Nationalism: Do We Have Any?
Nationalism in modern history, a movement in which the nation-state is regarded as paramount for the realization of the social, economic, and cultural aspirations of a people. Nationalism is characterized principally by a feeling of community among a people, based on common descent, language, and religion.
Before the 18th century, when nationalism emerged as a distinctive movement, states usually were based on religious or dynastic ties; citizens owed loyalty to their Church or ruling family. Concerned with clan, tribe, village, or province, people rarely extended their interests nationwide. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.
Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. Patriotism means devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.
It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the USSR without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of nationalism becomes a good deal clearer.
A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. Historically, the tendency toward nationalism was fostered by various technological, cultural, political, and economic advances. Improvement in communications extended the knowledge of people beyond their village or province. The spread of education in vernacular tongues to the lower-income groups gave them the feeling of participation in a common cultural heritage.
Most modern nations have developed gradually on the basis of common ties of descent, religion, and language. Several exceptions exist, however, notably Switzerland, the United States, Israel, and India. Switzerland is a nation in which no common religion or language was ever established. The Swiss include many adherents to both the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions; they have no linguistic unity, for German, French, and Italian are spoken in distinct regions of the country
The great turning point in the history of nationalism in Europe was the French Revolution. National feeling in France until then had centered in the king. The revolutions of 1848 in Europe marked the awakening of various: peoples to national consciousness. In that year both the Germans and the Italians originated their movements for unification and for the creation of nation-states.
Although the attempts at revolution failed in 1848, the movements gathered strength in subseqUent years. After much political agitation and several wars, an Italian kingdom was created in 1861 and a German empire in 1871. The penetration of nationalism into colonial countries was hastened by World War II.
The British, French, and Dutch empires in eastern Asia were overrun by the Japanese, who widely disseminated the nationalistic slogan ‘Asia for the Asians”. The colonial powers were weakened further by the military and economic consequences of the war and by the expansion of Soviet power. In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism. It is certain that this is still widespread, and much more so than most observers would have believed a dozen years ago.
As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort.
The intensity with which they are held does not prevent nationalist loyalties from being transferable. To begin with, they can be and often are fastened up on some foreign country. One quite commonly finds that great national leaders, or the founders of nationalist movements, do not even belong to the country they have glorified.
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances betWeen similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency.