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Introduction | Types of Nationalism
Introduction Back to Top

Nationalism is the doctrine that one's national culture and interests are superior to any other, and that nations should act independently (rather than collectively) to attain their goals. It holds that a nation, usually defined in terms of language, ethnicity or culture, has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny. It can also refer to the aspiration for national independence felt by people under foreign domination.

Nationalism seeks to order the world as a series of nation-states, each based on the geopolitical national homeland of its respective nation, and holds that each nation has a moral entitlement to a sovereign state. It seeks to guarantee the continued existence of a nation, to preserve its distinct identity, and to provide a territory where the national culture and ethos are dominant. In turn, nation-states appeal to a national cultural-historical mythos to justify their existence, and to confer political legitimacy.

Simplistically, Nationalism is the desire of a nation to self-determination. It is usually associated with patriotism (a positive and supportive attitudes to a "fatherland"), but it can also lead to chauvinism (aggressive patriotism, or blind or biased devotion to any group, attitude or cause), imperialism, racism and xenophobia, militarism, or ultimately to Fascism.

It is usually considered a relatively recent idea, based as it is on the concept of the nation-state which is a largely 19th Century phenomenon and, until around 1800, very few people had more than local loyalties. National identity and unity were originally imposed from above by European states, in order to modernize the economy and society.

Types of Nationalism Back to Top

Nationalism may manifest itself along civic, ethnic, cultural, religious or ideological lines. These self-definitions of nations are used to classify different types of Nationalism, although such categories are not mutually exclusive and many nationalist movements combine some or all of these elements to varying degrees.

  • Ethnic Nationalism: where the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity and descent from previous generations. It also includes the idea of a culture shared between members of the group, and usually a shared language.
  • Civic Nationalism: where the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry and from the degree to which it represents the "will of the people".
  • State Nationalism: a variant of Civic Nationalism, where the nation is assumed to be a community of those who contribute to the maintenance and strength of the state, and that the individual exists in the community expressly to contribute to this goal. This often results in Fascism.
  • Expansionist Nationalism: a radical form of imperialism (and not really true Nationalism at all) that incorporates autonomous, patriotic sentiments with a belief in expansionism, usually by military aggression, e.g. Nazism (or Nationalist-Socialism) in Germany.
  • Romantic Nationalism: a form of Ethnic Nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy as a natural (or "organic") consequence and expression of the nation. It relies upon the existence of a historical ethnic culture which meets the romantic ideal (folklore developed as a Romantic Nationalist concept).
  • Cultural Nationalism: where the nation is defined by shared culture, and neither purely civic nor purely ethnic. Chinese nationalism is an example of Cultural Nationalism, partly because of the many national minorities within China.
  • Third World Nationalism: where nationalist sentiments result from resistance to colonial domination in order to survive and retain a national identity.
  • Liberal Nationalism: where it is claimed that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives, and that liberal democracies need national identity in order to function properly. John Stuart Mill expressed similar sentiments.
  • Religious Nationalism: where a shared religion can be seen to contribute to a sense of national unity, and a common bond among the citizens of the nation.
  • Pan-Nationalism: where Ethnic or Cultural Nationalism applies to a nation which is itself a cluster of related ethnic groups and cultures (such as the Turkic peoples).
  • Diaspora Nationalism: where there is nationalist feeling among a diaspora, (an ethnic population living outside their traditional homelands) e.g. the Irish in the United States, the Jews in the United States and elsewhere, etc.
  • Stateless Nationalism: where an ethnic or cultural minority within a nation-state seeks independence on nationalist grounds (e.g. the Catalans and Basques in Spain).
  • National Conservatism: a political term, used primarily in Europe, to describe a variant of Conservatism which concentrates more on national interests than standard Conservatism, while not being unduly Nationalist or pursuing an excessively far-right agenda.

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