To what extent is nationalism a single doctrine?

Nationalism has been strongly divided, mainly by the ideas of liberalism, conservatism, expansionism and anti-colonialism. These strands of nationalism have advocated differing forms of nationalism, with liberals and anti-colonialists stressing political nationalism, and conservative nationalists and expansionist nationalists stressing the importance of cultural nationalism. Nevertheless, nationalism can be said to be a single coherent doctrine as all forms of nationalism place the nation as the core unit of political control. The nation is therefore key to political organisation.

Nationalism has been strongly divided, mainly by the ideas of liberalism, conservatism, expansionism and anti-colonialism. These strands of nationalism have advocated differing forms of nationalism, with liberals and anti-colonialists stressing political nationalism, and conservative nationalists and expansionist nationalists stressing the importance of cultural nationalism. Nevertheless, nationalism can be said to be a single coherent doctrine as all forms of nationalism place the nation as the core unit of political control. The nation is therefore key to political organisation.

Liberal nationalism has followed the political nationalist agenda of seeking national self-determination and thus the creation of a nation-state. The ultimate goal of liberal nationalism is a world of independent nation-states. All nations are seen to have an equal right to freedom and self-determination. For Woodrow Wilson, only a democratic republic could be a genuine nation-state. Wilson also argued that the nation-state is capable of upholding peace and international order because nation-states would naturally respect the sovereignty of their neighbours. Furthermore, conflict would cause disorder within, so there is an inward motivation as well.

This belief in the natural peacefulness of nation-states leads liberal nationalists to the belief that internationalism and nationalism are compatible concepts. Internationalism is the theory or practice of politics based on global cooperation. This has lead liberal nationalists to advocate free trade as a means of increasing interdependence between states, so that the material costs of a potential conflict become virtually unthinkable. Furthermore, they have advocated supranational bodies, such as the United Nations, which are seen to be capable of bringing order to the international community.

However, liberal nationalism has been criticised for been naïve and romantic. It is argued that it ignores the darker face of nationalism, which is the irrational bonds or tribalism that distinguishes ‘us’ from ‘them’. Wilsonian nationalism has also been criticised because it makes the mistake of believing that all nations live in convenient geographical areas, and that states can therefore be constructed that coincide with these areas. In practice nation-states comprise a range of national groups, some of which may consider themselves to be separates ‘nations’. This is most apparent in the former Yugoslavia, which was comprised of Albanians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians and many other groups.

Unlike liberal nationalism, conservative nationalism cares less for universal self-determination and more about the promise of social cohesion and public order. The main goal for conservative nationalists is to maintain national unity by fostering patriotic loyalty and ‘pride in one’s country’, in the face of divisive class solidarity preached by socialists. Incorporating the working class into the nation is therefore seen to be an antidote to social revolution. Such a form of nationalism was used by Charles De Gaulle, who appealed to national identity by fusing an independent, even anti-American, foreign and defence policy with an attempt to restore authority and order to social life.

Liberal nationalism has tended to have more of a forward looking stance because of its desire to create the nation-state. Conservative nationalism, on the other hand, is essentially nostalgic and backward looking. This is why it tends to appear in already established nation-states. It appeals to history and tradition by having a tendency to use ritual and commemoration to present past military victories as defining moments in a nation’s history. Furthermore, there can be seen to be a use of traditional institutions as symbols of national identity. For example, British nationalism (or perhaps more accurately, English nationalism) is closely linked to the monarchy. The Royal Family plays a prominent role in events such as Armistice Day and the opening of Parliament.

Again in contrast to liberal nationalism, conservative nationalism can be said to be anti-cosmopolitan. Conservative nationalism is particularly prominent when the sense of national identity is felt to be threatened or in danger of being lost. Therefore, issues such as immigration and supranationalism have kept conservative nationalism alive in modern states. Conservative nationalism believes that cultural diversity leads to instability and confect. For them, a stable and successful society must be based on a common culture and shared values. Thus, conservative nationalism can be said to be ‘exclusive’ in character because the nation cannot be join, as it is an organic entity. This is in stark contrast to ‘inclusive’ liberal nationalism, which allows for a range of religions, races and ethnicities. This is why conservative nationalists have advocated strict controls on immigration or at the very least force immigrants to assimilate into the culture of the ‘host’ nation. This has also lead to conservative nationalists to be critical of supranational institutions such as the EU, which is argued to pose a threat to national identity and the cultural bonds of society due to the level of cultural diversity and interference in the nation’s life. This is most obviously seen in the ‘Euroscepticism’ of the Conservative Party in Britain.

Expansionist nationalism takes cultural nationalism to its extreme, leading to aggression and militarism. For them, nations are not equal in their right to self-determination. Some possess qualities that make them superior, which thereby implies racial and cultural superiority. Therefore, expansionist nationalism takes the conservative belief in cultural purity to its violent extreme through the argument of superiority/inferiority. This leads to the idea of national chauvinism, and xenophobia (a fear or hatred of foreigners). As a result, expansionist nationalists, such as Hitler and Mussolini, have advocated territorial expansion and world domination. The superiority complex is also clearly seen in the 19th century idea of the ‘white man’s burden’, which sought to bring the benefits of civilisation to the ‘less sophisticated’ people of the world.

National chauvinism breeds a feeling of intense, even hysterical, nationalist enthusiasm. The individual is swept away on a tide of patriotic emotion, expressed in the desire for aggression, expansion and war. Charles Maurras described this as ‘integral nationalism’. Independent groups and individuals lose their identity within an all-powerful ‘nation’, which has an existence and meaning beyond the life of any individual. Nationalism therefore has a particularly strong appeal for the isolated and powerless as it offers the prospect of security, self-respect and pride. This helps to explain why expansionist nationalism thrived in inter-war Germany.

The main goal of anti-colonial nationalism is ‘national liberation’ in both political and economic terms. Anti-colonialists have been attracted to the ideas of socialism because it offered an analysis of inequality and exploitation through which the colonial experience could be understood and colonial rule challenged. Lenin argued that imperialism is essentially an economic phenomenon; a quest for profit by capitalist countries seeking cheap labour and raw materials. Thus, imperialism is essentially an extended form of oppression. The overthrow of colonial rule therefore implied not only political independence but also a social revolution, which would bring about economic as well as political emancipation. However, the ways to bring about this revolution have been disagreed upon. Gandhi argued that non-violence and self-sacrifice would lead to liberation. However, Frantz Fanon argued that only the cathartic experience of violence is powerful enough to liberate people from the psychological scars of imperialism.

In conclusion, nationalism as an ideology is heavily divided. It has been shaped by very different historical contexts and has been used to advance a wide variety of political causes and aspirations. Whilst it is agreed that the nation is the key to political organisation, the way that the nation has been viewed and used has differed dramatically. Therefore, nationalism is a crosscutting ideology that draws upon a range of other traditions and is thus characterised by contradictions and ambiguity.

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