic principles. Renan observed that during the French Revolution, Europeans believed that the political institutions appropriate for governing "small, independent cities, such as Sparta and Rome," could be used effectively in larger nations—a serious misconception, to his mind. Renan found even more problematic the late–nineteenth century tendency to confuse race "with nation and a sovereignty analogous to that of really existing peoples is attributed to ethnographic or, rather, linguistic groups." Taking a historical outlook on the construction of nations, Renan commented, "Since the fall of the Roman Empire or, rather, since the disintegration of Charlemagne's empire, western Europe has seemed to us to be divided into nations, some of which, in certain epochs, have sought to wield a hegemony over the others, without ever enjoying any lasting success." He discovered such nations to be a relatively recent phenomenon, not found in the great empires of the past such as the Persian Empire, the empire of Alexander the Great, China, or Egypt.

In other words, a variety of events can lead to a nation's emerging on the historical scene. Nonetheless, according to Renan, the determining factors in the creation of nations are not race, religion, culture, or language, as these may unite a people but do not oblige persons to act together. As Renan said, "A community of interest is assuredly a powerful bond between men. Do interests, however, suffice to make a nation? I do not think so. Community of interest brings about trade agreements, but nationality has a sentimental side to it; it is both soul and body at once …" Renan admitted that geography, too, influences the formation of nations, although it, too, is not a determining factor. In the end, Renan concluded, "A nation is a spiritual principle, the outcome of the profound complications of history; it is a spiritual family not a group determined by the shape of the earth."

In Nationalism and the State, John Breuilly, too, identified nationalism as a modern phenomenon. Additionally, Breuilly sees nationalism as an evanescent phenomenon: appearing and then disappearing after serving its function. Instead of arising as a naturally occurring feature of nations defined as persons sharing a common culture, nationalism, according to Breuilly, is a politically pragmatic phenomenon: having accomplished its end, it then disappears.

Worth noting here is Michael Billig's concept of "banal nationalism," which he discusses in his book by the same name. Billig identifies patriotism as a banal, or everyday, form of nationalism, a pervasive phenomenon in nation–states that can quickly be kindled up into what Billig terms "hot nationalism." This form of fervent, ultra–patriotic feeling—evident in the heated displays of patriotism by many Americans in response to the September 11, 2001 catastrophes—can sometimes produce significant, often harmful results such as the granting of excessive powers to a chief executive, the suspension of constitutional rights, and xenophobic attacks against those perceived to belong to "terrorist" religions or nationalities.


In "The Promise, the Peril," a special report appearing in the December 17, 2001, issue of Newsweek magazine, Marcus Mabry and his colleagues asked a critical question pertinent to scholars of nationalism: "How do you build a nation?" The authors suggest that Europeans and Americans accomplished nation building by "subjugation and might" during the days of imperialism. And they conclude that, since the end of the Cold War, the task of nation–building increasingly has been taken on by the United Nations. Clearly, the business of constructing a nation depends on contextual historical factors that vary significantly from case to case and over time. What worked to build a nation–state in eighteenth century Europe is not necessarily what works in the twenty–first century, particularly where nation–states were already constituted but were subsequently torn apart by ethnic violence, civil strife, or international warfare, only to be shaped again.

Nationalist theories range widely in scope and content, despite the certain amount of agreement that exists among scholars of nationalism as to what constitutes a "nation" and how a "nationalist" social movement can be identified and described. In many ways, nationalism would have assumed far less importance had there been no European colonization of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. It was to the liberation struggles that appeared in response to the oppressive nature of European imperial control that theories of nationalism took on special importance, starting especially in the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless, the specific context of oppression may be less important to the creation of national movements than the reality of oppression itself. Without the appearance of national movements to liberate oppressed peoples, whether as an outgrowth of the development of liberal thought amidst autocratic rule in Europe in the late 1600s and early 1700s, in response to industrialization, or in relation to campaigns in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s to throw off the shackles of European control, theories of nationalism hardly would have flourished or become as finely nuanced as they had by the early twenty–first century.

As to whether nationalist theories are necessary to inspire oppressed peoples to work for their own liberation, the debate continues. Some theorists maintain that nationalist campaigns—that is, nationalism in action—cannot occur without there first being intellectuals who envision the possibilities of creating a new national identity and new political structures to match (essentially, a "top–down" stage in the process), followed by the cultivation of these ideas among the masses, then the emergence of capable political actors who can lead their people to press for recognition of their nationalist demands ("bottom–up," or grassroots, stage). Whatever the case, it is obvious that virtually no nation–state in the world today could have been formed or would have achieved independence without some measure of motivated, concerted action on the part of historical actors seeking to secure an environment where their own national group could play a significant political role.

The Haudenosaunee

The Haudenosaunee, or Six–Nations Confederacy, known to the French as the Iroquois (a name resembling a common greeting used by Native Americans in the confederacy), overlaps the northeastern part of the United States. The case of the Haudenosaunee exemplifies the fact that Native American and other indigenous political systems can be based on a concept of nationhood differing somewhat from more Western European–based concepts of a nation.

Some scholars may doubt that Native American nations are true identity nations in the actual sense of the word. Among the Haudenosaunee, however, the concept of "nation" as an identity group clearly exists and has for centuries. Closely related to the spiritual history of the people belonging to each of the Six Nations, Haudenosaunee national identity implies membership in both a constituent nation (for example, the Mohawks) and in a confederation of distinct but integrally connected nations.

The identity of each of the Six Nations was shaped by historical events that took place perhaps some one to two thousand years ago, if not longer. These events were originally recorded in wampum—sacred messages in beaded code created from black and white beads of shell—although most wampum was destroyed by the European colonizers of North America. Some of the earliest tales of the Haudenosaunee concern the origins of the confederacy that would later shape the course of American history not only through treaties, peaceable agreements, and battles between the indigenous nations and the European settlers, but also through the influence of the Haudenosaunee constitution and practices on the American Articles of Confederation and, to perhaps a lesser extent, on the U.S. Constitution.

Apparently responding to dissension and continual fighting among the five Native American nations of the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks, The Peacemaker, also known as Dekanawidah—a member of the Huron nation from the North American Great Lakes region—met with the Five Nations' leaders somewhere between 1000 A.D. and 1450 A.D. He provided the confederate chiefs with a model for governance through a new constitution known as the Great Law of Peace (Great Binding Law or Gayanashagowa). According to the Great Law, each nation of the Haudenosaunee was to play an integral role in the affairs of the confederacy, which would be governed by the chiefs and the clan mothers through direct—that is, participatory—democracy, meeting regularly in clan councils and in councils of the entire league, or confederacy. The original political association thus formed consisted of five Native American nations, with the Tuscarora Nation joining the confederacy as the sixth nation in the early 1700s. Planting a Tree of Great Peace in the Onondaga Nation, centrally located among the other four nations, The Peacemaker designated the Onondaga Nation the "Keepers of the Fire," the council fire around which the nations' chiefs would meet to discuss affairs of mutual interest and determine domestic and international action.

In the Haudenosaunee confederacy, women as well as men have figured highly in political decision making. Each of the clans making up the Five (later, Six) Nations is guided by a woman, the clan mother, who is entrusted with monitoring the political decisions of those sitting in council and who can depose any leader deemed to be acting not in accordance with the Great Law of Peace. Additionally, Haudenosaunee clan mothers have the responsibility to deliberate in their own councils, governing structures parallel to the chiefs' councils, and to grant citizenship in the confederacy to other Native Americans through clan adoption. For example, the Wyandots of Ohio and the Delawares (the Lenni Lenapes) were adopted into the Haudenosaunee by this method. Furthermore, the clan mother of the Onondaga Nation has played a central role in the affairs of the Haudenosaunee. In the early twenty–first century, Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah presides over the Haudenosaunee.

Effects of the outside world Despite the long tradition of deliberations and direct democracy practiced by the Haudenosaunee, the political integrity of Native America has been severely challenged by the presence of European Americans on native soil and by interference from the United States government and state governments in indigenous affairs. By the late twentieth century the majority of Native American tribes and nations were facing severe economic and social problems such as extremely high unemployment, alcoholism, inadequate health care, poorly equipped schools, and a lack of political autonomy, all this despite the numerous treaties they had signed over the centuries with the various states of the U.S. and the federal government. Nearly all of these problems stemmed from the policies of "internal colonialism" conducted against Native Americans by the United States government and by state governments as well. Systematically stripped of the rights to their own natural resources on Native American land and lacking an adequate economic base from which to operate and raise revenue, Native Americans have suffered severe discrimination and the dispossession of their land and resources.

In consequence, numerous casinos run by Native Americans on their reservations or lands sprang up at the close of the twentieth century and the start of the new millennium as an alternative means of generating revenue for the indigenous nations. Among the Haudenosaunee as with certain others in Native America, in 2001 internal debates raged over the appropriateness of building and operating gambling casinos on Indian land. These "Indian casinos" are sometimes seen as a panacea, or cure–all, to the economic troubles of Native America. For instance, Foxwoods Resort and Casino, operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation on their own sovereign territory within the state of Connecticut, is filled with slot machines and other games of chance and features well–known performers and athletes. Foxwoods has proven so lucrative that casino proceeds easily covered the construction of a Museum and Research Center that opened in 1998 on Mashantucket Pequot land.

Another case in point: the Oneida Nation, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, grappled in 2001 not only with the question of whether its Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, was worth keeping and replicating but also with serious internal dissension. The controversy was brought on primarily by concern among many Oneidas that their traditional ways are being jeopardized and their political autonomy from the State of New York is being undermined by Turning Stone. New York State authorities increasingly have tried regulating gambling casinos on Native American land, despite prior agreements that the Haudenosaunee could operate their own economic concerns without state interference such as taxation and regulation. Disagreement over whether relying on casinos as a means of building greater economic wealth for the indigenous peoples of North America is a healthy course to pursue extends far beyond the Haudenosaunee. Numerous other Native American nations and tribes in the United States and Canada are facing similar debates and problems with the handling of casinos, some involving instances of corruption and murder sparked by conflicts over the rightful ownership and operation of these enterprises.

As some people—including many Native Americans—see it, then, casinos may be flourishing at the moral, spiritual, and cultural expense of the very people they are meant to serve. Additionally, the casinos are viewed as a potentially dangerously one–sided way of generating income. Should a particular casino fail to attract sufficient clients, few other economic alternatives may be available to sustain newly created projects and the ongoing economic and social needs of Native Americans. Gambling addiction, added to the already prevalent problem of alcoholism among many Native American groups, also is seen as an inherent problem with this method of raising revenue, a serious hazard whose potential to further destroy the health and integrity of Native American nations is substantial.

Included within the debate over the validity of gambling casinos on Native American land is the critical issue of whether indigenous peoples are best served by assimilating, or blending in, with the cultural majority population in whose midst they live, whether they should maintain an existence separate from and parallel to the surrounding majority, or whether indigenous peoples profit most by considering themselves as simultaneously belonging to two societies—the indigenous and the non–native—that is, citizens of both the majority society and of their own indigenous nations, or as some in Canada have termed it, "citizens–plus." The special challenge for indigenous minorities, as for the larger, encompassing state, is to discern where multiple cultures and identities fit "in the political and social order of the nation state" and how a sense of alienation can be avoided when not all belong to the dominant culture.

National identity Based on differing conceptions of what it means to be an American, contentious disputes have arisen over obligations to the various governments that seek to both nurture and control indigenous nations. The Haudenosaunee consider themselves to be a sovereign, independent people living in the midst of non–indigenous citizens of the United States. As such, the Haudenosaunee issue and carry their own Haudenosaunee passports that, though unrecognized by the United States government, are viewed as legitimate national documents by certain other Western nations, including Switzerland. Seeking representation at the level of the United Nations at the turn of the millennium consequently was one objective of the Haudenosaunee who attended the Millennium Summit of worldwide religious traditions held at United Nations headquarters in New York in August 2000.

Similarly, the efforts of the Haudenosaunee to right environmental wrongs in New York State have been recognized internationally, including at the UN, where in July 1995 the UN Environment Programme hosted a day–long session to consider Haudenosaunee concerns about the pollution of Native American lands in New York State. However, the claims and desires of the Six Nations have often conflicted with the assumptions and practices of the United States government, and the ultimate outcome of the Haudenosaunee quest for recognition as a sovereign nation and for UN membership was uncertain at the close of 2001. Possessing dual or triple national identities—for example, simultaneously belonging to the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee while at the same time being a citizen of the United States—has raised significant challenges and posed problems and contradictions not easily resolved.

Although many of the Haudenosaunee's recent experiences have been far more positive than the casinos controversies imply, the nature of national identity among America's indigenous peoples has been radically affected in recent years by shifts in community fortunes associated with gambling revenues. Since the basis of economic livelihood by necessity shapes culture, the identity of indigenous nations in America has been changing as the economies have changed. National identity, as scholars such as Anthony D. Smith have noted, is not a fixed entity but can change and mutate over time, sometimes in positive

directions, sometimes in ways harmful to the group. As the casino dilemmas reveal, long–standing conflicts between Native American nations and the United States over issues of sovereignty, land rights, and rights to economic resources are far from being settled and in fact have become more complicated over time.

Atatürk and the Modernization of Turkey

In the early years of the twentieth century, Turkey was governed by the Ottoman Dynasty, formed during the expansion of control by the Ottoman caliph (leader of Islam) some six hundred years earlier. Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey was still a primarily agrarian country, a composite of ethnic groups as varied as the Ottoman Turks and the nomadic Kurds, a stateless people living in several countries. Having emerged as a military hero among Turks in 1915 while the rest of Europe was embroiled in World War I, Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938) led the Turkish liberation struggle beginning in 1919 against Ottoman rule, a campaign that culminated in independence for the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Born to Ali Riza, his father—a customs official who later became a merchant but died while Mustafa was still a child—and to Zubeyde, his mother, who single–handedly raised Mustafa and his sister after his father's death, Mustafa grew up in the former Ottoman city of Salonica, now a city in Greece. Enrolled at first in a traditional religious school then educated in a modern school, and afterwards in a military high school, Mustafa Riza was given the name Kemal— "perfection"—by one of this high school teachers in honor of his high scholastic achievement. After graduating from the War Academy in 1905, Mustafa Kemal and his compatriots fought and successfully deposed the Ottoman sultan in 1908, the beginning of an illustrious military career for the future president of Turkey.

After the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, with Mustafa Kemal as its first president, Mustafa proceeded to implement widespread reforms throughout the various sectors of the Turkish government and society. During his fifteen–year reign as president, Mustafa—who was renamed "Atatürk" ("Father of the Turks") in 1934 by the Turkish Parliament when legislation was passed requiring everyone to adopt a surname—managed to modernize Turkey more quickly than had ever been done in any other state. Reforming the political, social, legal, economic, and cultural sectors of Turkey, Atatürk secularized the government and the education system, granted women equal rights

with men (including full political rights), converted the Arabic script–based alphabet used in Turkey to a new Turkish alphabet based on Latin script, shifted Turkish dress from traditional Middle Eastern garb to Western–style clothes, and promoted the arts, sciences, agriculture, and industry.

A charismatic leader, Atatürk exemplified the type of leadership around which a new national identity could be formed and for which a nation could be mobilized to achieve remarkable conquests in such fields as health, education, and diplomacy in a very short time. Recognized by the League of Nations for his commitment to world peace, Turkey's first president led the way for Turkey to be invited to join the League in 1932. And by encouraging his people to reshape their national identity in more modern directions, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk facilitated Turkey's transformation into a society which by century's end would be preparing itself for entry into the European Union.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Democratization of Burma

Northwest of Thailand and Laos and tucked in just south of India and China, the country of Burma (renamed "Myanmar" by the military government that captured state power in 1988) is a country with a long history of efforts toward democratization. Colonized by the British, Burma achieved independence in 1947. Just before the transition to independence was to take place, however, a bloody military coup toppled those who rightfully should have assumed power—most prominently Burma's national hero, Aung San, who had assisted the Allies in their fight against the Japanese in World War II. Aung San would have become Burma's first president had he and most of his prospective cabinet not been assassinated by a jealous general bent on seeking this position for himself. Just two years earlier, Aung San's daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, had been born.

Though she does not recall much about her father since he died when she was only two years old, Aung San Suu Kyi reports having been inspired by her father's reputation and image. A formidable Burmese leader in her own right, Suu takes after her father in her charismatic ability to draw supporters to the cause of human rights and democracy in Burma, despite— or perhaps in part, because of—her status as a prisoner of conscience. Suu was placed under house arrest in 1989 by the military junta who took over after the previous national leader, Ne Win, resigned in July 1988.

Educated in England at Oxford University, Suu had returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her dying mother. Apparently unwittingly, she arrived at just the right time to organize a democratization campaign among Burmese anxious to see an end to fifty years of military rule. Beloved by her supporters, encouraged by the international human rights community, and assisted by Burmese grassroots activists, Suu has pursued a non–violent campaign of resistance to Burma's military rulers and has worked to build a democratic future for Burma where democratic political participation will finally be possible.

The political strategy followed by Suu and her fellow members of the National League for Democracy, the party she quickly founded in 1988, has been one of non–accommodation to the demands of the junta—the State Law and Order Restoration Committee (SLORC)—coupled with persistent encouragement for non–violent protests and the promotion of democracy and human rights. In 1989 Suu was placed under house arrest by the military junta, who feared the growing success of her democracy movement and Suu's increasing popularity as an active political force. While under house arrest, Suu and her party won the national election of 1990. Although Suu rightfully should have assumed the presidency of Burma after her election, this was blocked by the military junta. In 1995, Suu was released from her house arrest. Matters intensified when a pro–democracy uprising at the University of Yangon was crushed by the military in 1998. Additionally, Suu's sentence was reimposed in September 2000, when Suu was accused of leaving Rangoon to participate in a political event.

The winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi was honored and the cause of democracy in Burma was promoted by the Nobel Laureates attending the annual Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, Norway in the fall of 2001 and the special ceremonies commemorating one hundred years of the Prize. Recognizing Suu's achievements with a special letter of support directed toward Burmese military leader Than Swe, the Nobel laureates in early December 2001 requested the Burmese government to release Suu from house arrest and to negotiate with her for democratic reforms. In October 2000 Suu began secret, UN– facilitated talks with the Burmese military junta to secure the release of other political prisoners, and within one year about two hundred prisoners were released. Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly is optimistic that her talks with the junta will lead to progress for the Burmese people. As she stated in a videotaped message released in the year 2000, "We are absolutely confident that democracy will come to Burma." Suu's campaign to build a solidaristic union of Burmese citizens committed to the values of democracy, human rights, and non–violence appears to be gradually paying off.

Flooding Nubia, Submerging a Nation

The ancient African nation of Nubia, situated along the Nile River in what is now southern Egypt and the northern part of the Sudan, is a five–thousand–year–old civilization whose relics from the past include exquisite rock carvings, temples, monuments, painted tombs, and buildings of stone. Once the rival of ancient Egypt, Nubia conquered Egypt around 700 B.C. The Nubian kingdom continued to flourish several centuries into the Christian era, its black kings continuing to rule from their capital city of Meroe. Although most Westerners seem to know little about Nubia, this African archaeological treasure boasted more pyramids in the Sudan than Egypt had. Furthermore, the oldest city yet discovered in Africa is one being excavated in Nubia at the turn of the new millennium.

By the early twentieth century, however, the Nubian nation was threatened with cultural extinction. As Egyptian engineers sought solutions to the problem of severe water shortages in Egypt due to population growth along the Nile and the need for greater sources of water for agricultural cultivation, a plan was devised to dam the Nile and create a reservoir of water. Damming the Nile River at Aswan, the Egyptian government completed the first Aswan Dam in 1902 and heightened it twice in the three decades that followed. Again in the early 1960s, a second Aswan Dam was built, again flooding the Nubian national homeland. When much of their land was flooded as the dam was built and the Nile was redirected, thousands of Nubians were forced to relocate to Cairo or to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Lower Nubia was submerged, along with many monuments from antiquity not saved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) salvaging campaign prior to the flooding.

The displaced Nubians have traveled to Cairo and Khartoum and farther, reaching the United States and Europe in their quests for new homes after Lower Nubia was flooded. Among those forced to migrate was Hamza El Din, born in Troshka, Nubia (Sudan) in 1929. Trained as an electrical engineer in Cairo, where he had moved when Nubians began to migrate, El Din took up the oud, a stringed wooden instrument—the Arabic predecessor of the European lute—after graduating from the university. Formally shifting his career to music, El Din studied in Italy and later returned to Nubia, traveling by donkey to collect traditional Nubian folk songs. El Din invented a unique blending of Nubian rhythms and sounds with Arabic and contemporary music, harmonizing musical elements across cultures.

Visiting the United States in 1964, El Din participated in the Newport Folk Festival and his career in music took off. He began recording his original combinations of Nubian–Arabic music. Using music as his vehicle to achieve recognition for the plight of the Nubian nation, its forced migration, and the tragic disappearance of the Nubian landscape, El Din has performed throughout the world and recorded several albums of his Nubian–Arabic musical synthesis. The first Nubian musician to become known in the West, El Din has been vocal about the tragedies suffered by the Nubian nation and the damage to the natural environment and ancient cultural treasures of Nubia.

In 1998 the Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Sharif al–Tuhami, announced the Sudanese state's plans to construct three new hydroelectric dams on the Nile. One of these, the Hamdab High Dam, would be located in Nubia at Merowe at a cost of up to 1.5 billion dollars. El Din in 2001 was continuing to play an active role in the shaping of international consciousness surrounding Nubia and the ancient land's destiny. Alerting the world of the Sudanese government's plans to replicate the efforts of the Egyptians by constructing additional dams along the Nile that would completely flood Nubia, including the few remaining ancient treasures of the Nubian

nation, El Din in 2001 continued to perform concerts in America, his homeland since 1968, and to participate in lectures concerning the land of Nubia and his music. Lacking state power, the Nubian nation is obliged to bring its concerns to the international community in hopes of securing assistance and support in its quest to save the last remaining traces of this ancient land from obliteration. The states of Egypt and Sudan literally have turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of Hamza El Din and others intent on preserving the ancient Nubian culture and carrying the Nubian nation's rich heritage into the twenty–first century.

Creating Israel, Denying Palestine?

Authorized by UN Resolution 181 of 1947, the State of Israel was created out of territory belonging to what had been known for a quarter century as the British mandate for Palestine, an area placed under British control by the Council of the League of Nations in September of 1922. Near the end of World War I, the British had issued a statement of support for a Jewish state in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration. The Declaration of November 2, 1917, issued as a letter written by Arthur James Lord Balfour, British Foreign Secretary at the time, to the British Lord Rothschild, was a formal declaration of sympathy on the part of the British king and cabinet with the Zionist Federation, whose goal was the creation of an Israeli state in the Middle East. Although it remains somewhat unclear as to why Britain issued this declaration, speculation has it that Britain wished to win the support of Jews for the ongoing war effort in Europe.

With the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, a move sanctioned by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, some 780,000 Palestinians lost their homes and were forced to migrate out of Palestine, as their villages were destroyed. Over the next fifty years the Palestinians would become the largest stateless dispersed population in the world, with some 3.7 million Palestinians officially registered with the UN at the turn of the new millennium, including the descendents of the original Palestinian refugees, and countless more Palestinians internally displaced—that is, living near their original homes but unable to return. About one–quarter of the 1.3 million Palestinian citizens living in Israel by 2001 were internally displaced persons. Treated by the Jewish state as second–class citizens, the Palestinians lacked full participatory rights in the political structures of Israel and were subject to discrimination in employment, housing, and other sectors of their daily lives.

Although the Jewish people, too, had been denied a homeland for centuries following their expulsion from the heart of the Middle East, the creation of the State of Israel after World War II without the simultaneous creation of a State of Palestine was viewed by many—both Palestinians and non–Palestinians—as a disastrous course of action. While in 1947 the Palestinians had the right to accept a separate state for themselves, based on UN Resolution 181, they rejected this offer, hoping to secure a more favorable solution. For the next fifty–plus years, the Middle East would be embroiled in religious and ethnic conflict, heating up at times into active wars or simmering at a lower but still deadly temperature. Since the 1980s low– intensity warfare taking the form of the Intifadah waged mostly by Palestinian boys and youths and more virulent attacks on Israel by extremist groups such as Hamas, coupled with the intense aggression of the Israeli military, have produced a seething, seemingly never–ending conflict that has been extremely difficult to contain, let alone resolve.

At the turn of the millennium the continuous actions of extremist Jewish settlers intent on informally expanding the State of Israel by building Jewish homes on Palestinian territory (despite international prohibitions against such further encroachments on Palestinian land) have provoked additional violence on both sides and further complicated attempts to gradually cede territory to the Palestinians so they, too, may have their own state. Weaknesses in the creation and performance of the self–governing Palestinian Authority, the reluctance of Israel to fully withdraw from the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, the slow pace of diplomatic negotiations, and the lack of sufficient international pressure on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to end the cycle of violence and establish greater security in the region have made it unlikely that full peace will be realized in this troubled region anytime soon.

International agreements and peacemaking efforts notwithstanding, the Palestinian–Israeli conflict over the right to establish a secure Israeli state, the right of Palestinians to return to the land of their or their ancestors' birth and to claim their own state, and the right for both Jews and Arabs, let alone Christians, to live in and govern Jerusalem, regarded as an especially holy city by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, has proven to be one of the thorniest international conflicts in modern history. Key problems associated with this entangled conflict have revolved around the inconsistent recognition of Palestinians and Jews as distinct nations deserving full territorial and political rights, including control of a state. When stateless peoples like the Palestinians and (formerly) the Jews contest claims over the same piece of territory, arguing from historical memory that each merits a stake in the territorial pie, if not the whole pie, then a peaceable, just outcome will be very difficult to achieve. Exemplifying the problems inherent in conflicting claims to national territory and the right to a sovereign state, the Palestinian–Israeli conflict will not be easily resolved in the near future, despite the number of scholars who have theorized about national identity–building and the construction of the nation.


Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), known by many as the "Father of African Nationalism," became the first president of the independent West African nation of Ghana in 1960. He shared his esteemed title with the American black socialist leader Marcus Garvey, who reportedly inspired much of Nkrumah's thinking on the need for black–led independence movements in Africa and the African diaspora. Nkrumah wished to see the Gold Coast (as Ghana was called while governed by the British) independent and ruled by Africans themselves. Ghana achieved internal self–rule in 1951 and in March 1957, became the first sub–Saharan African state to step out from under the yoke of European imperialism. (On December 24, 1951, Libya became the first North African state to attain independence—and like Ghana, from British rule.)

Nkrumah's early life Born in 1929 among the Akan people in the village of Nkroful in Nzimaland, the far southwestern area of the Gold Coast, Kwame Nkrumah trained for his first career as a teacher at the Prince of Wales College in Achimoto, just north of Accra. Inspired by the school's Vice Principal, Dr. Kwagyir Aggrey, who had trained in America as an educator, Nkrumah grew convinced that the best means to improve the conditions of Africans' lives was through education. Working to inspire his own students to develop their academic potential, Nkrumah began a number of literary clubs and academic societies for his students and became increasingly interested in discussing the political affairs of Africans with his colleagues at the Catholic school at Axim in Nzemaland, where he served as headmaster. The failure of indigenous Africans in the Gold Coast in 1934 to successfully oppose a British Sedition Bill aimed at stopping the anti–colonial press, coupled with the growing resistance of African cocoa farmers to British exploitation of their industry, led Nkrumah to seek training in the disciplines that would allow him to contribute to the Gold Coast's liberation campaign.

Moving to the United States in 1935, Nkrumah earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and sociology from Lincoln University in Philadelphia in 1939 and a Bachelor of Theology degree from Lincoln Theological Seminary in 1942. He also received a Master of Science degree in education plus a Master of Philosophy degree in 1945 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed significant work toward a doctorate in philosophy. Later in 1945, Nkrumah moved to London, where he soon began participating in twice–weekly discussion sessions at the home of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, an African also educated in America. Among the other attendees at these sessions were a raft of future African leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta (c. 1894–1978), Julius Nyerere (1922–1999), Kojo Botsio, and Harry Nkumbula. In London, Nkrumah also attended lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science on politics and socialism, helped organize the West African national Secretariat, and began the Pan–African Movement, serving as Joint Secretary to the Fifth Pan–African Congress in Manchester, England, in late 1945. Building relationships with members of the British Parliament who were sympathetic to the cause of African liberationists and to socialism, Nkrumah laid the groundwork for his future political career, contributing articles to periodicals advocating independence for African colonies and collaborating with George Padmore, a West Indian socialist writer and activist who also opposed colonial rule.

Formation of Ghana By the late 1940s Nkrumah and his compatriots were ready to challenge British control of the Gold Coast, a country rich in minerals and cocoa farms and ripe for revolution. Nkrumah believed, however, that an effective revolution could be waged only if the economic needs of the citizens of Ghana were appropriately addressed. His campaign to liberate the Gold Coast from British rule thus included advocating a form of socialist governance, a policy of "African Socialism," whereby the state would own key industries and develop the national infrastructure along with social welfare programs to serve the needs of ordinary people. Nkrumah returned to his homeland in 1949 and founded the Convention People's Party (CPP) with the goal of achieving immediate national independence. He was imprisoned for several months in 1950, having encouraged his fellow countrymen to participate in illegal strikes. After the Gold Coast was granted internal self–rule in 1951, Nkrumah served as prime minister from 1952 to 1957. When Ghana became a fully independent country in 1957, Nkrumah continued to serve as prime minister until 1960, when he became the country's first president.

Although Nkrumah was initially welcomed as Ghana's first president after independence, mismanagement and corruption under his rule led eventually to a tightening of power by Nkrumah and to very unwelcome restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association within the country. Courting support from the Soviet Union, Nkrumah took Ghana in increasingly socialist and authoritarian directions. In 1964 Nkrumah made Ghana a one–party state, led by his own CPP. His increasingly dictatorial style coupled with his failure to deliver on the economic and social benefits he had promised Ghanaians led to Nkrumah's loss of power in a bloodless coup while he was visiting China in 1966. Nkrumah returned to West Africa to live in exile in Guinea until his death in 1972, serving as a co–head of state for Ghana during that time. One year after his death, Nkrumah's reputation as one of the great political leaders of the period of African independence was restored.

Nkrumah believed that only a pan–African union of solidarity could ensure Africans true financial, social, and political independence and security. For this reason, Nkrumah led the way for the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after a conference involving thirteen African states and nineteen African colonies soon to become independent. Greatly respected and admired by many of his fellow Ghanaians and by countless other Africans, Nkrumah sought to achieve economic self–sufficiency for the newly independent African nation–states through cooperative understanding and the creation of a genuine brotherhood of nations across Africa. Although his dream to unite Africans through a pan–African union was not realized in his day, Nkrumah's contributions to the liberation movements that transformed Africa in the wake of World War II were arguably unparalleled. The twenty–first century may yet see a rejuvenation of interest in the pan–Africanism Nkrumah envisioned as common solutions are sought for such problems as interethnic violence, poverty, HIV/AIDS and other epidemics, and the lack of adequate infrastructure marking the sub–Saharan region. A newer, more–inclusive concept of nationhood encompassing the wide range of ethnic communities living in African states—inspired by Nkrumah's past efforts and achievements and by the more–recent accomplishments of his fellow Ghanaian, UN Secretary–General Kofi Annan— may in fact be part of the solution to the challenges facing this important region of the world.


Despite the reticence of some theorists to admit that nationalism is an appropriate subject for theoretical study, plenty of evidence exists—and scholarly arguments as well—that indicate national identity, nation–building, and nationalism are all suitable topics for theoretical analysis. Yael Tamir argued in his article, "Theoretical Difficulties in the Study of Nationalism," that theories of nationalism are necessary for several reasons. In order for a respectful discourse to take place on nationalism and national movements and in order for the members of different nations to be able to appreciate and respect the differences in their concepts of national identity, the world needs theories of nationalism. This becomes especially evident when we examine some of the challenges presented by nationalism and the adherents of particular conceptualizations of what it means to be a nation.

As noted in the Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001, "While it was hoped that nationalism would make for peace, in practice it has often resulted in xenophobia, rivalry, oppression of ethnic minorities, and war." Unfortunately, nationalism in both theory and action has produced both negative as well as positive conceptualizations and realities for countless individuals and groups throughout the world. In part, this is due to the nature of nationalist claims, which tend to be exclusionary. Additionally, early nationalist theories may have failed to account for or to predict the rise in ultra–nationalist movements and violent sentiments that would appear on the world scene as national fervor developed to a heightened pitch or overzealous or misguided political leaders took the stage to direct domestic and international affairs in ways Herder, Fichte, and Renan perhaps never anticipated.


Some scholars see the tendency to divide theories of nationalism into "ethnic" versus "civic" categories as a serious problem, claiming that this dichotomous depiction is inaccurate and lacks thoroughness. Others note that in discussing the "civic" nature of certain theories of nationalism, "civic" has erroneously been seen as synonymous with "liberal democratic." While some scholars have argued that Hitler's racist campaign to rebuild German national identity cannot properly be labeled "nationalist" because of Hitler's sharp departure from democratic values, others point out that Hitler nonetheless did construct a view of national identity around a particular conception of nationhood—however distasteful and deadly that conception proved to be. Not all shared political values reflect liberal democratic notions.

