The term nationalism can refer to an ideology, a sentiment, a form of culture, or a social movement that focuses on the nation. While there is significant debate over the historical origins of nations, nearly all specialists accept that nationalism, at least as an ideology and social movement, is a modern phenomenon originating in Europe. Precisely where and when it emerged is difficult to determine, but its development is closely related to that of the modern state and the push for popular sovereignty that came to a head with the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Since that time, nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history, perhaps most notably as a cause of both the First and Second World Wars.
As an ideology, nationalism holds that 'the people' in the doctrine of popular sovereignty is the nation, and that as a result only nation-states founded on the principle of national self-determination are legitimate. Since most states are multinational, or at least home to more than one group claiming national status, the pursuit of this principle has often led to conflict, and nationalism is commonly associated with war (both external and domestic), secession, and even genocide in contexts ranging from imperial conquest to struggles for national liberation.
Nationalism does not always lead to violence, however, and it plays an integral role in the daily lives of most people around the world. Flags on buildings, the singing of national anthems in schools and at public events, and cheering for national sports teams are all examples of everyday, 'banal' nationalism that is often unselfconscious. Moreover, some scholars argue that nationalism as a sentiment or form of culture, sometimes described as 'nationality' to avoid the ideology's tarnished reputation, is the social foundation of modern society. Industrialization, democratization, and support for economic redistribution have all been at least partly attributed to the shared social context and solidarity that nationalism provides.
Nevertheless, nationalism remains a hotly contested subject on which there is little general consensus. The clearest example of opposition to nationalism is cosmopolitanism, with adherents as diverse as liberals, Marxists, and anarchists, but even nationalism's defenders often disagree on its virtues, and it is common for nationalists of one persuasion to disparage the aspirations of others for both principled and strategic reasons. Indeed, the only fact about nationalism that is not in dispute may be that few other social phenomena have had a more enduring impact on the modern world.
Nationalism is a form of universalism when it makes universal claims about how the world should be organized, but it is particularistic with regard to individual nations. The combination of both is characteristic for the ideology, for instance in these assertions:
The universalistic principles bring nationalism into conflict with competing forms of universalism, the particularistic principles bring specific nationalist movements into conflict with rival nationalisms - for instance, the Danish-German tensions over their reciprocal linguistic minorities.
The starting point of nationalism is the existence of nations, which it takes as a given. Nations are typically seen as entities with a long history: most nationalists do not believe a nation can be created artificially. Nationalist movements see themselves as the representative of an existing, centuries-old nation. However, some theories of nationalism imply the reverse order - that the nationalist movements created the sense of national identity, and then a political unit corresponding to it, or that an existing state promoted a 'national' identity for itself.
Nationalists see nations as an inclusive categorization of human beings - assigning every individual to one specific nation. In fact, nationalism sees most human activity as national in character. Nations have national symbols, a national culture, a national music and national literature; national folklore, a national mythology and - in some cases - a national religion. Individuals share national values and a national identity, admire the national hero, eat the national dish and play the national sport.
Nationalists define individual nations on the basis of certain criteria, which distinguish one nation from another; and determine who is a member of each nation. These criteria typically include a shared language, culture, and/or shared values which are predominantly represented within a specific ethnic group. National identity refers both to these defining criteria, and to the shared heritage of each group. Membership in a nation is usually involuntary and determined by birth. Individual nationalisms vary in their degree of internal uniformity: some are monolithic, and tolerate little variance from the national norms. Academic nationalism theory emphasizes that national identity is contested, reflecting differences in region, class, gender, and language or dialect. A recent development is the idea of a national core culture, in Germany the Leitkultur, which emphasizes a minimal set of non-negotiable values: this is primarily a strategy of cultural assimilation in response to immigration.
Nationalism has the strong territorial component, with an inclusive categorization of territory corresponding to the categorization of individuals. For each nation, there is a territory which is uniquely associated with it, the national homeland, and together they account for most habitable land. This is reflected in the geopolitical claims of nationalism, which seeks to order the world as a series of nation-states, each based on the national homeland of its respective nation. Territorial claims characterize the politics of nationalist movements. Established nation-states also make an implicit territorial claim, to secure their own continued existence: sometimes it is specified in the national constitution. In the nationalist view, each nation has a moral entitlement to a sovereign state: this is usually taken as a given.
