What is Nationalism?

Topics: Nationalism, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Political philosophy Pages: 7 (2293 words) Published: October 4, 2014
Pranav Misri
Mike Tribe
IB History 1, Period 2
29th August 2014
Word Count: 1996 words
What is Nationalism?

Historical and scholarly perspectives on nationalism are almost as numerous as the different strains of nationalism and other phenomena that are often confused with it. Some, like Richard Handler, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia, declare it “as an ideology about individuated being, an ideology concerned with boundedness, continuity, and homogeneity encompassing diversity, or an ideology in which social reality, conceived in terms of nationhood, is endowed with the reality of natural things.”(pg. 6 Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec Handler). Others, like George Orwell in his ‘Notes on Nationalism’, describe it as a desire for power. “The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality” (pg.1 Orwell). Since both definitions place emphasis on the word ‘nation’, it seems only appropriate that we explain what constitutes a nation before understanding what nationalism really is.

Ernest Renan attempts to define a nation in his essay "What is a Nation?" Renan's views on what establishes a nation are based on the uprisings led by nationalist leaders during the revolutions of 1848 in Europe. In order for a nation to convene and function properly, the inhabitants must look to common bonding experiences that do not stifle progress and unity because of differences in race, language, religion and geography. At the same time, similarities in the aforementioned can strengthen the nation. Renan is essentially declaring that a nation is an amalgam of people who share a common past and have formed a strong bond, with an agreement to stay together and be governed by mutual consent in the future. From Renan’s studies, we can understand a nation as a collective of people, unified by joy, grief, suffering, triumphs and struggles in the past. JS Mill states, “the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents; the possession of a national, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past.”(Pg.1 JS Mill). Like Renan, Mill believes a common past to be the strongest integrator of a nation and its people. Miroslav Hroch attempts to define a nation “as a large social group integrated not by one but by a combination of several kinds of objective relationships (economic, political, linguistic, cultural, religious, geographical, historical), and their subjective reflection in collective consciousness. Many of these ties could be mutually substitutable - some playing a particularly important role in one nation-building process, and no more than a subsidiary part in others. But among them, three stand out as irreplaceable: (1) a 'memory' of some common past, treated as a 'destiny' of the group - or at least of its core constituents; (2) a density of linguistic or cultural ties enabling a higher degree of social communication within the group than beyond it; (3) a conception of the equality of all members of the group organized as a civil society."(pg. 79 From National Movement to the Fully-formed Nation: The Nation-building Process in Europe Hroch). One can discern from Hroch’s definition that there is no single characteristic that constitutes a nation but a combination of many factors that brings a people together. While Hroch includes the importance of the past, he places equal significance on cultural relationships and equality of all members of a nation.  

Before exploring different forms of nationalism, we must examine the correlation between nationalism and its close relative, patriotism. Nationalism and patriotism both show the relationship of an individual towards his or her nation. The two are often confused and frequently believed to be identical....


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