Additionally, nationalism in many ways presumes certain conditions that perhaps no longer fit the reality of social and political life in the late–twentieth and early–twenty–first centuries, both in the developed world and in economically developing regions. For example, questions concerning the possible irrelevance, inapplicability, or imperfect agreement of nationalism to multicultural societies are being considered by a number of theorists in the new millennium. Third–World scholars, too, have found fault with nationalist theories' tendency to overemphasize the perspective of Western scholars and to downplay the differences in national development that have occurred in developing regions. The Indian concept of nation has been attuned to the importance of both spiritual and material aspects, according to Partha Chatterjee and a concept of Indian cultural identity allegedly developed before Indians attempted to cast off English dominance and political control. However, many Western scholars have tended to view liberation movements in the developing world and the simultaneous development of national identities among colonized peoples purely as reactions to imperial control, not as independently constructed movements.

Several scholars also have remarked upon the somewhat questionable relevance of many nationalist theories in the late twentieth and early twenty–first centuries to the needs and interests of indigenous and stateless nations. Seeking to broaden definitions of the nation and interpretations of national movements and claims, these scholars have remarked on the tendency of many theorists of nationalism to focus on the typical course of development followed by Western nations, while ignoring the differential paths of Fourth–World and stateless nations. To construct their own national identities and negotiate relationships with those who colonized them and set their territorial boundaries, generally without their consent, indigenous and developing nations deserve appropriate theoretical analyses that illuminate the specific conditions of their existence and development and the alternative notions of national identity that distinguish them from the dominant cultural majority.

Gender Politics

Gender politics and their relation to national identity–building and nationalist movements also has been a neglected area of scholarship in this field. Although concepts of the nation have typically stemmed from notions of a patrie (fatherland) and its associated heritage, theorists of nationalism generally have failed to adequately question whether the conceptualization of a nation has a particularly male thrust. Few theorists have taken up the question of whether and how gender relations come into play in the creation of national identities and the waging of nationalist campaigns. Whereas women and men have both played key roles in pursuing the course of their nations' development throughout the world, assuming indirect as well as direct roles in forging national identities and laying claims to state power, very few twentieth century writers in the field of nationalism have addressed how gender relates to nationalism.

As Ernest Renan remarked toward the close of his 1882 lecture at the Sorbonne, "Man is a slave neither of his race nor his language, nor of his religion, nor of the course of rivers nor of the direction taken by mountain chains. A large aggregate of men, healthy in mind and warm of heart, creates the kind of moral conscience which we call a nation." Presumably, Renan also meant to include women in this discussion, although he neglected to say this directly. The implication is that men rather than women have built nations—a rather indefensible claim, considering the number of women over the centuries who have sacrificed sons, husbands, brothers, and friends to the violence involved in most nation–building efforts and the number of women who themselves have assumed key roles as political activists, social reformers, and educators of the members of new nations.


  • What is the relationship between ethnic identity and nationalism?
  • According to international law, to what extent are indigenous minorities, immigrants, and national minority groups permitted to rightfully advance claims of self–determination? Do some groups deserve their own territorial state more than others? Would the world be a more peaceful place if every nationalist movement were granted its own territorial space and the possibility of self– governance?
  • To what extent did the American reaction to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon represent ultranationalist fervor stemming from what Michael Billig terms "banal nationalism"?



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Chen, David W. and Charlie LeDuff. "Bad Blood in Battle Over Casinos; Issue Divides Tribes and Families as Expansion Looms." The New York Times, October 28, 2001. "Welcome to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's pages." Available at, November 15, 2001. "Nkrumah, Kwame (1909– 1972)." From The Hutchinson Family Encyclopedia. Helicon Publishing Ltd, 2000. Available at, December 4, 2001.

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Gittings, Bruce M. "The Declaration of Arbroath." Available at, December 17, 2001.

Greenfeld, Liah. "Is Nationalism Legitimate? A Sociological Perspective on a Philosophical Question." In Rethinking Nationalism, Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Vol. 22, eds. Jocelyne Couture, Kai Nielsen, and Michel Seymour (Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, copyright 1996; first published 1998).

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Ivison, Duncan, Paul Patton and Will Sanders, eds. Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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Jocelyne Couture, Kai Nielsen, and Michel Seymour, eds. Rethinking Nationalism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Vol. 22. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, copyright 1996, first published 1998.

Johansen, Bruce Elliott and Barbara Alice Mann, eds. Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Kandogan, Eser. "Mustafa Kemal Atatürk." Available at, November 15, 2001.

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "The Building of the First Aswan Dam and the Inundation of Lower Nubia: Images from the Collections of the Kelsey Museum." Available at, December 10, 2001.

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa." Press Release. Available at, December 10, 2001.

Kyi, Aung San Suu, ed. and with an introduction by Michael Aris, foreword by V. Havel. Freedom from Fear and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

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Renan, Ernest. "What Is a Nation?" In Becoming National: A Reader, eds. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Rosenberg, Dan. "Hamza El Din." Available at, December 10, 2001.

Seymour, Michel with Jocelyne Couture and Kai Nielsen. "Introduction: Questioning the Ethnic/Civic Dichotomy." In Rethinking Nationalism, Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Vol. 22, eds. Jocelyne Couture, Kai Nielsen, and Michel Seymour (Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, copyright 1996; first published 1998).

Shenandoah, Audrey. Haudenosaunee Delegation at the United Nations, Millennium World Peace Summit (August 28–30, 2000), Address by Audrey Shenandoah, Clan Mother, Onondaga Nation. Available at, November 15, 2001.

Simpson, Audra. "Paths Toward a Mohawk Nation: Narratives of Citizenship and Nationhood in Kahnawake." In Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, eds. Duncan Ivison, Paul Patton, and Will Sanders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Smith, Anthony D. "The Origins of Nations." In Becoming National: A Reader, eds. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Tamir, Yael. "Theoretical Difficulties in the Study of Nationalism." In Rethinking Nationalism, Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Vol. 22, eds. Jocelyne Couture, Kai Nielsen, and Michel Seymour (Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, copyright 1996; first published 1998).

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Wilson, Woodrow. "Fourteen Points" speech before the Joint Session of the U.S. Congress, January 8, 1918. Available at, December 10, 2001. "The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth." Available at, November 15, 2001. "Hamza El Din–Biography." Available at, December 17, 2001.

Zuelow, Eric G.E. E–mail conversations with Barbara Lakeberg Dridi, October—December 2001.

Zuelow, Eric G.E. "The Nationalism Project." Available at, October 28, 2001.

Further Readings

BBC World Service. "The Nation State." Available at Focusing on the development of independent nation–states in Africa after World War II, this site identifies some of the key African leaders of the anti–colonial liberation movements and includes audio clips of historic speeches.

Braveheart This film depicts the development of Scottish identity and of nationalism among the Scots in the early 1300s, including the War of Independence from England and the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath of 1320.

Encyclopedia of Nationalism, Volumes 1 and 2. Editor– in–Chief, Alexander Motyl. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2000. This encyclopedia contains a range of theoretical articles and case studies pertaining to nationalism, covering all regions of the globe.

Kanatiiosh. "Welcome to Peace 4 Turtle Island." Copyright 2001. Available at Excellent collection of pages related to Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) contemporary affairs and history, including links to books about the Haudenosaunee.

Zuelow, Eric G.E. "The Nationalism Project." Available at This site contains a wealth of resources and information related to the theoretical and practical study of nationalism.


Federalism, Imperialism


views updated May 14 2018


Lawrence S. Kaplan

Nationalism suffers from confusion both over the meaning of the term and over its role in the modern world. Its antecedents may be found in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with the rise of the nation-state under dynastic rule, but its ideology and vitality are no older than the late eighteenth century, the period of the American and French revolutions. Nationalism represents a political creed in which the people offer their supreme allegiance to a nation-state. It underlies the cohesion of modern societies and legitimizes a nation's assertions of authority over the lives of its inhabitants.


The earliest manifestation of nationalism, as opposed to mere patriotic impulses, was the rejection of an ancien régime and the transfer of sovereignty from monarch to people. There is in this event a note of liberation of the nation from oppression, either internal or external. As Hans Kohn pointed out in 1957, "Nationalism is inconceivable without the ideas of popular sovereignty preceding." In the words of Carlton Hayes, it is a state of mind, "a modern emotional fusion of two very old phenomena; nationality and patriotism." If freedom to realize one's individual potential can be realized only in the nation-state, then nationalism becomes the antithesis of tyranny and oppression.

But this is not necessarily the totality of the nationalist experience. When the nation demands the supreme loyalty of its citizens, the freedom of the individual may be sacrificed to the welfare of the state. In this elevation of the state there is the concomitant denigration of the outsider and the temptation to advance the nation at the expense of other nations. As nationalism evolved in the nineteenth century, it assumed the ugly forms of imperialism, racism, and totalitarianism; it helped to stimulate world wars in the twentieth century.

It is these pejorative qualities that have led some American critics of nationalism to separate the American experience from the nationalism of Europe. Paul Nagel, an intellectual historian at the University of Missouri, refused even to use the term in dealing with American nationality. For him, "'Nationalism' regularly has implied a doctrine or a specific form of consciousness conveying superiority or prestige." Such glorification of country, he felt, should not be part of American loyalties because of the essentially different view of their land and themselves that distinguished Americans from other nationalities. Despite disquieting links between manifest destiny and European imperialism, most American critics find a qualitative difference in American nationalism.

One of the fundaments of nationalism is the sense of folk, of a kinship derived from a common ancestry. Where this bond is lacking or is of secondary importance, a common religion serves as a unifying force. Usually a people united in race or religion also have a clearly defined territory with which they are identified, either in the present or in the past. None of these attributes fits American history. Although England was the primary supplier of settlers, colonial Americans were also fully conscious of their Scottish and German roots at the time of the Revolution. An attenuated Calvinist heritage was as close to common religion as could be found in the eighteenth century, and this was vitiated by the fact that where there were established churches, they were more likely to be Anglican than Calvinist. It was a secularized religious spirit that was found in America. A specific territorial claim evoking national emotions was lacking among a people for whom territorial concerns were equated with an expanding frontier. America was more an idea than a geographical entity.

The "invention of America," as the Mexican historian Edmundo O'Gorman has happily phrased it, marks a major departure from the experience of more organically developed nations. The mythic roots of Italian or Japanese peoples are nourished by a prehistory that tells of special strengths an Aeneas brought to Rome from Troy and special considerations conferred on Japan by virtue of divine descent. It is difficult to locate these qualities in a nation whose beginnings followed the invention of the printing press in western Europe by little more than a generation. The words and deeds of founders could be checked and countered, just as John Smith's tales about Virginia were examined by contemporaries who kept modern records.

Granted that every nation is a mixture of races with synoptic religious values, America is one of the very few nations the distinguishing features of which may be traced directly to the needs of other peoples at a particular period. The courage to embark on an American adventure, as well as the knowledge and skills necessary to discover and settle the New World, stemmed from a Renaissance belief in the capacity of man to achieve a new life. Such a conception was beyond the grasp of the medieval mind. The Reformation's pursuit of individual salvation outside the claims of established religions provided a moral imperative to much of the colonizing experience. Boston became a new Jerusalem when older Zions in Rome, London, and even Geneva had failed. Above all, the potential existence of vast quantities of precious metals in the New World gave a powerful impetus to the discovery and exploitation of American resources. The road to a transformation of life in a secular world, opened by the information of the Crusaders about the Levant and the Orient, led to Europe's colonizing of the Western Hemisphere. American nationalism was touched by all these forces.

The first problem, then, in defining American nationalism is to identify it. An automatic expression of nationalism did not accompany the establishment of the United States. The emotions of the American Revolution were attached to state rather than to nation, and the search for a substitute for a historic memory or a common church or a unifying ruling elite required forty years before it could bind the loyalties of Americans. It was an issue that absorbed the energies of the founders of the new republic and achieved a tentative resolution only after the War of 1812. By that time, the focus of nationalist sentiment was on the special conditions of liberty protected by a new and superior government that had no counterpart elsewhere.

The development of a national identity proceeded throughout the nineteenth century, and continued to be a preoccupation of Americans in the twentieth century. The effort to find suitable symbols to display loyalty was a lengthy process. As late as the Civil War there was more than one design of the national flag. It was not until 1942 that the ritual for its display on buildings or on platforms was completed, and the pledge of allegiance was made obligatory in many schools only a generation earlier. The insertion of "under God" in the pledge of allegiance was a product of the pieties of the postWorld War II era. Even the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," was not so designated until 1931. The insecurity over identification of nationalism is equally apparent in the sensitivity over the meanings of "Americanism" and "un-Americanism."

A second, and overlapping, element in nationalism is the peculiar relationship between state and federal governments. The question had its roots in the making of the Constitution, as did the term "federal" used by its framers. It was a euphemism designed to secure support for a new basic law that implied the supremacy of a strong central government. An open affirmation of this purpose in 1787 would have meant the failure of the Constitutional Convention in a country where primary loyalties still belonged to the states and where the word "federal" suggested a fair sharing of power. The struggle between state and nation, begun with the failure of a genuine federal system under the Confederation, was a persistent theme in American life for three-quarters of a century. Although it was present in the Jeffersonian challenge to Alexander Hamilton in the 1790s and in Federalist disaffection from the Jeffersonian conflict with England in the next decade and a half, its dominance over American life coincided with southern sectionalism, culminating in the Civil War. That conflict ended not only in the triumph of the North but also in the vesting of new mystical powers in the Union and the Constitution. Nationalism after 1865 would always be equated with a nation, "one and indivisible," with the "unum" in "e pluribus unum" superior to the "pluribus."

A third strand in American nationalism, which is also as old as the Republic, is the special destiny of America. The hand of Providence as well as of man is involved. If America is a "new world," its rise must have a divine meaning; and that meaning was always translated into some form of sharing the blessings of liberty with less-favored peoples. The religious quality inherent in the image of a "chosen people" was enhanced by the secular opportunities open to Americans. Vast, empty, rich lands held insecurely by European imperialists seemed manifestly destined for American occupation. Movement into Texas and California was a fulfillment of a destiny not only to occupy the entire continent but also to help the rest of humanity see how that occupation would spread the principles of free speech, free religion, self-government, and boundless economic opportunities that were denied to the Old World. Here was a sense of mission that sharpened in clashes with Britain or with Spain, but it was a mission that was susceptible to foreign influence. The unique character of a civilization serving as a beacon to others, a model to be copied, could be (and was) compromised by the change in status from a small, vulnerable republic to a continental empire with overseas ambitions. The altruism of an earlier time was thoroughly mixed, at the end of the nineteenth century, with prevailing influences of social Darwinism and Anglo-Saxon racism.

Most of the elements making up America's self-image of a divinely favored nation still survive, even though the trauma of a great economic depression in the 1930s, the burdens of world governance in the 1950s, and increasing doubts over social injustice and corruption at home and exploitation abroad have had disillusioning effects upon the meaning of the American mission. Yet with all these doubts, the connection between God's special favor and the American way of life remains part of nationalism. And, for all its flaws, the virtues associated with the record of American nationalism suggest distinctive qualities not found in other national experiences.


The most difficult period to identify in the evolution of nationalism is the time of its inception. The very name of America came comparatively late into the consciousness of the British colonies, and the first awareness of a separate destiny is a matter of continuing speculation. Boyd Shafer found an incipient national loyalty appearing as far back as 1740, during King George's War. Paul Varg of Michigan State University settled on 1759, Britain's annus mirabilis in the war with France. Richard Merritt, a Yale political scientist, employed quantitative techniques to determine that 1770 was the year when key colonial newspapers cited "America" more frequently than "British colonies" in their columns. Although by the middle of the eighteenth century it was obvious that Americans were becoming something more than transplanted Englishmen, many future revolutionaries were quick to proclaim their British affiliations as the mother country triumphed over France in the French and Indian War. There was genuine pride in membership in a great British empire. As late as 1775, the poet Philip Freneau was convinced that Britain could and should "rule our hearts again," if only the rights of the American part of the empire were respected.

After the Revolution had shattered that empire, no automatic transfer of loyalty from London to the Confederation, with its seat in Philadelphia, took place. To a New Englander or a Georgian, Philadelphia was as distant as London. The differences between North and South, tidewater and piedmont, were potentially as deep as differences between Americans and Englishmen. Culture as well as geography distinguished the Bostonian from the Virginian, and the tidewater Virginian from the Scottish frontiersman of the Blue Ridge. Some of the most fundamental characteristics of the American way of lifefreedom from arbitrary government and freedom of speech and religionwere Virginian or Pennsylvanian as well as American. The America of 1776 could have remained as much an abstraction as Europe was then and now. The experience of Latin American revolutions a generation later could have been that of the former British colonies.

The vulnerability of a young republic in a world of hostile monarchies provided a major incentive for the cultivation of an American identity. The strength of nationalism was an inspiration to American statesmen aware of the temptations that quarreling American states offered to Europeans awaiting the demise of the American experiment. An anxious neighbor like Spain to the west and south, and an angry neighbor like Britain to the north, looked forward to exploiting the divisions among the former colonies. Even the ally France observed American weakness with complacence, knowing that it would bind Americans to their French patron.

The anticipated failure of the republican regime made success all the more important to the Founders, and this success depended on a strong pride in their achievements. Richard Morris pointed out that an ideology of nationalism could be built on what Europeans regarded as intolerable infirmities: the spectacle of a free people governing themselves under conditions of liberty no other people enjoyed, and managing their affairs in such a way as to be an inspiration to the less fortunate. As Thomas Paine phrased it in his Crisis, the United States would be in a position "to make a world happy, to teach mankind the art of being soto exhibit on the theatre of the universe a character hitherto unknown, and to have, as it were, a new creation intrusted to our hands."

There was an important distinction, however, between pronouncing American superiority on such grounds and building a foundation to support it. Poets, playwrights, and even lexicographers were as sensitive to the importance of building institutions to sustain American achievements as were the diplomats and statesmen. Noah Webster's labors on a dictionary were intended to establish an American language distinct from the English of the mother country. At one and the same time his dictionary would proclaim the differences between the two nations and provide a standard that could be used to deepen those differences in the future. His work was a success, but not quite on the terms he had set. The American language was only partially freed from its inferiority complexes.

Other intellectuals of this period harked back to classical antiquity to assert the American distinctiveness. The American republic was to be accepted, not as a replication of any contemporary European nation but as an improved reincarnation of ancient Greece and Rome. From language to architecture to political imagery, the classical period was invoked. If Rome had its Aeneid to glorify its origins, the Connecticut poet Joel Barlow was willing to offer his country The Columbiad, which attested to

A work so vast a second world required, By oceans bourn'd, from elder states retired; Where, uncontaminated, unconfined, Free contemplation might expand the mind, To form, fix, prove the well-adjusted plan And base and build the commonwealth of man.

Whatever its poetic merits, The Columbiad claimed a new world to be even more superior to the Old World than Rome was to its rivals. But, like Rome, the United States was prepared to grant to mankind something better in human relations than it had ever witnessed before.

This language was the stuff of nationalism. It was also braggadocio, inviting the mockery of enemies and condescending friends. If, as Europe observed, America was no Rome, certainly Barlow and Freneau were neither Virgils nor Homers. America's pretensions were fair game for Europeans of all stripes. It was the American abroad whose national sensibilities were most exposed. John Adams, minister to Great Britain under the Confederation, was never more the American than when he was snubbed at the Court of St. James's. Even in France, which came to the aid of the United States in war, Thomas Jefferson, Adams's counterpart at the Bourbon court, was a victim of many of the slights suffered by Adams, although French motives were less hostile.

That America was unlike other nations was not the question. It was the nature of the differences that distressed diplomats in Europe. French enthusiasts of America were frequently as negative as open adversaries were. The idealization of Americans as Rousseau's "noble savages" stirred European sympathies for the United States, but the European emphasis upon savagery over nobility stirred resentment among Americans. One of Jefferson's more emotional moments in Europe was his encounter with the pejorative opinions of French intellectuals concerning the American character. His Notes on the State of Virginia was a response to those Europeans who shared the views of the naturalist Georges Buffon that animal life in America was inferior in size and strength to that of the Old World. Jefferson's response went beyond a literary effort; Buffon received skins and skeletons of American animals sent to France at Jefferson's behest to prove the equality, if not the superiority, of life in the New World. Even more galling was the charge of the philosophe Abbé Guillaume Raynal that human life degenerated on the American continent. This observation contained aspersions on American virility as well as on American genius. Jefferson countered this assault with a spirited presentation of Indian virtues. He labored valiantly, but under obvious handicaps, in pointing out poets and artists, mathematicians and scientists, to match the products of Europe. Benjamin Franklin and David Rittenhouse were not the equals of Galileo and Newton.

The vigor of American ripostes to perceived insults to their nationality inspired more derision than respect among Europeans of this period. None was more devastating than the Reverend Sydney Smith, a Yorkshire wit who reacted to American claims to being "the greatest, the most enlightened, the most moral people upon earth" by asking rhetorically, "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue?" So much for the pretensions of American nationalism. A sense of inferiority in relation to older civilizations seemed to have given rise to a hyperbolic style of self-defense that invited ridicule.

But Smith's famous article in the Edinburgh Review, which appeared in 1820, would have been more deflating had it appeared a generation earlier, when Barlow and Freneau were poetizing. Between 1783 and 1815 national pride expanded enormously to encompass a much larger company than a few diplomats abroad and the Hartford Wits at home. The nation, having acquired an inland empire and having faced down Britain in war, again shared its exhilaration. The very newness and freedoms of an empty land lacking oppressive government or a cultivated aristocracy, which Europeans translated as barbaric and uncultured, were the reasons for American superiority.

The Revolution had not stimulated nationalism among most Americans in the immediate postwar years. National attention was on the disarrayeconomic and politicalthat separation from Britain had brought. There was little occasion for self-congratulation. Such loyalty to country as was visible in this period was to the patriarchal figure of George Washington, and even this symbol did not emerge untarnished from the political debates. In the absence of a court, and even of a flag, Washington's services as the unifying father of his country were vital for the rallying of national sentiment. He was the Cincinnatus of America who sacrificed himself to perform services no one else could provide, and then retired rather than retain power. His was a vital function for the growth of nationalism, and yet it was incomplete. He found himself enmeshed, and ultimately damaged, by political controversy in the last years of his presidency. The Fourth of July, Independence Day, was a supplementary unifier, as toasts were drunk and cannons fired in honor of the Declaration of Independence. But as exciting as the celebrations may have been, they were as much a victory over the British by Pennsylvanians or New Yorkers as a victory by Americans.

The wave of nationalism that failed to rise in the 1780s and 1790s finally broke over America in the second war with Britain. The Francophilia that had briefly prevailed among Jeffersonians had dissipated in the disillusionment over the policies of the French Republic and in recognition of the dangers of Napoleonic imperialism. Federalist failure to exploit Francophobia fully during the Quasi-War with France in 17981800 reflects a deficiency in the quality of nationalism as much as it does the political power of the Jeffersonian opposition. Anglophilia, more enduring among Federalists of the Northeast, ended more gradually. For those who could not forsake British ties for reasons of custom or conviction or commerce, the consequence was isolation from most of their countrymen and, ultimately, extinction of the Federalist Party as a political entity. The majority of that party joined Republicans in a nationalism influenced by the trans-Appalachian and trans-Mississippi West. Federalists had exerted minuscule influence in 1783, and the Republican Party did not come into being until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

During the War of 1812, Jonathan Russell, a businessman-politician, was inspired by the Constitution 's victory over the British frigate Guerriére to burst out in a paean of praise of its commander, Isaac Hull. The event elevated Hull to Washingtonian heights:

Yes! deathless, oh Hull, shall thy fame live in story

And cheer, in the battle, our sons on the wave

Through ages unborn shall the beams of thy glory,

Unclouded, illumine the march of the brave.

If such a minor figure as Hull could evoke such emotion from such an unlikely source, it is understandable that the common soldier, who was ignored after the Revolutionary War, would also receive attention. Congress finally granted pensions for revolutionary war service in 1818. American identity was no longer a problem on 4 July 1826, when the two great builders of nationalism and independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, died within hours of each other on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence they both helped to write. A generation earlier, when Washington died, the apotheosis of the first president was still a tribute to a single man, no matter how significant the deification was in the fashioning of national unity. On Independence Day of 1826, the passing of the second and third presidents of the United States was the occasion for the nation's apotheosis of itself.


For nationalism to flourish, it was obvious that the United States had to prove its experiment successful. The War of 1812 was one proving ground. More significant than a diplomatic success against Britain was the spectacular rise in the national economy, sparked by population increase, territorial acquisitions, and technological changes in transportation and industry. Speaking of the period after the Treaty of Ghent, Henry Adams observed, "The continent lay before them, like an uncovered ore-bed. They could see and they even could calculate with reasonable accuracy the wealth it could be made to yield." The steady accumulation of power to the central government at the expense of the states was equated with the growth of America. Nationalism implied the denigration of sectionalism and states' rights.

The conflict between central and local governments that accompanied the rise of nationalism was not surprising. The European nation-states experienced the assertion of central power by means of powerful monarchs overcoming the separatism of feudal nobles. What distinguished the American experience from others was the special nature of the central authority; it was not personified by a president, not even George Washington. The mystical conception of a constitution blessing a union permitted the cherished American liberties to flourish.

The argument for centralizing government during the Confederation had been fought on the assumption that no other government could perform that function. States' rights might rally libertarians worried about the tyranny of rule from afar, but the veterans of the revolutionary war returning to their farms and villages were more concerned about economic depression and fore-closures on their properties than with the potential evils of a distant national government. Had there been a stronger central authority in the Confederation, revolutionary war heroes of the order of Ethan Allen, who proposed attaching Vermont to Canada, and George Rogers Clark, who considered a Spanish connection to secure Kentuckians' access to the Gulf of Mexico, would have been less tempted to join with the former British enemy and the hostile Spanish neighbor. Where the states individually or collectively as the Confederation had failed to respond to Indian or European threats in the West, the Union drove the Indians out of the Northwest, saved the nation from the British in 18121815, and wrested Florida from the Spanish in 1819. As the western territories entered the Union their loyalties were to the nation that welcomed them rather than to any pristine colonial commonwealth. Unlike the original thirteen states, they had been created by acts of the federal Congress.

Still, the centrifugal forces that had always been a part of the American experience had not disappeared. Such "good feeling" as existed after 1815 did not have its premise in the end of sectionalism or even states' consciousness; rather, the "American system" of Henry Clay was built on a common hostility to British economic power that would help to mesh the economies of the North, the West, and the South. If there was temporary harmony at this time, it was largely because each section had unrealistic expectations of special advantage from congressional support of tariffs or of internal improvements.

The slave-oriented South found the Union ultimately a threat both to its economy and to its society, and in the Civil War provided the greatest challenge the Union had to surmount in the nation's history. The war was considered by some as a struggle between two competing nationalisms. In the years preceding this conflict, the Union became the most vital national symbol to the North. Southern challenges on constitutional grounds became increasingly insufferable. The South's interpretations signified more than just a peculiar gloss of the Constitution; the North regarded them as a rending of the instrument of America's sovereignty and the consequent extinction of the American nation. While loyalty to a section greater than loyalty to the nation could be considered patriotism, by 1860 the majority of the country was convinced that an effective American sovereignty could be expressed only in a unified nation.

A generation earlier, Alexis de Tocqueville, that astute French visitor, wrote, "The Union is an ideal nation that exists, so to speak, only in the mind." It also existed in the heart. The passions over slavery converted it into something more than a means of achieving effective government. The Union became an object of reverence, the indispensable foundation of national values.

Daniel Webster attempted to exploit this sentiment to deflect sectional rivalry into the popular channel of xenophobia. In a direct insult to Austria in 1849, President Zachary Taylor promised recognition to Hungary if its revolution succeeded, and then, after its failure, his successor Millard Fillmore gave its leader a tumultuous welcome to America in 1852. Secretary of State Webster not only rejected Austria's subsequent protest but went out of his way to taunt its minister to the United States, Chevalier J. G. Hülsemann. He lectured the Austrian on Hungary's good sense in imitating the American Revolution. Should the Austrians have any objection, they must reckon with the fact that "the power of this republic, at the present moment, is spread over a region, one of the richest and most fertile on the globe, and of an extent in comparison with which the possessions of the House of Hapsburg are but as a patch on the earth's surface."

This well-publicized letter struck just the chord Webster hoped to reach in Americans. The appeal to chauvinism with hyperbolic rhetoric performed an important function in 1850. It united North and South in opposition to Europe. But the forces of disunion that Webster had hoped to dissipate were stronger than those of nationalism. In even greater desperation a decade later, Secretary of State William H. Seward tried to divert the country from war by urging President Abraham Lincoln to turn over the executive powers to him so that he could save the Union by initiating war against France or Spain, or all of Europe. The president rejected the proposal, but unrealistic as it may have been in 1861 and fantastic as it has sounded to later generations, the spirit behind the plan was the same one that had propelled the American system of Henry Clay, the Mexican War maneuvers of President James K. Polk, and Daniel Webster's note to Hülsemann. Antagonism to the Old World was a staple of American nationalism, especially in times of crisis.

The traumas of sectional conflict resulted in the removal of the constitutional question from nationalism. The Union had triumphed and with it sentiments of nationalism. The sobriety with which nationalism was expressed in the middle years of the century yielded to a reassertion of the older boisterous spirits. The end of war witnessed a period of even more rapid growth in population, wealth, and power than had been seen fifty years earlier, after the Treaty of Ghent. It also revivedin exaggerated ways before the century was overthe idea of mission that had been implicit in the American self-image from the beginning: the notion that God had given America a special portion of blessings, and with it a mission to share them with less-favored peoples.

Prior to the Civil War the most vocal articulation of the American mission had accompanied crises with Spain or Britain or France over their possessions in North America. They all violated a divine plan. While the idea of providential occupation of the West antedated the annexation of Texas and the demands for Oregonand, indeed, may be found in Jeffersonian ruminations in the 1780sit was John L. O'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, who in 1845 specifically charged foreign hostility and jealousy with "limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." Texas, California, and Oregonand even Upper Canadawere equated with empty land awaiting the arrival of Americans to bring it under proper cultivation.

Americans did not regard these views or the actions that followed from them as analogous to European imperialism; they were simply the natural spread of free peoples and free institutions into unoccupied space wrongly claimed by others. Although such assertions might have sounded hypocritical to hostile observers, even opponents of the Mexican War could concede that the mission to spread liberty bore marks of idealism. Frederick Merk found in expansionism a spirit that was "idealistic, self-denying, hopeful for divine favor for national aspirations, though not sure of it." So if manifest destiny was connected with the grasping for land, it was also linked to the land's improvement by peopling it with what Americans of the period considered to be a better society than could have been achieved under its original proprietors. In the midst of the Mexican War, former secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin defined the American mission as a great experiment in which "a representative democratic republic" had a chance to try out its ideals on a large scale. "If it failed, the last hope of the friends of mankind was lost, or indefinitely postponed; and the eyes of the world were turned towards you. Whenever real or pretended apprehension of the imminent danger of trusting people at large with power were expressed, the answer was 'Look at America.'"

In this spirit the migration of Americans to Texas or California or Oregon signified not exploitation of native peoples, or governance over unwilling subjects, but the sharing of liberties over a wider area. The growing United States had spilled its surplus population into neighboring territories that were relatively empty. When those territories were sufficiently populous, they would enter the Union, ultimately as full and equal partners of the older states. If there was conflict within the United States over their admission, this was a function of the slavery quarrels, not of a desire for imperialist control on the part of the nation.

But it was difficult to deny that the partial dismemberment of Mexico compromised the missionary spirit behind manifest destiny. The opposition of such distinguished figures as John Quincy Adams, an authentic expansionist, and the poet James Russell Lowell helped to arouse a sense of guilt over a war that many abolitionists regarded as an act of aggression by southern slavery interests. That Mexican and Indian populations, no matter how scattered, lived in California or New Mexico gave a taste of imperialism to the fruits of American nationalism. Was manifest destiny, then, merely a mask for American conquest of a weak neighbor?

Although a repugnant element can never be expunged from nationalism, extenuating factors refine the annexation of Texas and even the ensuing war with Mexico. Manifest destiny was more than an instrument of southern interests; the pull of California had attracted New England mercantile ambitions as well. More important, it was a national rather than a sectional impulse, with a powerful England, as in the case of the Oregon quarrel, a major antagonist in 1844. The hope was that the two Canadas would sue for admission to the new and enlarged Union. O'Sullivan speculated that Canada, as easily as California, could be the next "customer."

Arrogant and self-serving as this language sounded in press, pulpit, and schools, its users could unreservedly contrast the freedom of religion and self-government in the territories under American control with the repression of a state church in Mexico and the limitations of political freedom in Canada. When the demands for annexation threatened to get out of hand, as in the pressure for the absorption of all Mexico, opponents stopped the threat effectively. Partisan fears of Mexico parceled into slave states may have been a powerful incentive for opposition, but they were fueled as well by the unpalatable prospect of governing an unassimilable population that would not participate in the American political process.

