Nationalism has a complex political character. It has both progressive and reactionary characteristics, but these are emphasised to different degrees by different forms of nationalism.
• It can be said that all forms of nationalism look to the past, rather than the future. This is because nations themselves are grounded in history, based on traditions, customs and established identities. In that sense, nationalism seeks to establish continuity with the past. However, such traditionalist and reactionary tendencies are most evident in conservative nationalism and in chauvinist or expansionist nationalism. Conservative nationalism is essentially nostalgic and backward-looking, providing a defence for traditional institutions and a traditional way of life. It often reflects on a past age of national glory or triumph. Similarly, it is often used to resist change, particularly to defend a sense of national identity that is felt to be threatened or in danger of being lost. This is evident in concerns about immigration and growing cultural diversity, as well as in trends towards supranationalism, as in the tendency of European integration to weaken British national identity. Expansionist nationalism is often overtly reactionary in drawing on myths of a past ‘golden age’ which exemplifies national glory or superiority. This is evident in fascist nationalism and the glorification of, for instance, Imperial Rome or the First or Second Reich.
• However, other forms of nationalism look to the future rather than the past. Liberal nationalism, for instance, has often been associated with the quest for sovereign independence, involving either or both the overthrow of foreign domination and oppression and the establishment of self-government through constitutionalism and democracy. More widely, liberal nationalists have looked to the future in the sense that they have sought to forge a world of independent nation-states, thereby reordering...
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