Nationalism in a Multicultural Society

Topics: Nationalism, Nation, Sovereignty Pages: 6 (1898 words) Published: October 23, 2008
Nationalism is exclusionary by definition. In a well-argued essay, compare the positive and negative effects of nationalism within a multicultural or multiethnic society. In your answer, discuss the problems that a multicultural society poses to the formation of national identity and why you do or do not believe that nationalism is compatible with the liberal state’s emphasis upon individual rights and freedoms.

“The Age of liberal democracy is also the Age of nationalism” (Bernard Yack, 2003) . Throughout history, the relationship between nationalism and the emergence and proliferation of the liberal democratic state has been closely intertwined. Examples of democratic states that rose in tandem with nationalism are the French Revolution in 1789 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England. There are two main types of nationalism that will be focused on in this discussion, namely cultural and political nationalism. Cultural nationalism is “the doctrine that one’s national culture and interests are superior to any other” (, 2006) . Political nationalism is “the doctrine that nations should act independently, rather than collectively, to attain their goals” (, 2006) , that is, being an individual deposition involving intense feelings of loyalty to a perceived sovereign political entity. Multiculturalism is the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation.

Nationalism has been the subject of fierce contestation and cause of many political conflicts that have arose. Political leaders gradually came to understand that nationalism is necessary for cohesion to make political power legitimate. “Under their rule, institutional state power had become increasingly centralized, but further consolidation of that stare power required engagement and support from the populace” (Anthony W. Marx, 2003) . It is a paradox that the unification of large-scale states places emphasis on the need for cohesion, simultaneously making unification less likely due to the lack of national identity. This issue will be progressively elaborated throughout the course of the essay.

It is an undeniable fact that nationalism is a political doctrine. Nationalism is the belief that the world’s peoples are divided into nations. “National self determination can be defined as the idea that nationalities may rightfully determine the boundaries, membership, and political status of their own communities, including asserting a right to statehood” (Gould & Pasquino, 2001) . While people have many different identities, it is the nation that provides them with their primary form of belonging. This brings about leader manipulation- uniting and polarizing leaders.

Uniting leaders are those who agglomerate different ethnic and cultural groups to improve cohesiveness and in turn, increase the people’s willingness to work together for the good of the nation-state. Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, is an example of a leader who continually stresses the importance of harmony between the different ethnic and cultural groups in order for a united nation-state of Singapore to compete in the global market.

Unfortunately, the sense of belonging that a nation provides can be negatively displayed. Some nations become exclusive and resent others who are not considered a part of their nation. “Individuals of other ethnic groups are tempted to label members of a particular ethnic group, and then, to categorize them according to how they perceive those individuals fulfilling their categorization” (Walter Morris-Hale, 1996) . Other nations find themselves feeling culturally supreme over others and so self-absorbed with their own good that they forget about the rest of the world beyond what they define as their “nation”. This is brought about by the second type of leaders- polarizing leaders. Polarizing leaders divide and rule. They make different ethnic groups...

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Marx, Anthony W.. 2003. Founding Exclusion. In: Faith in Nation. pg. 73. New York: Oxford University Press
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Morris-Hale, Walter. 1996. Introduction. In: conflict and harmony in multi-ethnic societies: an international perspective. pg 5. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
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Yack, Bernard. 2003. The Return of the Coercive State: Behavioral Control in Multicultural Society. In: The Nation-state in Question. pg. 110. New Jersey: Princeton University Press
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