Although controversy continues to swirl about the purity of American motives in continental expansion, it does not apply to the display of nationalism in this period. It was genuine and widespread. If any emotion could have overcome the deep divisions within the Union in the middle of the nineteenth century, it was pride in American institutions and in the nation's power to proclaim them to the world. Had it not been for the slavery issue, Thomas Bailey of Stanford University speculated, "Americans would not only have swaggered more in the subsequent years but would have grasped more territories." As it was, the Young America spirit that flourished in the wake of the Mexican War expressed itself in provocations against Europe. The Revolution of 1848 was a suitable occasion for its display. George Bancroft, historian and diplomat, from his post in London expressed America's approval of the revolutions: "Can we show ourselves lukewarm, while the Old World is shaking off its chains and emancipating and enthroning the masses?"


Changes that occurred later in the century provided a different gloss both to the idea of manifest destiny and to the meaning of mission. The new "manifest destiny" of the 1890s involved acquisition and control of an overseas empire. Although the older xenophobia and the civilizing mission remained, they were more strident in their tone and also more derivative of the European experience. The distinctions between European and American imperialism appeared to blur at the turn of the century. It was not that the popular nature of nationalism had altered significantly. The beer-garden simplicity with which the flag was venerated in the 1890s and the gusto with which the Spanish were rebuked for their behavior in Cuba linked Theodore Roosevelt to Davy Crockett. Finley Peter Dunne, the leading press satirist at the time of America's rise to world power, put words into the mouth of his Mr. Dooley that would have been as fitting half a century before: "'We're a great people,' said Mr. Hennessy earnestly. 'We are,' said Mr. Dooley. 'We are that. An' th' best iv it is, we know that we are.'"

What was different was a respectful interest in European imperialism and a wish by many American leaders to imitate it. As the burgeoning American economy produced enormous wealth, the instant oil, meat-packing, and rail barons sought marriage alliances with the Old World and pursued culture by bringing the French Middle Ages or Tudor England architecturally to their Rhode Island estates or New York City palaces. But they were conscious that they still lacked a sense of ideological security that European aristocrats possessed as a birthright. The spirit of Teutonic, and especially Anglo-Saxon, solidarity filled some of the needs of an insecure upper class. Although England may have remained a commercial and political rival, there was a surge of appreciation for the kinship of the two peoples that would account for the greatness of both.

The scholar-diplomats George Bancroft and John Lothrop Motley had commented earlier on the role that racial stock had in assuring a nation's greatness. Both had been students in Germany. Granting his distaste for some aspects of Prussian militarism, Bancroft claimed that it would be the instrument to win "more rapidly liberty in Europe than all that the Kossuths, Garibaldis, and Mazzinis could effect in half a century." Motley celebrated Teutonic virtues by noting that Holland's struggle with Spain in the sixteenth century "must have particular interest, for it is a portion of the records of the Anglo-Saxon raceessentially the same, whether in Friesland, England, or Massachusetts." Another diplomat, James Russell Lowell, more poet than scholar, brought the good news to England that "the duty which has been laid upon the English-speaking races, so far as we can discover, has been to carry over the great lessons of liberty combined with order. That is the great secret of civilization." In a major disquisition on democracy in 1884, Lowell had spoken of the problems that Americans encountered with the irresponsible masses in the large cities that were composed of peoples of inferior stock. America's success in overcoming these obstacles to become a great democracy could be traced to the fact that "the acorn from which it sprang was ripened on the British oak."

The only trouble with these perorations was the implication of a junior partnership for America in the racial connection. This became increasingly unacceptable to nationalists. A colonial relationship with even the best of the Old World did not fit America's self-image by the time the nineteenth century ended. America would be superior to Britain even in racism. Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana pointed out to the Senate that "God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the redemption of the world."

For those who might not heed a divine appeal, the mandate of social Darwinism brought the same message. The transfer of Darwinian principles from a struggle among species for survival to a competition among nations moved the naturalist's theory of evolution from biology to sociology and international relations almost from the moment of its conception. Presumably the laws of nature justified power in the hands of the fittest; and in the late nineteenth century the arena for the display of national superiority lay in carving out colonial empires in Asia and Africa. For the United States to stand by and remove itself from this competition would be an admission of inferiority. Since the American continent was filled, expansion would have to take place overseas. The alternative would be both a sapping of national strength and increasing advantage to European competitors in the Darwinian struggle for greatness.

The naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, more than any other figure, tied together the strains of racial pride and Darwinian sanctions with the economic significance of the acquisition of colonies. Such an undertaking would solve the problems of surplus goods flowing from what appeared, after the Panic of 1893, to be an overdeveloped economic plant. It would also satisfy the defense needs of the nation, through a navy protecting routes to new colonies. Lastly, it would address the imperative of carrying the blessings of American civilization abroad.

Indeed, the American mission was ultimately the most important rationalization for imperial control. The Reverend Josiah Strong, secretary of the Evangelical Alliance and a powerful publicist for expansion, exhorted Americans to respect their sacred trust by bestowing their privileges upon other sectors of humanity. After all, "they are not proprietors, apportioning their own, but simply trustees or managers of God's property. Our plea is not America for America's sake," he wrote in Our Country (1885), "but America for the world's sake." It is this eleemosynary spirit that gave meaning to President William McKinley's reluctance to leave the Philippines under Spanish control or under its own governance. In confessing his agony over the decision to annex the islands, he finally realized, "there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died."

The gulf between McKinley's understanding of America's mission and those of the French, British, Germans, and Russians was not as wide as the gulf between McKinley's or Theodore Roosevelt's conception of mission and that of Jefferson or John Quincy Adams. The Monroe Doctrine had made it clear that America was to serve as a model for others to emulate, but not as an instrument to involve itself in the afflictions of the less fortunate. America's own system could only be corrupted by such involvement. So Adams concluded when he counseled President James Monroe not to intervene against Turkey on behalf of the admired Greek revolutionaries. But by the end of the century the combination of racial pretensions, Darwinian impulses, and putative economic imperatives had broken one great barrier of isolationism. They affected more than the special interests of navalists, businessmen, or missionaries. Even so sensitive a scholar as Frederick Jackson Turner found virtue in overseas expansion. He "rowed with the tide of the new nationalism," Ralph Gabriel noted in his Course of American Democratic Thought, at least for a while, as he pondered the effect of the passing of the frontier upon American democracy. It was hoped that settlement of Hawaii and the Philippines could have the same beneficial results for democracy as the settlement of Ohio and Iowa had in the past.

For Turner and for most Americans, the new manifest destiny was a mistake, an aberration of American tradition. In the wake of Filipino resistance to American occupation in 1899, William Jennings Bryan observed, "'Destiny' was not as manifest as it was a few weeks ago." Most American leaders were slower to realize this than Bryan had been. The tide of empire finally receded, but not before it had left a permanent imprint on the fabric of American nationalism, or at least had deepened indentations that had always been there. The country came to recognize the incompatibility between the governance of Iowa and the governance of the Philippines; the former was based on self-government and eventual state-hood, the latter, on imperial control over unassimilable peoples. The result was the gradual disengagement from the imperial plans of 1900, and ultimate independence for those islands.


If nationalism in the twentieth century recoiled from the problems of assimilation abroad, it could not avoid those problems at home. The rise of Anglo-Saxon racism coincided with massive emigration from nonAnglo-Saxon eastern and southern Europe, which raised questions about the dilution not only of the race but also of the institutions of America. Not all the nativist reactions were hostile. Some were patronizing and even melioristic. The Daughters of the American Revolution and other patriotic societies recognized their duty to "Americanize" the foreigner, to teach him proper speech and manners as well as values. The public school would be the instrument, according to Josiah Strong, by which "the strange and dissimilar races which come to us are, in one generation, assimilated and made Americans." American Catholic and Jewish historical societies, accepting the importance of Americanization, were organized in the 1880s and 1890s to show the nation their own ties with the American past. Their objective was to justify themselves as Americans, different in background but sharing in the creation of a new people. The constitution of the American Irish Historical Society expressed the hope that "in the days to come, that lie in the womb of the future, when all the various elements that have gone and are going to make the republic great, are united in the American,the man who in his person will represent the bravest elements of all the old races of earth,we declare that the deeds and accomplishment of our element shall be written in the book of the new race, telling what we did and no more; giving us our rightful place by the side of the others."

Such modesty of aspiration on the part of an immigrant group and such generous impulses on the part of the patronizing older stock were balanced by less edifying side effects of the racist component in nationalism. Ethnic and religious communities vied with each other in claiming credit for contributions to the national history or character, while the Anglo-Saxon elite, under the impact of war and depression in the twentieth century, blamed immigrants for the nation's troubles. War inevitably stokes nationalist passions, and World War I was no exception. The case then was not simply undifferentiated immigrants. German-Americans were identified as enemies with dangerous attachments to the ancestral country. Such manifestations of nationalism at its worst were seen in the banning of Beethoven, the conversion of sauerkraut into liberty cabbage, and the removal of German language instruction from schools. The vehement denunciation of the "hyphenated" American by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt during the war assumed that hyphenation applied to the Irish and Germans, not to the British. The latter's heritage was indistinguishable from the Americans' in 1917.

The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, with its particularly ugly brand of national exclusiveness, was another manifestation of the Anglo-Saxon tradition translated into a self-conscious white Protestant ascendancy. Immigration restriction rather than immigrant amelioration was a consequence of this mood in the period of disillusionment that followed World War I. It is ironic that a generation later, in the aftermath of another world war, the followers of Senator Joseph McCarthy, many of them from ethnic backgrounds that could not meet the test of Americanism in the past, led a nationalist assault on the loyalty of the older elite.

In the struggle with Soviet communism after World War II, McCarthy's unprincipled attacks on putative American communists numbered among their victims not merely the principles of civil liberties but also the American eastern "establishment," mostly Anglo-Saxon, which was accused of negligence and worse in the struggle of the nation against external enemies. The emotions of the time evoked the xenophobia of earlier crises, except that the "American" embraced a wider constituency. Nonetheless, the nationalism that was demonstrated in the 1950s, as much as in the 1920s or in the 1890s, was a narrow and self-centered view of the nation's interests.


Despite the many xenophobic impulses released in the name of nationalism, the missionary elements did not disappear in the twentieth century. The retreat from moral uplifting of the natives of the Caribbean or East Asia was short-lived and replaced by an attempt to uplift the entire world, not merely those regions under American governance. In both world wars American democracy became the exemplar for the world. Although Woodrow Wilson won a reputation as a supreme internationalist, seeking a new world order that would end national rivalries, his new order would be on American terms. His conception of the American mission was to disseminate those progressive values, both economic and political, that would serve America's own interests in the world. It was nothing less than the remaking of the world according to an American pattern. Wilson himself rejected a narrow distinction between nationalism and internationalism. "The greatest nationalist," he claimed, "is the man who wants his nation to be the greatest nation, and the greatest nation is the nation which penetrates to the heart of its duty and mission among the nations of the world."

In this context the mission of World War II and the Cold War was a continuation of the Wilsonian worldview. The United Nations would replicate the League of Nations by serving to help America fulfill its duty to humanity. Both the goals and the methods were clearly outlined. Nations would be freed from fear of conquest, with American military power protecting them from Nazis or communists; they would be freed from want by the application of American technology to their economies; they would be freed from ignorance by American learning spread through a Fulbright scholarship program or a Peace Corps. These were the benign purposes of the Marshall Plan and Point Four. They reflected an idealism embodied in President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address in 1961. The language in which they were expressed lacked the overt racial biases and self-satisfied smugness that had characterized many early missionary activities. The publisher Henry Luce anticipated an "American century," in which the United States would serve "as the dynamic center of ever-widening spheres of enterprise, as the training center of the skillful servants of mankind, America as the Good Samaritan, really believing again that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and as the powerhouse of the ideals of Freedom and Justice."

In 1967, Ronald Steel claimed that Luce's American century was in fact a Pax Americana, with very few distinctions between its dictates and those of Rome's imperialism. Whether America willed it or not, it built a world empire to serve its own economic needs; it elevated communism into a monster out of all proportion to the threat presented; it arbitrarily divided the world into Manichaean spheres of good and evil; and, in the name of altruism, it helped to turn parts of Southeast Asia into a wasteland. As Americans reflected with disillusion upon the exaggerated promises of the Truman Doctrine, undertaken in the afterglow of successes in World War II when the United States sought to extend its system throughout the world, they discovered flaws in even the most altruistic postures. Nationalism was a cover for the erosion of civil liberties identified with McCarthyism, for the corruption of government by the accretion of enormous power in the hands of the executive, and for the corresponding diminution of power in the Congress. While the crudities of American imperialism of the Theodore Roosevelt era may have been smoothed, the brutalization of the American character stemming from the anticommunist campaigns in Asia and Latin America was even more distressing.

The result in the post-Vietnam era was a decline in the nationalist spirit. The conscious abuse of the flag by many of the younger generation was a symbolic act of revenge upon a nation that, in the name of liberty, sought conquest of the world for selfish reasons. The very idea of an American mission was called into question, not simply the matter of its betrayal. The result was a retreat by both conservatives and liberals into a neoisolationist stance in the 1970s. Conservatives would turn America's attention back to its own problems, rather than waste resources on an ungrateful world. Liberals urged a less grandiose vision for America's role in the world, blaming American arrogance for troubling the peace of the world.

Both sentiments were present in American society in the last years of the twentieth century. But they were subsumed under a triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War and implosion of the Soviet empire. President Ronald Reagan's vision of American power seemed to have been realized. Democratic capitalism was to be the model for the world. The striking victory over Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1991 marked the nation as the world's sole superpower. That the American way of life was the ideal toward which all peoples stroveand most did envysparked a nationalist pride that almost effaced the memory of failure in Vietnam. But doubts about the reality of American dominance of a fractious world dimmed the optimism of those who saw the "end of history" in the demise of capitalism. The world at the turn of the twenty-first century was in as much turmoil as it had been when the Soviet Union was the nation's powerful adversary. The shortcomings of American society were also as muchor morein evidence as in the past, as hitherto quiet minority voices were heard. David Waldstreicher in 1997 observed that Native Americans and African Americans had no reason to celebrate the national fetes that accompanied Independence Day. Nationalism seemed to many Americans to have been tainted by the realities of the nation's history. For Walter A. McDougall, hubris inhered in the familiar temptation to reform the world in the American image. There were limits not only to national virtues but also to national power.

But there is nothing unique about the present mixed emotions about American nationalism. Indeed, skepticism about nationalism is endemic in the American system. Although nationalism is dependent upon an allegiance above all others, the nature of American pluralism militates against a monistic devotion. The nation must compete for public attention. For all its flaws in the past and the present, the special qualities associated with American nationalisman open society, a mobile society, and above all a society divinely favoredwill remain a force in America as long as the nation-state system of governance prevails among the peoples of the world.


Deutsch, Karl Wolfgang. Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality. Cambridge, Mass., 1953. Employs the techniques of the social sciences to examine nationalism.

Hayes, Carlton J. H. Essays on Nationalism. New York, 1926. A collection of writings by the founder of American studies in nationalism.

Kohn, Hans. American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay. 2d ed. New York, 1980. Particularly useful for its insights on the American character and its relationships to nationalism.

LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 18601898. Ithaca, N.Y., 1963. Presents an economic explanation of the growth of nationalism.

Levin, N. Gordon, Jr. Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution. New York, 1968. Links American nationalism with Wilsonian internationalism.

McDougall, Walter A. Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776. Boston, 1997. Warns of the dangers that nationalist pride may bring if America overextends its reach in the world.

May, Ernest R. American Imperialism: A Speculative Essay. New York, 1968. Offers speculations on reasons why nationalism developed into imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century.

Merk, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation. New York, 1963. Gives a favorable view of manifest destiny as a link between nationalism and American ideals.

Nye, Joseph S., Jr. Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. New York, 1990. Reflects the pride that American leadership conveys.

Shafer, Boyd C. Faces of Nationalism: New Realities and Old Myths. New York, 1972. Summation of the many approaches to nationalism.

Steel, Ronald. Pax Americana. Rev. ed. New York, 1970. Treats nationalism and the Cold War.

Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right. New York, 1995.

Van Alstyne, Richard W. Genesis of American Nationalism. Waltham, Mass., 1970. An examination of nationalism in the early republic.

Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 17761820. Chapel Hill, 1997. Emphasizes flaws in the foundations of American nationalism.

Weinberg, Albert Katz. Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History. Baltimore, 1935. A major revisionist statement on nineteenth-century nationalism as expressed in manifest destiny.

Zelinsky, Wilbur. Nation into State: The Shifting Symbolic Foundations of American Nationalism. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988. Finds American nationalism evolving from shared national values to events glorifying the nation-state itself.

See also Anti-Imperialism; Continental Expansion; Immigration; Imperialism; Nativism; Religion; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy .


views updated May 23 2018


Nationalism has been defined in a variety of ways at different levels of analysis (e.g., Kohn 1955, 1968; Symmons-Symonolewicz 1970; Kamenka 1973; Plamenatz 1973; Smith 1976, 1981; Snyder 1984). The concept combines a sense of identification with a people, an ideology of common history and destiny, and a social movement addressed to shared objectives. This definition raises questions about what differentiates a people or a nation from others, the nature of identification, the conditions under which nationalist ideologies develop, and the course and aims of nationalist movements.

Historically the term nationalism was applied to attempts to follow early European models "to make the boundaries of the state and those of the nation coincide" (Minogue 1967, p. 12), that is, to create loyalty to a nation-state (Kohn 1968). It was also applied to struggles, proliferating after World War II, to gain independence from colonial domination and join the community of sovereign states. More recently, however, analysts have found the confusion between the concepts of state and nation to be a hindrance to understanding contemporary nationalism. Only rarely, if at all, do the boundaries of a state coincide with those of a nation. By nation we mean an ethnic group that (1) shares one or more identifying characteristics, such as language, religion, racial background, culture, and/or territory; and (2) is politically mobilized or is amenable to such mobilization. Thus, nationalism should be distinguished from patriotism, in that the identification and loyalty in the former is to an ethnic group or nation, and in the latter to the state.


Debates centering on the intrinsic nature of collective ethnic identification feature variations on two general themes—primordialism and structuralism. Implied in the primordial perspective is a deemphasis on an instrumental view of ethnic ties. These ties are seen as ends in themselves shaped by forces other than material self-interest; they are persistent and they resist the homogenization predicted by convergence and modernization theorists. The essence of these ties "is a psychological bond that joins a people and differentiates it in the subconscious conviction of its members from all other people in the most vital way" (Connor 1978, quoted in Stack 1986, pp. 3, 4). These bonds stem from "immediate contiguity and kin connection mainly, but beyond them . . . from being born into a particular religious community, speaking a particular language, or even a dialect of a language, and following particular social practice" (Geertz 1963, pp. 14, 15). Thus, there can be multiple identities—for instance, a Moroccan may identify with an ethnic group within Morocco, the Maghrebs of North Africa, the Arabic speaking people, and the Muslim people at large. These identities assume varying significance depending on the context, lending credence to the old saying "My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger." To structuralists, "ethnic identity results instead from objective intergroup differences in the distribution of economic resources and authority" (Hechter 1986, p. 109). Implied here is rational choice and self-interest, that ethnic ties are means to certain ends, and that the boundaries of ethnic groups are changeable.

Neither primordialists nor structuralists would deny the obvious variations in the intensity of identification and in the potential for nationalist movements cross-culturally and over time. Several factors are expected to contribute to these variations. Among the more important of these factors is coterminality of characteristics. In most instances multiple characteristics are involved in distinguishing among ethnic groups—in an overlapping manner at times and coterminously at others. The United States offers an example of overlapping identities where people from different racial backgrounds share the same religious orientation, people with different religious orientation share a common language, and there is no territorial exclusiveness. This overlap in ethnic identification is credited in part with lowering intergroup tensions (Williams 1947). At the other extreme are peoples in southern Sudan, Eritrea, Tibet, the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, the republics of the former Soviet Union, the republics of former Yugoslavia, and other places where all or a combination of racial, religious, linguistic, cultural, and territorial maps largely coincide. The greater the number of factors that coincide, the greater the gulf or "social fault" among ethnic groups along which nationalist sentiments and tensions are likely to intensify (Nagi 1992).

In addition to differentiating attributes and geographic distributions, a number of features of the social structure contribute heavily to variance in intensity and patterns of nationalism. Hechter (1986) suggests two types of such factors. One is the institutionalization of ethnic differences in legal and normative rules, especially those governing property and civil rights, as was the case in South Africa. The other is differentiation in positions in the division of labor that shape "specialization experiences as well as material interests." Deutsch offers another factor in nationalism, attributing membership in a people essentially to a "wide complementarity of social communication" that "consists in the ability to communicate more effectively, and over a wide range of subjects, with members of one large group than with outsiders" (1953, p. 71). Communication is subject not only to commonality of language and cultural background, but also to available means. These include networks of social relations as well as the ever-advancing technological means of mass communication.


In addition to identification and "consciousness of kind," nationalism involves ideology and mobilization for social movement and political action. The ideology stems from identification, the sense of uniqueness of group origin, history, culture, collective authority, and destiny (Smith 1981). Political mobilization and the course of nationalist movements are greatly influenced by a host of internal and external factors. Important among the internal factors are uneven economic conditions and disparities along cultural lines in control of resources, access to goods, and distribution of positions in the occupational structure. The collective perception of an ethnic group of its deprivation or exploitation may challenge the legitimacy not only of the regime but also of the state itself. The theme of "relative deprivation" has been central to explanations of political violence (e.g., Gurr 1970).

The political system allocates power and authority. An uneven distribution among ethnic groups can be the direct result of exclusionary rules and practices, as in the case of Apartheid in South Africa, or the indirect result of socioeconomic disparities and associated discriminatory practices, as characterized in the relationships between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Whatever the reason, a cultural distribution of power is as evocative of a nationalist sense of deprivation as a cultural distribution of resources. The close relationship between power and resources led Lasswell to observe that politics is "Who Gets What, When, How" (1936, p. ii).

Applying a developmental perspective, Huntington (1968) connects political stability or instability to the balance between "institutionalization" and "participation." This line of reasoning suggests to some analysts (e.g., Sanders 1981) a linear relationship between political development and political instability—in this case arising from nationalism, which is credited with having been the most prevalent reason for state-level violence (Said and Simmons 1976). Support for such a pattern of relationships derives also from the expectation that the national integration and political assimilation characteristic of developed societies contribute to a shift from culturally based to functionally based cleavages. The net result is a reduction in the prevalence and intensity of ethnic mobilization in the more politically developed countries. However, clearly implied in Huntington's discussion of relations between demand for participation and institutional capacity is a balance at low levels in the least developed countries and at high levels in the developed ones. Imbalances can be expected at early and middle states of development, which suggests a curvilinear pattern.

There is no unanimity on the relationships between development and nationalism. This is understandable in view of the complexity of both phenomena and the current state of research. An important voice on these relationships is that of Walker Connor (e.g., 1972), who contends that modernization, the spread of education, and improved means of mass communication are responsible for a resurgence in ethnic nationalism. Juan Linz observes that "in the modern world the aim seems to be to build nations rather than states, a task that is probably beyond the capacity of any state that has not achieved the characteristics of a nation-state before the era of nationalism" (1978, p. 62). The distinction between "level" and "process" of modernization and development is useful in understanding the rise in nationalist sentiments. As Smith has noted, "Perhaps, then, it is not the fact of economic progress or decline that is relevant to ethnic revival, but simply economic change per se. Most change . . . is painful and uprooting" (1981, p. 34). Tensions, strains, and dislocations associated with change in the structure and distribution of power—political change—are no less painful or uprooting. Attempts by central governments to secularize and to shift loyalties from ethnic groups to the state underlie much of contemporary nationalism.


The literature offers two perspectives in explaining the formation of social movements—collective behavior and resource mobilization. In the former, social movements are viewed as responses to a rise in grievances and the actors are seen as "arational" if not "irrational"; in the latter they are considered as goal-oriented, rational responses dependent on organization and mobilization of resources (Jenkins 1983). Debates concerning the strengths and limitations of these two perspectives are yet to be settled. Important to a discussion of nationalism, however, is that literature on social movements, especially on resource mobilization, is primarily Western in conceptualization and empirical foundations. Significant in this respect are differences in aims that guide social movements. More common to Western societies is "changing some elements of the social structure and/or reward distribution of a society" (McCarthy and Zald 1977, pp. 1217, 1218), as compared to nationalist movements that press for autonomy, if not for secession. The first type of movement seeks change through influencing political institutions, the legitimacy of which is not in question (e.g., civil rights in the United States and labor movements in many countries). Nationalist movements, on the other hand, often challenge, if not outright reject, the legitimacy of the state (e.g., Croatia, Slovenia, Bangladesh, Eritrea, and others that eventually seceded from larger states, as well as Biafra, Southern Sudan, Quebec, and others where no separation has occurred). This is not to cast doubt on the applicability of theories of social movements to ethnic nationalism but, rather, to point out that the influence of differences among societies in levels of development, political institutions, types of regimes, and movements' aims has not been adequately explored (see McCarthy and Zald 1977; Tilly 1978; Jenkins 1983).

In the following paragraphs we shall outline some of the important features of nationalist movements and the processes of mobilization. More specifically, we shall consider the role of grievance, resources, repertoires of expression, and aims.

The role of grievances remains unresolved. While traditional analysis places grievances stemming from structural strains associated with social change at the root of movements (e.g., Smelser 1962; Gurr 1970; Gusfield 1970), resource mobilization proponents favor structural "causal" explanations (e.g., Tilly 1978). Some feel discontent is ubiquitous and therefore, by itself, cannot explain the emergence of social movements. McCarthy and Zald go even further: "For some purposes, grievances and discontent may be defined, created and manipulated by issue entrepreneurs and organizations" (1977, p. 1215). In line with this perspective is Smith's account of "ethnic revival" (1981). Smith maintains that the unique and distinguishing rationale of an ethnic group is the emphasis on group belonging and group uniqueness that links successive generations of the group with specific origins and history. Driving the engines of "historicism" and "nationalism" are discontented intellectuals, educators, and professional intelligentsia. Blocked mobility, opposition and repression by traditional authorities, and frustrated expectations concerning recognition, especially on the part of Third World intellectuals, are factors in the radicalization of these groups, which then turn to historicism and inward to their ethnic communities (Smith 1981).

In explaining the spread of "value-oriented movements," Smelser (1962) refers to "structural conduciveness." Two elements of conduciveness are highly applicable to ethnonationalist movements. One relates to the importance of communication in "disseminating a generalized belief"—a position consistent with that of Deutsch (1953) and Connor (1972), cited earlier. The other is "the availability of means to express grievances" during troubled or uncertain times in order to redress problems.

Attempts to explain nationalist movements must account for the mobilization of resources. McCarthy and Zald outline five central considerations: (1) "aggregation of resources (money and labor)"; (2) the form of organization these resources entail; (3) involvement of individuals and organizations outside the movement; (4) the flow of resources to and from the movement; and (5) "the importance of costs and rewards in explaining individual and organizational involvement" (1977, p. 1216).

The prevailing patterns of social relations are expected to influence the potential for, and forms of, organization and mobilization. Tilly (1978) maintains that combined strength in identification and interpersonal bonds lead to high levels of organization and to greater possibilities for mobilization. In a similar vein Oberschall (1973) offers a classification for patterns of organization. Along one dimension—relations within collectivities—he identifies three types: "communal," "associational," and "weakly [organized] or unorganized." Mobilization, which is facilitated by communal and associational forms, is rendered difficult by the weakly organized and unorganized structures. Along another dimension, Oberschall distinguishes between "vertical" and "horizontal" relations to other collectives and segments of society. Social and political bonds across classes and collectivities can influence mobilization; however, the direction of influence can be expected to vary depending on the type of movement. For example, Oberschall observes: "If in a stratified society there exist [sic] strong vertical social and political bonds between upper and lower classes, mobilization into protest movements among lower classes is not likely to take place" (1973, p. 120). While this may be the case in regard to class conflicts, vertical bonds within an ethnic group can significantly facilitate mobilization.

Strength in family and kinship relations underlies Tilly's networks of interpersonal bonds and Oberschall's communal organization. Houseknecht sees strength here as referring "to the extent to which family/kinship obligations and rights take precedence over their nonkinship counterparts" (1990, p. 1). She outlines important ways in which kinship relates to ethnic identification, nationalism, and the organization of movements. Early socialization builds identification with an ethnic culture and commitment to its values and norms, which continue to be strengthened and enforced through kinship ties. Commonality in cultural background facilitates social communication, and the networks of kinship ties are readily available channels for the mobilization of human and material resources. Furthermore, the traditional authority structure afforded by strong family and kinship systems provides protection in resisting pressures applied by the state's central authorities.

While informal networks of kinship and interpersonal relations are important to nationalist movements, the role of formal organizations cannot be overstated. As pointed out by McCarthy and Zald (1977), a social movement may include more than one organization; and all organizations in a movement compose a "social movement industry." Competition over resources can arise between a movement industry and other commitments, as well as among organizations within the same movement industry. The latter form of competition is common to nationalist movements, as in the case of the Kurds. This frequently encourages the involvement of neighboring states or major powers, and often leads to internal conflicts within movements.

These lines of reasoning concerning the role of kinship and interpersonal relations bring up the unresolved debate over the relative effectiveness of bureaucratic centralized movement organizations compared with those of an informal decentralized nature. While some argue that "a formalized structure with a clear division of labor maximizes mobilization by transforming diffuse commitments into clearly defined roles and . . . centralized decision making," others maintain that "decentralized movements with a minimum division of labor and integrated by informal networks and an overarching ideology are more effective" (Jenkins 1983, p. 539).

Why would individuals and organizations contribute their labor and resources to ethnonationalist movements? To primordialists, the answer is that they do so in order to preserve cultural integrity and a way of life, to maintain group solidarity and social bonds, and to advance the cause of a community from which a sense of security and pride is derived. These are valued ends in themselves. To collective behavior theorists, the answer is in the collective mood, the social contagion, and the state of mind that are engendered in response to the perception of grievances. To structuralists and resource mobilization proponents, the answer lies in rational collective action and the pursuit of interests.

Opportunities for mobilization are also enhanced by the quality of leadership and its effectiveness in articulating the interests of the group. Smelser explains the significance of charismatic leadership to value-oriented movements. Such forms as "the dreamer prophet of the cult, the nationalist crusader, and the totalitarian demagogue" (1962, p. 355) are compatible with the character of these movements in certain phases of their development. He goes on to point out, however, that "Insofar as a value-oriented movement receives material from outside sources, and insofar as it inherits an organizational structure, the need for charismatic leadership lessens" (p. 356). Useful here are categories identified by Hermann (1986) to analyze political leaders. Particularly important are such contextual factors as to whom the leaders are accountable, forms of interaction with followers, the constraints defined by constituents' beliefs and norms, the strength and nature of opposition, and available resources.

Repertoires of expression of ethnic nationalist movements vary along a wide spectrum that includes interest articulation, passive resistance, demonstrations and riots, sabotage and terrorist acts, and internal wars. Patterns of expression are shaped by the style of leadership, the level of organization, and resources. They are also influenced by the reactions of the state as well as by external forces. These expressions represent events in the life history of movements. The points at which these movements begin and end are generally difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. Thus, what might be referred to as beginnings or outcomes may well represent only arbitrarily defined points in a process.

Ethnic movements differ in aims and strategies. Smith identifies six types:

1. Isolation . . . . was the most common strategy for smaller ethnic communities in the past. The ethnic community chooses to stay aloof from society as a whole. 2. Accommodation. Here the ethnic community aims to adjust to its host society by encouraging its members to participate in the social and political life of the society and its state. Often, individual members try to assimilate to the host society, or at least become acculturated, for individual advancement. 3. Communalism . . . . is simply a more dynamic and active form of accommodation . . . . The aim is communal control over communal affairs in those geographical areas where the ethnic community forms a demographic majority. 4. Autonomism. There are . . . various forms and degrees of autonomy . . . . Cultural autonomy implies full control by representatives of the ethnic community over every aspect of its cultural life, notably education, the press and mass media, and the courts. Political autonomy or "home rule" extends this to cover every aspect of social, political, and economic life, except for foreign affairs and defense. Ideally, autonomists demand a federal state structure, and this strategy is really only open to communities with a secure regional base. 5. Separatism. This is the classic political goal of ethnonational self-determination . . . . In each case, the aim is to secede and form one's own sovereign state, with little or no connection with former rulers. 6. Irredentism. Here an ethnic community, whose members are divided and fragmented in separate states, seeks reunification and recovery of the "lost" or "unredeemed" territories occupied by its members. In general, this is only possible where the ethnic community has its membership living in adjoining states or areas. (1981, pp. 15–17)

Seeking independent rule, as in secessionist or separatist movements, poses the most serious threat to the state. Such movements challenge not only the legitimacy of the government or regime, but also the integrity of the state itself.

It is reasonable to expect that factors shaping the intensity of nationalist movements will, in turn, influence the formation of secessionist goals. Territorial coterminality with lines of ethnic identification is a strong contributor, with distance from the ruling center adding to the potential for secessionist claims (Young 1975; Islam 1985; Pankhurst 1988). Timing seems to be important to the rise of such claims as well as to their success. Based on the experiences of several African countries, Young (1975) points out that time is conducive when polity in the parent state falls into disrepute, calling its legitimacy into question because of mismanagement, corruption, and discrimination. He also concludes that times of cataclysmic events in the lives of states offer opportunities for secessionist claims because of the fluidity these events engender, the options they open, and the push for choices to be made. Young cites other antecedents that provide a basis for solidarity and mobilization, such as regional differentials in concentration of wealth and representation in power positions, and at least the minimum political resources to make independent status possible even when economic sacrifice is required. To this list of contributing factors, Islam (1985) adds the magnitude of suffering, the impact of the secession of a region on the rest of the country, whether the seceding region represents a majority or a minority of the population, and the involvement of outside powers.


The rise of nationalism and the forms and directions it takes are significantly influenced by forces external to the respective states—regional and global socioeconomic and political conditions, and by the spread of ideologies. The power vacuum created by the liquidation of colonialism after World War II tended to be filled by newly created states where borders had been frequently drawn arbitrarily vis-à-vis ethnic distributions. Regional power struggles, territorial disputes, economic competition, and ideological differences have left many regions of the world fraught with turmoil. Since cultural pluralism is characteristic of most, if not all, of the new states, ethnic nationalism often figures prominently in regional conflicts—as a cause at times, and as a consequence at others. The regional dynamics of ethnonationalism can take many forms. It has been a force behind the formation of alliances among independent states, for instance, the Arab League (1945), the Arab Magreb Union (1989), and the Gulf Co-operation Council (1981). It was also influential in rare cases of voluntary fusion of independent states. Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic (1958) which "was open to other Arab states to join, but only Yemen entered a loose association" (Encyclopedia of World History 1998, p. 689). A military coup in Syria ended its union with Egypt in 1961, and Yemen pulled out in 1966. Ethnonationalism was also used as justification for annexation by force as in Germany's invasion of Austria and the Sudetenland (late 1930s); China's occupation of Tibet (1950s); and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait (early 1990s), which was repelled by an international coalition led by the United States and including several Arab countries.

The phenomenal advancements in means of communication and transportation have enormously increased the intensity and scope of global relations. Four features of these relations are particularly relevant to nationalism. First is the spread of ideologies related to human rights and the right to self-determination. Reports of abuses of these rights are communicated in a graphic and rapid, if not an instant, manner. They galvanize global public opinion and prod governments to intercede. The intervention of the Northa Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and others in opposition to "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Kosovo is a case in point. Rapid communication also brings to ethnic communities the successes of others who are engaged in struggles or have succeeded in attaining varying measures of autonomy. Second is the presence of world forums to address these issues and bring to bear the weight of the global community, such as the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and other governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Third is the increasing globalization of the economy, which makes it possible for small sociopolitical units to find multilateral niches, thereby reducing dependency on bilateral economic relations with either former colonial powers or states from which they have seceded. Fourth is the geopolitical relations among major powers. When the world was polarized between the two superpowers—the United States and the former Soviet Union—they frequently supported different sides of conflicts within pluralistic societies, either directly or through proxies. In the past, both countries have taken positions in support of the doctrine of "self-determination." President Wilson was a staunch spokesman for the principle during and after World War I. Around the same time, "at the Seventh All Russian Democratic Labor Party Conference of May 12, 1917 . . . in a resolution drafted by Lenin, the conference unequivocally endorsed the right of all of the nations forming part of Russia freely to secede and form independent states" (Connor 1984, p. 45). In contemporary global relations both countries have shown less commitment to the principle. This became clearly evident in the resistance of the former Soviet Union to the independence of the Baltic States, and in the use of military force to keep Chechnya within the fold of the Russian Federation. The approaches of these powers to nationalism have become subject to strategic and economic interests, tempered by the balance of force that can be brought to the situation. The ebb and flow of relations among these powers exerted considerable influence on ethnonationalism for decades.

The vested interests of other states are usually rooted in resources, trade, security, geopolitical advantage, ethnic affinity, or other ideology. More recently, humanitarian considerations have been assuming greater significance in the foreign policy of the West, most notably the United States, progressing "from the call for moral pressure in the 1970s, to economic sanctions in the 1980s, to military intervention in the 1990s" (Kissinger 1999, p. 43), as in the case of Kosovo. While the large states "are likely to intervene for instrumental reasons," the small ones "are more likely to intervene for affective reasons" (Heraclides 1990, p. 377). Regional and global influences may strengthen or weaken the state's means of control and repression, contribute to the movement's resources and sanctuary, and/or raise awareness and help mobilize regional and global public opinion. These interests and their expression, directly or through international organizations, expand or inhibit opportunities for nationalist movements including those with secessionist aims.

The spread of the ideology of minority rights and self-determination plays a special role in secessionist movements. In a comparative analysis, Sigler concludes: "There is historical weight to the charge that minority rights is a guise for separatist sentiment" (1983, p. 188). He maintains that the "concept of minority rights briefly blossomed under the minorities treaties system" (p.190) that followed from the Treaty of Versailles. The system was to protect the rights of minorities in many countries, mostly in Europe, after World War I. It gave jurisdiction to the Permanent Court of International Justice, but litigations became protracted and difficult to adjudicate, thus severely limiting the court's role. It gave power to the Council of the League of Nations to intervene but did not guarantee that disciplinary actions would be carried out against states for infractions. Mutual reinforcement of a system of states as a basis for international relations restrained the various states from interfering in each other's internal affairs. "The collapse of the minorities treaties system . . . has encouraged minority separatist movements . . . . In the absence of a strong international system for the protection of minority rights, resort to separatist politics may have become more prevalent" (Sigler 1983, p. 190). This reinforces Smelser's ideas about structural conduciveness mentioned earlier.

If the odds facing secessionists are great, those facing irredentists are much greater. By definition, irredentism involves multiple secessions, which means contending with forces of more than one state. Consider the difficulties facing the Kurds for whom fulfilling the aim of a unified independent homeland (Kurdistan) is resisted by all the states among which they are divided (Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey). An exception was when an ethnic group in one state seeks to attach itself to a neighboring state that includes part of the same group. This tactic is used by some separatists to obtain external support (Young 1975), as in the case of Kashmir that has attracted the backing of Pakistan in its struggle to secede from India. Potential annexation is not necessary for a state to intervene in support of related groups in another state. In the course of extending protection to the Greek and Turkish subpopulations of the island state of Cyprus, war almost erupted between Greece and Turkey.


Actions by the authorities and the means of control they employ are largely shaped by the objectives of nationalist movements and greatly affect their course. When perceived as threats to the stability of state and government, they are usually met with repression. However, nationalist movements that remain clandestine and limited under conditions of severe repression tend to gather momentum and erupt into open expression when a new regime, or change in policy, reduces coercion. Recent events in the former Soviet Union and other countries illustrate the point.

Repression is not the only means used by states in responding to threats of ethnonationalism. Some states, such as the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, adopted population redistribution policies aimed at diluting the coterminalitiy of ethnicity with territory. Language policies in education are also used to increase homogenization. Data and other information about Russia and the former Soviet Union are more readily available than about China. The "russification" of Central Asia involved "several migration waves . . . the most recent of which occurred from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1960's . . . conquest and incorporation of the region was accompanied by Russian in-migration, first of peasants in search of new farmland and later of semiskilled industrial workers who entered with regional economic development under socialism" (Kaiser 1994, p. 238). For example, between 1926 and 1959, the proportion of Russians in the population of Kazakhstan increased from 19.7 to 42.7 percent, and from 11.7 to 30.2 percent in Kurgyzstan (Koslov 1975, quoted in Kaiser 1994). These policies seem to have been counterproductive because of heightening nationalist sentiments among the native populations who did, and continue to, view the Russians as colonialists who enjoy greater power and resources (Kaiser 1994). Migration is not the only means used in population redistribution; native populations may be driven out in a process of "ethnic cleansing" as occurred in Bosnia and Kosovo. Central governments in some pluralist states may adopt redistributive policies in regard to resources to assist economic development in lagging regions. Tito's regime in Yugoslavia introduced such policies which ignited a feeling of being exploited on the part of ethnic groups in the more advanced republics (e.g., Slovenia and Croatia).

Other means in the state's arsenal are arrangements for power sharing in governance and mechanisms for conflict regulation. Nordlinger (1972) outlines six such mechanisms: (1) a stable governing coalition of political parties involving all major conflict groups, (2) proportional distribution of elective and appointive positions, (3) mutual veto by which government decisions must be acceptable to major conflict organizations, (4) purposive depoliticization in which leaders of conflict groups agree to keep government out of policy areas that impinge upon the various segments' values and interests, (5) regulation by compromise over conflictual issues, and (6) one group granting concessions to another as a way of managing conflicts. He also sees four motives for leaders to engage in conflict regulation: (1) external threats or pressure, (2) negative effects on the economic well-being of the groups involved, (3) aversion to risking violence and human suffering that might result from unregulated conflicts, and (4) the protection of leaders' own power position.

Lijphart places equal emphasis on leaders "whose cooperative attitudes and behavior are needed to counteract the centrifugal tendencies inherent in plural societies" (1977, p. 1). The forms he outlines for "consociational" democracies overlap in many ways with Nordlinger's mechanisms for conflict regulation. One important difference, however, is Lijphart's inclusion of "segmental autonomy," that is, federalism. Nordlinger specifically excluded federalism as a mechanism for regulating conflicts because he saw in it a recipe for a breakup of the state.

Emphasis in the foregoing discussion has been on strategies to prevent the breakup of the state. An alternative, however, is to carry out an orderly and peaceful separation. The division of Czeckoslovakia (1993) into two countries (the Czeck and the Slovak Republics), although a rare example, renders this alternative real rather than just theoretical.


While forecasting is a hazardous endeavor, especially in regard to such complex and volatile phenomena as nationalism, disciplined consideration of important trends and their implications for the future is warranted. Interest here is in long-term change that may span generations and many decades of evolution. As implied earlier, the forces of modernization and development are intricately interrelated to the prevalence, severity, and modes of resolving nationalist tensions. By modernization, we mean the forces of change in institutions, organization, and behavior in adaptation to the vast and rapid advancement in knowledge and its technological application. In a classic analysis, Black describes the awesome significance of this process:

The change in human affairs now taking place is of the scope and intensity that mankind has experienced on only two previous occasions, and its significance cannot be appreciated except in the context of the entire course of world history. The first revolutionary transformation was the emergence of human beings, about a million years ago, after many thousands of years of evolution from primate life . . .

The second great revolutionary transformation in human affairs was that from primitive to civilized societies, culminating seven thousand years ago. . . . Three [early civilizations]—the Mesopotamian, the Egyptian, and the Cretan—have transmitted their knowledge and institutions to later societies.

The process of change in the modern era is of the same order of magnitude as that from prehuman life and from primitive to civilized societies; it is the most dynamic of the great revolutionary transformations in the conduct of human affairs. What is distinctive about the modern era is the phenomenal growth of knowledge since the scientific revolution and the unprecedented effort at adaptation to this knowledge that has come to be demanded of the whole mankind. (1966, pp. 2–4).

Emerging through this process is change in institutions toward greater capacity for political participation, expanding and more productive economies, and increasing cultural neutrality in the formulation of laws and universality in their application. As has been noted by many analysts of social change, this transformation has been accompanied by change in value orientation toward increasing emphasis on achievement, secularization, individualism, rational choice, the rule of law, and tolerance for differences. Powering this process are mutually reinforcing systems of education, research, and development. Several points are important in explaining the connections between modernization and nationalism.

First, the course of modernization is highly influenced by the ability of leaders "to keep the delicate balance required for survival between the maintenance of the traditional pattern of values that serves as the basis for cohesion and adaptation to new knowledge that requires a revision of the traditional value system" (Black 1966, p. 4). This "clash of civilizations" is common to developing and transitional societies; it is often seized upon in mobilizing nationalist sentiments. The resulting mixes tend to negate the notion that modernization means turning other societies into clones of those of the West. In fact, there are pronounced differences among the advanced countries in the configurations of institutions, organizations, and values they have evolved.

Second, "the challenge . . . in the societies that modernized earlier was internal, the processes of transformation took place generally over centuries. In the later modernizing societies this challenge has been increasingly external, hence more rapid and even abrupt" (Black 1966, p. 8). As pointed out earlier, rapid and abrupt change in itself can create considerable dislocation in institutions and unpredictability in behavior—conditions of anomie—that are fertile grounds for mobilizing fervor for such emotional causes as nationalism.

Third, with halts at times and set backs at others, modernization is a continual process with different countries, and different peoples within countries, being at varying stages of the process. Certain levels of transformation bring about institutional arrangements, modes of organization, and value orientations favorable to prospects for peaceful and orderly resolution of nationalist tensions. It is no accident that the ethnic sub-populations in Switzerland (French, German, Italian, and others), in former Czechoslovakia (Czechs and Slovaks), in the United Kingdom (English, Scottish, and Welsh), in Belgium (Flemings and Walloons), and in Canada (citizens of Quebec and others), found ways to resolve, or to go about resolving, these issues within peaceful legal frameworks. To be sure, there remain instances of violent conflicts as in the case of Northern Ireland.

The point to be made here is that, in the long run—over an extended span of history—the process of modernization can be expected to lessen ethnic tensions and promote peaceful resolution. At present and in the short run, however, the ubiquity of ethnic conflicts and the escalation in associated violence are to be expected in many regions and countries of the world. In part, this is because of the abruptness of change in general, the pressure built over decades of ethnic differentiation in the distribution of power and resources, and fluidity in the structure of central authorities that suppressed their expression as happened in Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union. The influence of fluidity in power structures is illustrated by Naimark in his foreword to a volume aptly entitled The Revenge of the Past:

The collapse of the Soviet Union was caused by nationalism, that is, by the demands of the subject nationalities of the USSR for genuine independence and autonomy. Unified in their hostility to the Kremlin's authority, the fifteen constituent Union Republics, including the Russian republic, declared sovereignty and began to build state institutions of their own . . . . With the failure of the August 1992 putsch attempt, sovereign republics obtained their independence. Nationalism reigned supreme" (1993, p. ix).

Another major trend expected to have significant dampening effects on violent nationalism is the development of global and regional governmental and nongovernmental organizations addressed, in part or in whole, to investigating, reporting, and intervening with cases of discrimination and abuses of human rights. Precedents, of historic importance, were introduced in 1999 with the military intervention of the NATO countries in attempting to reverse "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, and the indictment of a head of state and high officials in a serving government by a United Nations Tribunal for "crimes of war and against humanity." To focus on the United Nations for a moment, among its achievements over the first fifty years, Alger cites the following:

It has invented new tools such as peace-keeping. It has extended its mission to include violent conflicts within states. It has broadened peace-keeping to include an array of supportive humanitarian operations. It has drafted a broad array of human rights conventions covering economic, social, cultural, civil, and political dimensions. (1998, p. 422).

Finally, other trends with potential impacts on nationalism include the voluntary formation of economic and political federations among states such as the European Union, and the globalization of the economy. The growing interdependence among countries brings to bear the weight of regional and global communities in containing the risks of disruptive violence. Furthermore, these trends facilitate greater autonomy for small sociopolitical units by offering multilateral niches that reduce dependence on bilateral economic relations with the countries in which they are part or from which they have seceded. In other words, globalization and regionalization tend to transfer power and authority from the states upward to the larger structures and downward to local levels, thus, increasing local autonomy. As has already been explained, a host of other factors particular to each situation are also at work.


In conclusion, it can be said that the current pervasiveness of nationalism should be self-evident. The socioeconomic, political, and other human costs are frequently staggering. In the short and intermediate term, the ubiquity of the phenomenon can be expected to continue. In addition to Africa and the Balkans, there remain significant ethnic tensions, if not risks of violence, in many countries of Asia—Russia, China, and India, among others. However, in the long run, major trends of modernization, economic globalization and interdependence, and the development of international organizations and forums to address the problem, all point to conditions less conducive to the mobilization of nationalist sentiments and more tending to peaceful resolutions of such tensions.

As a major feature of social structure, ethnicity is of central theoretical importance. However, many (and often large) gaps in the state of knowledge exist, both in theory and in accumulated data. Basically, three shortcomings in the literature account for this. First, there are conceptual and theoretical limitations, especially at the intermediate levels of abstraction that connect abstract explanatory schemes—of which a notable few exist—with concrete events. Second, the preponderance of empirical work in this area is in the form of case studies that are mostly historical. These case studies offer uniformity neither in concepts nor in evidence. The third problem with literature on ethnic nationalism is its fragmentation. A coherent picture must draw upon concepts and propositions from a number of traditions, and there are many overriding concepts with which to assemble frameworks to advance theory and to guide the collection of evidence. While they are difficult to plan and execute, there is compelling need for comparative studies to advance understanding of the underlying principles. Clear understanding of nationalism, and of the processes involved, is essential to the evolving of appropriate educational, policy, constitutional, and other legal means for accommodating cultural diversity.

(see also: Ethnicity; Social Movements)


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Saad Z. Nagi


views updated May 21 2018


Nationalism is the belief that a particular nation and its culture, people, and values are superior to those of other nations and thus that one's own nation will benefit from acting independently, rather then in coordination with other nations. It can also include the belief that a certain large social grouping of people deserves to have its own independent nation. Nationalists are those people who identify, perhaps strongly, with a particular nation. Through nationalism, people show a strong loyalty and devotion to their existing nation or desired future nation that exceeds most other concerns. Nationalism influences people on a day-to-day basis and shapes their lives in various ways. Nationalism is often most strongly felt by groups that are seeking to establish a new nation. Nationalist movements are efforts to establish or actively maintain a particular nation. By the late twentieth century, most people in the world lived in a nation of some sort.

Nationalists promote self-governance (freedom from foreign political control) of their nation to maintain independence from other nations. Nationalism often makes use of stereotypes (an oversimplified opinion of others based on limited information or exaggerated perceptions) to create and maintain a unity of prejudice against people of other nationalities for nationalism requires distinctions between supporting a particular nation and not other nations as much. The stereotypes are frequently negative and may result in members of other nations becoming labeled as an enemy.

People who share common nationalistic attitudes often share some combination of a common language, culture, religion, or other social values. Often, new nations are established based on a certain ethnicity of the people or some other form of common identity such as religious affiliation. By the late twentieth century, ethnicity had become increasingly important over all other factors. As a result, just as people are born into a particular ethnic group, they are similarly born into a nation or group seeking a nation. Therefore membership in a nation is often hereditary rather than chosen.

To remain cohesive and distinguish themselves from members of other nations, national symbols are adopted, a national culture is promoted, and folklore and mythology is created to justify the nation's existence and feelings of superiority. In addition national music, literature, sports, and foods are identified to help establish or maintain a national identity. Some nationalists may even promote a national religion and discourage the practice of other religions.

Just as nationalism has greatly affected the course of world history throughout the past several centuries, it still has the capability to influence what can happen. Nationalism can lead to separatism (seeking to form a new nation from one currently existing), irredentism (reclaiming a lost homeland), or militarism (forceful expansion of a nation). Nationalism can stir intense emotions, and extreme forms of nationalism can lead to extensive violence, even ethnic cleansing (a planned attempt to eliminate a whole targeted ethnic group of people by killing all members).


To gain territories considered previous parts of the national homeland.
A politically independent country.
The belief that a particular nation and its culture, people, and values are superior to those of other nations and thus that one's own nation will benefit from acting independently, rather than in coordination with other nations.
nationalist movement:
Organized efforts to establish or aggressively maintain a particular nation.
The desire of a group of citizens to separate from the state in which they live to form a new, independent state.

Prejudice and nationalism

Nationalism involves development of a specific group identity usually based on a common origin or ethnicity of the people. This identity distinguishes the group from other groups in its search for political sovereignty, or independence. The loyalty to a person's own nation takes priority over loyalty to any other political organization. Nationalism is captured by such phrases as a national identity, collective mentality, national spirit, and national character. Nationalism causes a suspicion of others and less cooperation with people of other ethnic or religious affiliations, even prejudice and discrimination. Eventually, this distrust and its resulting stereotypes can and do lead to violent conflict.

Nationalism takes several forms. Civil nationalism is where ethnicity is not a dominant factor. Ethnic nationalism is when the group shares a common language, origin, and tradition. Citizens of the United States and Western European countries tend more toward civic nationalism because of their lengthy history of immigration and the resulting human diversity in society. Central and eastern European countries are driven more by ethnic nationalism because nations tended to form in regions dominated by particular ethnic populations. Germany was a leading example of ethnic nationalism after 1871, when the nation was formed from the many Germanic tribes.

The rise of nationalism

Until the seventeenth century, most people's loyalties were local in focus. People commonly gave their allegiance to city-states (independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory), feudal lords (wealthy who owned and leased large tracts of land), royal dynasties, or religious movements. The nation-state (a politically independent country) did not exist. For much of history, powerful empires did dominate large parts of the world, but they controlled and oppressed people. They did not incite emotional loyalties. These included the Ancient Greek Civilization two to three thousand years ago and the Roman Empire (31 bce–1453 ce) followed by the Holy Roman Empire (843–1806). During the Middle Ages (500–1500), religion—not national governments—was seen as the great unifier of vast human populations.

By the sixteenth century, feudal lords gave way to European monarchs, or royals, whose rule spanned larger territories. Under monarchs, states became more centralized. Life and education became secular (led by politicians, not religious leaders). However, these monarchies were still not modern nations. For example, the boundaries of these territories steadily changed as marriages among royalty occurred and deaths happened.

The beginning of nation-states came with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The treaty, consisting actually of a series of treaties, ended thirty years of war in Europe between the Holy Roman Empire and peoples of various German groups in France, Spain, and Sweden. The treaty had far-reaching effects in separating the Netherlands from Spain, gaining lands for Sweden, establishing independence for Switzerland, securing greater independence for hundreds of small German states known as tribes, and breaking the broad, sweeping power of the Holy Roman Empire. No longer were there expansive empires that for centuries had dominated large regions in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. The highest and broadest level of government was now the nation-state. The treaty also began the practice of nations officially recognizing each other as self-ruling. A major implication of this change was that issues of governments and states would now trigger wars rather than religious disputes. Over the next three centuries, the nation became the focal point of political loyalties, education systems, and public life in general.

The shaping of a new world

Another major driving force in the creation of nations was the rise of industrialization and spread of capitalism beginning in the late eighteenth century. These two forces led to economic systems needing state support and oversight. Industrialization was the change in economic focus from one rooted in agriculture to one based on industry and production. Capitalism is an economic system in which production is privately owned, financed through private investments, and the demand for goods is established through an open market system largely free of government involvement with prices of goods and services set by competition between private businesses.

Industrialization first began in the textile mills of Britain in the late 1700s. As a result, British nationalism coincided with the emergence of a middle class of merchants (people who buy and sell goods for a profit). As economies grew with industrialization, those regions with sufficient economic and political power established national identities. Whereas earlier empires stressed a broad unity, nationhood focused more on differences in peoples and competition over land and resources.

The rise of capitalism in support of industrialization and invention of the steam-powered printing press in 1812 set the stage for the growth and spread of these nationalistic prejudices. Thanks to the new powered printing presses, newspapers, pamphlets, and books suddenly had much greater distribution to transmit ideas, including political propaganda (information designed to promote a certain cause), and build a broader social unity. Along with nationalism came prejudices against people of other nations. As time passed, these differences grew more pronounced. The prejudices led to territorial conflicts in Europe, such as the Crimean War (1854–56) between Russia and an alliance of France, Britain, and others, and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) between France and Prussia. These wars and others during the nineteenth century focused on settling boundary disputes and control over territories among European nations.

The spread of nationalism

The American and French revolutions in the late eighteenth century also served to bring nationalism to the forefront. America's Declaration of Independence in 1776 was one of the world's first formal political expressions of nationalism. While nationalistic movements were making historic changes on the European continent, the British colonies in North America broke away from monarchial rule of Britain to form their own nation. They formed the United States, a nation created more for civic, or public, than ethnic (a group recognized by certain traits such as a unique culture, common national origin or ancestral history, or certain physical traits) reasons. Unlike many new nations, people in the United States became members of the new nation more by choice than by birth as Europeans had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to enjoy religious freedoms and other civil liberties. From there nationalism moved throughout the Americas, becoming a major political force during the nineteenth century in Latin America, which includes the Western Hemisphere south of the United States. All Latin American countries except for Puerto Rico and Cuba gained independence from Spanish colonial rule by 1825 and established sovereign nations.

As the ideas of nationalism spread around the globe, nationalistic movements developed. Nationalist movements began in the late nineteenth century in Central and Eastern Europe. Some took the form of separatist movements whose members were eager to break away from large empires or monarchial rule, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867–1916) and the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922). Other nationalistic efforts sought to combine small territories into larger political and economic regions, as happened in Germany and Italy. For example, the population of Germany was originally organized into hundreds of small tribal governments. It was not until 1871 that nationalism led to their combining into a single nation-state. By the twentieth century, Europe was well divided into nations.

In the early twentieth century, World War I (1914–18) led to the formation of new nations in Central and Eastern Europe, free from rule of larger empires. The Versailles Treaty ended the war and encouraged the creation of nations by establishing nationhood as a step toward participating in the newly established League of Nations, an international organization created to resolve future international conflicts. Some new nations, including Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, were multiethnic since their national boundaries included multiple ethnic territories. Other new nation-states had less diversity since they were formed corresponding to previous ethnic territories. These nations included Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. Nationalism also appeared after World War I in Turkey, Egypt, India, and China. In Japan, a nationalist movement led to imperialism (the practice of one country exerting its power over other nations or territories), an extreme form of nationalism.

Post-World War II

World War II (1939–45) centered on the fight by the Allied powers led by the United States and Britain to maintain democracies in the face of the military expansion of German and Japanese dictatorships. Following the war the world was ready to shed the weight of colonial rule by Western powers on distant peoples. This growing worldwide desire to end colonialism led to the formation of more nations. The end of European colonial rule led to the birth of new nations in Africa. Turkey, France, Spain, and Britain had controlled various Arab territories since the colonial period. They had routinely enforced use of their own languages in place of Arabic. Following World War II, a process of Arabization took place that included an emphasis of Arabic to increase Arab identity. Other nations peacefully achieved political independence from the British Empire after the war, including Burma, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and Ghana. In India, a strong nationalist movement grew in popularity among India's large population prior to the war in the 1930s. The population wanted to end British rule of India and gain independence. Indian nationalism was based on the practice of the Hindu religion. Hinduism began in India over two thousand years ago as a collection of practices and traditions that varied from village to village and region to region. Unlike Islam and Christianity, which recognize only one God, Hinduism has a number of deities (gods) who may be local deities of a particular community or even personal deities of individuals. They may be images of just about any aspect of life, but all are representative of a high god that is contained in everything worldly. Following World War II, independence was achieved following much rioting by Indians and Indian resistance to support of Britain during the war. British forces had lost their appetite to continue repression of Indian populations following the lengthy and costly war with Germany. Other nationalistic movements continued to fight bitterly against French rule into the 1950s including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Tunisia, and Algeria.

Nationalism also mixed with religious prejudice to produce dramatic events. One of the dominant nationalist struggles in the twentieth century occurred in the Middle East between the newly established nation of Israel in 1948, and its neighbors, such as Egypt and Syria and the displaced Palestinian populations. Of similar nature and also triggered in the late 1940s was the struggle between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India over the control of the Kashmir region, an agriculturally fertile land, located between them.

The number of nations in the world grew steadily throughout the twentieth century. When the United Nations formed in 1945 as a world body to resolve international disputes, only fifty-one nations were members. By 1980, more than one hundred new nations had formed and joined the UN, increasing the membership to over 150. Most of these new nations were in Africa and Asia.

Racism and Nationalism

Almost all forms of strong nationalism include some degree of racism. Racial prejudices are aimed either at adjacent (immediately neighboring) nations or ethnic groups within a nation who do not conform to nationalists' goals and values. Racism was also a strong element of nationalism as Britain established its worldwide empire through colonizing parts of the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Africa between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The racism reached its peak in colonial control of countries in the late nineteenth century. The racism was strongly reflected in subjugating indigenous populations to work in oppressive conditions, even slavery, in order to extract natural resources for British economic gain. Racism was also central to all policies of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, including the Holocaust in which millions of European Jews and other social groups were exterminated in gas chambers. Racism continued to influence nationalism in the late twentieth century during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Ethnic cleansing, an extreme form of nationalism, became a major element of nationalistic movements to create separate governments out of the former Yugoslavia. A similar occurrence happened eighty years earlier when the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922) exterminated Armenians, an ethnic minority in Turkey, in 1915. This reflected the nineteenth century trend in European nationalistic movements that did not usually allow for multiracial or ethnic nations.

The worldwide consequences of nationalism had declined during the 1970s and 1980s, only to grow again as a dominant world cause of international conflict. A wave of nationalistic movements and their related prejudices swept the globe in 1990 and 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union and Communist governments of Eastern Europe. As a result the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia were formed. Events in Yugoslavia (see chapter 15) in the 1990s caused dramatic changes in southeastern Europe as the country split into several new nations. Ethnic struggles for political independence led to considerable strife, cruelty, and bloodshed as nationalistic movements sought to expel ethnic groups, such as Albanians from the Kosovo region of Serbia. Organized by existing governments, mass murders called genocide—or ethnic cleansing—resulted from the nationalistic movements. International intervention in the form of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces finally stopped the killing and restored order in 1999. NATO is a military defense alliance established in April 1949 among Western European and North American nations. An end result was the creation of new countries including Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was also further divided into separate ethnic regions. Nationalism became a prime factor in international war crimes involving primarily the Serbian government but with accusations against others such as Bosnia as well. After 2001, nationalistic conflicts were overshadowed by another broad international conflict considered to be more of a clash of civilizations. This clash involved the Western Judeo-Christian world of the United States, Western Europe, and Israel and the Islamic states of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Jordan, played out in the form of ongoing war and terrorist actions.

The process of nationalism

In a relatively brief time since nationalism became a common factor in world events in the late eighteenth century, it became one of the most influential social factors in human history entering the twenty-first century. Nationalistic prejudice led to wars and even genocide including the Holocaust in World War II when Nazi Germany sought to exterminate all European Jews as well as other selected groups. Some eleven million people were murdered including six million Jews. The result was death of millions and the redrawing of political boundaries throughout the world. A dominant belief behind the broad nationalism movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was that the world is naturally divided into a number of distinct nations that form the basis for government institutions and laws. In the extreme view of this belief in a national setting, neo-fascist movements (belief in strong authoritarian government system such as dictatorships) associated nationalism with racism. A prime impact on the development of nationalism was the growth of industrialization and the related spread of capitalistic economies, which spurred competition for valuable national resources and cheap labor sources.

Certain conditions must be present in order for nationalism to develop. The building blocks of strong nationalism include a clearly defined homeland, hostile groups located nearby, stories of past conflicts and battles, sharing a distinct language different from other nearby spoken languages, special social and ethnic customs, and records of historical existence. In the presence of these circumstances, prejudice against other nationalities is able to fester and grow. For example, formation of nations has often led to restrictions on the use of minority languages, usually characterized as low-status languages.

Forms of nationalism include cultural; ethnic, such as the breakup of Yugoslavia into Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina; or civic, such as the United States built around a strict capitalist economy. An example of cultural nationalism occurs in China. Though China is composed of many minorities, it exists as a nation-state primarily through a shared Asian culture. A cultural nationalism based on religious distinction surfaced in Northern Ireland in the 1920s. Religious affiliation was the basis of group identities, Catholicism with North Ireland and Protestantism with England. Religion was the basis of nationalistic prejudices, though the primary issues of conflict were more economic in nature. Protestants in British-ruled Northern Ireland dominated the economy leaving only low-paying jobs and unemployment for the Catholic minority.

Even where violent conflict between nationalistic factions does not surface, nationalism plays a key role in the formation of political parties and social movements. Nationalist political parties emphasize national symbols such as flags and slogans. Strong nationalists adopt political positions rejecting foreign influences and emphasizing creation and maintenance of a distinct national identity. They are often culturally conservative and xenophobic (abnormal fear of people who are different). Nationalists normally favor strong anti-immigration laws and in extreme situations can lead to ethnic cleansing (a planned attempt to eliminate a whole ethnic group of people) to make a nation ethnically pure. There is sometimes desire to gain territories considered previous parts of the national homeland, a process known as irredentism.

Nationalism brings a sense of pride in belonging to a group, especially by being associated with the successes of that group. It can create a sense of belonging. For that reason, prejudices can quickly develop against others who potentially pose some threat to the group's values or homeland. This shared sense of threat strengthens the feelings of nationalism. For example, the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, which killed about three thousand people, launched a strong wave of nationalism in the country. The nationalistic feelings were intense enough that many Americans supported federal anti-terrorist legislation known as the USA Patriot Act passed in October 2001, which eased some protective restrictions on police powers. The nationalistic feelings also stirred strong support for wars in Afghanistan that started in 2002 and in Iraq beginning in 2003. Citizens who did not support the invasion of Iraq were considered unpatriotic. Prejudices between those favoring aggressive military actions and those opposed to war led to conflict, much as in the Vietnam War (1954–75) era of the 1960s and 1970s when many Americans opposed U.S. involvement in Indochina wars. Some even used the term nationalism in a derogatory manner, including Europeans who came to believe the U.S. wave of nationalism after the September 2001 was excessive. Nationalism even divided the U.S. population in the early twenty-first century over the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. Those who speak out against U.S. president George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) and his foreign policies were labeled unpatriotic and their protests nearly criminal because the nation had troops fighting overseas. A climate of fear crept across the country as the government introduced secret surveillance programs to monitor those not supportive.