The nation-state is intended to guarantee the existence of a nation, to preserve its distinct identity, and to provide a territory where the national culture and ethos are dominant - nationalism is also a philosophy of the state. It sees a nation-state as a necessity for each nation: secessionist national movements often complain about their second-class status as a minority within another nation. This specific view of the duties of the state influenced the introduction of national education systems, often teaching a standard curriculum, national cultural policy, and national language policy. In turn, nation-states appeal to a national cultural-historical mythos to justify their existence, and to confer political legitimacy - acquiescence of the population in the authority of the government.
Nationalists recognize that 'non-national' states exist and existed, but do not see them as a legitimate form of state. The struggles of early nationalist movements were often directed against such non-national states, specifically multi-ethnic empires such as Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Most multi-ethnic empires have disappeared, but some secessionist movements see Russia and China as comparable non-national, imperial states. At least one modern state is clearly not a nation-state: the Vatican City exists solely to provide a sovereign territorial unit for the Roman Catholic Church.
Some critics have maintained that (unlike modern nationalism, which is a creation of the 19th century nation state) authentic nationalism (as the Latin 'natio' would suggest) must be based in some form of genophilia and the sharing of ancestors.
Nationalism as ideology includes ethical principles: that the moral duties of individuals to fellow members of the nation override those to non-members. Nationalism claims that national loyalty, in case of conflict, overrides local loyalties, and all other loyalties to family, friends, profession, religion, or class.
The modernist theories imply that until around 1800, almost no-one had more than local loyalties. National identity and unity were originally imposed from above, by European states, because they were necessary to modernize economy and society. In this theory, nationalist conflicts are an unintended side-effect. For example, Ernest Gellner argued that nations are a by-product of industrialization. Modernization theorists see such things as the printing press and capitalism as necessary conditions for nationalism. Unfortunately, this theory falls short of addressing all nationalist efforts, including the Flemings repulsion of the French in the 14th century, or any nationalist efforts against empires before 1800.
Anthony D. Smith proposed a synthesis of primordialist and modernist views now commonly referred to as an ethno-symbolist approach. According to Smith, the preconditions for the formation of a nation are as follows:
Those preconditions may create powerful common mythology. Therefore, the mythic homeland is in reality more important for the national identity than the actual territory occupied by the nation. Smith also posits that nations are formed through the inclusion of the whole populace (not just elites), constitution of legal and political institutions, nationalist ideology, international recognition and drawing up of borders.
Nationalism may manifest itself as part of official state ideology or as a popular (non-state) movement and may be expressed along civic, ethnic, cultural, religious or ideological lines. These self-definitions of the nation are used to classify types of nationalism. However, such categories are not mutually exclusive and many nationalist movements combine some or all of these elements to varying degrees. Nationalist movements can also be classified by other criteria, such as scale and location.
Some political theorists make the case that any distinction between forms of nationalism is false. In all forms of nationalism, the populations believe that they share some kind of common culture. A main reason why such typology can be considered false is that it attempts to bend the fairly simple concept of nationalism to explain its many manifestations or interpretations. Arguably, all "types" of nationalism merely refer to different ways academics throughout the years have tried to define nationalism. This school of thought accepts that nationalism is simply the desire of a nation to self-determine.
Stateless Nationalists in this sense typically campaign for:
The term 'nationalism' is also used by extension, or as a metaphor, to describe movements which promote a group identity of some kind. This use is especially common in the United States, and includes black nationalism and white nationalism in a cultural sense. They may overlap with nationalism in the classic sense, including black secessionist movements and pan-Africanism.
Nationalists obviously have a positive attitude toward their own nation, although this is not a definition of nationalism. The emotional appeal of nationalism is visible even in established and stable nation-states. The social psychology of nations includes national identity (the individual’s sense of belonging to a group), and national pride (self-association with the success of the group). National pride is related to the cultural influence of the nation, and its economic and political strength - although they may be exaggerated. However, the most important factor is that the emotions are shared: nationalism in sport includes the shared disappointment if the national team loses.
The emotions can be purely negative: a shared sense of threat can unify the nation. However, dramatic events, such as defeat in war, can qualitatively affect national identity and attitudes to non-national groups. The defeat of Germany in World War I, and the perceived humiliation by the Treaty of Versailles, economic crisis and hyperinflation, created a climate for xenophobia, revanchism, and the rise of Nazism. The solid bourgeois patriotism of the pre-1914 years, with the Kaiser as national father-figure, was no longer relevant.
