Nationalism is defined as a system inclusive of the political, social, cultural, and economic spheres of a society, which promotes national interests over individual or communal welfares. It is used to denote that an individual’s loyalties are not directed towards the King or the ruler but towards the nation and its people. That is to say, the feelings of devotion for the nation-state go beyond individuals or groups. A region becomes a nation-state when it comprises of its own autonomous government. Its main purpose is to maintain complete sovereignty and build an integrated national identity.
It seeks to safeguard the national culture by promoting the feelings of patriotism and pride in the achievements of the country. There are three sociological approaches that explain the basis of nationalism. The first is primordialism which portrays nationalism as a natural occurrence. It advocates that the existence of nations has been marked for a long time and, therefore, nationalism is a natural phenomenon. Ethnosymbolism, the second approach, explains the movement as a dynamic process through the history of the world that marks its evolution. The third approach, modernism, looks at nationalism as a recent phenomenon which requires this structural existence of the society.
Nationalism is a repetitive aspect of the human civilization throughout its history. Examples can be cited from the 2nd – century onwards with the Jewish revolts and the Roman Empire's battles in the 5th century. However, in the present context, it is often referred to as a modern movement. Its origin can be traced back to the 18th century when people's private sentiments came to be associated with the nation. The foremost manifestation of nationalism was witnessed in the French Revolution and the American Revolution. The advent of the Industrial Revolution marked an integrated society that identified itself as a part of a larger union, the country. The early 18th century in Britain witnessed the promotion of the ideals of nationalism by the government as well as the writers of the time. Symbols, flags, anthems, and many facets of nationalism were crafted for the public. The Union Jack, in fact, was one of these nationalistic features. On the other hand, the American territory also observed a widespread appeal for patriotic nationalism among the masses.
With the onset of the 19th century, the forces of nationalism had spread throughout the European continent. Popular sovereignty was the foremost demand of the time. Nationalism became one of the major harbingers of change in the 19th century. It has a massive political and sociological importance as a primary cause of the First World War.
In the 19th – century, the European nations were the main advocates of nationalism, Germany being the forerunner. Some of the main stalwarts of nationalism in the German territory were academic historians like Johann Gustav Droysen, Heinrich von Sybel, and Heinrich von Treitschke. They promoted the increase in the state’s supremacy as the main objective of nationalism. The three historians exerted their influence over their students to spread the spirit of nationalism among the masses. They found the true spirit of the German state in Prussia and celebrated it as a core value of their nationalistic ideologies.
The emergence of the single state of Italy was a consequence of nationalism in the country. Known as Risorgimento or the resurgence, the nationalistic movement was supported by the liberal middle class. The faction of the devout Catholics and the Southern part of the country opposed the movement. After the country’s unification, the Church and the Pope lost all the political control while the South was regarded as a conquered state. Francesco Crispi’s nationalistic efforts were marked by an aggressive foreign policy which failed terribly. Another opposing group emerged as radical socialists. Liberalism was ultimately shunned after Italy’s terrible defeat with the Allies in World War I. As an upshot of the First World War came Benito Mussolini’s fascism and antagonistic nationalism. It resulted in another defeat, humiliation, and hardships in the Second World War.
Other traces of nationalism in the 19th century are visible in the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. Filipino nationalism was also at a high during this time. The Katipunan was a society of revolutionary nationalists that fought against the Spanish Filipinos. Their efforts led to the Philippines’ declaration of independence in 1898. The Serbian Nationalism is marked along the lines of Greece. They revolted against the Ottoman rule and obtained de facto independence. Gradually, the Kingdom of Serbia was joined by a number of surrounding territories like Vojvodina. Serbia and Greece were, in fact, the first nation-states to come into existence as a result of nationalism. The Polish and Jewish Nationalism also played an important role in the spread of nationalism across Europe.
The 20th century witnessed new forms of nationalism. After the Second World War, there was a rapid movement of de-colonization underway. Therefore, various nationalistic movements were aimed at independence from the Europeans colonizers. This resulted in the creation of national identities that distinguished the colonized faction from the imperialists. Race, religion, culture, and many other factors contributed to the creation of these distinct identities.
The Indian nationalist movement was characterized by a number of mass movements like the Salt March, the non-cooperation movement, and the Quit Indian movement. The spirit of nationalism emanated primarily from the middle class with an educational background. This spirit was augmented after the British continually broke promises and deceived the Indian masses. Nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, and many others collectively worked to drive the nation towards freedom.
The nationalist movement in Africa was based on its struggle for freedom from the European powers. It was also characterized by a common desire to create an African identity. Writers and artists contributed to this movement through their advocacy of negritude. In the mid-20th century, the Europeans colonizers had to subscribe to the strong forces of nationalism in the continent. This movement was primarily based on the organizational skills the Africans learned in British and French armies. Nationalistic forces ultimately displaced the Europeans except for South Africa wherein the Black Nationalist movement gained its success in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire paved way for Arab Nationalism. The Arab countries wished for their own rulers instead of the Europeans. Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt gained independence through a nationalistic fervor in the 20th century. The collapse of communism and the breakdown of the USSR gave rise to extreme nationalism after 1990. The fall of communism left hoards of people without any identity. Numerous factions of people demanded their separate existence and governments found themselves in the predicament to house these factions.
In the 21st – century, the spread of globalization has led to dangerous nationalistic movements across the world. Immigration has been a major point of attack in all nationalist groups, such as the UK Independence Front, Germany’s Pegida, and more. The 9/11 attacks on the US occurred as a result of an increase in the spirit of nationalism among people. UK’s 2016 referendum to move out of the European Union is another example of dominant nationalistic feelings. The election of Donald Trump, a businessman with zero political experience, as the president of the world superpower United States was a consequence of his predominantly nationalist campaign “Make America Great Again”. Similar is the case of Rodrigo Duterte who was elected as Philippines’ president in 2016 due to his nationalist campaign.
The pros and cons of nationalism in the modern world have been a matter debate since long. While many argue in favor of it as an essential element of national development, many have rooted against the movement as a force of disrupting national harmony.
“Sometimes, nationalism can be jingoistic – even fascistic – but it can also be a constructive impetus that helps to unify a nation. Those whose nationalist critique of parties finds resonance with masses of voters can acquire vast power. We can only hope that they know what to do with it.”