A more extreme form of nationalism is fascism. Fascism is a political system in which a strong central government, usually run by a dictator, or tyrannical ruler, promotes a strong sense of nationalism and often racism. This system allows no opposition to its beliefs, and values the nation as priority over the individual. Fascism in Italy in the 1930s combined strong forms of ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism. An Italian pride grew that had not existed to such an extent for centuries. Nazism in Germany during the same time period under German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) reflected a similar blend of nationalism, but escalated even further into imperialism (gaining control over other countries). To prove their dominance, the Germans successfully gained new territories that had no historic German presence. Fascism has many different faces. The many differences between Italian Fascism and German Nazism included Hitler wanting to build Germany into a classless society based on ethnic unity and purity yet Mussolini went to great lengths to preserve a class system because he believed it was the foundation of a desirable culture.

Nationalism and symbols

To perpetuate national loyalty to the new nation-states, new rituals are introduced upon their establishment, such as national holidays, festivals, and celebrations. Distinctive flags are created as well as national anthems and patriotic music and poetry. The use of national symbols also gives a nation-state a presence to the world. They also give something for the citizens to rally around and share in common while forming prejudices against others with different symbols. The symbols unite people by giving images and sayings representing national values, history, and goals. The symbols celebrate patriotism (allegiance to the state) and rally members of a group seeking nation status. In addition to flags and patriotic music, symbols can include a simple but distinctive combination of colors and regalia (symbols of authority) associated with the head of state. It also includes recognition of certain heroic founders of the nation, such as George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97), the first president of the United States, and others important to the nation's history. Monuments in honor of important people or events are built, such as the Washington Monument built in a city named after Washington, Washington, D.C., and national plants and animals, such as the bald eagle, are identified as national emblems to represent such values as national strength and vigilance.

Symbols can also include myths to inspire people. Myths are stories, either wholly fictitious or exaggerated from a real life event, that inspire patriotism and reaffirm the nation's values. The myths establish a distinction from peoples of other nations and contribute to prejudices against people not embracing the same myths. Often certain details are left out or changed to make the stories even more inspiring. Totalitarian (those with absolute rule over a nation) dictators will carry the use of myths to extremes by giving the mythical leader superhuman qualities. In Britain, the legend of King Arthur serves as a central mythological figure. Another is Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540–1596), a ship commander who sailed around the world and was daring in England's battles against its enemies on the high seas. Germany adopted the folk tales of the Brothers Grimm, which created a national identity for many different German-speaking peoples who previously lived in separate tribes or groups. The folk tales include such classics as Snow White, Tom Thumb, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. People from across a large region could now point to a common heritage of fabled stories. The United States reveres the Pilgrims, who sailed in 1620 to North America from Plymouth, England, on the Mayflower in search of religious freedom. George Washington became a legendary figure in both war and political leadership as a key founder of the United States. The stories frequently misrepresented or exaggerated the people or events they portrayed. For example, stories of the Pilgrims usually avoided the harsh treatment suffered by Native Americans in the region at the hands of the Pilgrims. Stories of Washington have traditionally included the myth (false story) of Washington cutting down a cherry tree as a youth and refusing to lie about it to avoid punishment from his father.


Separatism in politics means to split a territory into two or more parts, each becoming independent nations known as sovereigns. Separatists are commonly seeking political self-determination, meaning free from the rule of another nation. The term separatism can apply to colonies gaining political independence from the European countries that subjugated them. For example, through a civil nationalistic movement, the United States gained freedom from British rule in the American Revolution (1775–83). The road to separatism often involves desires for economic independence; however, it also often involves ethnic prejudices and the desire for an ethnically pure country.

Separatist movements have included Basques' desire to separate from Spain, Corsicans from France, and Flemish from Belgium. Some separatist movements are peaceful, seeking separation through legal means such as constitutional amendments. Relatively peaceful movements in 1991 led to the breakup of both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Other movements are violent, such as the Basque in France, the Sikhs in India, or the Irish in Northern Ireland. Most of these violent clashes take the form of terrorist strikes. However, the separatist movement in the Chechen Republic, a state of Russia, sought independence from Russia which led to a civil war that began in 1991 and lasted into the twenty-first century. Separatist movements in Yugoslavia in the 1990s led to ethnic cleansing and the deaths of perhaps as many as two hundred thousand people though estimates widely vary. Separatist movements can tear apart a society based on allegiances to one political faction or another and the prejudices that grow between the conflicting groups with one wanting to politically break away and the other wanting to maintain the established government and national boundaries.

Basque separatism

Basques are an ethnic group living within Spain and the extreme region of southwestern France who long enjoyed political independence. They were given special political status by the early Spanish government in the sixteenth century. However, they lost their political independence to Spain in the nineteenth century through a series of repressive acts passed by a Spanish government driven by nationalistic prejudices. The Basque desire for reestablishment of their political independence led to the development of a separatist movement.

The Basque Nationalist Party, led by Sabino Arana (1865–1903), was established in 1895 and sought a nation based on racial purity: the Basque population. The Basque nationalists considered Spaniards racially inferior because of Spain's past mixture of ethnic groups from around the Mediterranean Sea through time. However, in 1936 the Basque politically supported the Spanish government in a Spanish civil war in hopes that their support would gain them favorable treatment toward their separatist goals. But the government fell to the revolutionaries led by General Francisco Franco (1892–1975), and the Basques suffered for many decades due to their opposition to the rebels. Basques either fled Spain or went into hiding.

The Basque separatist movement began to take shape again in the 1950s, following the end of World War II. The renewed goal of the Basque was a separate nation. The Basque have used common factors such as Basque language to create the unity for nationalism among the Basque population. Basque organizations took various forms including trade unions, political parties, and militant groups. The movement became violent through militias and terrorist activities when Basques reacted to increased violent suppression by Spanish leader Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975. One violent organization of the separatist movement was the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or simply ETA. However, most Basques denounced the violence of ETA and worked within the Spanish political process to gain increased recognition. The Basque nationalist movement continued into the twenty-first century.

Indian separatism

India's history provides an excellent example of a nationalist movement designed to gain independence from colonial rule. Britain had gained control of India in 1858 through military conquest of various local rulers. By the 1910s, the Indian spiritual and political leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) preached passive resistance to British colonial policies by adopting such actions as not obeying colonial laws, boycotting (not purchasing) British goods, and establishing an economic self-sufficiency for Indian villages through agricultural improvements. Gandhi had earlier spent time in South Africa, working on behalf of minorities to end racist policies of the British rulers. Upon his later return to his homeland of India, Gandhi became the leader of a growing Indian nationalist movement and involved the struggle for independence from British rule.

Born in India in the vaishya or business caste, Gandhi studied law in London. He soon found himself in South Africa providing legal defense for South African blacks harassed by British colonial rulers. He personally experienced the wrath of racial prejudice and injustice in South Africa from beatings and not being allowed to stay in hotels. In India, Indians were forced by British rulers to grow certain crops for cash for the British rather than growing food necessary for themselves. The British rulers were ruthless, jailing or even killing Indians who did not comply. The Indians were extremely impoverished as a result of the British policy.

Upon his return to his homeland of India in 1915, Gandhi began leading efforts aimed toward improving the quality of life in Indian villages. They built public facilities, such as schools and hospitals. Gandhi was repeatedly arrested and jailed by the British for his efforts at raising the living standards of Indians and resisting British prejudice. With hundreds of thousands of Indians supporting Gandhi's efforts, Britain began backing off its harsh colonial policies for fear of a broad uprising. Nonetheless, British oppression continued in many ways such as exclusion of Indians from government. Finally, Gandhi became convinced that it was not possible to work with the British rulers. The only hope for Indians was to gain political independence from Britain.

In 1920, the All India Home Rule League was formed with Gandhi as its president. Anti-British measures adopted by the League included a boycott of British imported goods, refusing employment by the British, and refusing to pay taxes. By 1922, British rulers cracked down on the Indian nationalist movement, including the arrest and imprisonment of Gandhi on charges of sedition (acting or speaking in a manner considered critical of the government or its officials). Gandhi served two years in jail before being released after an operation for appendicitis. For the next several years Gandhi kept to himself, avoiding conflicts between different Indian groups seeking independence.

In 1929 the resistance movement was rejuvenated led by the Indian National Congress that declared its goal was independence from British rule. Created earlier in 1885, the Congress primarily sought a greater role of Indians in the British colonial government. A key turning point in the struggle for Indian independence came in 1930 when Gandhi decided to focus on the tax on salt that British rulers used to help support the colonial government. On March 12 Gandhi and seventy-eight others began a long walk to make their own salt at Dandi. Thousands of others joined him along the way. The resulting massive protest march known as the Salt March covered over 240 miles and lasted until April 6. Though the march had little immediate effect, it gave the Indians the self-confidence and self-respect they needed to continue the fight for independence. Following the Salt March a series of protests occurred throughout India leading to the arrest of some sixty thousand Indian protesters. One protest march ended in violence, as British troops attacked and clubbed to death hundreds of the unarmed protestors who refused to defend themselves. To avoid any escalation in violence and large-scale confrontations, British leaders decided to negotiate a settlement in March 1931. However, the British governor to India retired soon afterwards and the new British governor began introducing oppressive measures once again through the 1930s.

Globalization and Nationalism

By the late 1990s, European leaders sought to deemphasize nationalism by creating the European Union, an organization of European nations whose goal was to promote political and economic partnerships. The European Union was established partly in response to a globalization of world economies that was forcing greater cooperation between nations. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were signed among nations to allow for a freer flow of goods among nations by easing longstanding restrictions such as tariffs (taxes on goods imported from another nation). However, worker reaction to these agreements led to a rise in strong nationalistic feelings among the populations. They opposed the growing international trade without the traditional safeguards of protecting wages, jobs, and the environment. These trade agreements in addition to other emotional issues involving nationalism, such as anti-immigration sentiments, led to political parties promoting nationalism in a number of nations. These parties saw increasing popularity by the early twenty-first century.

During World War II, Gandhi refused to support the British in their fight against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. The Quit India campaign formed, led by Gandhi. The campaign held the position that Indians would not support the British war effort unless they were granted their independence. The campaign led to mass arrests and violence. Thousands were killed or arrested. Gandhi was arrested once again and jailed for leading opposition to British rule for another two-year term beginning in 1942. Though British forces were able to eventually suppress the Quit India movement, following the end of World War II, they finally relented and decided to grant India its independence in 1947.

Unfortunately, independence did not bring peaceful times. The Indian nationalist movement splintered over religious prejudices between Hindus and Muslims. A war erupted in 1946 between Hindus (in India) and Muslims (in Pakistan) over the proposed partition (division) of India upon its independence which came in 1947. Against Gandhi's wishes, India was partitioned leading to the formation of Pakistan. In trying to resolve the ongoing religious conflict peacefully, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu radical in January 1948. Gandhi became known as the Father of India.

Resistance to nationalism

In the early twenty-first century, anti-nationalistic movements were active for various reasons. Some accused nationalism for much of the violence in the world. Others favored societies based on religious affiliation rather than the secular (nonreligious) nature of nationalities. This trend included extremist Islamic efforts to eliminate the Arabic nation-states. The key reason for the movement was that Muslims identify most with other Muslims, regardless of national association. Their inclusion as part of a large religious community is stronger than being members of individual nations. Anti-nationalism views were consistently expressed by Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations.

Other anti-nationalists in the world accused nationalism of being the primary force that causes international conflict and war and promotes militarism. Such critics of nationalism emphasized the protection of individual freedoms over promotion of national identities. Human rights watch organizations, such as Amnesty International, blamed nationalism for triggering prejudices and discrimination including most human rights violations identified around the world. Anti-nationalists insisted people had a civic responsibility to respect and treat others fairly, regardless of their national identity. They claimed that a strong emphasis on national symbols and patriotism in the twenty-first century is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s when German dictator Hitler stirred a strong nationalistic movement with striking symbols (such as the swastika) and large public rallies. The extreme wave of nationalism led to World War II and the deaths of millions of innocent people.

Arab anti-nationalism and the Berbers

The Arab world extends over four million square miles on two continents. The area includes a large part of Northern Africa, all the nations of Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan and the Middle East of Asia and the nations of Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The Arab nations are ruled by kings and dominate political parties in the name of republics.

In search of a unity greater than the nation-states, Arab leaders of Arab-speaking populations in the various Arabic-speaking countries formed a political organization known as the League of Arab States, or simply Arab League. The boundaries of most nations in the Arab League have arbitrary (choices made without obvious logic or reason) boundaries resulting from earlier European colonization in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They do not correspond with geographic or ethnic differences. Since the end of World War II, approximately nineteen states promote Arabic as the official language. Most inhabitants maintain an Arab identity. They promote a pan-Arabism, a desire to politically unite all Arab populations and become free of Western influences. As a result, a key unifying feature of the many nations containing Arab populations is the Arabic language. Arabs are also members of the larger religious world of Islam.

Though not successful in uniting Arab nations into a single nation or empire, several Arab leaders rose in prominence in the mid-twentieth century while promoting Arab unity. They included Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) of Egypt, Ahmed Ben Bella (1918–) of Algeria, and Hafez al-Assad (1930–2000) of Syria. The Pan-Arab movement included some Arab-inhabited regions (such as Palestine in the Middle East) that were not part of the recognized states. The Jewish state of Israel, located in the midst of the Arab world, also had a large percentage of Arabic speakers. However, since establishment of Israel in 1948, many changed to speaking Hebrew in daily life.

Arab leaders in the various countries promoted a pan-Arabism that discriminated against these non-Arab peoples in the region by restricting their role in government. While promoting Arab identity, Arab leaders promoted prejudices against non-Arab minorities. This included the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria who founded an ethnic nationalist movement to establish an independent Kurdistan. For most of the twentieth century, Kurdish separatism led to violent conflicts with the governments of the countries in which the Kurds lived. Conflicts arose between those promoting a pan-Arabian identity and others promoting ethnic nationalism. Another example of ethnic nationalists in the region was the Berbers, who lived in North Africa before arrival of the Arabs. Berbers still residing in the region became an ethnic minority. Due to much intermarriage, the cultural differences between Berbers and Arabs blurred through time, but Berber language persisted where large percentages of Berbers still lived, such as in Morocco and Algeria. Fear of a Berber separatist movement led to prejudice of Arab leaders against Berbers. They suppressed the use of the Berber language and restricted Berber involvement in politics. This suppression has led to potential hostile relations in such areas as the Kabylie region of Algeria.

By the early twenty-first century, many Arab states maintained close relations through the Arab League. However, the national identities were growing stronger and feelings of nationalism increasing as time passed, making Arab political unity less likely.

For More Information


Dawa, Norbu. Culture and the Politics of Third World Nationalism. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Hobsbawm, E. J. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Kedourie, Elie. Nationalism. 4th ed. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993.

Maddox, Gregory, ed. African Nationalism and Revolution. New York: Garland, 1993.

Manzo, Kathryn A. Creating Boundaries: The Politics of Race and Nation. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 1996.

Ramet, Sabrina P. Balkan Babel: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia from the Death of Tito to the Fall of Milosevic. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002.


European Union. (accessed on November 21, 2006).

Mahatma Gandhi. (accessed on November 21, 2006).


views updated Jun 11 2018


Caroline Ford

Nationalism has been one of the most powerful forces shaping modern political life in Europe since at least the eighteenth century. It is therefore somewhat ironical that, unlike liberalism or socialism—the two other great "isms" of modern times—there has been a surprising lack of consensus regarding its definition, origins, and consequences. Insisting on nationalism's modernity, most historians from the nineteenth century onward have argued that nationalism is an ideology consisting of a rather inchoate body of ideas and that these ideas inform nationalism as a political and social movement affirming the sovereignty and integrity of discrete nation-states. That ideology was predicated, first, on the notion that the world is divided into nations, each with its own characteristics and destiny. Second, it assumes that the nation is the source of all political and social power. With the "cultural turn" in historical studies, nationalism has also come to be defined as a form of identification, as a collective consciousness, and as a discourse drawing on complex symbolic systems. Social historians have begun to emphasize the relationship between the development of national identities and other forms of collective identification, including class and gender.

The sheer diversity and variety of nationalist movements and ideologies in Europe during the past few centuries make it extremely difficult to classify nationalism politically—as a right- or left-wing phenomenon—over time or to establish its constituent elements in religion, culture, consent, or language. Nationalism assumed a variety of different territorial, ethnic, and cultural forms, and these forms frequently overlapped. Indeed, nationalism as a form of consciousness, as a body of ideas, and as a political movement is nebulous and protean, and it is perhaps in these very qualities that its power resides. How did nationalism come into being in Europe and how has it changed as a political movement between the eighteenth century and the present? Why has it so tenaciously endured, even as the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht and the promise of a new Europe without national frontiers seemed to herald its demise? Answers to these questions have been many and varied. How these questions have been answered (and the study of nationalism more generally) are in large part a reflection of the history of European nationalism itself.


Nationalism and the modern nation-state, as they emerged in Europe, were only thinkable and possible toward the end of the eighteenth century, as hierarchical societies predicated on vertical ties between the ruler and the ruled gave way to more egalitarian societies that were based on horizontal ties between "citizens." Until the end of the eighteenth century, most states in Europe were dynastic and predicated on a corporate social order based on privilege. European society was divided into three orders, consisting of those who fought, those who prayed, and those who worked, and each of these orders was accorded, or not accorded, as the case may have been, elaborate privileges (as members of a corporate body, rather than as individuals) by the monarch. This was a political society of subjects rather than citizens who had common legal rights and duties.

The abolition during the French Revolution (1789) of titles of nobility and of all special privileges attached to corporate bodies laid the groundwork for a society of citizens. This society resulted in a new relationship between the constituent members of a new political order, and indeed in the creation of the modern notion of citizenship, which instantly established a political world based on horizontal rather than vertical ties. While the process by which this society came into being in the monarchical states of Europe was uneven, it was more or less complete by the end of the nineteenth century and provided the structural underpinnings for the development of nationalism in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The emergence of nationalism at the end of the eighteenth century was also a by-product of the gradual secularization of European society and political institutions. The decline of the power of universal religious institutions—most notably the Roman Catholic Church—and of the loyalties they inspired both undermined the legitimacy of rule by divine right on the part of Catholic monarchs and opened avenues for other forms of spiritual and political allegiance. From the end of the seventeenth century, new conceptions of time and space, propagated during the scientific revolution, further challenged the certainties of religion and spawned new questions regarding relationships between different geographic areas and peoples.

Finally, the emergence and development of nationalism in the eighteenth century coincided with the spread of literacy and print capitalism, which served to integrate disparate populations through the medium of a common language and culture. The rise in levels of literacy, the spread of national educational initiatives, and the growing focus, particularly among literary elites, on language as a source of national cohesion served as integrative forces.

The development of nationalism in Europe occurred in a series of stages, beginning in the decades preceding the French Revolution, the wars of "liberation," and Napoleonic expansion, which served as a political catalyst for nationalist movements in areas of Europe that had largely been immune from nationalism's appeals. This first phase of European nationalism spanned a period from the 1760s to 1848. The second stage of European nationalism, which followed the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, coincided with German and Italian unification, the advent of mass politics, and the new imperialism of the late nineteenth century. World War I inaugurated a third stage in the development of nationalism in the twentieth century, as anticolonial movements in Europe's colonial empires increasingly began to assume a nationalist form, and as the nation-state became the dominant form of political organization in the world.


Although some scholars (especially Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities) have argued that nationalism as a political phenomenon appeared first in the New World among Anglo settlers transplanted from their original homeland or among creoles, both of whom increasingly came to resent the culture of the metropole, it was firmly implanted in the Old World by the end of the eighteenth century. During its first phase, nationalism as a political and social movement was embraced by the middle classes and by literate elites and was largely an affair of the liberal left in Europe as a whole. Literate elites in western and central Europe set out to define the nation and to promote the national cause through the celebration of language and sometimes of religion or a shared historical past. In a fragmented central Europe, writers such as Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) focused on the importance of the German language in defining nationality, and indeed, language became the key element in defining national community. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712–1778) writings on Corsica and Poland stressed the ways in which language and culture defined a nation's individual character, suggesting that it was only through their preservation and recovery that the nation could be maintained over time.

Governments early on also recognized the importance of linguistic uniformity for the modern nation-state. For a brief time, both at the end of the eighteenth century and then again at the end of the nineteenth, the French state, for example, made war on regional languages and dialects and attempted to impose a standardized French on its citizens through varying administrative mechanisms and public education. This was part of a larger universal "civilizing mission" unleashed by the French state, but it served, above all, the national cause. Indeed, language increasingly came to occupy a place in international territorial conflicts between states. This was manifested in disputes between Danes and Germans in Schleswig-Holstein in the 1860s.

During the course of the nineteenth century, language became increasingly important to definitions of nationality and played an important role in fostering national cohesion for several reasons. First, even in territorial states possessing a multiplicity of languages and dialects, the state's official sponsorship of a national language gave it a permanence and a sense of the eternal that it would not otherwise have acquired. This official language had the advantage, moreover, of being propagated through public education initiatives undertaken by most European states toward the end of the nineteenth century.

Jules Michelet (1798–1874) and Joseph-Ernest Renan (1823–1892) argued against the notion that language, religion, race, ethnicity, or geography were essential defining features of nationality, even as they stressed the importance of the nation as a "spiritual principle." They emphasized the binding power and importance of history or historical forgetting. More than any writer in the first half of the nineteenth century, Michelet, the historian, was instrumental in emphasizing the unconscious historical processes shaping nation formation. Indeed, Michelet indicated ways in which the French, who may not have conceived of themselves as such until the French Revolution, worked for many centuries to construct a cultural and physical fabric that came to define France in tangible terms. He suggested that the French and the French nation surely existed for centuries, even if the nation as a political unit did not come into being until the French Revolution. A shared history, however, contributed to an acceptance of a common territory or homeland by the time of the French Revolution. And that territory was comprised of citizens sharing a common historical memory. The early-nineteenth-century valorization of the Volk and of popular culture in western Europe was part of a larger attempt among intellectual elites to recover (or "invent") a common cultural and national past, and they sought to bring that past to a growing reading public. Some of this literary and historical work, which was pressed into the service of defining the nation, led to it being defined in terms of a kind of historical essentialism. This historicism, dedicated to uncovering a prenationalist past, allowed literary elites and political leaders to invoke an "eternal" France or Germany, whose "natural" national traits were endowed by history, language, and geography. As a certain kind of historical essentialism came to define national identities and to inform nationalist movements in the first half of the nineteenth century, the construction of ethnic identities along similar lines was not far away.

Popular protonationalism. As governments and literary elites debated the constituent elements of nationhood in the old states of Europe, including Britain and France, and in central Europe and the Italian Peninsula, where unified nation-states did not exist before the latter half of the nineteenth century, popular forms of protonationalism emerged. Much of this popular protonationalist sentiment was born, however, from armed conflict or war, rather than from a romantic attachment to language or a common historic past. Indeed war has been pivotal to the development of nationalism since the eighteenth century. The role of war in forging national sentiment became evident in the Battle of Valmy of 1792, when a poorly equipped French army faced a formidably trained Prussian force and resisted it behind the battle cry, "Vive la Nation!" This prompted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) to proclaim that the battle marked a new epoch in human history. During the French Revolution, the levée en masse (mass levy of troops) of 1792, proclaimed in the name of the patrie en danger (the fatherland endangered), created Europe's first citizen army and justified itself in the name of a nation of citizens sharing common interests and concerns. The levée en masse drew on the experience of the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) and the dynastic rivalries between European states in the eighteenth century, particularly those between Britain and France. Thus, long before the nation-state in its modern form came into being, wars were beginning to be fought in its name, in the name of a patriotism that would soon find its expression in nationalism. Linda Colley's important work on the impact of the French revolutionary wars on the development of British nationalism suggests as much, as she explores the decisive role played by a series of eighteenth-century wars in fostering British patriotism: the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), and the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1792–1802 and 1803–1815). Prussia's defeat in the Battle of Jena in 1806 was a testament to the tenacious power of the national idea in a French army of citizens, rather than subjects.

War and revolution mobilized large numbers of people at home, who rallied to a domestic cause. Even though many of those who fought in the great wars of the eighteenth century were not yet citizens, countless numbers justified their participation in patriotic terms. This popular protonationalist sentiment was soon translated into more or less successful wars of liberation across the continent and led to the transformation of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1815). Moreover, this settlement was soon followed by a war of liberation against Ottoman rule, which led to the creation of a new kingdom of Greece in 1829. Belgium became an independent nation-state after its 1830 revolt, while Poland, an unsuccessful aspirant to national sovereignty, revolted in the same year, suffering defeat in the name of national self-determination.

From the French Revolution to 1848 nationalism tended to be linked to liberal, even democratic, left-wing movements, and culminated in the "national" revolutions of 1848 in central Europe and in the Italian Peninsula. In both regions nationalism was primarily a movement of liberal and republican intellectuals, who defined themselves against and opposed political organizations predicated on dynastic ties. Those who supported national unity in the Frankfurt parliament and in the Italian Peninsula failed to press their demands because of their lack of popular support, internal divisions, and, in the case of Italy, foreign intervention. German and Italian unification had to wait more than a decade after their initial failure.


Nationalism as a movement and as an ideology changed decisively in Europe as a result of the revolution of 1848. The debacle of the revolutions of 1848 in central Europe and the Italian Peninsula indicated that if these two areas of Europe were to be unified, that process would (and did) come about largely through "blood and iron." The failure of that revolution and the realization among political elites, even those who supported monarchism, that nationalism could be harnessed for particular political purposes had a profound impact on its future trajectory. It was war and the stratagems of Prussia's chief minister, Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), that led to the unification of Germany in 1871, and it was the political aspirations of Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour (1810–1861) and Piedmont's rivalry with the Habsburgs that led to the unification of Italy by 1861. Increasingly, nationalism was linked to the designs of conservative elites during the course of the nineteenth century. Nationalism gradually became a mass phenomenon and, paradoxically, one that was linked to right-wing and sometimes antinationalist causes. The war in Schleswig-Holstein and the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, both of which laid the groundwork for German unification, have often been seen as an expression of Prussian patriotism rather than of German nationalism, waged by Bismarck to ensure Prussian hegemony in central Europe.

Mass nationalism: "blood and soil." By the late 1880s nationalism assumed new forms in Europe. As a movement, it increasingly became a mass phenomenon and was less grounded in the French liberal tradition of consent and contract, or even of a common culture. Race, ethnicity, and language became more important in defining nationality. Of course, this new nationalist discourse was fueled by colonialism and the new imperialism and the literature it spawned regarding the world's races. Much of the national competition among European nation-states was played out in theaters of war on the fringes or beyond the borders of western Europe, particularly in north Africa and the Balkans.

As nationalism and its social constituency changed, so did its political associations. Having been associated with the revolutionary left wing since the French Revolution, by 1900 a new nationalism of blood and soil came to be associated with a bellicose and in some instances racist and anti-Semitic right wing all over Europe. The Dreyfus affair of 1898 in France and the formation of right-wing leagues in Germany contributed to a nationalistic rhetoric that was increasingly strident and xenophobic in nature. Changes in the character of European nationalism were both a reflection of changes in state strategies designed to mobilize their citizenries and a consequence of the democratization of the political process in many European states, with the advent of universal manhood suffrage. In short, a formerly elitist and monarchical right wing saw in nationalism a new source of cohesion and a means to attract a mass constituency.

The early historical work on European nationalism coincided with and reflected its late-nineteenth-century transformation. It resembled the racist, xenophobic, and imperialist rhetoric embodied in fin de siècle nationalism in evoking national traits and stereotypes. This literature was, however, counterbalanced by a serious assessment and critique of the national question by marxists of the Second International. To name a few of them, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxembourg, Otto Bauer, and V. I. Lenin devoted themselves to the problem.

World War I demonstrated the power of national identifications, as expressed, for example, in the initial massive working-class support for the war effort—in apparent contradiction with a self-proclaimed socialist ideology—in much of central and western Europe. The war revealed that the development of a national self-consciousness among different social groups did not necessarily occur at the cost of other forms of social consciousness, even if it could supersede them at particular historical moments. Indeed, popular adhesion to causes such as those of World War I or the Boer War attests to the spread of racial ideas and a new jingoist xenophobic nationalism in a number of European nation-states.


It is no accident that World War I gave rise to the first serious and sustained comparative and historical inquiry into the origins and development of nationalism. This early work is primarily associated with Carlton Hayes and Hans Kohn. Hayes's The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism (New York, 1931) and Kohn's The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origin and Background (New York, 1944) were written in the aftermath of the creation of the League of Nations in 1919 and the breakup of the huge multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual empires of central and eastern Europe—the Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman—and with the creation of wholly new nation-states in those regions. Indeed, many of the movements dedicated to national liberation in the twenty-five years before World War I were directed against supranational and multinational empires. After World War I, nationalist movements tended to be directed against established national states in Europe. These separatist nationalist movements, which are still very much a part of the European landscape, drew on prewar definitions of nationality based on ethnicity and, in some cases, religion. The League of Nations eventually legitimized the modern nation-state as the only internationally recognized form of political organization in the world. Hayes and Kohn sought to explain how this came to be so, arguing that nationalism was indeed an eighteenth-century invention, despite the claims to a distant historical past among some nations.

Much of this critical interest in nationalism was short-lived, however, as nationalism became suspect as a result of its alliance with fascism, national socialism, and anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s. Moreover, the emergence of a new cold war order following World War II, which led to the disappearance of the autonomy and independence of most of the new states created in eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War I; the rise of supranational organizations, such as the European Economic Community; and the ubiquity of international communism deflected attention away from the study of nationalism as a historical phenomenon. Indeed, it led to the conviction that nationalism represented merely a "stage" in the historical development of Europe, if not the world—a backward and uncivilized one at that—and that the nation-state would ultimately be replaced by other forms of political organization. This was a view taken by both liberals and marxists. Cosmopolitan liberals believed that nationalism was (simply) a stepping-stone to the creation of constitutional sovereign states comprised of citizens sharing common political and civil rights. Marxists regarded the phenomenon as an illusion, an atavism that was manipulated by elites for economic and political purposes. Neither could account for the persistence and pervasive power of nationalism defined in ethnic terms.

The post–World War II era also witnessed the emergence of new nationalist movements in Europe's colonies (or former colonies). During the war itself European and non-European resistance movements emerged in response to German and Japanese attempts to create empires. Nationalism also inspired anticolonial liberation movements in Africa and Asia in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

Modernization theorists, writing in the 1950s in the aftermath of World War II, began to argue that nationalism and the formation of nation-states implied ineluctable processes of assimilation. Karl Deutsch's Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (Cambridge, Mass., 1953) is a case in point. According to Deutsch, modern nation-states were built by political centers through a homogenizing process of cultural and institutional assimilation and acculturation. This process, achieved through the instruments of mass communication, railways, roads, public education, and conscription, allegedly resulted in the abandonment of traditional allegiances and identities and their replacement with those defined by the metropole. Consciously using the the concept of colonization, Eugen Weber in Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford, Calif., 1976) has suggested that peasants became Frenchmen as they adopted the ideas, values, and culture of the metropole—Paris—and as these values came to replace those of the region and the village. Why would the far-flung populations wish it to be otherwise, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) asked as early as the nineteenth century. He wrote that no one could imagine that it would be more beneficial to retain one's regional identity in France, for example, when one could acquire all the benefits of French citizenship.

For much of the 1950s and 1960s, nationalism did not receive sustained or concentrated attention from social historians of Europe. They embraced the study of class formation, social mobility, and social revolution with alacrity, writing the history of peoples who formerly "had no history." Much of this "history from the bottom up" either ignored, somewhat strangely, the development of nationalism or focused on the formation of the nation-state and its relationship to movements of social protest. Thus, the first generation of social history did not have much influence on the historical approaches to European nationalism.

Interest in European nationalisms revived slowly and then grew steadily in the late 1970s. The historical literature that emerged in this period challenged the evolutionary views of marxists and liberals, as well as the assumptions that underpinned interpretations of nationalism that were based on the concept of "modernization," for a variety of reasons. The sudden emergence of a number of "ethnic minority nationalist" movements in the very heart of Western Europe—in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Brittany, Catalonia, the Basque region, and Corsica—made historians question the degree to which one could count on the eventual disappearance of nationalism, and they called into question the process of national integration described by Karl Deutsch and others. How could one account for the appearance of these new nationalisms in some of Europe's oldest nation states? Miroslav Hroch's pathbreaking and early Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe (Prague, 1968; Cambridge, U.K., 1985), an analysis of the rise of nationalisms in central and Eastern Europe, suggested new ways of thinking about nationalism. He emphasized the role of regional elites and the uneven economic development "within" states, arguing that local elites whose interests were threatened by larger markets and global forces often encouraged the spread of nationalist sentiment to protect those interests. On the basis of this hypothesis, Hroch argued that nationalist movements generally developed in three separate stages. First, nationalist movements assume an apolitical, folkloric character; second, they are taken up by literate elites wishing to inculcate the "national idea" and organize the masses; and third, nationalist movements then truly gain mass-based support. This stage analysis of nationalist movements has deeply shaped the historical literature on nationalism, building on the modernization theorists' "top down" approach that has reinforced much of the historical literature on nationalism since its inception.


