What explanations are offered for the development of nationalism?

Introduction The roots of nationalism go back to the middle of the eighteenth century and a movement called romanticism. Affecting art, journalism, philosophy, music, and politics, romanticism was a mood or a disposition that defied rigid definition. It did indicate a revolt against rationalism and a consequent emphasis on sentiment, feeling, and imagination. The emotions of the heart, it was argued, though irrational, should be valued over and above the intellectualizations of the head. So that whereas Rene Descartes had said, “I think, therefore I am,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaimed, “A thinking man is a depraved animal.

” In this havoc of power and ideas, one familiar face has re-emerged: that of nationalism. For many it is as undesirable as it is unbidden and unexpected. For others its recurrence is regrettable but comes as no surprise. For still others, it symbolizes the only sure way forward after the sudden shatters created by totalitarianism in the developmental paths of so numerous societies. For all, nationalism symbolizes a stage in the evolution of humanity to ‘higher forms’ of culture, one that should be endured or embraced, but is certainly destined to pass after a few chaotic decades (Smith 1995; Brown, Micheal, 1997).

None of these situations seems to accord with the chronological facts or sociological realisms of ethnicity and nationalism. Instead of treating ethnicity and nationalism as phenomenon in their own right, they persist on evaluating them by the yardstick of a liberal evolutionary scheme, overt or tacit, one that is intrinsically problematic and perceptibly irrelevant to the dynamics of nations, nationalism and ethnic conflict.

For liberals and socialists dedicated to the view that humanity progresses in stages to greater units of comprehensiveness and higher values, the nation and nationalism can simply represent a halfway house to the aim of a cosmopolitan culture and a global polity. On the one hand, the nation can be applauded for superseding all those local, inscriptive ties and communities that have controlled innovation and opportunity and enchained the human spirit.

Its wider horizons have brought collectively all kinds of peoples with changeable origins, religions, occupations and class backgrounds and turned them into citizens of the defensive, civic nation. Conversely, the nation today has become an obstruction to progress, seeking ineffectively to control the flow of information and the channels of mass communication, and to obstruct and control the great economic institutions–transnational companies, world banks and trade organizations and the global financial and commodities markets.

Although the great forces of globalization, economic, political and cultural, have already diluted the power of the nation-state and are fast making all national boundaries and responses obsolete (Schopfin, George, 2000; Hobsbawm 1990: ch. 6). Romanticism rejected the idea of the independence of the individual and stressed identification with an external whole, with something outside of oneself. Quite normally, this outside whole took the form of nature, as marked in the works of such romanticists as Wordsworth in England; Herder, Schiller, and Goethe in Germany; and Hugo, Rousseau, and Madame de Stael in France.

Frequently also, the center of one’s identification was the “folk,” the cultural group, or nation. Nationalism, in other words, was a political expression of romanticism (William Booth, 1996, p. A-1). In many ways, the major philosopher of nationalism was Rousseau, whose influence on the French Revolution has been generally recognized. Rousseau’s ideal was the small, well-knit community in which each person freely gave himself over, quite literally, to every other person. We should obey the community, Rousseau taught, because in observing the community we obey ourselves.

The identity and unity of our wills produce a “General Will” that is completing, indivisible, infallible, and always for the common good. The individual’s commitment and fondness to the community and the General Will are total. French Revolution and Nationalism Following the French Revolution, nationalism spread across the continent of Europe and beyond. In a real sense, the past of nineteenth-century Europe is the history of nationalism or as a minimum this is one way of looking at it. The twentieth century saw the dispersal of nationalism throughout the world.

No country has been spared; none is an exemption. “Some Euro-enthusiasts, have hinted at the prospect of transcending the state and nation by forming a wider federation and a district political identity. Yet the federalists have been continually frustrated by the continuing vivacity of the national idea”. James Mayall, 1990, 94-5 With the exclusion of two brief periods, Western nationalism has continued unabated. For about a decade after each of the two world wars, Western nationalism was in a state of decline, even of ill reputation.

