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What is Nationalism and how do you define NationalismThis essay will discuss definitions and forms of nationalism in an attempt to define nationalism phenomenon. The first section will focus on presenting contemporary and historical definitions. Secondly, a brief account of the emergence of nationalism and debates over its origins will be presented. The subsequent section will detail practical and theoretical forms of nationalism and argue for the fact that distinct definitions derive from different theories and forms of nationalism.
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To provide a deeper analysis, forms of nationalism and their definitions will be connected with theories of nationalism. Based on these sections, this essay will argue that due to various ramifications of the concept of nationalism, this notion exists in various forms accompanied by a variety of definitions, each serving similar and distinct purposes. Finally, concluding remarks will be drawn based on the evidence presented throughout this essay.
2. Define Nationalism
To initiate an analysis of definitions and forms of nationalism, this essay will focus on four main definitions (Smith, 2016; Anderson, 2006, Gellner, 1969 and Khon, 1965).
When referring to “nation” and “nationality” Smith (2013: 7) defines nationalism based on three generic goals which have emerged from the academic study of this ideology, namely national unity, national autonomy and national identity. In this framework, nationalism is defined as ‘an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy of unity and identity for a population which some of its members deem to constitute an actual or potential “nation”.’ However, for Anderson (2006: 211), nations are merely “imagined communities” as members of these communities will rarely know each other, and thus they will draw upon the concept of nationality from their own imagined population to which they belong to.
This idea emerged from earlier concepts elaborated by Gellner (1969) who argued that nationalism is nothing more than the process of imagining nations. A similar definition that focuses on the idea that nationalism is internally felt by the individual was developed by Khon (1965: 9) arguing that: “Nationalism is a state of mind, in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due to the nation-state”.
Similar to Smith (2013), Coakley (2012) argues that many of the current definitions on nationalism overlap with each other and also with definitions of other notions, such as the concept of state. The state has been defined as a compulsory political organisation operating on a continuous basis (Weber, 1968) while a nation has been defied as a human population sharing a common territory and culture (Smith, 1991). Each of these terms can be encountered in definitions of nationalism which, according to Coakley (2012)see this concept as a form of political mobilisation or an ideology that justifies this mobilisation and diminishes the barriers between nation and state.
As it can be observed from the above, in some areas these explanations converge while in other areas these notions seem to be divergent. Smith (2013) looks at nationalism as being a concept that describes self-governing capacity while Andersen (2006) and Gellner (1969) see this notion as the process of imagining communities. Similar to Smith (2013), Khon (1965) sees nationalism as connected with the notion of state.
It can therefore be argued that nationalism is understood differently by these theoreticians. Finally, it can be observed that notions of self-determination and nationalism seen as an imagined form of identity expression have been maintained from the 19th century (Khon, 1965; Gellner, 1969) to the 21st (Smith, 2013). Thus, the following sections will attempt to uncover the reasons behind these differences.
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3. Nationalism Forms and Theories
To better understand why a unified definition of nationalism is not established, it is important to look at the epicentre from which nationalism arises. Consequently, a historical analysis of the concept and its subsequent forms, corroborated by theories of nationalism, will be attempted in order to understand this notion. The following section will thus discuss these themes.
3.1. The Emergence of Nationalism
Although the word nationalism only emerged in political language after 1840, its importance grew significantly in the 19th century with revolutions across Europe (Hirschi, 2011). In this period, the most significant event involving nationalism occurred in 1914, when a fear of Slav nationalism led to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand which resulted in the First World War (Breuilly, 2013).
After the war, the Versailles Treaty made reference to notions of “nation states”, which became the primary concept used by US President Woodrow Wilson when instituting the doctrine of national self-determination (Breuilly, 2013). This action subsequently gave rise to substantial claims of nationalism around the world (Hirschi, 2011).