Nationalism is a component of other political ideologies, and in its extreme form, Fascism. However, it is not accurate to simply describe Fascism as a more extreme form of nationalism. Nor is it generally correct to describe non-extreme nationalism as a lesser form of fascism. Fascism in the general sense, and the Italian original, were marked by a strong sense of state nationalism whereas political parties today like the British National Party tend to have a concept of ethnic nationalism, often combined with a form of economic and ethical socialism. That was certainly evident in Nazism. However, the geopolitical aspirations of Adolf Hitler are probably better described as imperialist and, to a lesser degree, colonialist because Nazi Germany ultimately ruled over vast areas where there was no historic German presence (imperialism) with intentions to eventually populate many of the conquered territories with ethnic Germans (colonialism). The Nazi state was so different from the typical European nation-state, that it was sui generis (requires a category of its own).
In United States for example, non-indigenous racial nationalist movements exist for both black and white races. These forms of nationalism often promote or glorify foreign nations that they believe can serve as an example for their own nation, see Anglophilia or Afrocentrism.
Explicit biological race theory was influential from the end of the 19th century. Nationalist and fascist movements in the first half of the 20th century often appealed to these theories. The Nazi ideology was probably the most comprehensively racial ideology in history, and race influenced all aspects of policy in Nazi Germany.
Ethnic cleansing is often seen as both a nationalist and racist phenomenon. It is part of nationalist logic that the state is reserved for one nation, but not all nationalist nation-states expel their minorities.
In the liberal political tradition there is widespread criticism of ‘nationalism’ as a dangerous force and a cause of conflict and war between nation-states. Liberals do not generally dispute the existence of the nation-states. The liberal critique also emphasizes individual freedom as opposed to national identity, which is by definition collective (see collectivism).
The pacifist critique of nationalism also concentrates on the violence of nationalist movements, the associated militarism, and on conflicts between nations inspired by jingoism or chauvinism. National symbols and patriotic assertiveness are in some countries discredited by their historical link with past wars, especially in Germany. Famous pacifist Bertrand Russell criticizes nationalism of diminishing individual's capacity to judge his or hers fatherland's foreign policy. Likewise George Orwell, though not a pacifist himself, has stated that "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. William Blum has said this in other words: "If love is blind, patriotism has lost all five senses
The anti-racist critique of nationalism concentrates on the attitudes to other nations, and especially on the doctrine that the nation-state exists for one national group, to the exclusion of others. It emphasizes the chauvinism and xenophobia of many nationalisms.
Political movements of the left have often been suspicious of nationalism, again without necessarily seeking the disappearance of the existing nation-states. Marxism has been ambiguous towards the nation-state, and in the late 19th century some Marxist theorists rejected it completely. For some Marxists the world revolution implied a global state (or global absence of state); for others it meant that each nation-state had its own revolution. A significant event in this context was the failure of the social-democratic and socialist movements in Europe to mobilize a cross-border workers' opposition to World War I. At present most, but certainly not all, left-wing groups accept the nation-state, and see it as the political arena for their activities.
In the Western world the most comprehensive current ideological alternative to nationalism is cosmopolitanism. Ethical cosmopolitanism rejects one of the basic ethical principles of nationalism: that humans owe more duties to a fellow member of the nation, than to a non-member. It rejects such important nationalist values as national identity and national loyalty. However, there is also a political cosmopolitanism, which has a geopolitical program to match that of nationalism: it seeks some form of world state, with a world government. Very few people openly and explicitly support the establishment of a global state, but political cosmopolitanism has influenced the development of international criminal law, and the erosion of the status of national sovereignty. In turn, nationalists are deeply suspicious of cosmopolitan attitudes, which they equate with eradication of diverse national cultures.
While internationalism in the cosmopolitanist context by definition implies cooperation among nations and states, and therefore the existence of nations, proletarian internationalism is different, in that it calls for the international working class to follow its brethren in other countries irrespective of the activities or pressures of the national government of a particular sector of that class. Meanwhile, most (but not all) anarchists reject nation-states on the basis of self-determination of the majority social class, and thus reject nationalism. Instead of nations, anarchists usually advocate the creation of cooperative societies based on free association and mutual aid without regard to ethnicity or race.