It was nationalism, after all, that had set in motion cataclysmic events, leading to appalling waste of human and material resources. But the decline of Western nationalism did not last long. Its renaissance after World War I was much hastened by the fascist and the Nazi movements of the 1920s and 1930s. After the Second World War, Western nationalism owed much of its vitality to the French Gaullist movement of the 1950s and the 1960s. More about this currently. The same world wars that led to the transient decline of nationalism in the West set the stage for the rise of nationalism in the East.

The “new nationalism,” as it came to be called, took place, for the most part, in colonial areas; and it was in large appraise a reaction against the Western policies of imperialism and invasion. At the turn of the century, colonial nationalism (more exactly, anticolonial nationalism) was almost an unknown phenomenon. Following World War I and the disintegration of the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian empires, nationalism began to appear in a few countries, most notably in India.

After the Second World War and the dissolution of the German, British, French, and other imperial designs, nationalism mushroomed in formerly colonial countries. Nationalism after Cold War Nationalism takes hold after the Cold war. By 1950, the philosophy of the Nationalism after Cold War had come to control public life in the United States. It was an ideology of American nationalist globalism, in which the United States was seen to be locked in global struggle with forces of international communism, proscribed by a Soviet government intent on world invasion.

That struggle was believed to intimidate fundamental American values, most particularly freedom of enterprise and freedom of religion, and the leeway of spreading those values, which were deemed collective, to the rest of the world, which longed for them. Within this ideology, almost all international problems or crises were seen as part of the overarching conflict between the United States and the USSR—between their contending ideologies and ways of life. Within this framework, a threat to “freedom” anywhere in the world was deemed a risk to the American way of life.

This presented a simple, dichotomous view that seemed too many if not most Americans to elucidate the often frustrating and considerably more composite developments of the postwar world. The roots of this philosophy lay in a tradition of belief about America’s national mission and destiny, a ritual reaching back to the seventeenth century. Key elements of this ideology were in place at the end of World War II; some developed throughout the war, and others preceded it. The final pieces fell into place between 1945 and 1950.

All through those years, the range of U. S. foreign policy discourse grew more and more narrow. Though, American nationalist ideology given the principal underpinning for the broad public consent that supported Cold War foreign policy. Seen through the prism of that principles, the U. S. had emerged from World War II as a completely matured great power, dedicated to comprehending freedom all through the world and prepared to usher in a new golden age in its own image.

After the war, the Soviet Union became a relentless foe because it exposed this idea of the American Century. From the late forties through the late eighties, the United States waged cold war against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics not mainly in the name of capitalism or Western civilization (neither of which would have united the American people behind the cause), but in the name of America in the name, that is, of the nation. The potency of the Nationalism ideology that appeared between 1945 and 1950—an principles that dominated U.

S. public life at least until the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991—derivative largely from its nationalist appeal. Yet although the vast scholarly literature on the Cold War, American nationalism remains a little-studied element of postwar U. S. history. Indeed, as Stephen Vaughn noted practically twenty years ago in his study of democracy and nationalism in the propaganda work of the Committee on Public Information during World War I, twentieth-century American nationalism remains a subject deficiently in need of further study.

(Vaughn, Stephen, 1980). Involvement of Soviet Empire Since the implosion first of the Soviet empire and then of the Soviet Union itself, nationalism has again affirmed itself as a force on the world scene, one not expected to fade away soon. The scholarly literature on nationalism is voluminous and seems to expand exponentially, mainly in the years since the earth-shaking events of 1989-91. The ideology around which the Cold War consent was forged from 1947 on consisted of three main constructs: national greatness, global accountability, and anticommunism.

Anticommunism was the last leg of this ideological triad to fall into place. By illumination why the United States was having such a hard time meeting its global responsibilities while concurrently buttressing the nation’s claims to greatness, anticommunism put the entire ideology in working order. The third leg permitted the triad to stand. But the fundamental ideology was one of American nationalist globalism, not anticommunism. In itself, anticommunism was barely new to U. S. political culture in 1947.

