A Review of Nationalism as a Political Ideology

Nationalism is a highly significant and riveting political ideology in which the “nation-state” receives supreme importance and contains the main “headquarters” of political action within a geographic region, (e.g. Iceland and Japan are both nation-states). Other essential ingredients of nationalism include individuals have a strong sense of love and deep appreciation for their nation (Patriotism), nationalistic governments achieve political power through militaristic control (Militarism), individuals may exuberantly and passionately act upon a militaristic victory (Jingoism) and individuals have a strong sense of pride for their country (national pride). As a political ideology with rich history, nationalism has been an integral political ideology for many centuries and for many different countries.

Before examples of nationalistic governments are discussed, it is essential to further highlight and define the major components of nationalism. Perhaps the most important component of nationalism is “Nation-State” which, as defined in Andrew Haywood’s “Political Ideologies”, means “A sovereign political association within which citizenship and nationality overlap; one nation within a single state” (Haywood 2007: 154). Other fundamental components of nationalism are mentioned above, but Patriotism can be further defined by commenting that it is a concept which involves an individuals’ or groups’ “love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it” (Google: 2011). In general, nationalism can be simply stated as “the placing, by the individual, of national interests over and above those of the individual, regional, or global. Can exist under all political, social and economic conditions, and across societal structures such as class” (Google: 2011). As these definitions demonstrate, nationalism is a political ideology in which the betterment and flourishing of the “nation-state” receives the utmost precedence as opposed to mutual respect and importance given to cities and other graphical areas within a nation. Additionally, the “nation-state” receives the upmost importance in regards to the creating and structuring the nation’s social, economic, global and political foundations.

The four “essential ingredients of nationalism” presented above- patriotism, militarism, jingoism, national pride- also have great relevance and meaning in the global and political context. In a global and political context, individuals or groups acting upon their deep love for their nation (patriotism) can conduct actions that may have the potential to help their favored nation achieve a great sense of security, esteem, and national pride. Nations that appreciate their traditions, ways of life and other cultural aspects may produce great cultural artifacts or materialistic goods that can further enrich their sense of national pride or they could include these goods in domestic trade, further increasing their economic state. In a global and political context, militarism has great relevance and meaning as nations attempt to achieve many different forms of victory, especially a diplomatic, cultural, economic or even a “political ideology” victory, (e.g. The Cold War). In a social sense, militaristic victories can positively help individuals believe in their country, desire to help their country in other aspects of life, and a strong military victory can further increase the desire for individuals to fight for their nation. Jingoism, by definition, “a mood of nationalist enthusiasm and public celebration provoked by military expansion or imperial conquest” also has a strong global and political context. Individuals who are enthusiastic about their nation may have a strong desire to not only ensure that their nation retains their social and military conditions, but the jingoist individuals hope that their nation may further increase its sense of global and political power. One popular example of Jingoism is when some German soldiers that were passionately ready to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, triumphantly started to march in synchrony together as they were determined to ensure that Germany would win the battle and experience military victory against the Allies, (Toland: 1999).

In addition to the significance of the four concepts above, nationalism, as a political ideology, has been greatly influenced by many social and political theorists that include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Leon Trotsky, and Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini, an Italian nationalist, believed that nations can help further the concept of an individual as nations may help the individual reach positive freedom and an increased sense of liberation for many social groups, including women, (Bayly and Biagini: 2008). Perhaps, another great contribution by Mazzini is his strong encouragement and inspiration for Italy to re-organize itself into a powerful nation in the mid-nineteenth century, (Bayly and Biagini: 2008).

Even though nationalism is a political ideology that strongly supports nation-states and encourages patriotic pride, nationalism also has major weaknesses. First, some political theorists argue that nationalism is not a political ideology that consists of scientific merit, but instead it consists of “a mess of shallow and primitive arguments that does not bear serious philosophical scrutiny” (Freeden 2003: 71). One counter argument of nationalism being a political ideology with a narrow scope is that nationalism may not reach the scientific and social merit like other political ideologies, but it still is highly relevant for global politics, militaristic-hungry nations, domestic and foreign economies, and for past and current governments worldwide. Another weakness of nationalism is that the nation-state receives the upmost importance while other cities and places within the geographical area may be somewhat neglected politically, (Heywood 2007: 148). Since nationalism primarily focuses on the nation-state receiving greater political power over other cities and areas, nationalism has a theoretical weakness on this basis. One quotation that describes a “pitfall” of nationalism is that “it (nationalism) certainly does not produce a scheme for the just distribution of scarce and vital goods… while it constantly talks up national self-determination, it is silent on individual liberty and rights…” (Freeden 2003: 98-99). Like all political ideologies, nationalism certainly has its weaknesses when it comes to having strong scientific merit, non-nation-states receiving political power, and having a positive impact on individual rights.

Political theorists also commonly mention that there is usually a direct relationship with nations having a strong relevance with various ethnicities. These various ethnicities may range from Muslims, Germans, Spaniards, Libyans, to even African Americans, (e.g. Black Panther Party). Craig Calhoun’s “Nationalism and Ethnicity” discusses this intermingled relationship between Nationalism and Ethnicity and Calhoun reported that there is a rich history between the two, as mentioned above. One great quotation that describes nationalism and ethnicity is “These categorical identities also shape everyday life, offering both tools for grasping pre-existing homogeneity and difference and for constructing specific versions of such identities” (Calhoun 1993: 211). As this quotation suggests, nations and ethnicities have similar power and relevance for individuals and their daily lives. Specifically, nations and ethnicities act as if they are “glue” that connects individuals to similar individuals, but the two can also socially detract individuals from other individuals that are not homogeneous to each other.

One of the many examples of the relationship between nationalism and ethnicity involves Germans in the mid-twentieth century when Hitler reined the supreme leader of Nazi Germany, (Nazism stands for National Socialism). When Hitler gained control of Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Germany was still struggling politically and economically from a vastly unfair Versailles Treaty, and Hitler knew that Germany was in economic despair, so he encouraged Germans to unite as an ethnicity within Germany, (“Fascism” and “How to Fight Friendly Fascism”). Although Hitler became a fearless dictator, Hitler was politically responsible for creating an immensely strong German national identity and for creating a strong German nationalistic government. In addition, Germans were determined to regain political and militaristic power that they unfairly lost, and they regained political and militaristic power by seizing lands of foreign nations.

Currently, the prime examples of twenty-first century nationalist governments are some of the governments in the Middle East, especially in Libya and other Islam countries, (Smith 1998). The present-day Libyan government, controlled by Muammar Gaddafi, is well known for having strong Islamic tendencies, creating a strong sense of Islamic faith and pride, and for rebelling against “outsiders” or the United States and its allies. Widely considered an Arab nationalist, Muammar Gaddafi seized governmental control of Libya in the mid to late 20th century, and once he gained power, Gaddafi became a significant political leader in the Arab Middle East. In addition, Gaddafi is known historically as “one of a number of young revolutionaries in the region carrying a strong message of Arab nationalism in the mold of Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser” who is another famous Arab nationalist (“Gaddafi: Libya’s flamboyant, mercurial ruler”).

To conclude, nationalism has been a political ideology that has been around for thousands of years, and it still proves to have a power that can be used for either good or evil. With the example of Godhafi’s nationalistic government in Libya, there is still evidence that there are examples of nationalistic governments that attempt to achieve unfair and unjust means. However, we can also positively look into the current turmoil in the Middle East and see that nationalism is still a potent force for people who yearn for freedom.

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