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Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, symbolising French nationalism during the July Revolution 1830. Marianne is a symbol for France today.

Nationalism is a term referring to a doctrine or political movement that holds that a nation—usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture—has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny. Most nationalists believe the borders of the state should be congruent with the borders of the nation. Extreme forms of nationalism, such as those propagated by fascist movements in the twentieth century, hold that nationality is the most important aspect of one's identity and attempt to define the nation in terms of race or genetics.

Nationalism has had an enormous influence on world history. In modern times, the nation-state has become the dominant form of societal organization. Historians use the term nationalism to refer to this historical transition and to the emergence and predominance of nationalist ideology.


This section sets out the components of nationalist ideology as seen by nationalists themselves. (Academic theories of nationalism are skeptical of some of these principles, see below).

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:

  • "in a nation-state, the language of the nation should be the official language, and all citizens should speak it, and not a foreign language."
  • "the official language of Denmark should be Danish, and all Danish citizens should speak it."

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 categorisation 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 categorisation of territory corresponding to the categorisation 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 characterise 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 recognise 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.


Background and problems

Specific examples of nationalism are extremely diverse. The theory of nationalism has always been complicated by this background, and by the intrusion of nationalist ideology into the theory. There are also national differences in the theory of nationalism, since people define nationalism on the basis of their local experience. Theory (and media coverage) may overemphasise conflicting nationalist movements, and war - diverting attention from general theoretical issues; for instance, the characteristics of nation-states.

Nationalist movements are surrounded by other nationalist movements and nations, and this may colour their version of nationalism. It may focus purely on self-determination, and ignore other nations. When conflicts arise, however, ideological attacks upon the identity and legitimacy of the 'enemy' nationalism may become the focus. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for instance, both sides have claimed that the other is not a 'real' nation, and therefore has no right to a state. Jingoism and chauvinism make exaggerated claims about the superiority of one nation over another. National stereotypes are also common, and are usually insulting. This kind of negative nationalism, directed at other nations, is certainly a nationalist phenomenon, but not a sufficient basis for a general theory of nationalism.


The first studies of nationalism were generally historical accounts of nationalist movements. At the end of the 19th century, Marxists and other socialists produced political analyses that were critical of the nationalist movements then active in central and eastern Europe. Most sociological theories of nationalism date from after the Second World War. Some nationalism theory is about issues which concern nationalists themselves, such as who belongs to the nation and who does not, as well as the precise meaning of 'belonging'.


Recent general theory has looked at underlying issues, and above all the question of which came first, nations or nationalism. Nationalist activists see themselves as representing a pre-existing nation, and the primordialist theory of nationalism agrees. It sees nations, or at least ethnic groups, as a social reality dating back twenty thousand years.

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 modernise 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. Modernisation theorists see such things as the printing press and capitalism as necessary conditions for nationalism.

Anthony D. Smith, typically following the Hegellian dialectic of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, 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:

  • A fixed homeland (current or historical)
  • High autonomy
  • Hostile surroundings
  • Memories of battles
  • Sacred centres
  • Languages and scripts
  • Special customs
  • Historical records and thinking

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.

Theoretical literature

There is a large amount of theoretical and empirical literature on nationalism. The following is a minimal selection of some of the more important works, and a series of capsule summaries that do not do justice to the range of views expressed.

  • Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities. 2nd ed. London: Verso. Anderson argues that nations are imagined political communities, and are imagined to be limited and sovereign. Their development is related to the decline of other types of imagined community, especially in the face of capitalist production of print media.
  • Armstrong, John Alexander. 1982. Nations Before Nationalism. Armstrong traces the development of national identities from origins in antiquity and the medieval world.
  • Breuilly, John. 1992. Nationalism and the State. 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press. This approach focuses on the politics of nationalism, in particular on nationalism as a response to the imperatives of the modern state. It employs the mode of comparative history to study numerous cases of nationalism.
  • Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell. This work links nationalism to the homogenising imperatives of industrial society and the reactions of minority cultures to those imperatives.
  • Greenfeld, Liah. 1992. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Greenfeld argues that nationalism existed at an earlier age than previously thought: as early as the sixteenth century in the case of England.
  • Steven Grosby, Biblical Ideas of Nationality: Ancient and Modern (2002)dates the idea of the nation to the anciect Levant.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1975. Internal Colonialism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Hechter attributes nationalism in the "Celtic fringe" of Britain and Ireland to the reinforcing divisions of culture and the division of labour.
  • Hobsbawm, Eric, and Ranger, Terence, eds. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. This collection of essays, especially Hobsbawm's introduction and chapter on turn-of-the-century Europe, argues that the nation is a prominent type of invented tradition.
  • Kedourie, Elie. 1960. Nationalism. London: Hutchinson. Kedourie focuses on the role of disaffected German intellectuals in developing the doctrine of nationalism at the beginning of the nineteenth century from Kant's idea of the autonomy of the will and Herder's belief in the primacy of linguistic communities in establishing modes of thought.
  • Kedourie, Elie, ed. 1971. Nationalism in Asia and Africa. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Kedourie's introduction to this volume of nationalist texts extends his analysis in his earlier work to the efforts of intellectuals in colonial states.
  • Hans Kohn The Idea of Nationalism; a Study of its Origins and Background, MacMillan, 1944. Kohn's pioneering work formulates the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism.
  • Will Kymlicka, "Multicultural Citizenship," (Oxford, 1995). Argues that certain "collective rights" of minority cultures are consistent with liberal democratic principles.
  • David Miller, "on Nationality," Oxford University Press, 1975, 1995, 1999. Millerargues that natioal identities are valid sources of personal identity, that individuals are justified in recognizing special obligations to co-nationals, and that nations have good gorunds for desiring self-determination, but that nationalism cannot justify suppressing other sources of identity.
  • Jeremy A. Rabkin, Law without Nations? Why constitutional government Requires Sovereign States," Princeton U. Press, 2005, Rabkin argues that nations are necessary for the protection of the human rights of individuals.
  • Ernest Renan, his 1882 lecture Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? ("What is a Nation?")described nationalism as the desire of people who see themselves as a community that "avoir fait de grandes choses ensemble, vouloir en faire encore" (having done great things together and wishing to do more), he famously described commitment to the nation as a "daily plebiscite."
  • Smith, Anthony D. 1986. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Blackwell. Smith traces modern nations and nationalism to pre-modern ethnic sources, arguing for the existence of an "ethnic core" in modern nations.
  • Yael Tamir, 1993, "Liberal Nationalism," Princeton University Press. Tamir makes a liberal political theory argument for nationalism based on the right of individuals to associate as nations.


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, and culture can never be wholly separated from ethnicity. The United States, for example, has "God" on its coinage and in its Pledge of Allegiance, and designates official holidays which are seen by some to promote cultural biases. The United States has an ethnic theory of being American ( nativism), and, for a short period in the 20th century, had a committee to investigate Un-American Activities.

Civic nationalism

Civic nationalism (or civil nationalism) is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry, from the degree to which it represents the "will of the people". It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract. Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary. Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France.

Ethnic nationalism

Ethnic nationalism, or ethnonationalism, defines the nation in terms of ethnicity, which always includes some element of descent from previous generations - i.e. genophilia. It also includes ideas of a culture shared between members of the group and with their ancestors, and usually a shared language. Membership in the nation is hereditary. The state derives political legitimacy from its status as homeland of the ethnic group, and from its function to protect the national group and facilitate its cultural and social life, as a group. Ideas of ethnicity are very old, but modern ethnic nationalism was heavily influenced by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who promoted the concept of the Volk, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Ethnic nationalism is now the dominant form, and is often simply referred to as "nationalism".

Theorist Anthony D. Smith uses the term 'ethnic nationalism' for non-Western concepts of nationalism, as opposed to Western views of a nation defined by its geographical territory. (The term " ethnonationalism" is generally used only in reference to nationalists who espouse an explicit ideology along these lines; " ethnic nationalism" is the more generic term, and used for nationalists who hold these beliefs in an informal, instinctive, or unsystematic way. The pejorative form of both is "ethnocentric nationalism" or "tribal nationalism," though "tribal nationalism" can have a non-pejorative meaning when discussing African, Native American, or other nationalisms that openly assert a tribal identity.)

Expansionist Nationalism

Expansionist Nationalism is a radical form of nationalism that incorporates autonomous, patriotic sentiments with a belief in expansionism. It is most closely associated with the likes of Nazism.

Romantic nationalism

Romantic nationalism (also organic nationalism, identity nationalism) is the form of ethnic nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy as a natural ("organic") consequence and expression of the nation, or race. It reflected the ideals of Romanticism and was opposed to Enlightenment rationalism. Romantic nationalism emphasised a historical ethnic culture which meets the Romantic Ideal; folklore developed as a Romantic nationalist concept. The Brothers Grimm were inspired by Herder's writings to create an idealised collection of tales which they labeled as ethnically German. Historian Jules Michelet exemplifies French romantic-nationalist history.

Cultural nationalism

Cultural nationalism defines the nation by shared culture. Membership in the nation is neither entirely voluntary (you cannot instantly acquire a culture), nor hereditary (children of members may be considered foreigners if they grew up in another culture). Chinese nationalism is one example of cultural nationalism, partly because of the many national minorities in China.