Dahbour (2003) contradicts this, arguing that national self-determination was a response to the colonisation of states which eventually demanded national liberation. Furthermore, self-determination not only gives rise to nationalism but also to ethical and legal citizenship and with it, the ability of a nation to self-govern. As a result, Dahbour (2003) argues that nationalism is a specific claim made for self-determination.
Both ideas elaborated by Dahbour (2003) and Breuilly, (2013) are noticeable in the definitions provided by Smith (2013) and Khon (1965). It can therefore be argued that the notion of self-governance and self-determination are connected with the emergence of nationalism and subsequently to its definition.
Another opposing view comes from Andersen (2006) who emphasises language, specifically the shared language of a nation. According to this author, nationalism could not have spread and matured without people being able to read about this notion and debate this notion in writing (Andersen 2006). As a result, a cultural element – language- aided in the spread and maturation of nationalism (Andersen, 2006). Nevertheless, this argument does not concern itself with the emergence of nationalism but rather examines its consolidation. However, it emphasises the importance of culture in the definition of nationalism which spirals from a collective mind. This can thus support ideas of Andersen (2006) and Gellner (1969) of imagined communities as shared language is an acquired cognitive function and thus it is a part of the collective mind.
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3.2. Forms of Nationalism
Nationalism can be manifested as a state ideology or as a non-state popular movement. These manifestations give rise to five forms of nationalism (ethnic, religious, civic, cultural or ideological) which are used to classify sub-types of nationalism (Chatturvedi, 2005). There are over 10 sub-types of nationalism (Snyder, 2009), some of which seek unity and self-governance for people of certain ethic groups while others seek expansion and economic growth for nations against the global community (Chatturvedi, 2005). Other forms of nationalism have been criticised for hiding racism (i.e. al-right nationalism favouring white supremacy) (Snyder, 2009) while other forms of nationalism seek to bring social unity and equality regardless of ethnicity (i.e. left-wing nationalism) (Maxwell and Maxwell, 2014).
For ethnic nationalism and derivate sub-types, nationalism functions on the principle that a nation can only be defined by its ethnic connection which encompasses shared language, culture, heritage and ancestry. Because of this characteristic, Roshwald (2001) describes this form of nationalism as intolerant and descriptive of authoritarian regimes. Studies (Gil-White, 2006; Sulaiman, 2016) looking into this concept have concluded that similar to nationalism in general, ethnic nationalism is composed of a series of terms that have distinctive definitions, including ethnicity, nation and state. When looking at manifestations of ethic nationalism in the world, research (Sulaiman, 2016) seems to describe similar lines with theory (Roshwald, 2001). This demonstrates thatethnic nationalism leads to conflict, especially in ethnic diverse locations (i.e. Niger Delta) (Sulaiman, 2016).
Religious nationalism denotes a form of nationalism which relies upon a central religion or dogma that has implications in politics and state affairs (Omer and Springs, 2013). This notion contrasts strongly with modern forms of nationalism and has been described as an irrational form of nationalism (Omer and Springs, 2013: 80). Several real world examples include non-secular states, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, where the religious law (Sharia Law or the Islamic Law) is the ultimate law of the state (Kavalski, 2016). As ethnic nationalism, religious nationalism shows little to no tolerance for other religious beliefs (Kavalski, 2016), however it does not focus on ethnic unity, but rather on religious unity by repelling any opposing views.
At the other end of the spectrum, civic nationalism (also referred to as progressive nationalism) advocates for social unity, individual rights and freedoms. This form of nationalism is centred on the idea of a non-xenophobic society, which shows tolerance for all its individuals and strives to provide equality and social justice (Hall, 1998). A practical example of this can be found in Singapore, where the government’s strategy for development derived directly form civic nationalism and globalisation (Brown, 2000).