In the 1980s and 1990s historians began to ask new questions about the development of European nationalism and to abandon many of the assumptions that have informed its study since the early twentieth century. As was the case with previous developments, these challenges and questions have in part been shaped by the history of nationalism in Europe. This history includes the breakup of the former Soviet Union; the emergence of nationalist xenophobia in the former Soviet Union; the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s; the rise of nationalist movements in the Balkans; and the promise of European unity and integration. These developments have refocused scholarly attention on nationalism as a central subject of historical enquiry since the early 1980s, and they have influenced the kinds of questions historians have begun to ask.

Following World War I, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States declared in his famous "Fourteen Points" that the peoples of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire should be given the the freest opportunity for autonomous development. The appearance, disappearance, and reappearance of new nations in eastern Europe have become a fulcrum for the reconsideration of nationalism as a question in Europe as a whole. "Old" nationalisms, which appeared to have withered away, have ostensibly reemerged with a vengeance. The post-Communist organization of political space in these regions has resulted in the proliferation of new "nations" defined largely in ethnic terms. The "identity politics" rampant in the former Yugoslavia, in Kosovo, Uzbekistan, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Azerbaijan unleashed new and horrible tragedies. To what extent are these nationalisms late-twentieth-century creations or old wine in new bottles? Is this the right historical question to ask? What can the answer to these questions tell us about nation formation more generally and how can these nations be integrated into the international community of nations? Campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" have been launched in a national cause, and language tests have been established, for example, to determine who is a real Ukrainian or Slovene. Religion, ethnicity, and language continue to be divisive and defining features of group claims to sovereignty, territory, and self-determination. Such pernicious and deadly developments have forced historians to reexamine the nature of national identifications and their ultimate consequences. Rogers Brubaker has deftly explored the existence of these nationalisms in this regard, and he has suggested that one must think about nationalism in these regions not in terms of resurgence or recession, using the prevailing literature on nationalism that has focused on the state and nation building, but rather on how nationalism was "reframed" in these areas.

The Flemish, Catalans, Lombards, and Scots have continued to reaffirm their local identities and seek a greater degree of autonomy in Belgium, Spain, Italy, and Britain, respectively, as well as a role in a new Europe. Indeed, as these new "ethnic minority" nationalisms have appeared, Western European politics have also been dominated by debates concerning immigration and the permeability of national borders in a new European Union. Large immigrant populations from former European colonies have flowed into Europe since the late 1960s, and many of these immigrants share little in terms of language, culture, or religion with the dominant cultures of Europe. As a result, Europeans have been forced to ask themselves difficult questions about the relationship between nationality and citizenship. On the one hand, "ethnic minority" nationalisms call for a closer relationship between ethnicity and nation; on the other, massive immigration challenges that relationship.

Citizenship, common people, and symbols. All these developments have resulted in a gradual shift away from historical approaches to nationalism that focus primarily on state formation and social-political elites to ones that resonate more with social historians, such as the exploration of "national consciousness," the "culture" of nationalism, the process of identity formation (and its limits), and the role of gender in shaping nationalist movements and nationalist discourse. Historians have begun to focus on a new set of questions: Why were individuals willing to fight and die for a community and for people whom they would never meet in their lifetimes? What is nationalism's emotional appeal? How and why are national passions aroused and in what contexts? Out of what symbolic discourses and repertoires are national identities constructed? How—through what imagery—do societies represent their nations, and what is the significance of these representations? If national identities, viewed in historical perspective, are fluid, how and why do they change through time? How and why does nationalism remain such a potent and powerful force in Europe?

In asking these questions, historians of European nationalism have explored three broad themes. First, they have investigated the nature, evolution, and limits of citizenship and immigration policy in various national contexts. Brubaker, for example, has explored the nature and history of French and German citizenship law to highlight differing conceptions of national identity and belonging. This approach follows older "top down" models by focusing on policy making at the center.

Second, historians have begun to pay far greater attention to the formation of national identities and the creation of a national consciousness among ordinary people. This second approach has further opened the history of nationalism to social historians. Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities (1991), a broad synthetic essay on the emergence and spread of nationalism, has played a pivotal role in this regard. Individual historical studies have provided nuanced historical accounts of the creation of national consciousness through time. Peter Sahlins, for example, has argued that the boundary between France and Spain was as much constructed by Catalans who live on both sides of the border in the Cerdagne between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries as it was by the French government in Paris. He therefore challenges the top-down, center-outward approach to understanding the formation of national identities and suggests ways in which local rivalries and issues inform national debates. Similarly, Celia Applegate argues that the formation of a national consciousness in certain areas of Germany was as much a product of a cherished identification with Heimat (one's local homeland) as it was a product of German unification. I have argued that attempts by the French state to replace time-honored cultural practices and allegiances and to integrate Catholic Brittany into the secular republican culture of metropolitan France toward the end of the nineteenth century were incomplete at best. This did not mean that a national consciousness failed to materialize in the far reaches of the French hexagon, but rather that a national consciousness was forged through a process of negotiation and selective appropriation on the part of individuals and social groups at the periphery. All these historians have sought to understand how ordinary people, rather than elites and governments, have established a relationship with an imagined national community.

Finally, historians using techniques and insights from the "new cultural history" have focused on the importance of representation and symbolism in understanding nationalism and the propagation of national myths. Maurice Agulhon's work on the role of Marianne as a female symbol of France since the French Revolution, and Lynn Hunt's study of the competing symbols of Hercules and Marianne in revolutionary culture suggest that more attention should be given to how nations and their elites define themselves and export their own images abroad.

How does one explain the survival of national antagonisms and the spread of nationalist movements in the face of transnationalism and larger processes of globalization? In many respects the world has become unified by transnational capitalist organizations. In view of its intellectual poverty as ideology, how and why does nationalism now ultimately seem to be a more powerful mobilizing force than socialism or communism? Is the "resurgence" of nationalism an atavism, an aberration? Historians are only beginning to answer these questions. What seems clear is that nationalism as an ideology and as a political movement is and has been ubiquitous since the eighteenth century and continues to be pervasive in Europe. In the prescient words of Isaiah Berlin, written in 1991, nationalism is not "resurgent" because it never really died.

See alsoEmigration and Colonies; Imperialism and Domestic Society; Racism (volume 1); and other articles in this section.


Agulhon, Maurice. Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism inFrance, 1789–1880. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Cambridge, U.K., 1981.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread ofNationalism. London, l991.

Applegate, Celia. A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat. Berkeley, Calif., 1990.

Armstrong, John. Nations before Nationalism. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982.

Banac, Ivo. The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics. Ithaca, N.Y., 1984.

Bhabha, Homi, ed. Nation and Narration. London and New York, 1990.

Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester, U.K., 1982.

Brubaker, Rogers. Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany. Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

Brubaker, Rogers. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.

Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, Conn., 1992.

Ford, Caroline. Creating the Nation in Provincial France: Religion and Political Identity in Brittany. Princeton, N.J., 1993.

Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, N.Y., 1983.

Hobsbawm, Eric. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

Hroch, Miroslav. Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe: A ComparativeAnalysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations. Translated by Ben Fowkes. Cambridge, U.K., 1985.

Hunt, Lynn. Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution. Berkeley, Calif., 1984.

Hutchinson, John, and Anthony D. Smith, eds. Nationalism. Oxford, 1994.

Ignatieff, Michael. Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism. New York, 1994.

Nora, Pierre, ed. Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past. New York, 1996.

Sahlins, Peter. Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees. Berkeley, Calif., 1989.

Samuel, Raphael. Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity. 3 vols. London, 1989.

Smith, Anthony. National Identity. Reno, Nev., 1991.

Teich, Mikulás, and Roy Porter, eds. The National Question in Europe in HistoricalContext. New York, 1993.

Tilly, Charles, ed. The Formation of National States in Western Europe. Princeton, N.J., 1975.

Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford, Calif., 1976.


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The spread of nationalism

Characteristics of nationalism

Ideological transformations and conflicts

Role and prospects


Nationalism is a political creed that underlies the cohesion of modern societies and legitimizes their claim to authority. Nationalism centers the supreme loyalty of the overwhelming majority of the people upon the nation-state, either existing or desired. The nation-state is regarded not only as the ideal, “natural,” or “normal” form of political organization but also as the indispensable framework for all social, cultural, and economic activities. Yet nationalism and the nation-state are comparatively recent historical developments.

Unknown before the eighteenth century, when it originated in northwestern Europe and northern America, nationalism spread with ever-growing rapidity over all the earth, and since the middle of the twentieth century it has become a universal idée-force of contemporary history. It expresses itself in the most varied and opposite ideologies— in democracy, fascism, and communism—as well as in the search for an “ideology,” be it African personality or Arab unity. The nineteenth century in Europe has been rightly called the age of nationalism; the twentieth century, in which history has shifted from a European to a global basis, may become known as the age of pan-nationalism.

Although certain traits are common to all forms of nationalism, each form is conditioned by the social structure, the intellectual traditions and cultural history, and the geographic location of the society in which nationalism asserts itself. Therefore, only a comparative historical study of the various forms of nationalism can do justice to any one of them; and only an interdisciplinary approach will be able to cover the many facets of a highly complex phenomenon. No major collective research effort has yet been undertaken in this field, in spite of its vital importance for an understanding of the contemporary world.

The spread of nationalism

The spread of nationalism on a global scale is a result of the Europeanization and modernization of non-Western and premodern societies. As a phenomenon of modern European history, the rise of nationalism is closely linked with the origins of popular sovereignty; the theory of government by the active “consent of the governed”; the growth of secularism; the lessening of the older religious, tribal, clannish, or feudal loyalties; and the spread of urbanization, industrialization, and improved communications.

Nationalism has from the beginning been a politically revolutionary movement; it has tried to transform or overthrow the “legitimate” governments of the past whose claim to authority was based upon divine ordination or hereditary rights. It wished to establish totally new political entities: states coextensive with ethnic or linguistic frontiers. Lord Acton, in his famous essay “Nationality” (1862), drew attention to the potentially dangerous implications of this identification of political organization with ethnic divisions. Within one hundred years (1815-1920), nationalism completely transformed the political map of central, centraleastern, and southeastern Europe; and since 1947 it has fulfilled the same revolutionary function in remaking the political configuration of Asia and Africa.

The twentieth century has added another revolutionary dimension to nationalism. Nationalism has also become a socially revolutionary movement, demanding equal economic and educational opportunities for all members of the national group and the active promotion of the welfare of the socially underprivileged classes. Its aims have become the establishment of a classless, theoretically equalitarian national society. By the middle of the twentieth century, all “young” nationalist movements had also become “socialist” movements—the word “socialism” covering as many different manifestations as the word “nationalism”—whereas the “young” nationalist movements of the middle of the nineteenth century had sharply distinguished between nationalism and socialism.

Nationalism, in the second half of the nineteenth century, was regarded as the political doctrine of the upper classes, of the rightists in the political spectrum of the age. It stood in sharp and repressive opposition to socialism, an international movement that included the industrial workers and landless peasants, who generally felt excluded from the national society, and expressed their aspirations. In the German empire that Bismarck created in 1871, the nationalists regarded the workers as vaterlandslose Gesellen, and Bismarck’s antisocialist legislation, 1878-1890, treated them as enemies of the nation. This Bismarckian attitude of Germany’s ruling classes continued under the Weimar republic and was one of the main factors causing its overthrow. The situation in France, Italy, Spain, or Russia was not very different. There, too, the right-wing parties and the upper classes identified themselves with the nation and the national interest, and the lower classes felt excluded from both a real stake in the national economy and an active partnership in the determination of the policy of “their” nation.

The first major nationalist revolution that put equal emphasis on the socialist revolutionary aspect was the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917. It set the pattern for the development of nationalism in many underdeveloped countries and for their fight against foreign political intervention and economic penetration and exploitation. Such an integration of nationalist and socialist revolutions was not, and could not be, attempted in the nineteenth century. The Polish aspirations for independence in the period of 1830 to 1848 were unsuccessful largely because the nationalist movement was upper-class; the peasantry had no interest in it and even turned against the landowners and urban intelligentsia. But even after World War I the nationalist revolutions of Kemal Atatürk in Turkey and of the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek in China neglected the need for social transformations of their nations. As the upheavals in Turkey in 1960/1961 and the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 revealed, the economic and social positions of the present masses in both countries had remained backward; they continued to feel themselves victims of “exploitation,” but under the impact of nationalism they were ceasing to accept their age-old status passively. Only after World War II did socialism become an integral part of the nationalist revolution, as in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, in Ben Bella’s Algeria, in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and in Sekou Toure’s Guinea—to name only a few outstanding examples. This development resembles the transformation of the nineteenth-century capitalistic nation-state into the twentieth-century welfare state, except that in the underdeveloped countries truly radical social reforms were required. This task was made more difficult by the need of simultaneously building a cohesive national society, a need that, on the whole, had been fulfilled in the advanced countries by the time of World War I.

Characteristics of nationalism

Nationalism, despite its relatively brief history, has undergone several transformations. It was an elite movement in the first century of its historic role; a “bourgeois” movement in the age of the ascent of the middle classes; it has become, in its second century, a mass movement in which the people at large demand an ever-widening participation in the political, social, and cultural life of the nation.

What remains constant in nationalism through all its changes is the demand of the people for a government of the same ethnic complexion as the majority. Every people awakened to nationalism sees political self-determination as its goal. To be separate, distinct, and independent from other nations, and equal to them, is the fundamental claim of nationalists for their people. The “individualism” and “democratic equality” of the revolutions of the Enlightenment expressed themselves in these aspirations. In the nineteenth century these demands were transferred from the individual to the collective group. Only thus, said the nationalists, could the people become autonomous subjects, an end in themselves, instead of being a means for the policy of others. The Piedmontese jurist and Italian minister Pasquale Stanislao Mancini expressed this sentiment in his Delia nazionalità come fondamento del diritto delle genti (1851), in a classical formulation: “The nationalities which do not possess a government issuing from their innermost life (governo uscito dalle proprie viscere), and which are subject to laws imposed upon them from the outside... have become means for the purposes of others and, therefore, mere objects.”

Cultural self-determination

Political self-determination is only one part of the demands inherent in all nationalism; an almost equal role is played by demands for cultural self-determination. In nationalities that are striving for the creation of a nation-state, the quest for cultural self-determination precedes the quest for political selfdetermination and prepares the ground for the latter. This was the case with most central and eastern European peoples in the nineteenth century and is the case with the Arabs in the twentieth century. Nationalism, from the early nineteenth century on, carried with it the demand for “national” or “popular” foundations for all cultural and intellectual life. This process began with the decline of supranational and theoretically universal cultural elements, such as the founding of all Western education on a thorough and often exclusive training in the classical languages; the role of French as the language of diplomacy and international relations; the erudition in Arabic in all Islamic countries; the exclusive use of classical Chinese as the literary language until Hu Shih’s language revolution in 1917. These elements were replaced by an entirely new emphasis on the vernacular, on the political prestige of the national language, on folklore and folk traditions, and on the accessibility of culture to the nonlearned classes.

Such a demand for cultural nationalism, which in its extreme cases parallels the demand for absolute political sovereignty and self-sufficiency, could also be found in United States nationalism, although it conflicted there with the more cosmopolitan trends of the Enlightenment, the age in which the United States became a nation. Noah Webster, in his Sketches of American Policy, wrote: “America is an independent empire, and ought to assume a national character. Nothing can be more ridiculous, than a servile imitation of the manners, the language, and the vices of foreigners. For setting aside the infancy of our government and our inability to support the fashionable amusements of Europe, nothing can betray a more despicable disposition in Americans than to be the apes of Europeans” (1785, p. 47).

Walt Whitman, with all his cosmopolitan embraces of mankind, in the Leaves of Grass, 1855, could appeal in his dithyrambic way to America: “Strangle the singers who will not sing you loud and strong!... Call for new great masters who comprehend new arts, new perfections, new wants! Submit to the most robust bard till he remedy your barrenness! Then you will not need to adopt the airs of others; you will have true airs, begotted of yourself, blooded with your own blood.” Whitman specifically referred to Johann Gottfried Herder’s belief that creative work can be done only in one’s “own” folk language, that great art has always been the expression of and is determined by the “national” spirit (Volksgeist).

In Whitman two fundamental and opposite strains of nationalism confront each other—the one that corresponds to the “open” society and the one that corresponds to the “closed” society. No nationalism or phase of nationalism shows one of these strains in purity: it is always a question of emphasis. The “open” nationalism represents the more “modern” form: it inclines toward intercourse, and its basis is generally a territorial organization and a political society, constituting a nation of fellow citizens irrespective of race or ethnic descent. The “closed” nationalism stresses the nation’s autochthonous character, the common origins (race, blood) and rootedness in the ancestral soil. These determine the “purity” of national character and preserve it from “alien” influences. The romantic, anti-Western, and anti-Enlightenment Germanophilism and Slavophilism of the nineteenth century offer examples of such a “closed” nationalism; the image of their ideal society was to be found in the tribal or premodern past, in emphasis on Eigenart or samobytnost. The “open” nationalism, on the other hand, finds its ideal image in a future that will build bridges over the separations of the past. The “open” nationalism stresses the free self-determination of the individual; the “closed” nationalism, biological or historical determinism.

One of the outstanding examples of an “open” nationalism is provided by the United States. The Americans rejected common descent as the basis of their nationhood. They did not establish their nation on a common past with its roots in antiquity or medieval times, on a common religion or a unique cultural tradition. They owe their nationhood to the affirmation of the modern trends of emancipation, assimilation, mobility, and individualism. They inherited the English tradition of limited and mild government and constitutional freedoms; but the historical rights of Englishmen became, in the climate of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, universal rights, which, theoretically, had the strength to transform men of the most various pasts and descents into new men, building a common future in a new land.

Racial purity

Racial purity has often formed the theoretical basis of nationality throughout history. At the time of the building of the second Jewish state, national regeneration implied the repudiation of the wives whom Jews had taken from foreign tribes and of the children whom those wives had borne (Ezra 10; Nehemiah 10.30). Even the State of Israel grants an exclusive, privileged status to persons of Jewish descent in matters of immigration and citizenship. In its most extreme form, racial exclusivism and rootedness in the ancestral soil became the basis of nationhood in National Socialist Germany. The German Reich was regarded as the true homeland and the center of loyalty of all individuals of German descent, regardless of the “accident” of their political citizenship or the personal self-determination of their individual allegiance.

The historian Heinrich von Treitschke stressed this point of view as early as 1870 in the case of the Alsatians. The French historian Ernest Renan, in his lecture Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (1882), declared the racial theory “a very great fallacy whose dominance would ruin European civilization.... According to this theory the Germans have the right to take back the scattered members of the German family, even if these members [do not wish it]. Thus one creates a primordial right analogous to that of the divine right of Kings.... Will the Germans, who have raised the banner of ethnography so high, not see one day the Slavs [follow their example and reclaim the lands] of their ancestors? It is good for all of us to know how to forget” (pp. 1-29, passim).

National supremacy

The rise of the new nation-states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries started bitter disputes about frontier territories, as each nationality claimed “historical” rights according to its greatest historical expansion. Thus, independent Serbia and independent Bulgaria, in spite of their close affinity of language and religion and their common past of subjection to the Turks, faced each other in repeated struggles over Macedonia, which both claimed as having formed part, in long-past times, of their respective empires. The fate of the Slav Ukrainians was involved in the centuries-old fight of their Slav neighbors, the Poles, and the Russians, for hegemony in the eastern borderlands of Europe. Nationalities that had demanded release from oppression often became, after liberation, oppressors themselves, sometimes subjecting others to more severe oppression than they had suffered themselves. Most of the new states, although ethnically mixed, regarded themselves as power instruments of the dominant, or “state-forming,” nationality among the several inhabiting the territory, and denied equality to the other nationalities in “their” state. This was the case in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia after World War I, and in Ceylon after World War II. Kurds and Somalis in the 1960s sought national union as the Poles and southern Slavs had done fifty years before. The potentially fruitful innovation of international treaties binding the new nation-states after 1918 to protect national minorities, under the League of Nations, did not become effective. On the other hand, the expulsion or shift of populations from their homelands for nationalistic reasons, first envisaged by the Germans in World War I in order to annex lands “without people” for German settlement and strategic purposes, became widespread in the twentieth century. Nationalism has “solved” many tensions; it has at the same time created new ones, in which modern aspirations and age-old memories are often inextricably mixed.

Ideological transformations and conflicts

Some of the fundamental beliefs of nationalism go far back in history. Among them are the “chosen people” idea and the “promised land” concept. Both originated with the ancient Hebrews; both provided a divine sanction for nationalist aspirations and political aims; both are found in various forms throughout the ages as a conscious or unconscious Biblical heritage. With the advent of Stoicism and Christianity, which became the official creeds of the “universal” Roman empire, the narrow and “closed” tribalism of older times was overcome in an ecumenical “open” society. This universalism survived in the Christian world until the Renaissance and Reformation; in Islam, until the later nineteenth century. In the Western world, the new absolutist states of the post-Renaissance period, with their emphasis on sovereignty, centralization, and raison d’etat, created the political organization that eighteenth-century nationalism began to transform into the modern nation-state. Modern nationalism first took hold in England in the seventeenth century and in Anglo-America in the eighteenth century. But this nationalism respected, and was based upon, the individual liberties and self-government characteristic of the development of these nations. The rise of nationalism in the French Revolution was different. The absolutist and centralized French monarchy had set the example for continental Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the nationalism of the French people continued this form and set the model for the centralized European nation-state of the nineteenth century. The Napoleonic wars carried the aggressiveness of the new nationalism to the four corners of Europe.

The European revolutions of 1848/1849 and the defeat of their liberal aspirations marked the spread of nationalism to central and central-eastern Europe, the “awakening” of the peoples. The striving for individual liberty was drowned in the rising tide of national (collective) self-assertion and will to power. John Stuart Mill complained in 1849 that nationalism makes men indifferent to the rights and interests “of any portion of the human species save that which is called by the same name, and speaks the same language, as themselves” ([1849] 1865, p. 53). He called the new exclusive nationalism, with its appeal to historical rights, barbaric and remarked bitterly that “in the backward parts of Europe, and even (where better things might have been expected) in Germany, the sentiment of nationality so far outweighs the love of liberty, that the people are willing to abet their rulers in crushing the liberty and independence of any people not of their race and language” (Mill [1849] 1865, p. 53). After 1848 nationalism, originally a movement of emancipation and constitutional rights, became known as Realpolitik and Machtpolitik.The sacro egoismo of nationalism reached its climax in the fascist movements.

The war of 1914, which was started by dynastic empires, partly under popular pressure, replaced the empires with nation-states all over central and east-central Europe. At the same time it helped the spread of nationalism to Asia. Half a century later, nationalism had become the dominant force throughout the non-Western world, and the political map of Asia and Africa changed between 1945 and 1965 as completely as had the map of Europe between 1815 and 1920.

In the middle of the twentieth century, nationalism everywhere prevailed over supranational ideology, as it had previously. Catholic France and Muslim Turkey had made common cause against Catholic Austria. At the end of the nineteenth century, republican France and Czarist Russia were brought together, not by ideological affinity but by the common fear of German aggressiveness and overconfidence. Ideological affinity and historical friendship between the dynastic empires of the Romanovs and Hohenzollerns did not prevail against the rising tide of nationalism. German statesmen characterized the war of 1914 as a struggle between Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism for the control of “Mitteleuropa.” When National Socialist Germany resumed the hegemonial war in 1939, it attacked semifascist and anti-Semitic Poland, in spite of ideological affinities and friendship, and destroyed that country in close collaboration with communist Russia. In October 1940, fascist Italy attacked Greece, whose dictator, General John Metaxas, was an outspoken admirer of fascism.

In the ideological blocs of the post-World War II era, nationalist differences made themselves more and more felt. The authoritarian nationalism of de Gaulle’s France might be a factor in the disintegration of the democratic West and is reviving the goal of a European third force under French hegemony, independent of both English-speaking democracies and the communist East. Within the communist bloc, conflicting nationalist interests created acute tensions among the Soviet Union, communist China, Yugoslavia, and Albania. The imperialist trends of traditional Russian and Chinese national policies reasserted themselves, modified and rejuvenated by communist ideology. As early as 1948, communist Yugoslavia affirmed and maintained her independence from communist Russia. Moreover, nationalist territorial claims hindered friendly cooperation between Yugoslavia and her two communist neighbors, Albania and Bulgaria. In the early 1960s the monolithic character of international communism was merely an ideological specter, not a political reality; the communist nations were even farther from a supranational federative union than were the democracies. Even within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics there were centrifugal nationalist trends which had been especially marked during the crises of World War II.

Although nationalism remained the idée-force after 1945, there were unmistakable trends toward supranational forms of cooperation and political organization. Earlier experiments at integration of closely related nations had not been promising. In the nineteenth century, a strong Pan-Scandinavian movement existed; yet these countries jealously preserved their national sovereignty, policy, and personality, achieving separation (Norway from Sweden; Iceland from Denmark), not integration. The small Central American republics, apparently united by language, religion, and history, tried in vain to federate. After World War II, however, the agitations for a union of the democracies, for European unity, for an Atlantic community, for African unity seemed more promising. Numerous conferences were held; organizations were created whose strength was greater on paper than in reality; and limited progress was achieved, especially in concrete economic and social legislation and in organized cultural exchange. But even the smaller projects, like Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) or the Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), ran into difficulties once the discussion of desirabilities was to be abandoned for the realization of concrete possibilities. Traditional nationalism and continuing or newly emerging hegemonial claims, coupled with the clashing ambitions of national leaders and the staying power of existing governmental frameworks, strengthened the centrifugal trends among the nations, highly developed and less developed, “old” and “new.”

Role and prospects

The comparative study of nationalism will not reveal any fundamental differences between “old” and “new” forms of nationalism or between nationalism in the Western and non-Western worlds. Significant discrepancies exist everywhere, but they are more specific and individual than generic. On the whole, the “new” nations show trends and problems similar to those shown by the “new” nations of central Europe in the nineteenth century and of east-central Europe in the early twentieth century. Some of these “Western” nations in central-eastern and southern Europe were at the time of their rise to nationhood, and for decades thereafter, economically and socially underdeveloped, preserving much of their premodern “feudal” or medieval character. The Latin American nations are “old” as far as the history of national statehood goes, but in their social backwardness many resemble the “new” nations of the middle of the twentieth century. All these nations bear witness to the profound transformation that is being brought about by world-wide trends: the possibilities of, and desire for, rapid technological change; the experience of such radical and violent movements as communism and fascism; the demand for social equality and for the active participation of the masses in national life; the “population explosion” and the growth of giant cities. In this transformation, which increases global uniformity, nationalism acts as an accelerating factor because the policies of the newer or less developed nationstates have often been guided by the desire to catch up with the older and more highly developed nationstates. Nationalism can, however, also act as a force preserving older forms of societal life and stressing the diversity within a world community that is based on the acceptance of the nationstate as the basic form of political and cultural organization.

Nationalism and the nation-state form the recognized foundation of the international organizations of the mid-twentieth century. The United Nations reflects in its growth the dynamic changes brought about by nationalism in the years after World War II. It has successfully smoothed the transition of many colonies to national statehood, a transition that had, in the past, frequently been accompanied by violent civil wars and protracted unrest. The United Nations accepted the principle of the legal equality of small and great nations and provided each with a voice in world affairs, thereby contradicting the attitude of the nineteenth-century Concert of Great Powers and rejecting the twentiethcentury fascist disregard for the rights of “weak” or “small” states. The clashing interests of nations found in the United Nations a forum in which, for the first time in history, all peoples, civilizations, and ideologies could meet and discuss their differences according to the procedures developed by Western parliamentary traditions. The United Nations represents a hope of divesting clashing nationalist aspirations of their extremist character while recognizing their intrinsic validity. It also helps to intensify the peaceful intercourse among nations by creating and maintaining the outward forms of equality of status.

It is difficult to foresee the future of nationalism. It is a divisive force in a world growing more and more interdependent, a force capable of producing bitter tensions and one-sided, self-righteous judgments that threaten the rational solution of international conflicts. On the other hand, nationalism is an important factor in preventing any one or two of the strongest powers from establishing their hegemony over the whole globe or over a large part of it. In that respect, nationalism is a form of resistance to imposed uniformity, a bulwark of the beneficial diversity, individuality, and liberty of collective groups. It may be that in the future an attitude of tolerance and coexistence will divest the various forms of nationalism of the aggressive political power drive that has characterized the age of nationalism. The growing fear of the consequences of an armed conflict may help to bring about such a change of attitude. In the 1960s the fear of war is powerful in all European nations, even those which welcomed previous wars. Incidents that in the nineteenth century would have led to war no longer play such a decisive role.

The beginning of a general change of public temper in respect to the role of nationalism and the nation-state in international relations has been noticeable. Some historians have compared this change with the change, brought about by the Enlightenment and the rise of tolerance, that replaced the age of religious wars in Europe with a period of uneasy and distrustful but generally peaceful coexistence of conflicting religions. A long process of change, beginning in the late seventeenth century and taking at least two hundred years, was necessary before this fundamental attitude was generally accepted in the Western world. With the greater acceleration characteristic of the twentieth century, a similar process may transform the age of nationalism and of warring nationstates with different civilizations and ideologies into an age of coexistence of free and equal nationalities.

Hans Kohn

[See alsoColonialism; Nation; National Socialism; Pan movements; Socialism; State. Other relevant material may be found inInternational politics.]


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Nationalism is a loyalty to an “imagined community.” It creates a sense of common identity even among people who have never met one another and probably never will. In large part, that is its function. We speak of American or German nationalism, but not the national identity of Luxembourg or Liechtenstein, where a far higher percentage of the people do in fact know one another. Even in large nations, the issues of who is imagined to be part of the community and who is entitled to do the imagining have often been fiercely contested. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, African Americans have tried to use their participation in major wars to win acceptance of their membership in the national community, while those who founded and sustained that community have tried to exclude them or restrict their participation. By contrast, some white reformers were trying to turn Indians into American citizens at a time when most Indians preferred to be left alone as distinct peoples on enough land to sustain their ancestral ways. The American quest for national identity has shown a pattern toward greater inclusiveness over time, but the stages of that struggle have been marked by some of the most violent confrontations in the history of the country.

In the great age of European nationalism from the French Revolution to World War II, peoples who spoke the same language or shared a common ethnicity fought to build their own nation‐states. The unification of Germany and Italy, and later the achievement of independence by Poland and other East European states, also meant the weakening and eventual destruction of the polyglot Habsburg and Ottoman empires. German nationalism took shape in sharp reaction against Napoleonic France, while Italian unity required the repudiation of rule from Vienna. Most historians—always with a nervous glance at Germany from the 1860s to 1945—have assumed that the stronger the nationalism, the greater its ability to prevail.

These nineteenth‐century European models do not help much in trying to understand nationalism in the Americas. The thirteen colonies won independence from Britain without claiming a preexisting common identity distinct from that of the mother country. They certainly had no quarrel with the English language. That pattern recurred a generation later in the Latin American struggles for independence. The Latin revolutionaries, like those in North America, accepted most of the geographical boundaries that had been laid out by the imperial states of Spain and Portugal and continued to use the old imperial languages after independence. In North America in the nineteenth century, only one major nationalist movement failed: the attempt to establish the Confederate States of America. Ironically, at least by European norms, the Confederacy was the most militantly nationalist movement to appear in the Americas. In North America, unlike Europe, the gentler and weaker nationalisms of the United States and Canada have survived, but the Confederacy was crushed.

The United States of America emerged as a separate nation before its citizens had any firm sense of a distinct national identity. In England's mainland colonies in the seventeenth century, most settlers assumed that they belonged to the English “nation,” the first European society to define itself in these terms. An Englishman's identity involved a strong commitment to liberty, property, and “no popery,” although the English quarreled fiercely and sometimes violently over how Protestant, or Puritan, England should be. These quarrels crossed the ocean, but the rival positions tended to take hold in different colonies, which were also founded for different purposes. Moderate Anglicans always controlled Virginia, and over time these values took hold throughout the southern colonies, where the pursuit of wealth energized the settlers far more than the demands of piety. By contrast, Puritanism largely defined what was most distinctive about the New England colonies. In the middle colonies, the competition among denominations in New York and New Jersey, and the Quakers' idealism in Pennsylvania, together guaranteed a regional victory for religious liberty by about 1720. But in this region ethnic and religious pluralism made even a sense of English identity problematic.