Third World nationalism

Recently, there has been a rise of Third World nationalisms. Third world nationalisms, occur in those nations that have been colonized and exploited. The nationalisms of these nations were forged in a furnace that required resistance to colonial domination in order to survive. The Third World nationalism attempts to ensure that the identities of Third World peoples are authored primarily by themselves, not colonial powers.

Liberal nationalism

Liberal nationalism is a kind of nationalism defended recently by political philosophers who believe that there can be a non- xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. Ernest Renan and John Stuart Mill are often thought to be early liberal nationalists. Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that liberal democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly.

State nationalism

Corsican nationalists sometimes shoot or spray on the traffic signs, damaging the French version of names

State nationalism is a variant of civic nationalism, very often combined with ethnic nationalism. It implies that the nation is a community of those who contribute to the maintenance and strength of the state, and that the individual exists to contribute to this goal. Italian fascism is the best example, epitomised in this slogan of Mussolini: "Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato." ("Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State"). It is no surprise that this conflicts with liberal ideals of individual liberty, and with liberal-democratic principles. The revolutionary Jacobin creation of a unitary and centralist French state is often seen as the original version of state nationalism. Franquist Spain, and contemporary Kemalist Turkish nationalism are later examples of state nationalism.

However, the term "state nationalism" is often used in conflicts between nationalisms, and especially where a secessionist movement confronts an established nation state. The secessionists speak of state nationalism to discredit the legitimacy of the larger state, since state nationalism is perceived as less authentic and less democratic. Flemish separatists speak of Belgian nationalism as a state nationalism. Basque separatists and Corsican separatists refer to Spain and France, respectively, in this way. There are no undisputed external criteria to assess which side is right, and the result is usually that the population is divided by conflicting appeals to its loyalty and patriotism.

Anarchism and Nationalism

Anarchists who see value in nationalism typically argue that a nation is first and foremost a people; that the state is parasite upon the nation and should not be confused with it; and that since in reality states rarely coincide with national entities, the ideal of the Nation State is actually little more than a myth. Within the European Union, for instance, they argue there are over 500 ethnic nations within the 25 member states, and even more in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Moving from this position, they argue that the achievement of meaningful self-determination for all of the worlds nations requires an anarchist political system based on local control, free federation, and mutual aid. There has been a long history of anarchist involvement with left-nationalism all over the world. Contemporary fusions of anarchism with anti-state left-Nationalism include some strains of Black anarchism, Celtic anarchism, and Indigenism.

In the early to mid 19th century Europe, the ideas of nationalism, socialism, and liberalism were closely intertwined. Revolutionaries and radicals like Giuseppe Mazzini aligned with all three in about equal measure. The early pioneers of anarchism participated in the spirit of their times: they had much in common with both liberals and socialists, and they shared much of the outlook of early nationalism as well. Thus Mikhail Bakunin had a long career as a pan-Slavic nationalist before adopting anarchism. He also agitated for a United States of Europe (a contemporary nationalist vision originated by Mazzini). In 1880-1881, the Boston-based Irish nationalist W. G. H. Smart wrote articles for a magazine called The Anarchist. Similarly, Anarchists in China during the early part of the 20th century were very much involved in the left-wing of the nationalist movement while actively opposing racist elements of the Anti-Manchu wing of that movement, and Anarchists such as Ricardo Flores Magón participated enthusiastically in the left-nationalist Mexican Revolution.

Religious nationalism

Religious nationalism defines the nation in terms of shared religion, usually along with other factors such as culture, ethnicity, and language. If the state derives political legitimacy from adherence to religious doctrines, then it is more of a theocracy than a nation-state. Many ethnic and cultural nationalisms include religious aspects, but as a marker of group identity, rather than the intrinsic motivation for nationalist claims. Irish nationalism is associated with Roman Catholicism, and most Irish nationalist leaders of the last 100 years were Catholic, although many of the early (18th century) nationalists were Protestant. Irish nationalism does not itself derive from Roman Catholic theological doctrines, although some Protestants in Northern Ireland do fear that these doctrines would be forced on them in a united Ireland. Similarly, although Religious Zionism exists and influences many, the mainstream of Zionism is more secular in nature, and based on culture and Jewish ethnicity. In modern India, a contemporary form of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva has been endorsed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, although it is not subscribed to by the majority of Indians. Pakistani Nationalism, has often been associated with Islamic Fundamentalism, by parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and disseminated among the populace through tactics such as Pakistan Studies courses. Religious nationalism characterized by communal adherence to Eastern Orthodoxy and national Orthodox Churches is still prevalent in many states of Eastern Europe and in the Russian Federation.


Pan-nationalism is usually an ethnic and cultural nationalism, but the 'nation' is itself a cluster of related ethnic groups and cultures, such as Turkic peoples. Occasionally pan-nationalism is applied to mono-ethnic nationalism, when the national group is dispersed over a wide area and several states - as in Pan-Germanism.