But with the Soviet Union sitting spanning Eastern and Central Europe, global anticommunism now became a defining constituent in U. S. foreign-policy ideology as signified in public discourse. The perception that the communist threat was worldwide received momentous amplification in 1949, with the “loss” of China to Mao’s army and the Soviet Union’s detonation of its first atomic device (William Claiborne, Washington Post, November 24, 1996, p. A-12). Nationalism and American Globalism The idea of the Soviet threat proved relevant precisely because it threatened the idea of the American Century.

Global anticommunism fit impressively into the existing mixture of national greatness and global accountability, American nationalism and American globalism—as this mixture had already begun to function as an ideology of nationalist globalism that facilitated many Americans makes sense of their nation’s overriding place in the postwar world. Global anticommunism lent increased force to this ideological vision. The appeal of global anticommunism—and particularly the impact of the Truman Doctrine speech of March 12, 1947 should be understood in that context.

In 1947 the Truman Doctrine provoked influential debate, though it clearly carried the day. In 1950 the application of that principle to Asia provoked overwhelming support. After the accent of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan in the first six months of 1947, and particularly after congressional support of the Marshall Plan in the wake of the Czech coup in February and March of 1948, the range of adequate public debate about the basic objectives of U. S. foreign policy had grown gradually more constricted.

Fairly, Henry Wallace attempted to make these objectives a central question of the 1948 presidential campaign. But Wallace and the foreign-policy questions he sought to heave were painted with a red brush that left them beyond the pale of adequate public discussion. Certain basics of the civil rights and labor movements attempted to express dissent over U. S. foreign-policy initiatives in planned terms, but to do so they accepted the terms of the debate as recognized by the Truman administration’s stated global objectives.

In doing so, groups like the NAACP and the UAW sought to gain both government and public support to precede their own domestic agendas. While both organized labor and African Americans achieved certain objectives as a result, their acceptance of the official objectives of U. S. foreign policy put in to the narrowing of public discourse relating to both national and international issues. In late 1948 and 1949, systematic dissidents who forthrightly opposed the fundamental foreign-policy strategy of the Truman administration, such as W. E. B.

Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Henry Wallace, found themselves more insignificant than ever. The UE and other left-wing unions that divergent the Marshall Plan were debarred from the CIO, which in effect took away their status as well thought-of American trade unions. These dissenters had stepped outside the boundaries of legitimate discourse as distinct by the established notions of national greatness, global responsibility, and anticommunism. Wallace definitely preached his own principle of national greatness and global responsibility, but his failure to recognize global anticommunism nevertheless placed him beyond the pale.

The lack of fundamental public debate concerning the nature and purposes of U. S. foreign policy after 1950 given to the development of an ever more militarized foreign policy controlled by narrow ideological blinders that covered fundamental international realities. “The so-called Cold War,” in the words of Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, “was far less the altercation of the United States with Russia than America’s expansion into the entire world—a world the Soviet Union neither proscribed nor created. ” (Everett Carll Ladd, 1995)

The ideology of American nationalist globalism, which distinct international reality in terms of a Manichaean struggle between the U. S. -led “free world” and Soviet-controlled communist totalitarianism, served to validate the expansion of U. S. power all through the world while obfuscating the enormous complications of a world experiencing the final collapse of European colonialism. It facilitated most Americans to feel pride in being citizens of a great nation that required only to protect its own way of life and to defend “free peoples everywhere” from totalitarian aggression.

The absence of debate about the fundamental assumptions of U. S. foreign policy throughout most of the Cold War era served to reify that ideological commencement. Nationalism has been a momentous theme of the post-Cold War era. Throughout the Cold War, Americans welcomed refugees from the Captive Nations. After the Cold War, refugees either escaping the terror of dictatorial rulers or wanting to stake their claim to the American Dream lost their cachet with voters (accept those fleeing Castro’s Cuba).