Many seventeenth‐century colonists believed that they could create overseas a better society than England was ever likely to become. Then England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 guaranteed a Protestant succession to the throne, annual meetings of Parliament, and toleration for Protestant dissenters. Over the next twenty‐five years, England (which united with Scotland to form the kingdom of Great Britain in 1707) emerged quite unexpectedly as one of Europe's great powers, the one usually best positioned to prevent France, or any other power, from establishing hegemony over the rest. Britons began to celebrate their “mixed and balanced constitution” of king, Lords, and Commons as the great wonder of the age, the foundation for the liberty, property, and Protestantism that made the nation distinct. Colonists joined in this celebration, and in the process of embracing a British national identity also seemed quietly to abandon any ambitions of creating a more just society than Britain's. This trend became most visible during Britain's mid‐eighteenth‐century wars with Catholic Spain and France. Colonial spokesmen proudly proclaimed their loyalty to the world's most successful empire, which by 1763 had expelled France from Canada and Spain from Florida and had taken control of everything east of the Mississippi River except New Orleans.

In one of history's most astonishing reversals, triumphant Britain then alienated the colonists so totally over the next twelve years that war broke out between the two sides in April 1775. Britain's policies included two major attempts to tax the settlers without their consent—the Sugar and Stamp Acts of 1764–65, and the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767. At first the revenue was to be used only to pay part of the costs of North America's military establishment; but by 1767, some of it was designed to make royal governors and judges independent of the financial support of the colonies' elective assemblies. To North American settlers, the insistence on “no taxation without representation” marked a demand for traditional English property rights, not a quest for something distinctively “American.”

For decades British spokesmen had predicted that eventually the American colonies would be strong enough to throw off all subjection to Britain. The reforms of 1763–67 were designed, at least in part, to postpone that terrible day. Colonists found this fear misconceived and even dangerous. Acutely aware of how different the colonies were from one another, they repeatedly affirmed their loyalty to Britain and their admiration for the British constitution. They denied that they harbored any desire for independence, and many of them doubted that any viable union of such disparate colonies was even possible. In short, “America” began as Britain's idea. Into the 1770s, almost nobody on either side of the Atlantic actively favored the creation of a separate American nation.

Fifteen months of terrible warfare, beginning at Lexington in April 1775, changed these sensibilities. The Second Continental Congress long insisted that it was fighting only to restore English rights to the settlers under the traditional government of the empire. But when George III refused even to receive Congress's very moderate Olive Branch Petition and instead proclaimed the colonists rebels in August 1775, sentiment began to shift, more obviously at first in private correspondence than in public statements. In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, a call for both independence and American union. An English immigrant who had been in Philadelphia for only fourteen months, Paine saw an “American” nation around him, where other settlers were able to perceive only separate colonies. His eloquence was infectious, however, and Common Sense persuaded many colonists that both independence and union were attainable. In July 1776 Congress concluded that independence was necessary, but union remained another matter.

Many things seemed self‐evident to the patriots of 1776, but the benefits of a unified nation‐state were not among them. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania believed that the colonies were strong enough to resist even Britain's military might, but the prospect of success terrified him. Where “shall we find another Britain, to supply our loss?” he asked. “Torn from the body to which we are united by religion, liberty, laws, affections, relation, language, and commerce, we must bleed at every vein.” Even though he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence, he did become the principal draftsman of the Articles of Confederation, which Congress did not send to the states until late 1777, and which failed to win ratification by all thirteen states until March 1781. Charles Thomson, secretary to Congress from 1774 until 1789, doubted that the American Union could long outlast the war. Even though Congress prevailed in the long struggle for independence, scored two diplomatic triumphs in the French alliance of 1778 and the Peace of Paris in 1783, and designed an imaginative and expansionist western policy culminating in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, it provided little focus for popular loyalty and won little respect, even among its own members. By 1786–87, with Daniel Shays's Rebellion disrupting rural Massachusetts and with Congress itself ominously divided over the proposed Jay‐Gardoquí Treaty, which would have surrendered the navigation of the Mississippi for twenty‐five years in exchange for commercial privileges within the Spanish empire, talk of disunion became serious and even erupted into the newspapers. Southern states blocked the treaty because it would have privileged northeastern merchants at the expense of southern planters.

In May 1787, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia and, by September, produced a charter for a radically new form of federal government, one that lodged sovereignty in the people themselves while permitting them to delegate sovereign powers to both their state and national governments. One of the most thoughtful delegates, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, declared that the United States was not yet a nation, but that the Constitution would create a framework to make that transition possible. “As we shall become a nation, I trust that we shall also form a national character; and that this character will be adapted to the principles and genius of our system of government.” He based that expectation, not upon the shared memories of a largely mythical past (the kind of thing that shaped English nationalism), but upon popular expectations for a glorious and prosperous future in a vast continent with enormous resources.

Without the Constitution, the Union would probably not have survived the tumultuous years of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. American national identity would have died in infancy. But the Constitution by itself could not guarantee the success of the Union, or even define the form that American political culture would assume.

The struggles between the Federalists and the Democratic‐Republicans after 1790 reshaped American political culture and, indeed, American identity. “A nation without a national government is, in my view, an awful spectacle,” proclaimed Alexander Hamilton in the last of The Federalist Papers. He and other Federalists believed that creating a national government capable of holding its own against the great powers of the Atlantic world required funding the Revolutionary War debt at par, collecting sufficient revenue to meet other national objectives, empowering a vigorous executive, creating an efficient army and navy, and establishing an activist federal court system—measures that made the United States resemble a transplanted Britain, lacking only a royal court and an hereditary aristocracy. His opponents insisted that Americans had fought Britain to become something quite different. Once they captured power in 1801, they began to define what such a nation could become.

Jeffersonians set out to pay off the national debt as soon as possible, reduced the army and navy to token forces, repealed all internal taxes, and did their best to tame the federal judiciary. Especially after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, they began to seek a combination of goals that no other movement or nation, anywhere else in the world, had yet put together. Under their leadership, the United States would repudiate the balance‐of‐power politics that prevailed in Europe. Within the Atlantic world, Jeffersonians favored trade with all of Europe's maritime powers but alliances with none. They believed that American commerce was so important that a mere threat of withholding it could force the great powers to respect American rights without resort to war, a policy that revealed its limitations when the United States finally declared war on Britain in the War of 1812. But on this side of the ocean, the new republic would achieve hegemony within the western hemisphere—that is, it would be stronger than any combination of enemies that could be aligned against it—without the need to create standing armies or impose heavy taxes. The energy of the people, especially their determination to settle ever more western lands, would achieve this hegemonic goal with little more than mild supervision from Washington, while avoiding the class conflicts of Europe. The Jacksonian era saw this process become the ideology of “manifest destiny,” whose apologists saw almost no limit to how large the United States might become (some even favored the annexation of Ireland!), provided that most governmental activities remained decentralized to the state level.

Liberty and empire remained compatible so long as the free and slave states could agree on how to share the spoils of western lands. By the 1830s, the Jeffersonian formula for hemispheric hegemony had won wide acceptance. As Abraham Lincoln argued in one of his earliest speeches, “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined … could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.” Any threat to the Union, he insisted in 1838, “cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

When Lincoln wrote, the “imagined community” of the United States was still restricted to white men. Its success depended on the republic's ability to deprive Indians of nearly all of their land, usually without significant compensation or any willingness to incorporate Indians into the polity. Enslaved African Americans were not part of the polity either. During the Revolution, most blacks south of New England in a position to choose sided with the British, not the American republic. Partly because Federalists pushed harder for abolition in northern states than did their opponents, the Jeffersonian triumph magnified these trends. In 1807, when the Democratic‐Republicans took control of New Jersey (the only state that permitted some women to vote), they righteously disfranchised women, Indians, and free blacks, thus announcing to the world that their brand of democracy applied to white men only.

The early 1830s largely defined the extremes that would shape American politics and national identity for the next three decades. Northern evangelical Protestants launched a vigorous abolitionist movement that increasingly alarmed the South. South Carolina nullified the tariff in 1832 and threatened secession if President Andrew Jackson resorted to force. Jackson pushed a “Force Act” through Congress but also agreed with Congress's decision to lower the tariff by stages over the next decade. Disillusioned nullifiers began to envision an independent southern nation taking shape, united in the defense of slavery. Jackson's supporters, for the first time in the history of the republic, insisted that the Constitution had created a “perpetual union,” one that could not be destroyed. Many of Jackson's northern opponents agreed. As Daniel Webster put it in 1830, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” But after the Mexican War, North and South could not agree on how to digest America's enormous conquest, nor even on how to divide between them the remaining unsettled portion of the Louisiana Purchase. Expansionism, instead of solving the nation's problems, was tearing it apart. The two ideas, of a southern nation and an indestructible union, finally clashed when the Civil War erupted in April 1861.

Both sides did their best to appropriate the principles of 1776. Confederate apologists insisted that they were the true heirs of the Revolution, much as the patriots of that era had claimed to be defending English liberty against a government bent on destroying it. Lincoln insisted well into 1862 that he was fighting only to preserve the Union that the founding fathers had created.

Despite these similarities between the Revolution and the Civil War, the differences are even more compelling. In 1775–76, the colonists went to war and fought for fifteen months before Congress finally proclaimed American independence. In 1860–61, seven Southern states seceded from the Union, created the Confederate States of America and then began a war against the United States by firing upon Fort Sumter. When President Lincoln responded with a summons to arms, four more states seceded and joined the Confederacy. In other words, the Revolutionary War preceded the creation of an American nation, but the Confederate nation preceded the Civil War. Some “fire‐eaters” had been agitating for a southern nation for nearly three decades by then, a movement without parallel in the colonies before 1776. The Confederacy was, in short, very much the product of an active and aggressive nationalism in a way that the original American Union had not been.

At first, both sides tried not to interfere with the constricted sense of American identity that Jeffersonians had bequeathed to them. But the Emancipation Proclamation, followed by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, boldly offered freedom, citizenship, the duty to bear arms, and suffrage to black males while ignoring the demands of the early women's suffrage movement. This mobilization of blacks contributed immensely to Union victory by 1865. But the failure of Radical Reconstruction and the imposition of Jim Crow legislation throughout the former Confederate and border states deprived nearly all black men of the ability to vote by the early twentieth century. Blacks were free but not equal. The warring sections of the republic achieved reconciliation around principles of liberty, union—and white supremacy. While disfranchising blacks, they enfranchised white women, beginning in several western states near the end of the nineteenth century and culminating in the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution during World War I.

World War II marked the next watershed. The Pacific War became a merciless contest between two racial ideologies—Japan's determination to make the divine Yamato race prevail throughout Asia and the Pacific versus the white supremacy of the Western powers, led by the United States. By contrast, the United States fought to destroy Nazi racism in the European theater; and in the aftermath of the war and during the onset of the Cold War, the attack on racism became a major force in domestic politics as well. President Harry S. Truman began the desegregation of American armed forces on the eve of the Korean War. Over the next two decades, the American defense establishment (along with the world of professional and intercollegiate sports) led all other sectors of American society in the quest for equal opportunity regardless of race. Ironically, while the rest of the world largely condemned American intervention in Vietnam as a ruthless manifestation of arrogant racial supremacy, the United States fought the Vietnam War with the most completely integrated military establishment the nation had ever possessed. Colin Powell, an African American who fought in Vietnam as a junior officer, would become by the 1990s the most powerful military officer in the land, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By then, women had also won far broader opportunities for military careers than had ever been available to them before.

What it means to belong to the American nation is still hotly contested, but at the end of the twentieth century that identity has become far more inclusive than ever before.
[See also Culture, War, and the Military; Internationalism; Militarism and Antimilitarism; Patriotism; Religion and War; Women in the Military.]


Frederick Merk , Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History, 1963.
David M. Potter , The Historian's Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa, in his The South and the Sectional Conflict, 1968, pp. 34–83.
Lance Banning , Republican Ideology and the Triumph of the Constitution, 1789 to 1793, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 31 (1974), pp. 167–88.
J. M. Bumsted , ‘Things in the Womb of Time’: Ideas of American Independence, 1633 to 1763, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 31 (1974), pp. 533–64.
Paul D. Escott , After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism, 1978.
Kenneth M. Stampp , The Concept of a Perpetual Union, in his The Imperiled Union: Essays on the Background of the Civil War, 1980, pp. 3–36.
John M. Murrin , A Roof Without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity, in Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II, eds., Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity, 1987, pp. 333–48.
Benedict Anderson , Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed., 1991.
Liah Greenfeld , Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, 1992.
Linda Colley , Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837, 1992.
David Waldstreicher , In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820, 1997.
Gary W. Gallagher , The Confederate War, 1997.

John M. Murrin


views updated May 18 2018


the origins of nationalism
national idealism
national egoism
theories of nationalism

Nationalism came to dominate political and cultural life in Europe during the nineteenth century, and throughout the world in the twentieth, but defining it with any precision is far harder than recognizing its importance. The best definition is probably the least helpful: nationalism is an ideology that prioritizes the needs of the nation, making all other concerns—social justice, universal religious teachings, partisan politics, personal ambitions—subordinate to the national interest. But that just begs the question: What, exactly, is a nation? Is it defined by language, ancestry, religion, cultural affinity, geographical location, political allegiance, or some combination of all these factors? Once a nation is identified, what does it mean to pursue its interests? Does a nation have to possess an independent state? Must people of other nations be purged from that state? These questions, which have shaped the history of nationalism in Europe, have proven to be as persistent as they are irresolvable.

the origins of nationalism

The word nation is based on the Latin natio, which referred in ancient times to a collection of people united by common ancestry. Prior to the eighteenth century, however, the term had little ideological importance. Political allegiance in medieval and early modern Europe rarely corresponded to linguistic or cultural communities, and it was perfectly normal for a variety of communities to coexist within the same town, region, or state. One's sense of "self " was neither more nor less fragmented than it is today—people would think of themselves as worshiping within this-or-that religious tradition, speaking this-or-that language, living under this-or-that monarch, having this-or-that ancestry, but no one would presume that one and only one of these categories could define a person, or that all of them should somehow come together to create a unified sense of collective belonging. The difference between premodern and modern Europe was not necessarily a change in the way people perceived themselves, but the increasingly widespread sense that the irreducible complexity of cultural diversity was a problem—one that could be and should be solved. In the worldview of the nationalist, humanity got divided into sharply defined groups and everyone inside each group was said to share an identity, in the sense of being (on some basic level) identical. The emergence of nationalism entailed the quest for (and eventual enforcement of) a homogeneity that never did and never could exist.

The ideology of nationalism does not have a clear intellectual lineage or recognized set of canonical texts—it is not even an "ideology," in the strict sense of the word, but rather a set of general attitudes about culture, community, and politics. These attitudes began to come together in the late eighteenth century, when a wide range of intellectuals (mainly in Europe, but also in the Americas) began toying with the ramifications of the idea that humanity is grouped into mutually exclusive cultural blocs, and that these blocs are coherent and cohesive enough to act as collective historical agents. Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) was one of the first European philosophers to argue that language determines the way people think. Instead of a single pattern of reasoning common to all humans, Herder posited the existence of linguistically determined modes of understanding that made communication across cultures extra-ordinarily difficult. This diversity was to be celebrated and protected, Herder argued, because each linguistic culture offered a distinctive contribution to humanity as a whole—he was, in other words, quite distant from any form of German chauvinism or xenophobia. But even as he praised the plurality of cultures, Herder implied a certain uniformity within each collectivity based on his assumption that the most fundamental thoughts of the people in a community were structured by the language they shared with their neighbors. It is therefore no surprise that Herder's ideas would be cited throughout the nineteenth century by nationalists who were far less cosmopolitan than he was.

Though he differed from Herder in many ways, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) made a similar move in the political realm, advancing the idea of an undifferentiated "general will," a sort of collective personality that took precedence over the individual personalities within it. Whereas Herder's community was defined by language, Rousseau's was marked by adherence to a "social contract" that defined subgroups within an otherwise undifferentiated humanity. Many historians of nationalism have drawn a sharp contrast between Herder and Rousseau, suggesting that the former represented a culturally defined nationalism, whereas the latter advocated a nation based on citizenship and republican liberty. Without denying the profound differences between these two thinkers, it is important to note that they were linked by a shared assumption that large-scale communities were the primary agents in history and in politics, and that those communities were bound together in ways that compelled individuals to embrace mutually exclusive identities. In this sense they were both among the first Europeans to cultivate a nationalist mode of thinking.

As intellectuals such as Herder and Rousseau were debating new ways to think about communities and politics, two developments at the end of the eighteenth century brought the concept of the nation to center stage for millions of Europeans: the French Revolution (1789) and the Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795). The Revolution turned theories about the "general will" into a vital public issue, as the new French regime claimed to derive its authority from, and speak on behalf of, "the people." When the Revolution was threatened from abroad, a mass mobilization (the levée en masse) created a genuine citizen's army for the first time in European history, as hundreds of thousands of troops demonstrated their willingness to die for the nation (at least as long as the nation was coterminous with the Revolution). At almost the same time, the total destruction of the Polish Republic, previously one of the largest (albeit also one of the weakest) states in Europe, created the first significant political movement in Europe to juxtapose a call for "national liberation" with the highly charged rhetoric of the revolutionary era.

Over the course of the coming century Poles would be joined by groups advocating the national causes of Greeks, Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Finns, Irish, Italians, and Germans—indeed, virtually every corner of Europe (and eventually the entire world) was touched in some way by some kind of national movement. These causes differed in many ways—some stressed independence, others unification, still others merely demanded recognition and respect for their languages and cultures. For all their differences, though, all these national movements spread the view that the world was divided into national communities, that every individual possessed one (and only one) national identity, and that these nations were the fundamental building blocks of history and politics.

national idealism

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) was already a prominent philosopher when he gave a series of lectures in 1807 and 1808 titled "Addresses to the German Nation." Like Herder, he believed that national communities were defined by language, and that those speaking different languages thought in different ways. Fichte, however, drew some specific political conclusions from these observations. At a time when most of Europe was occupied by the forces of Napoleon I, Fichte argued that all Germans should both resist foreign rule and unite within a single national state. Even more important, however, was the philosopher's justification for this political agenda: Fichte imagined a grand scheme of historical progress according to which each nation, acting through a state, contributed to the overall advancement of humanity. Each nation represented a unique principle, a specific piece of the larger puzzle that was human advancement, and the pursuit of independence and unification was the means by which this ideal would be realized.

For the first half of the nineteenth century, it was widely assumed that nationalism was a revolutionary force, tied to slogans about "liberty," "freedom," "justice," and even "democracy." At a time when Europe's ruling elites were for the most part nonnational or supranational, the claim that people of a common culture should belong to a common state was inherently disruptive. The Italian movement for national unification was almost inevitably opposed to the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, which had an interest in sustaining the Papal States; the German national movement threatened the autonomy and authority of dozens of monarchs; the Greek independence movement challenged the Ottoman Empire; and the Polish national movement was an ever-present danger to Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary. But the revolutionary reputation of mid-nineteenth-century nationalism was based on more than just this alignment of political interests. The ideology of nationalism was itself, at the time, fundamentally radical. For all the talk of language and culture, few nationalist activists in the 1830s or 1840s would go so far as to define a nation purely according to ethnographic features. Language was important, but it was not exclusively determinative. More fundamental was the "national idea" or the "national soul": an ill-defined "spiritual" communion that linked people together, imbued them with a historical mission, and positioned them within a grand scheme of historical progress. Nationalism was tied up inextricably with the romanticism and idealism that shaped European culture at the time, and this generated a sort of internationalist nationalism—an eagerness to see each national cause as part of a much broader struggle. Thus Lord Byron (1788–1824) would die while taking part in the Greek war for independence, Poles would go into battle during a rebellion in 1830 with flags emblazoned with the slogan "For Your Freedom and Ours," and the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872) would found the People's International League in Britain in 1847. The flip side of the idealistic and progressive views of these early national movements was their limited social base. They could focus on the "national spirit" rather than ethnography or linguistics, because for the most part they were engaged in conspiracies rather than mass politics. Sometimes those conspiracies led to violent clashes involving thousands of people, but until at least the 1840s it was easy for national activists to place "the people" on an idealized pedestal.

A turning point in this regard were the revolutions of 1848, for it was in that year that nationalist activists from all over Europe first confronted a problem they had been carefully dodging to that point: What happens if the national liberation of one group conflicts with the national liberation of another? How can liberty remain a meaningful term in a nationalist framework if it cannot be universally applied, and attained equally for all? Tragically, in 1848 it became evident that the Hungarian movement's aspirations were irreconcilable with the goals of many Croats, Serbs, Slovaks, and Romanians; Czech nationalists could not achieve what they wanted without challenging the dreams of many Germans from Bohemia; any program of German unification inevitably came up against Polish hopes to restore independence; and those Polish ambitions, in turn, would have made it impossible for the Ukrainian movement to reach its objectives. None of these programs had to clash as long as everyone was talking about the "national spirit" and the ideals of freedom supposedly embodied in national liberation movements. But during the revolutions of 1848 the first stirrings of mass politics brought ethnolinguistic complexity to the forefront as never before. The Pan-Slav Congress held in Prague that year collapsed in the face of bickering among the various delegates; Germans and Poles fought over the fate of the Poznań region; and the Habsburg monarchy was able to use Croats, Romanians, Slovaks, and Serbs against rebellious Hungarians. The experiences of 1848 dealt national idealism a blow from which it never fully recovered.

national egoism

In a poignant testimony to the changing shape of nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth century, Mazzini refused to participate in the political life of the newly created Italian state, even though he had fought for that cause his entire life. Italy had been built using the tools of power politics, and its government and social system failed to break from the institutions and norms of the past. It was, in other words, just another European state, and to a national idealist like Mazzini that was intolerable. A similar pattern was seen in Germany a few years later, when unification came not at the hands of revolutionaries, but under the leadership of the archconservative, Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898). Perhaps no one exemplified the new approach to nationalism better than Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–1896), a political theorist who believed that nations were bound by no universal moral restraints in their quest for independent statehood, and that the ensuing states were similarly entitled to use whatever means were necessary in pursuit of their expansionist goals. Nationalists such as Treitschke believed that nations were locked together in a struggle for survival, in which the winners would be those with the most discipline, unity, strength, and collective determination. The national interest had nothing to do with broad goals of peace, justice, or liberty—instead, the only concern for each nationalist was the welfare of his or her own nation. In this context, nationalism dovetailed with imperialism, helping to provide a justification for aggression both within Europe and in the colonial world.

Accompanying these developments in political theory came a wave of nationalization campaigns: programs (usually state-sponsored) to establish ethnolinguistic homogeneity where none had existed before. Eastern Europe provided some of the best-known examples: Hungary attempted to suppress the use of the Slovak, Romanian, Serbian, and Croatian languages; Germany tried to forcibly assimilate Poles; and the tsars attempted to spread the use of Russian to parts of the empire where it had not previously been widely spoken. While these campaigns were the most obvious, no less egregious were the much more successful programs to make France linguistically homogeneous (which it was not in the mid-nineteenth century), or to create a single Italian language for the new Italian

state. Late-nineteenth-century nationalists all over Europe came to recognize that the imagined cultural unity spoken of so glowingly earlier in the century did not, in fact, exist. Peasants in particular were notorious for their lack of "national consciousness," but the problem (for nationalists do tend to perceive cultural diversity as a problem) was not limited to isolated rural areas. In nearly all the towns of central and eastern Europe different communities lived side by side, and bilingualism was common. In these settings, national activists had to exert a great deal of energy to polarize the cultural and political atmosphere, and force people to pick the group to which they wished to belong.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then, were marked by concerted efforts on the part of both state officials and opposition activists to "nationalize" the masses. They succeeded for a number of reasons, not least of which was the way in which competing national groups generated a climate of struggle in which each side agreed on one basic point: victory for one would mean defeat for the other. The collective hatreds that exploded during World War I and the tenuous system of "nation-states" created in Europe afterward demonstrated how successful the previous decades of "nation-building" had been. Later in the twentieth century the rhetoric of nationalism would be appropriated by anticolonial movements all over the world, appearing in a wide variety of iterations and transposing itself onto a diverse array of political conflicts. Observers have repeatedly prophesied the end of the age of nationalism, but the post–Cold War era has provided many new examples of the continued potency of national thinking, both in Europe and throughout the world.

theories of nationalism

The scholarship on nationalism stood for decades in the shadow of two towering mid-twentieth-century authors: Carlton J. H. Hayes and Hans Kohn. They introduced two basic themes that persisted for many years. First, both scholars drew a distinction between a good nationalism marked by civic inclusion and a benign love of one's country, and a bad nationalism marked by aggression, cultural chauvinism, and racism. This dichotomy reproduced itself over the years in both chronological and typological schemes, even among those who claimed to eschew explicit moral assessments. Kohn himself literally mapped out these two types of nationalism, locating the good nationalism in "the West" (which for him meant France, Britain, and the United States), and the bad nationalism in "the East" (which started in Germany in his presentation). A strict spatial embodiment of nationalism's Janus face has been repeatedly debunked: the rhetoric of civil inclusion in "the West" has often been used to conceal cultural exclusion, and there are plenty of examples of "Eastern" republicanism. Nonetheless, the basic dichotomy, cast in less stark terms, persists to this day.

The second enduring element introduced by Hayes and Kohn was the way they plotted nationalism's history over time. Kohn traced the evolution of "the idea of nationalism" from the ancient Israelites to the Enlightenment, but characterized this long history as a prelude to the birth of "modern nationalism" around the time of the French Revolution. Hayes offered a slightly different narrative, but the general scheme was similar: in both cases, the emergence of national thinking was an integral part of modernity. For Hayes, Kohn, and countless historians of nationalism to follow, the nation has appeared as the primary means of organizing collectivities in the modern world, supplanting earlier forms of community and polity (first in Europe, then throughout the world).

The first historians of nationalism told this story within the genre of intellectual history, focusing on the ideologues of national and nationalist thought. Eventually this approach was challenged by social scientists who tried to explain modern nationalism by linking it to broad forces of social change. Nationalism was taken out of the realm of ideas and grounded in seemingly more concrete social dynamics (industrialization, urbanization, and the corresponding transformations of political consciousness). This approach dominated the scholarship on nationalism from the 1960s to the 1980s. Perhaps the most important moment for the historiography of nationalism came in 1983. In an extraordinary congruence of scholarly energy, three seminal texts appeared in that year: Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism, and Eric J. Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger's The Invention of Tradition. The English-language translation of Miroslav Hroch's Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe appeared two years later, and together these four books reframed the scholarly discussion of nationalism for years to come. Gellner and Hroch spelled out theories explaining the mechanisms by which the social changes of modernization could generate new forms of self-awareness and a new politics of nationalism; Anderson, Hobsbawm, and Ranger, without actually challenging these sociological arguments, began focusing on the ways in which nationalists constructed the very nations they claimed to serve. Anderson's famous title purported to depict nations (all large-scale communities, for that matter) as "imagined," and Hobsbawm and Ranger characterized tradition as something "invented." These two loaded words alone were enough to spark debates about the degree to which nations were (or were not) grounded in enduring social formations. Anthony D. Smith, for example, responded by insisting that a nation could emerge only if an ethnic community was already in place. But as is so often the case with academic debates, the heat of the polemical exchanges obscured the broad consensus that linked most scholars of nationalism in the 1980s. Smith never questioned that modernization provided the solvents that converted ethnic groups into nations, and Anderson, Hobsbawm, and the others never really claimed that nations were as ephemeral as such terms as invented and imagined might imply. In fact, the class of 1983 grounded the process of "invention" firmly within inexorable social forces, making their nations as "real" as any social formation could possibly be. The nations described in these books are indeed created, but the agent of creation is History (with a very teleological capital H). They are imagined and invented only in the sense that they are rooted in a mutable historical narrative rather than an immutable natural order. Even though few serious scholars of the early twenty-first century would claim that national identity is hardwired into the human psyche, it becomes no less "real" for being historicized.

If the novelty of that batch of scholarship has been somewhat overstated, the more profound changes that came in the 1990s may have been underappreciated. Historians are still coming to terms with the much-discussed "cultural turn" that swept the discipline at that time. One unambiguously positive result has been to expand the scholarly field of vision to include aspects of the past that once escaped attention. The study of popular culture in particular has blossomed, with fascinating implications for historical understanding of national thinking. If nothing else, the focus on "culture" (indeed, the very attempt to define that elusive term) has helped to transcend the old, increasingly sterile tensions between intellectual and social history. But perhaps most profoundly, the "cultural turn" has transformed the study of nationalism by inspiring scholars to give renewed attention to the way historical narratives themselves contribute to the construction and maintenance of nations. The historiographical tradition that has been developed to understand (mainly European) nationalism has itself served the agenda of nationalism, both by naturalizing national communities and by obscuring a whole range of alternative forms of subjectivity, many of which are every bit as important in the "modern" world as national belonging. In the view of nationalists (and most of the scholars who studied them), "History" was necessarily marching forward into a world in which the nation-state was the natural, inevitable, and ultimately desirable means of structuring society and expressing popular will. Other forms of subjectivity—whether tribal or familial on the microcosmic scale, or imperial or religious on the macrocosmic scale—were relegated to subordinate positions, or scheduled for elimination altogether. A myriad of alternative ways of structuring society were silenced as being unnational, and thus unnatural, and a political framework developed under specific conditions in Europe was described as a universal historical destiny.

Nations were always said to be "emerging," "awakening," "becoming," "resurrecting," "growing," and even "dying." They are nearly always portrayed as historically dynamic, and nearly always tied to some scheme of historical progress. It is by critically focusing on nationalist historiography that one truly penetrates to the core of what it means to "be national." Adjectives such as "Italian" or "American" or "German" or "Irish" are never just sociological descriptions: they are understood to exist within a specific understanding of historical progress. Only by questioning that understanding, by revealing it as an ideological and cultural construction, can one fully perceive how national thought works. Scholars are starting to get beyond the assumption that with time the ideology of nationalism must necessarily move in a certain direction, and that theorists of the nation must cope in predictable ways with predictable historical developments. In fact, the study of nationalism has moved away from the macrotheorizing of sociologists and political scientists, and since the mid-1990s the historian's attention to context and contingency has returned to the forefront. Few scholars today attempt to spin grand "theories of nationalism" that claim to predict the rise and eventual fall of national thinking; instead, today's most exciting scholarship tends to employ a tighter focus on the ways specific individuals and communities use national categories to advance their own specific goals and understand their own specific circumstances.

See alsoBismarck, Otto von; Conservatism; Endecja; Franco-Prussian War; French Revolution; Leipzig, Battle of; Levée en Masse; Liberalism; Mazzini, Giuseppe; Napoleon; Republicanism; Risorgimento (Italian Unification); Socialism.


Primary Sources

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. Addresses to the German Nation. Translated by R.F. Jones and G.H. Turnbull. Edited by George Armstrong Kelly. New York, 1968.

Herder, Johann Gottfried von. Philosophical Writings. Translated by Michael N. Forster. Cambridge, U.K., 2002.

Mazzini, Giuseppe. The Duties of Man and Other Essays. Translated by Thomas Jones. London, 1955.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Translated by G. D. H. Cole. Amherst, N.Y., 1988.

Treitschke, Heinrich von. Politics. Translated by Blanche Dugdale and Torben de Bille. New York, 1916.

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Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London, 1983.

Armstrong, John A. Nations before Nationalism. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982.

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Brubaker, Rogers. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.

Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, N.J., 1993.

Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, Conn., 1992.

Duara, Prasenjit. Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China. Chicago, 1995.

Eley, Geoff, and Ronald Grigor Suny, eds. Becoming National: A Reader. New York, 1996.

Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford, U.K., 1983.

Hayes, Carlton J. H. The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism. New York, 1931.

Hobsbawm, Eric J. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

Hobsbawm, Eric J., and Terence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, U.K., 1983.

Hroch, Miroslav. Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe: A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations. Translated by Ben Fowkes. Cambridge, U.K., 1985.

King, Jeremy. Budweisers into Czechs and Germans: A Local History of Bohemian Politics, 1848–1948. Princeton, N.J., 2002.

Kohn, Hans. The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origins and Background. New York, 1944.

Mosse, George L. The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich. New York, 1975.

——. Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe. New York, 1985.

Porter, Brian. When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth Century Poland. New York, 2000.

Smith, Anthony D. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford, U.K., 1986.

Verdery, Katherine. National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceaus̨escu's Romania. Berkeley, Calif., 1991.

Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford, Calif., 1976.

Brian Porter


views updated May 09 2018


In defining the word nationalism, at least five senses can be identified: (1) a sentiment of loyalty to a nation (a variety of patriotism); (2) a propensity, as applied to policies, to consider exclusively the interests of one's own nation, especially in cases where these compete with the interests of other nations; (3) an attitude that attaches high importance to the distinctive characteristics of a nation and, therefore, (4) a doctrine that maintains that national culture should be preserved; and (5) a political and an anthropological theory that asserts that humankind is naturally divided into nations, that there are determinate criteria for identifying a nation and for recognizing its members, that each nation is entitled to an independent government of its own, that states are legitimate only if constituted in accordance with this principle, and that the world would be rightly organized, politically speaking, only if every nation formed a single state and every state consisted exclusively of the whole of one nation.