Diaspora nationalism

Diaspora nationalism (or, as Benedict Anderson terms it, "long-distance nationalism") generally refers to nationalist feeling among a diaspora such as the Irish in the United States, the Jewish in the United States identifying as Israelis, or the Lebanese in the Americas and Africa, and the Armenians in Europe and the United States. Anderson states that this sort of nationalism acts as a "phantom bedrock" for people who want to experience a national connection, but who do not actually want to leave their diaspora community. The essential difference between pan-nationalism and diaspora nationalism is that members of a diaspora, by definition, are no longer resident in their national or ethnic homeland. In the specific case of Zionism, the national movement advocates migration to the claimed national homeland, which would - if 100% effected - end the diaspora.

Nationalism within nations

With the establishment of a nation-state, the primary goal of any nationalist movement has been achieved. However, nationalism does not disappear but remains a political force within the nation, and inspires political parties and movements. The terms nationalist and 'nationalist politician’ are often used to describe these movements; nationalistic would be more accurate. Nationalists in this sense typically campaign for:

  • strengthening national unity, including campaigns for national salvation in times of crisis.
  • emphasising the national identity and rejecting foreign influences, influenced by cultural conservatism and in extreme cases, xenophobia.
  • limiting non-national populations on the national territory, especially by limiting immigration and, in extreme cases, by ethnic cleansing.
  • annexing territory which is considered part of the national homeland. This is called irredentism, from the Italian movement Italia irredenta.
  • economic nationalism, which is the promotion of the national interest in economic policy, especially through protectionism and in opposition to free trade policies.
Catalan independentist mural in Republican district in Belfast

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

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

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.


Although nationalism influences many aspects of life in stable nation-states, its presence is often invisible, since the nation-state is taken for granted. Michael Billig speaks of banal nationalism, the everyday, less visible forms of nationalism, which shape the minds of a nation's inhabitants on a day-to-day basis. Attention concentrates on extreme aspects, and on nationalism in unstable regions. Nationalism may be used as a derogatory label for political parties, or they may use it themselves as a euphemism for xenophobia, even if their policies are no more specifically nationalist, than other political parties in the same country. In Europe, some 'nationalist' anti-immigrant parties have a large electorate, and are represented in parliament. Smaller but highly visible groups also self-identify as 'nationalist', although it may be a euphemism for neo-Nazis or white supremacists. Activists in other countries are often referred to as ultra-nationalists, with a clearly pejorative meaning. See also chauvinism and jingoism.

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 combination of ethnic nationalism and state nationalism like the British National Party, 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).

Extreme nationalism has also promoted terrorism, such as the terrorism of ETA or Terra Lliure in Basque Country and Catalonia, both Spanish regions.


Nationalism does not necessarily imply a belief in the superiority of one nation over others, but in practice some (but not all) nationalists do think that way about their own nation. Occasionally they believe another nation can serve as an example for their own nation, see Anglophilia. There is a specific racial nationalism which can be considered an ethnic nationalism, but sometimes a form of racism can be found within almost all nationalist movements. It is usually directed at neighbouring nations and ethnic groups.

Racism was also a feature of colonialist ideologies, which were especially strong at the end of the 19th century. Strictly speaking, overseas colonies conflict with the principles of the nation-state, since they are not part of the historic homeland of the nation, and their inhabitants clearly do not belong to the same ethnic group, speak its language, or share its culture. In practice, nationalists sometimes combined a belief in self-determination in Europe, with colonisation in Africa or Asia.

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.

Nevertheless racism continues to be an influence on nationalism. 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 nation-states expel their minorities. The best known recent examples of ethnic cleansing are those during the Yugoslav secession war in the 1990s, although larger numbers may have been displaced in the African Great Lakes refugee crisis. Major ethnic cleansing took place during and after the Second World War, such as the Generalplan Ost and the removal of Germans from the Volga Republic during the 1950s.

Opposition and critique

Nationalism is sometimes an extremely assertive ideology, making far-reaching demands, including the disappearance of entire states. It has attracted vehement opposition. Much of the early opposition to nationalism was related to its geopolitical ideal of a separate state for every nation. The classic nationalist movements of the 19th century rejected the very existence of the multi-ethnic empires in Europe. This resulted in severe repression by the (generally autocratic) governments of those empires. That tradition of secessionism, repression, and violence continues, although by now a large nation typically confronts a smaller nation. Even in that early stage, however, there was an ideological critique of nationalism. That has developed into several forms of anti-nationalism in the western world. The Islamic revival of the 20th century also produced an Islamic critique of the nation-state.

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 emphasises 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 sense"

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 emphasises 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 mobilise 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 programme 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 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.

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