Empirical evidence (Kwan, 2016; Modongal, 2016) shows that while civic nationalism is the driving force of globalisation, it also leads to a dilution of intrinsic values in highly traditional societies (i.e. China). However, civic nationalism, as nationalism, has different forms of interpretation. Focusing on a definition provided by Habermas (1996), Shen (2007: 17) argues that civic nationalism is “a voluntary selection of allegiance based on values”. If contrasting the two definitions, it can be observed that civic nationalism is defined from a societal-national perspective (Hall, 1998) but also from a global, international perspective (Shen, 2007). Here, nations would accept cooperation with other nations to whom they share similar values. In practice, this rarely occurs (i.e. China and US economic trade), and countries with distinctive cultures will end up in cooperation for economic development; hence the potential for culture dilution (Modongal, 2016).
Thus, civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism have a converging point, namely the element of shared culture. The cultural form of nationalism thus defines a middle ground between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism (Fedorenko, 2012; Song, 2009). Hutchinson (1987) argues with historical examples from Arab, Jewish and Hindu nations that cultural nationalism plays a significant part in the building of nations, as it is a shared belief, value and tradition alongside with ethnic heritage which can lead to the consolidation of states.
Finally, ideological nationalism is a form of political nationalism which argues for the capacity of nations to self-govern (Smith, 2013). This notion can also be seen Dahbour’s (2003) idea of self-determination as well as in the definition of nationalism provided by Smith (2013). Looking at the history of nationalism two main conclusions can be drawn. The first refers to the fact that nationalism is highly connected with the concept of national identity and claims made for self-governance. Thus it may be argued that early forms of nationalism were ideological in nature and focused on notions of territory, population and self-government. This seems to justify Coakley’s (2012) ideas, according to which definitions of nationalism overlap definitions of state, nations and ethnicity. Secondly, because nationalism comes in various forms and subsequent types, a unified definition of nationalism is most likely unachievable. As a result, different forms of nationalism will automatically lead to the conclusion that each form defines a different concept, which although similar in some respects, will also be very distinctive in others.
Because the progression of nationalism gave rise to different definitions and forms of nationalism, to better understand their nature, theories on nationalism need to be approached in a structured way (REFERENCE). The next section will therefore look at different theories of nationalism and attempt to set different forms and definitions of nationalism within these theoretical boundaries.
3.3. Four Theories of Nationalism
According to Llobera (1999) four main theories dominate the notion of nationalism. These are primordial and socio-biological theories, instrumentalist theories, modernisation theories and evolutionary theories. Primordialists such as Herder and Fichte and more recently Smith and Connor, see nationalism as something which was always present in people but had been reawakened under political self-consciousness (Brown, 2003). Geertz (1973) argues for the concept of given identity, as an individual who is born within a group will receive its identity.
Consequently, ethnic boundaries are established which are represented by the individual’s shared experience with family members and the group (Tishkov, 1997). Socio-biologists claims derived from this theory argue that heritage and implicitly ethnicity is passed on genetically (Llobera, 1999). These theories frame the notions of ethnic nationalism and cultural nationalism. Ozkirimli (2017) argues that these two forms of nationalism have their roots in primordial theory.
Hutchinson and Smith (1994) have analysed primordialism in depth and argue that human social interaction will take place based on three elements: kin selection, reciprocity and coercion. From this notion, the authors hypothesise that ethnic groups are in fact super-families. Therefore, members of these super-families will be biologically inclined towards cooperation and reciprocity with their own kin while also resorting to some forms of coercion (Hutchinson and Smith, 1994). Conclusively, it can be argued that notions of belonging and indirectly excluding others, encountered in definitions of nationalism derive from these theories.
Instrumentalist theories diverge from primordial theories by arguing that ethnic groups can be seen as nations and their boundaries are not fixed, but in fact these can vary according to specific needs (i.e. economic development) (Llobera, 1999). A representative figure in this domain is Barth (1969) who supported this theory by arguing that ethnicity is not a reference to biological or cultural heritage but more a form of social organisation. In Barth’s (1969) assertion, boundaries serve a specific purpose, either biological, ecological, economic, political and/or historical. Transposed, this idea can be encountered in the notion of religious nationalism (Sandler, 2004) where Islamic cultures maintain boundaries for political interest but individuals become a part of their nation when converting to Islam.