Nature and Criteria of Nationality

Nationalist doctrines and theories of the kinds referred to in (4) and (5) date from the end of the eighteenth century. Attachment to one's nation and the belief that, for instance, all Englishmen constitute an English nation are, no doubt, much older. Men have always had this kind of attachment to an in-groupwhether tribe, city, or nationand a corresponding awareness of (and perhaps hostility toward) nonmembers as foreigners. But what characterizes nations, distinguishing them from groups of other kinds?

the nation defined by the state

A nation, wrote the French revolutionary ideologist the Abbé Sieyès in 1789, is "a union of individuals governed by one law, and represented by the same law-giving assembly." Thus conceived, a nation's unity and identity derive from political organization, and the state would thus be logically prior to the nation. This view was consistent with the individualist or atomistic interpretation of group phenomena of which John Locke was a typical exponent and which was characteristic of much of the social theorizing of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Writers like Denis Diderot and Marquis de Condorcet considered that individuals must be taken to concur in the setting up of a political order because (or insofar as) it is in their interests, several and collective. A public interest, thus created, is the ground of a duty to preserve and defend the order, and the state, as the subject of this interest, becomes a proper object of loyalty. Those sharing in such a common interest would constitute one people, or nation. This view of nationality is supported by the way in which, in ordinary speech, citizenship and nationality are interchangeable in many contexts. (This was once true of legal usage, too; however, many states now distinguish the rights and duties of a citizen from those of a national.) If, however, we do distinguish nationality from citizenship in ordinary speech, it is principally by narrowing citizenship to matters of political and legal status, whereas to determine nationality we take into account criteria like place of birth, parentage, language, and cultural tradition.

the nation defined by language and culture

The conception of nationality as language and culture became articulate, as an element in nationalist ideology, at the end of the eighteenth century, mainly through the work of German writers such as Johann Gottfried Herder, Novalis, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Whereas for the French revolutionaries a nation was a group of individuals subject to a single political order, for the Germans nations were distinguished from one another by God and nature. Each had its peculiar character closely related to its common language. Since language is the vehicle of a tradition, preserving and transmitting sentiments, symbols, emotional associations, and myths, to share a native language is to share a common culture. "Every language," wrote Schleiermacher, "is a particular mode of thought, and what is cogitated in one language can never be repeated in the same way in another." This concept of nationality tended to be associated with a metaphysical doctrine that saw every nation as the expression of a spirit or idea, which in turn expressed a particular aspect of the divine image. The diversity of nations was a reflection of the diversity of reality, and each nation made its necessary contribution to the progress of humankind. Its members therefore had a moral duty to preserve and foster it. Thus, in reacting against the Francophile cosmopolitanism of the Aufklärung (German Enlightenment), the German cultural nationalist nevertheless continued to see the nations against the backcloth of humanity, each with a role to play in what, in the end, was a drama of humankind.

As these writers saw it, a nation's existence did not depend on its members' choice or recognition; or, rather, because it formed their consciousness, they could hardly choose not to be members. If the German nation was a natural fact, it was because men reared in a German tradition would be essentially different from Englishmen or Frenchmen. Thus, a German who tried to ape the French inhibited the expression of his own nature and made do with what for him were artificial second bests.

the nation defined by common heritage

The conception of nationality as language and culture was challenged by Ernest Renan in the famous lecture Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? of 1882. It is a mistake, says Renan, to confuse nations with ethnographic and linguistic groups. Common racial origin, language, or religion, common economic interests, or the facts of geography are not sufficient to constitute a nation. There are nations like the Swiss, who do not share such characteristics, and there are linguistic groups like the English-speaking peoples, who do but who do not form a single nation. According to Renan, what constitutes a nation is the possession, first, of a common history, particularly of sufferingsof a store, that is, of common memories that are a source of common sympathy and pride. But it is important that some things be forgotten, too, for until old wounds have healed, the sense of sharing a common heroic tradition will be lacking. Thus, the second condition of nationality is a will to live together and to keep the common heritage alive. "To have done great things together, and the will to do more, these are the essential conditions for a people. The existence of a nation is a daily plebiscite."

Granted the importance of personal identification with a common tradition in the life of a nation, the metaphor of common memories does little, perhaps, to elucidate what gives a national tradition its unity and continuity. In the sense in which memory is important for individual self-knowledge and identity, individuals cannot remember what happened before they were born. Nor need their heroic ancestors stand in any generative relation to them. It is only in a figurative sense that a Frenchman could claim Joan of Arc for an ancestor. It is only because he is already a participant in a national tradition that he knows whom to call ancestor. Different situations call out different loyalties, and the ancestors a man acknowledges may differ accordingly. An American Jew of German descent might identify himself now with Thomas Jefferson, now with Judas Maccabaeus, now with Frederick the Great. Again, although men may share memories simply by having been present at the same event, to share a common history is not just to know the same historical facts; it is to identify with the same historic symbols, feel vicarious pride in the same achievements, and feel indignation at the same affronts. A Frenchman may know as much about Frederick as about Joan; it is because Joan is his and Frederick theirs that he is a Frenchman. A nation exists, then, where there is a group of individuals, attached in this way to a common body of symbols, who recognize one another as fellow members sharing similar attitudes to these symbols and who, because of this, feel a loyalty and concern for one another that they would not extend to outsiders. Linguistic, religious, or physiognomic features may have a part in determining who is so recognized, and the importance of any one of them may be different in different situations.

the nation defined by territory

A characteristic of nationality distinguishing it from most other kinds of group attachment is its relation to territory. For a group to have no special territorial affinity would not prevent one from calling it a sect, a family, or a social class. The idea of a homeland, however, seems essential to the idea of a nation. The true cosmopolitan has no place where he belongs. This illumines the close conceptual relation between nation and state, for a state is also territorially based and will admit nonmembers only on its own terms.

Where an area has a history of conflict among religious, linguistic, or racial groups each concentrated in a particular territory, the members of each will be conscious of themselves as a separate group with a history of supremacy or suffering associated with that territory; the characteristics that significantly differentiate the group from those around it will come to be thought of as those of people who belong to that territory, even when they are also found outside it. Any such group excluded from political power may be expected to aspire to independence and to want to settle in its own territory the terms on which power and prestige are enjoyed. There is, then, a wide range of features by which a national group might identify itself and its members. Which of them becomes the focus of nationality in any given case will depend on how the group has come to self-consciousness; that feature will very often correspond to the criterion by which it has been singled out as an object of oppression. Its homeland will be the territory in which the group so defined now predominates or predominated in some earlier period to which its common recollections go back.

the nation defined by common aim

However, because nationalism is so often a form of protest, the concept of the nation to which it is tied may depend as much on the definition of the out-group against which it is aimed as on the positive delineation of the in-group. In the twentieth century African and Asian nationalisms, for instance, relied heavily on the repudiation of white colonialism and on an aspiration to count as the white man's equal. However, on its own this cannot be enough to constitute a nation, for though the same sentiments are found throughout Black Africa, only a few Africans see themselves as a single nation aspiring to unity in a single state. Nationalism, in fact, can exist before the nation, as the aspiration of a European-trained elite aiming at native independence in a territory defined by an imperial power for administrative convenience, not by any native tradition or symbolic attachment. Having transformed a colony into a state, nationalists in countries such as Ghana must then create a nation. That states can be as important in making nations as nations can be in making states is borne out by the success of the United States. The failure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to create a nation was the cause of its disintegration.

Nature Self-Determinition

The twin sources of modern nationalist doctrine are the French conception of popular sovereignty and German romantic anthropological nationalism. In eighteenth-century political theory the attribution of sovereignty to the people instead of the monarch gave the people the right to determine its own mode of government. This implied no threat to the existing order of states and gave rise to no irredentisms in France and England, where the territorial boundaries of the self-conscious nation corresponded more or less with the established frontiers of the state and where the state itself was already a national symbol. In Germany and Italy, however, nationality spilled across frontiers. If the people, being sovereign, might choose the political order it wished and if "the people" was defined by nationality irrespective of existing states, then a national will to unity and independence was self-justifying even though it dismembered existing states, upset dynastic legitimacy, and sanctioned the invasion of one sovereign state by another in the interest of national liberation. The Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini put the case in extreme terms, professing the belief that the political unity and independence of every nation within its natural boundaries was ordained by God. A characteristically more moderate view was stated by J. S. Mill in Representative Government (1861):

Where the sentiment of nationality exists in any force, there is a prima facie case for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government, and a government to themselves apart. This is merely saying that the question of government ought to be decided by the governed. One hardly knows what any division of the human race would be free to do if not to determine with which of the various collective bodies of human beings they would choose to associate themselves.

There are very great difficulties, however, in the notion of a right to self-determination, whether individual or collective. The idea of a state as an organization exercising authority over everyone within its boundaries is not compatible with the idea of conceding to each man a right to choose whether to give it his allegiance. Of course, everyone may have a right to some influence on how and by whom he will be governed. But this amounts to a right to participate in certain constitutional decision procedures that take the political framework for granted, not to a right to take or leave it as one likes. Nor is a collective right any easier. On the practical level no amount of fragmentation or partition could put every individual in an area like the Balkans into the right state.

A more fundamental problem, however, is to decide what constitutes a national group for the purpose of self-determination. In the name of national unity Ghanaian nationalists deny self-determination to the Ashanti as the Congolese denied it to Katanga. If Germans claim that all German-speaking people, as members of the German nation, ought to be included in Germany, would the principle of national self-determination leave so-called Germans abroad any choice in the matter? And if they demurred, would it be as Germans or as non-Germans? If as Germans, would this be compatible with the self-determination of the whole German people? Clearly, if nationality is to be judged by objective criteria like language, the principle of national self-determination would support irredentist expansion policies irrespective of the wishes of the subgroup concerned since the nation's will would presumably be more authoritatively expressed by the greater part than by the lesser. But if nationality is judged by subjective criteria, like a will to live under one government, repudiation by the subgroup would appear to be ground enough for saying that it was not part of the same nation after all. But a dissentient minority within that subgroup could then equally well claim a separate national identity and so on. If one accepts subjective criteria for group self-determination, there is no reason for stopping short of individual self-determination.

The objective criteria, though often difficult to apply in actual cases, do provide clear principles for the proper constitution of states. However, they can claim no support from the individualist doctrine that political obligation must rest on consent. This principle has played its part in the history of nationalist doctrine. Immanuel Kant maintained that the principle of moral freedom and autonomy implied that men, as self-legislating members of the kingdom of ends, must impose political obligation upon themselves and that authority must derive from and be subject to the general will as expressed in law. Nationalists like the German political economist Adam Müller transformed the argument, however, by identifying the individual with the nation, insisting that the individual's permanent will was more truly expressed in the Volksgeist, or national spirit, than in any particular individual preference. Thus, the general will, which for Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Kant reconciled individual moral autonomy with political authority and obligation, became a way of denying the relevance of personal choice when it ran counter to the national spirit.

Early nineteenth-century nationalism was nevertheless liberal and humane in intention. Fichte and Mazzini would have argued that unless a nation was united in an independent sovereign state, its members, unable to command the respect of others as equals, would be lacking in dignity and self-respect. Much of the persuasive charm of nationalism in Africa and Asia has a similar source. Men of color repudiating white superiority feel that for their own self-respect they must be ruled by men of their own color and kind with whom they can identify and who will be received on equal footing by the leaders of other sovereign states.

However, the moral uncertainty out of which nationalism is born and which is perhaps its main justification, readily turns, once unity and independence has been won, into an aggressive assertiveness and national egoism, akin to what in France Charles Maurras called "integral nationalism," "the exclusive pursuit of national policies, the absolute maintenance of national integrity, and the steady increase of national power." The nation-state is no longer set in the context of a larger humanity; it is its own sufficient justification. Nationalism in this key is frankly irrationalist, delighting in the symbolic rhetoric of "blood and soil." Enormously important as it is for the historian and sociologist, it would be absurd to treat it as if it invited serious rational criticism.

See also Condorcet, Marquis de; Diderot, Denis; Enlightenment; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Herder, Johann Gottfried; Jefferson, Thomas; Kant, Immanuel; Loyalty; Mill, John Stuart; Novalis; Patriotism; Philosophical Anthropology; Racism; Renan, Joseph Ernest; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst; Self-Interest; Social and Political Philosophy; Sovereignty; State.


historical studies

Hayes, Carlton J. H. Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism. Chicago, 1948.

Kohn, Hans. The Idea of Nationalism. New York: Macmillan, 1945. History of nationality and nationalism before 1789.

Kohn, Hans. Nationalism: Its Meaning and History. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1955. Introductory study with readings and selected bibliography.

general studies

Hertz, Frederick. Nationality in History and Politics. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1944. Sociological and historical study of nationalist ideology.

Shafer, Boyd C. NationalismMyth and Reality. London: V. Gollancz, 1955. Has twenty-page bibliography.

Snyder, Louis L. The Meaning of Nationalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1954.

classic expositions

Fichte, J. G. Reden an die deutsche Nation. Berlin, 1808. Translated by R. F. Jones and G. H. Turnbull as Addresses to the German Nation. Chicago: Open Court, 1922.

Maurras, Charles. Enquête sur la monarchie. Paris: A. Fayard, 1924. Originally published in 1900.

Mazzini, Giuseppe. Doveri dell'uomo. London, 1860. Translated by Ella Noyes as "The Duties of Man," in The Duties of Man and Other Essays, by Joseph Mazzini, edited by Ernest Rhys. London and New York, 1907.

Reiss, H. S., ed. The Political Thought of the German Romantics, 17931815. Oxford: Blackwell, 1955. Contains readings from Fichte, Novalis, Adam Müller, Schleiermacher, and Friedrich Karl von Savigny; also has selected bibliographies.

Renan, Ernest. Qu'est-ce qu'une Nation? In Oeuvres complètes de Ernest Renan, Vol. I, edited by Henriette Psichari. Paris, 1947. Originally published in 1882.

critical studies

Acton, John Emerich Edward. "Nationality." In Essays on Freedom and Power by Lord Acton, edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1948. For criticism of Mazzini.

Cobban, Alfred. National Self-Determination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.

Kedourie, Elie. Nationalism. London: Hutchinson, 1960; 2nd rev. ed., London and New York, 1961. Has notes for further reading; examines metaphysical foundations of nationalism and its influence on Europe and the Middle East.

Kohn, Hans. Prophets and Peoples. New York, 1957. Studies of J. S. Mill, Jules Michelet, Mazzini, Heinrich von Treitschke, Fëdor Dostoevsky.

Stanley I. Benn (1967)


views updated May 18 2018


Nationalism is a dominating political concept while being at the same time theoretically and practically problematic. In relation to science and technology, it is common to talk about national styles—French science and engineering are more rationalist, English science and engineering more empirical—and to see science and technology as having different national impacts. Certainly the scientific community in United States is able to marshal a greater percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) for research investment than similar communities in any other developed country, and U.S. culture is the most high-tech saturated in the world. Nationalism both energizes scientific and technological communities and has served as a justification for behavior that has been argued to violate scientific standards of conduct with regard, for instance, to research involving human subjects and to the sharing of knowledge. The scientific community has on occasion also seen itself as opposed to nationalism (and able to replace it with the "republic of science"), while nation-states have suspected scientists of disloyalties and seen them as a threat to national security. The following analysis of nationalism is thus designed to provide a basis for further exploration of such issues.

Nationalism as Theoretical Enigma

Nationalism is among the most problematic concepts in the social sciences. At the core of this enigma is the frequently observed discrepancy between the emotive and politically mobilizing power of nationalism and its flimsy or minimal content when analyzed as a political ideology. Primarily because nationalism is a political "ism," it is readily classified alongside other political/ideological isms, such as conservatism, liberalism, and socialism. But in contrast with adherents of these other ideologies, nationalists do not seem to be required to take on many, or indeed any, substantive intellectual commitments (Anderson 1983). One popular definition of nationalism, for example, holds that it is the doctrine "that the boundaries of the state and of the nation should always be congruent" (Gellner 1983, p. 1), but apart from this being minimalist in the extreme, there are still many enthusiastic nationalists in states that long ago realized such a doctrine But this does not appear to have diminished the nationalist enthusiasms and commitments that still emerge in such states from time to time.

This discrepancy between the appeal and content of nationalism has led some theorists to argue that it is not a political ideology at all, but a more emotive phenomenon, closer to religion than to politics. Others, while not endorsing this view, have suggested that its intellectual vacuity is precisely the secret of its mobilizing power. For while other political ideologies, precisely because of the substantive commitments they entail, will necessarily divide populations, nationalism unifies, through its broad emotivism, people who would otherwise differ—whether by socioeconomic status and interests, ethnicity, gender, or philosophical and value commitments.

Nationalism and Identity

Such an observation, while true and important, still does not explain the broad, unifying emotive appeal of nationalism. The response most favored by scholars of nationalism is that nationalist politics are a form of identity politics and that the emotive power of nationalism comes from its being one of the most common ways, at least in the modern world, in which people identify themselves and others. Because a threat to personal identity is one of the most profound, it is therefore not surprising that nationalist conflicts often call up deep, even hysterical, emotions in those involved.

The sociology and psychology of identity, while assisting in explaining the emotive power of nationalism, generates its own difficulty. It is a commonplace of the literature on identity that any human being always possesses multiple identities, of which a national identity is but one. Thus a person may be an American, a Christian, a woman, a feminist, a wife, a Democratic voter, a computer programmer, a keen basketball fan, and an enthusiastic gardener; which identity she emphasizes at any moment will depend on the context and situation. In certain circumstances (say, when she is traveling abroad, or when America is at war) her American identity may be uppermost. But it remains to be explained why people will kill and die for a national identity more readily than a gender, religious, or domestic political identity, or any other numerous possible identities. It is in addressing this question above all that theorists of nationalism divide into two broad groups or camps.

Modernist Theories of Nationalism

The great debate in the literature on nationalism concerns both the historical antiquity and the fundamental roots or sources of its appeal and power. Modernist theorists argue that national identities are of relatively recent origin and political construction. In essence, they maintain that since the late eighteenth century states or state elites have politically constructed national identities among the mass of their populations. For modernist theorists the two seminal historical events in the construction of nationalism as a political ideology and identity were the American (anticolonial) Revolution of 1776 and the French (antimonarchical) Revolution of 1789. These two events were seminal because between them they dethroned the predominant principle of political legitimacy of the premodern period (the divine right or divine status of hereditary rulers) and installed the modern democratic principle (rule in the name of, and with the assent of "the People") in its stead. In both these revolutions the boundaries of the legitimacy-bestowing "People" were taken to be coterminous with the boundaries of "the Nation." That is, "the People" who made up the new democratic citizenry were generally defined as those living within a certain geographical space, speaking a certain language, and sharing a common culture (Hobsbawm 1992, Gellner 1983).

Nevertheless, while the above was the core of the mobilizing and legitimizing ideology of both these modern revolutions, in practice the actual people—the population—occupying the geographical territories involved (the thirteen American colonies, the former kingdom of France) were often not possessed of the characteristics with which they were predicated in the noble rhetoric of "the People." Thus many were illiterate, quite a number did not support their respective revolutions at all, and in France many did not even speak French, at least not the Parisian variety in which the revolution was conducted. Thus in the postrevolutionary situation state elites set about turning populations into "The People" through the imposition of mass education systems using a single language or (in the French case) a particular regional version of a language. Such education systems not only turned "peasants into Frenchmen" (Weber 1976) or American colonists into Americans, they also specifically introduced the newly educated masses to the national symbols of identity and loyalty (flags, anthems, and constitutional principles) and inculcated them with a nationalist version of history in which they could find a sense of pride in their new identity.

These state-led "nation-building" practices became even more vital when, in the later years of the nineteenth century, France began its own industrial revolution and millions of non-English-speaking European and other immigrants flooded into the industrializing United States. The need of industrializing countries for a skilled and literate labor force, and the emergence of other economic and social institutions to shape that force (large industrial towns and cities, modern mass communications and infrastructure), gave further impetus to this state-directed process of "nationalizing" the masses. On this account the creation of national identities and identifications is simply part of the political and economic modernization of states and their populations, a process that introduces this new political identity (that of being a free and equal "citizen" of a "nation-state") as it also introduces a range of other new economic, occupational, and social identities (Gellner 1983).

Whatever its historical merits, this "modernist" theory of nationalism still leaves certain crucial questions unanswered. First, while it can and does account for the creation of "mass" nationalism, it has to assume the preexistence of a state elite nationalism that it does not itself explain. This is especially a problem in the case of English nationalism, which, as an elite or upper-class phenomenon, predates both the American and French Revolutions by a hundred years (Colley 1992, Newman 1997), and is therefore radically anomalous in the modernist account (Smith 1998). Second, precisely insofar as modernist theory emphasizes that national political identities are only one of the identity changes brought about in human populations by modernization, it still leaves unexplained the singular emotive power of national political identities specifically, relative to the many other modern identities ("worker," "employer," "liberal," "socialist," "feminist," "Yankees fan") created in the course of modernization.

One "modernist" attempt to deal with the latter question is found in Benedict Anderson's seminal book Imagined Communities (1983). Anderson suggests that it is significant that nationalism both borrows a great part of its emotional power from religious feelings and symbolism, and that it originated in a place and time when conventional religious belief was coming under widespread and systematic challenge. Anderson emphasizes the role of religious or quasi-religious symbols in national identification (cenotaphs, tombs of unknown soldiers, hymnlike national anthems). He also suggests that nationalism provides a sort of secularized version of immortality to replace explicitly religious notions coming under challenge. Thus, though any individual citizen lives and dies, "the Nation" itself lives on, and, in making the "ultimate sacrifice" for his or her nation on the field of battle, the individual citizen ensures the continuity/immortality of the national collective.

Although suggestive, such an interpretation is hardly conclusive. First, the late-eighteenth-century origin remains assumed. Second it is not clear that nationalism did replace or supplant conventional religiosity. It is true that conventional religious belief came under widespread challenge in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, in certain restricted circles. But it nonetheless remained powerful and important as a mass phenomenon, and many who have killed and died for their nation have also seen themselves as killing and dying for God. That is, nationalist sentiment seems far more often to combine with, or even coattail upon, conventional religious conviction as to supplant it.

Antimodernism and "Ethnicity"

The essential view shared by all antimodernist theorists is that, in some way or another, modern nationalism is a "politically transformed" version of a much older, even primordial, phenomenon in human life, ethnicity. This latter concept is not without its problems, but in its original meaning at least, ethnicity is a biological or putatively biological concept. An "ethnic group" is a group of people claiming descent from a common ancestor, with such groups varying considerably in size and having many and various names in different languages. In English terms such as tribe, clan, and family, and indeed nation itself, are all terms with such an original biological or "kinship" meaning. Historically, people who have claimed a common biological descent have also shared a common language and have often had important customs and beliefs (religious, magical, sexual, etc.) in common.

In essence then, antimodernist theorists of nationalism claim that the creation of nationalism is best conceived as the modern "political transformation" of much older ethnic identities. Nationalism turns group identities that people possess but are not conscious or aware of (ethnic identities) into conscious, self-aware political identities (national identities). On this account there have for centuries been people who were ethnically English living in the geographical space known as England, but they became consciously, politically English only sometime in (most likely) the seventeenth century. Likewise, there have for millennia been people who were ethnically Chinese in the area of the world known as China, but they became consciously, politically Chinese only sometime in most likely the late nineteenth or early twentieth century (Smith 1986).

The clear advantage of this concept (which can embrace language, religion, and culture as well as biology) is that it explains why it was relatively easy for state elites to create mass nationalist loyalties (they were "only" making conscious what in some sense or other had long existed) and why (conversely) it may be difficult to create fervent, self-identifying nations across boundaries of biology, language, or culture. It also explains where "elite nationalists" come from. Elite nationalists are just the first people within an old ethnic group to make their ethnic identity a conscious political identity. This is a feat made easier by certain aspects of elite privilege (for example, greater leisure time and education and greater capacity to travel—and thus to see other peoples and cultures and to see them as "other" than "their own").

But antimodernist theories of nationalism are not without their problems. First, the existence and flourishing of such immigrant-based nation-states as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and (indeed) Brazil or Argentina demonstrates that, while it may be more difficult to create national identities and solidarities across ethnic/cultural boundaries, it is by no means impossible to do so, given enough time and the appropriate political will. While most modern nation-states may indeed be dominated by a politically transformed ethnic core nation, not all are. This in turn implies the following: All modern nation-states that are now ethnically plural as the result of global population movements will not necessarily be imperiled by ethnic divisions between old host ethnic core groups and new arrivals. This may happen, as the result of political failures of one sort or another, but the relatively successful creation of the above-mentioned multiethnic, immigrant-based "nation-states" of the nineteenth century suggests that there is nothing inevitable about it.

Second, as the more sophisticated antimodernist theorists readily admit, ethnic identities are not themselves in any way fixed, static, or "unchanging" (Smith 1986). Human beings can, and have, changed even their biological group characteristics (physiogamy, skin tones, etc.) very considerably over long historical periods through interbreeding. Moreover, although ethnic groups usually claim to be biological entities, virtually none of them are, or are exclusively. That is, virtually all social anthropologists and historians who have studied large or largish human kin-based groupings (past and present) have emphasized that they operate through what is called "fictive" as well as real (biological) kinship. Slaves, war captives, or simple peaceful adoptees may be incorporated into a kinship group by the use of kinship terminology (by being treated as "uncles," "brothers," "cousins," etc.), and then, over time, this original adoption is forgotten and the people in question both claim to be and are accepted as "real" kin. (They or their descendents may even become so through interbreeding.)

Third, the above observations imply that no human ethnic groups existing today are in fact ethnic groups in the narrow biological sense (that is, actual biological descendents from a common ancestor). All of them are really linguistic and (to an extent) cultural groupings and therefore more or less open to any adoptees who are accepted into them. Therefore, although there is a linguistic and cultural "ethnic nation" of English people in England, they long ago ceased to be a biological descent group. (They are in fact a mélange of many such groups including Celts, Angles, Saxons, Normans, Danes, and others.) Moreover, although these composing groups "happen" to share broadly "Caucasian" physiogamies and skin tones (so that ethnically English people are "white" people), there is no reason why, in the future, this shared biological fact may not change markedly as the result of widespread interbreeding with non-Caucasians. What is true of the English ethnic nation is equally true of the Chinese, French, German, or any other ethnic nation.

Ethnic versus Civic Nationalism

These are not merely abstract historical considerations. They have vital contemporary implications. Because in a world of massive global population movements, the central political issue now facing all states is that of the relationship between civic national identities and ethnic national identities. While an ethnically Chinese person who settles in (say) Australia can readily, even "instantly," become a civic Australian citizen by going through a "naturalization" ceremony, being issued an Australian passport, and so on, this person will become ethnically Australian only by learning the English language well, adopting Australian cultural mores, and so on. All historical and contemporary evidence suggests that converting civic national identities into ethnic national identities (if that is what the people in question wish to do) will be a much slower process than formal civic incorporation—a process possibly requiring many generations to occur. But such evidence also suggests that there is nothing impossible about it, if the right "open" political and cultural conditions exist. Moreover, if the right conditions exist civic nationality can be turned into cultural or ethnic nationality quite quickly, as for example in the United States.

Nationalism and Globalization

This review of the major modern theories of nationalism has done little to dispel its enigmatic quality. All its theorists and theories are able to do some justice to this extraordinarily slippery phenomenon, while none do it total justice The reason may be relatively simple. It may be that any theorization of human identity in general (and not just of national identity) must come to terms with an important but frequently overlooked paradox. This is that (1) all human identities are parasitic upon notions of "difference" or "otherness"—for example, "male" identity on "female" identity, "white" identity on "colored" or "black" identity, and "liberal" identity on "conservative"—which are structurally "fixed," or apparently fixed, over relatively short historical periods. This semantic parasitism of identity on otherness has the possibility of conflict built into it, if the right (or wrong) political and historical conditions arise during those periods. (2) Despite this, all human identities are also, to a greater or lesser degree, plastic or changeable in the long run. Thus, human identity differences that at one historical moment can seem both immutable and inherently conflictual can (and indeed have) come at another time either to cease to exist altogether or to be regarded as perfectly and peacefully compatible, even mutually enriching. In this perspective then, ethnicity theories are strong in telling why national identities are slow to change but weak in explaining how and why they have changed over long periods and will no doubt continue to change. Conversely, modernist theories are good at laying out one important means and mechanism of change (manipulation by political elites) but weak in explaining why some identities seem much easier for such elites to manipulate than others.

If this is the case, then the central question facing all theories of nationalism concerns what political and institutional conditions tend to fix or "reify" the currently existing global pattern of ethnic/cultural differences and what political and institutional conditions tend to encourage the change or mutability of that pattern. When the matter is put this way, its implications for both bodies of theory are clear. At a certain period in modern history (roughly from the eighteenth century onward), a given global pattern of human ethnic grouping was (as both the modernists and the antimodernists assert) made conscious (through political mobilization by state-related elites), then further fixed and reinforced by such measures as the laying down of spatially exact and controlled state borders, the issuing of passports and citizenship papers, and the creation of a single "national" education system in a single "national" language.

In a word, some ethnic nations were "statized"—turned into so-called nation-states—whereas others were enforcedly incorporated into these state-dominant ethnicities or simply subordinated, as "second-class citizens," within these states. In many of the latter cases such subordinated groups also had their own demands for statehood denied or suppressed. Seen from a contemporary perspective this historical statization of some ethnicities was an enormously powerful force in politically fixing a particular historical ethnic pattern and making it seem both "natural"—the only possible pattern—and difficult, if not impossible, to change.

In a world that is globalizing rapidly—not only economically and technologically but also, to a degree, culturally—this political "fixing" of identity by statization may now be the central problem facing humans. There is no doubt that statizing (some) nations has made it more difficult (more difficult, that is, than would other more open and flexible political arrangements) for all human beings—whether members of dominant or "statized" ethnicities or not—to deal effectively with the unique problems posed by globalization and more difficult for all of them to take full and proper advantage of the economic and other opportunities it affords. This is because the principal socioeconomic and cultural differences and disparities that globalization creates are not ethnic or national differences at all, but differences that deeply cut across both ethnicity and nationalism. And there is strong reason to believe that those human beings who recognize this first, and act accordingly, will therefore be (and indeed already are) those who benefit most from globalization, whereas those who remain mired in ethnicity and national identity (and through the early twenty-first century this is the vast majority of humankind) will also be those least well equipped either to take advantage of globalization's opportunities or to solve its problems (Kitching 2001).

Conclusion: Nationalism, Science, and Technology

As indicated at the beginning, nationalism, science, and technology exists in some tension with each other. As an enigmatic form of identity that is dependent on otherness and historically plastic, nationalism has also been able to oppose and be opposed by various forms of science and technology. Obvious examples of opposition have involved the Nazi German rejection of "Jewish science," the Communist criticism of "bourgeois science," and Islamist efforts to simultaneously reject and transform infidel science and technology. The failures of such efforts in the past may nevertheless suggest some of the limits of nationalism as a transforming process.

Historically, nationalism was also associated with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that granted to nations sovereignty, that is, ultimate powers of life and death, within certain geographic borders. To some degree the positive character of these boundary conditions reflected the limits of early modern technology (especially forms of transportation and communication) and depended on them (the state did not have at its disposal mid-twentieth century means of propaganda nor a virtually unlimited ability to kill large numbers of any ethnically diverse population). Late twentieth century criticisms of nationalism in the name of internationalism in many instances reflect changes in technologies and the new forms of communication and power they place in the hands of some political elites that would statize certain pre-national identifies. The international opposition to statization by the Chinese in Tibet, the Serbs in Kosovo, or the Sunnis in Iraq all reflect a willingness to subject nationalist plasticity joined to technological power to transnationalist criticisms. In such cases science and technology themselves may likewise be seen as paradoxical promoters and delimiters of nationalism.


SEE ALSO Democracy;Science Policy.


Anderson, Benedict. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. One of the most original and imaginative treatments of the issue. Especially good on the relationship between Western and non-Western forms of nationalism.

Colley, Linda. (1992). Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. A "modernist" treatment of British nationalism. Very good on the political construction and manipulation of ethnicity in the British context.

Gellner, Ernest. (1983). Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell. One of the clearest and most accessible texts on the subject. Very orthodoxly modernist.

Hobsbawm, E. J. (1992). Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, 2nd edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. An extremely skeptical treatment of nationalism by a great historian. Nationalism is here treated explicitly as an ideological phenomenon and an extremely duplicitous one.

Kitching, Gavin. (2001). Seeking Social Justice through Globalization: Escaping a Nationalist Perspective. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Review of the various nationalist responses to globalization.

Newman, Gerald. (1997). The Rise of English Nationalism: A Cultural History, 1740–1830. New York: St. Martin's Press. Useful contrasting text to Colley. Much more insistent on the ethnic roots of nationalism.

Smith, Anthony D. (1986). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Blackwell. Important pioneering treatment of this very important topic.

Smith, Anthony D. (1998). Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism. London: Routledge. An extremely cogent and well-balanced review of this central debate.

Weber, Eugen. (1976). Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Fascinating text for the exploration of the differences and interrelationships of elite and mass nationalism.

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