“The arrival of the greatest number of immigrants as the wave of eastern, central, and southern European ethnics in 1901-1910 caused anti-immigrant commitment to spread” (“Immigration,” Time/CNN, All Politics, Internet, March 25, 1996). Passions ran high in vote-rich states such as California, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, New York, and California. Throughout the 1994 midterm elections, Californians ratified Proposition 187, which banned all state spending on illegal immigrants and requisite police to report suspected illegal to the California Department of Justice and the U.

S. Immigration Service. Television sets sputtered with pictures of illegal Mexicans swarming across the border as a presenter intoned, “They just keep . ” (Barone and Ujifusa,1996, p. 81). As the campaign escalated, Republicans Jack Kemp and William Bennett accused the measure, claiming it was “politically unwise and essentially at odds with the best tradition and courage of our party. ” (Dick Kirschten, 1995, p. 150). Regardless of their protestations, Proposition 187 won handily, 59 percent to 41 percent.

But whereas whites gave it 64 percent backing, 69 percent of Hispanics disapproved–a sharp demarcation of the new “us-versus-them” politics. (J. Joseph Huthmacher, 1969) Pete Wilson, the GOP governor who made the vote initiative a cornerstone of his reelection bid, won by an almost equal vote of 55 percent to 41 percent. Two years later, Kemp realigned his immigration stance once he was chosen by Bob Dole to be the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee. Conclusion

However, the role of nationalism, and particularly the nationalist symbolism of American world power, remains a derelict factor in our understanding of the Cold War’s origins. As the Cold War itself recedes into history and the view that the Russians ongoing it and the Americans won it becomes ever more commonplace, it is more important than ever to observe the ways in which the United States contributed to the Cold War’s origins, mainly through the universalist pretensions of its political culture.

The triumphalism embedded in Francis Fukuyama’s view that the end of the Cold War marked “the end of history” constitutes a new, traditionally contingent variation on the ideology that framed that conflict from the beginning. In a world growing less rather than more pliant to the dictates of U. S. policy, such ideological thinking is potentially quite precarious. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, the ideological basics of American nationalist globalism have been loosened but not undone.

There is no longer a domineering consensus, because there is no longer a prime perception of a single, overarching threat to the United States. But most Americans are quite sure that their country won the Cold War and that they are citizens of the world’s favored nation. As the Persian Gulf War demonstrated, national enormity and global responsibility can activate a potent public consensus behind large-scale intervention without anticommunism playing a role.

Until we have a more thorough debate over the nature and purposes of our nation’s foreign policy in a multifaceted rapidly changing world, we remain in danger of falling back into an ideological description of international realities. If that should happen particularly if it should happen in combination with declining U. S. global domination, domestic economic travails, and the determination of awesome U. S. military power, it could pose a grave new threat itself, both to the wellbeing of the republic and to the wellbeing of the world.


“Immigration,” Time/CNN, All Politics, Internet, March 25, 1996.

Barone and Ujifusa, “The Almanac of American Politics”, 1996, p. 81.

Brown, Micheal E., Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict (MIT:1997);

Dick Kirschten, “Second Thoughts,” National Journal, January 21, 1995, p. 150.

Everett Carll Ladd, America at the Polls, 1994 ( Storrs, Connecticut: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, 1995), p. 124.

Hobsbawm, E.J., Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge:1992);

J. Joseph Huthmacher, Massachusetts: People and Politics, 1919-1933 ( New York: Atheneum, 1969), p. 162.

Mayall, James, Nationalism and International Society (Cambridge,1990);

Schopfin, George, Nations, Identity, Power: The New Politics of Europe (Hurst, 2000)

Smith, A., Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era (1995)

Vaughn, Stephen. Holding Fast the Inner Lines: Democracy, Nationalism, and the Committee on Public Information. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980

William Booth, “In a Rush, New Citizens Register Their Political Interest,” Washington Post, September 26, 1996, p. A-1.

William Claiborne, “Democrats Don’t Have Lock on Hispanic Vote, Latino Leaders Say,” Washington Post, November 24, 1996, p. A-12.