Modernisation theories strongly oppose primordialism by arguing that nationalism emerged as the result of modern processes, such as industrialisation, favourable political, cultural and socio-economic conditions (Llobera, 1999). Hence, theoreticians who support this claim such as Kohn, Kedourie and Gellne, see nationalism as a modern invention (Hall, 1998). According to Hall (1998) this idea can be seen in notions of civic nationalism and ideological nationalism. Although these three theories show substantial contrasts, the fourth theory of nationalism, namely the Evolutionary theory attempts to bring together the notion of modern and primordial (to some extent).
As a result, evolutionary theories argue that indeed, nationalism is a product of modern times; however in Europe, this concept evolved from the ideas of Andersen (2006) and Gellner (1969) of imagined communities corroborated by a form of patriotic nationalism which was present since the medieval period (Llobera, 1999). However, as Smith (1981) observed, in order to pinpoint the emergence of nationalism, an analysis of the transference from medieval to modern needs to be conducted. In order to accomplish this, all societal elements must be considered, including economic, social, political and ideological (Smith, 1981).
By assessing the aforementioned theories of nationalism, several elements can be noted. Firstly, the evolutionary theories focus on the emergence of nationalism in Europe, which thus implies that this theory cannot be applied for explaining how nationalism emerged elsewhere (i.e. Hutchinson (1987) on the emergence of nationalism in Hindu nations).
However, evolutionary theories can be used to explain the formation of definitions that rely on state and nation. Secondly, primordial, instrumentalist and modern theories of nationalism can be used as frameworks to explain the differences between forms of nationalism and subsequently between definitions of this phenomenon. Another observation that can be made in this case is that nationalism cannot be understood as functioning from a pure ideological, ethnic, dogmatic or religious form.
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As it was discussed, its emergence and consolidation was favoured by specific politic, economic, social and cultural circumstances, while at the same time its development was favoured by the same notions (Smith, 1981). An exemplification of this can be seen in civic nationalism which serves the purpose of developing social inclusion and globalisation (Brown, 2000) while religious nationalism can be seen as a political instrument(Omer and Springs, 2013). Considering the multiple ramifications of this phenomenon, the existence of various forms and definitions of nationalism becomes explainable.
This essay discussed various definitions and forms of nationalism and argued that a unified definition of nationalism is not likely achievable due to the existence of various forms of this notion. In the first section of this essay, by focusing on four definitions of nationalism issued by Smith (2013), Anderson (2006), Gellner (1969) and Khon (1965) it was observed that these theoreticians have different perceptions over the notion of nationalism.
As a result, the emergence of nationalism and its forms was assessed in an attempt to explain these differences. By analysing the emergence of nationalism and its various forms it was noted that each form of nationalism derived its own definition. Furthermore, it was observed that definitions of nationalism are connected with its emergence.
Hence the existence of various forms of nationalism cannot be used alone to explain its distinctive definition. To do so, understanding where and how this phenomenon emerged is also important. To provide a structured framework for the various forms and definitions of nationalism, theories of this concept were combined with the identified forms of nationalism and linked with the studied definitions of nationalism.
Here, it was observed that definitions of the broad concepts of nationalism fit within the elaborated theories while forms of nationalism also fall within this framework. By assessing current notions of nationalism it can be concluded that the exact emergence of nationalism cannot be pin-pointed however primordial theories (Geertz, 1973) argue that this concept may have innate characteristics, thus it was always present in humans.
Secondly, by observing the various forms of nationalism it can be concluded that this concept may have begun as a simple ideology from medieval times however it evolved to serve various purposes resulting in the variety of definitions and forms. Thus, a single definition of nationalism is unlikely to be developed (Hall, 1998).
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