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Nations and nationalism

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1 Nations and nationalism
The Politics of Identity (chapter six)

2 Unit goals The purpose of this unit is twofold; to distinguish between the nation and the state and to discuss the historical relationship between the two, and to look at the emergence of nationalism as one of the most potent motivating forces in today’s political world. By the end of the unit, you should be able to; Define nation and nationalism in a satisfactory manner; Understand the reasons for the emergence of nationalism in the modern era; Be able to apply the concepts learned to contemporary situations around the world that you read and hear about in the media.

3 The nation defined “A nation is a group of people whose members share a common identity on the basis of distinguishing characteristics and a claim to a territorial homeland” (text, page 141) As we have already mentioned in the previous unit, a state is a set of political institutions with the ultimate monopoly of coercion. Thus a state is not really about people at all. In contrast, a nation is all about people – a group of them – and something special that the group shares and which binds them together with a common overarching identity. The idea of nation implies the historical claim to a particular land, but it does NOT mean that a nation automatically corresponds to a state. In fact, as we shall see, this is one of the most thorny issues surrounding modern nationalism. The distinguishing characteristics can be a language, culture, history, symbols, etc. Just because the idea of the nation involves a common, overarching identity, this does not mean that there cannot be severe divisions within nations. Again, as we shall see, this can be quite problematic in the modern world. Before we go through the rest of the material, consider the following question for discussion; what are the distinguishing characteristics of American national identity? Would everybody in the country agree with you?

4 Combining nation and state: the Nation-State
The nation-state is the combination of a “national people” and a functioning state within a precisely defined territory. The concept of the nation-state is linked to the notion of self-determination; i.e. that national peoples should have a right to choose how to govern themselves This seems very reasonable, and indeed is one of the defining principles of international politics since the mid-19th century. However, as we are going to discuss, there are in fact very few pure nation-states in the modern world (try and think of a few, and you will see it is not so easy to come up with a list of countries where ONE nation is contained within and controls ONE state). More often, we see (a) polynational states (many nations living within the borders of one state territory), (b) states that divide nations (i.e. national peoples who may live within the borders of more than one state, or (c) a combination of both (a) and (b). Confused? The political world is not as neat as we might think it is. The upshot of all this is that the relationship between nation and state has become one of the most fundamental sources of political conflict and violence in the modern world. Strange though it may seem to someone from pre-modern times, human beings are now willing to kill, and die, not just over resources but over political institutions.

5 Nationalism as an ideology
Having thought about the definition of nation, we need to turn to the concept of nationalism (the suffix ‘ism’ generally denotes a set of ideas that accompany a concept). Nationalism as a systematic set of ideas places national identity above all other values as the primary value in the polity; it is a set of ideas (often created by an elite, more about which later) that defines the parameters of the nation. As Sodaro notes, on page 143, this makes nationalism political in nature, and it is often used as a political tool. Nationalism is not patriotism (love of ones country). Nationalism accentuates the dimension of identity, while patriotism can be more readily understood as a commitment to the preservation of the state, or the right to self-government. Let’s quickly illustrate this with an example. Britain is a polynational state (there are the English, the Welsh, the Scots, etc.). At times, the tension between those nationalities has actually been quite high. Yet when Britain was under siege from Hitler’s armies in World War Two, all the British, no matter what their nationality, stood and fought. We can say that the motivation for fighting in this case, apart from the evil of fascism (which most ordinary people did not really understand until after the war) was patriotism, not nationalism.

6 From where does nationalism come?


8 The three waves of nationalism
If we look at the previous chart, we can see that over 60% of the countries in the world have actually been created since 1945. In fact, there were really not very many countries at all at the mid-point of the 19th century. We often think of the United States as being rather ‘new’ compared to Europe; but in fact, only Britain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and perhaps Spain, predate the United States as independent countries (Germany was not united until 1871, Italy not until 1860). Nationalism was actually one of the primary forces that led to the creation of independent countries (it was not the only force, but it was one of the principal ones). So where did it come from? Nationalism emerged in three distinct periods, which we should quickly consider; The French Revolution and the era of “liberal nationalism” World War One and the principle of “self-determination” World War Two and the period of ‘decolonization’ NOTE: this makes nationalism a distinctively modern phenomenon. Some argue that there was such a thing as premodern nationalism (i.e. in ancient Israel, Babylon, etc.). Occasionally scholars may use the word. But most political scientists see nationalism as not being really born until the 18th century.

9 Wave I: The French Revolution
Nationalism as we know it was born out of one of the great revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. There were three revolutions that had a profound and lasting impact upon the modern political world; The “glorious revolution” in England (1688) gave us the notion of constitutional monarchy (a form of democracy). The American Revolution (1776) was a fight against absolutism (perhaps best expressed in modern terms as patriotism), but virtually ignored in Europe. But the American revolution was not so much about nationalism as about a set of political and civic values. Later, American nationalism grows, particularly in the war of The French Revolution (1789) witnessed the birth of modern nationalism. Nationalism emerged in the French revolution as the force that led French people to defend the revolutionary state against the reactionary forces led by the British and Austro-Hungarians who wanted to suppress the revolution and restore the monarchy and aristocracy to power. It proved to be a devastatingly powerful force. At first, others outside France were shocked by it; they saw an idea that led French citizens to want to kill and die for their common identity, and they thought it was savage and barbaric! The French revolution gave us the idea of the national anthem, and the national flag becomes more than just a military identifying mark (the national flag was used, for example, in the United States before the French revolution, but it was simply a way to distinguish between friendly and enemy forces, particularly ships). Following the French revolution, Napoleon began to export the idea of nationalism to other parts of Europe where peoples lived under the tutelage of old empires (Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, etc.). The first part of the 19th century represents the explosion of nationalism onto the geopolitical scene, culminating in the great wave of peoples revolutions across Europe in 1848 (soe successful, some not).

10 Wave II: World War One and the principle of “self-determination”
World War One ( ) may be considered to be the last of the ‘old’ wars (elites against elites) and the first of the modern wars, in which nation fought nation. The war was followed by a conference in France, when the major powers got together and discussed the geopolitical future. Out of these discussions, the Treaty of Versailles (1919) established the principle of self-determination and carved out new nation-states in central Europe and the Balkans In the Middle East, new boundaries were drawn out of the rubble of the Ottoman empire, and new states created; however, these states did not often satisfy the specific demands of the local populations for self-determination, as their rulers were imposed by the colonial powers (Britain, France, etc.). Thus Arab nationalism was to become a growing political force through the 20th century.

11 Wave III: WWII and decolonization
WWII signaled an end of the dominance of the old European powers in the world. Britain was exhausted, France and the Netherlands in ruins, Germany defeated. The United States, mostly as a result of the onset of the Cold War with the USSR, wanted to get as much sympathy on the side of the capitalist countries, and pushed the European powers to decolonize as quickly as possible. This was mainly expressed in the break-up of old colonial empires, much of it under strong pressure from the US. However, decolonization also took place against the back-drop of the Cold War, meaning that the way in which independence took place was often determined by the intense rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

12 The Fourth Wave? Some have asked the question; are we now witnessing a new era of nationalism. The end of the Cold War has meant the break-up of formerly communist states like the USSR. Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), and Yugoslavia (now five independent states). In many other places, national peoples are beginning to reassert old demands for self-determination. This raises an uncomfortable question; what are the limits to self-determination? As part of this question, we might think about the size of the nation. The world has witnessed the rise of so-called ethno-nationalism, meaning nationalism on a very small scale, where ethnic groups take on nationalist characteristics and demands (think about the size of Kosovo, for example; look it up on the internet and on a map). Globalization has led to new migration, immigration, and population pressures. Some have said, paradoxically, that globalization also might be leading to the break-down of national cultures, as we see the rise of things like global consumerism, communications, travel, etc. As a question for discussion; do you think that national identity is in some way challenged by globalization? For example, do you think that Europeans and Americans are becoming more alike in significant ways? If globalization were to challenge national identity, do you think this is a good or bad thing?

13 Supranationalism One other new development is the emergence of what we can call supranationalism (‘Supra’ in latin means above or over) Supranationalism can be thought of as the decision of two or more states to jointly limit their sovereignty by creating common institutions, which is essentially a political process. But does it lead to the creation of a “supranational identity”? The laboratory for this is the European Union, which groups together a growing number of European states in a single political entity with novel powers. There is mixed evidence as to whether Europeans are developing some sort of supranational identity.


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