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The term “nationalism” is generally used to describe two phenomena:

  • the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and
  • the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination.

(1) raises questions about the concept of a nation (or national identity), which is often defined in terms of common origin, ethnicity, or cultural ties, and specifically about whether an individual’s membership in a nation should be regarded as non-voluntary or voluntary. (2) raises questions about whether self-determination must be understood as involving having full statehood with complete authority over domestic and international affairs, or whether something less is required.

Nationalism came into the focus of philosophical debate three decades ago, in the nineties, partly in consequence of rather spectacular and troubling nationalist clashes. Surges of nationalism tend to present a morally ambiguous, and for this reason often fascinating, picture. “National awakening” and struggles for political independence are often both heroic and cruel; the formation of a recognizably national state often responds to deep popular sentiment but sometimes yields inhuman consequences, from violent expulsion and “cleansing” of non-nationals to organized mass murder. The moral debate on nationalism reflects a deep moral tension between solidarity with oppressed national groups on the one hand and repulsion in the face of crimes perpetrated in the name of nationalism on the other. Moreover, the issue of nationalism points to a wider domain of problems related to the treatment of ethnic and cultural differences within democratic polity, arguably among the most pressing problems of contemporary political theory.

In the last two decades, migration crisis and the populist reactions to migration and domestic economic issues have been the defining traits of a new political constellation. The traditional issue of the contrast between nationalism and cosmopolitanism has changed its profile: the current drastic contrast is between populist aversion to the foreigners-migrants and a more generous, or simply just, attitude of acceptance and Samaritan help. The populist aversion inherits some features traditionally associated with patriotism and nationalism, and the opposite attitude the main features of traditional cosmopolitanism. One could expect that the work on nationalism will be moving further on this new and challenging playground, addressing the new contrast and trying to locate nationalism in relation to it.

In this entry, we shall first present conceptual issues of definition and classification (Sections 1 and 2) and then the arguments put forward in the debate (Section 3), dedicating more space to the arguments in favor of nationalism than to those against it in order to give the philosophical nationalist a proper hearing. In the last part we shall turn to the new constellation and sketch the new issues raised by nationalist and trans-nationalist populisms and the migration crisis.

1.1 The Basic Concept of Nationalism

1.2 the concept of a nation, 2.1 concepts of nationalism: classical and liberal, 2.2 moral claims, classical vs. liberal: the centrality of nation, 3.1 classical and liberal nationalisms, 3.2 arguments in favor of nationalism, classical vs. liberal: the deep need for community, 3.3 arguments in favor of nationalism: issues of justice, 3.4 populism and a new face of nationalism, 3.5 nation-state in global context, 4. conclusion, introduction, other internet resources, related entries, 1. what is a nation.

Although the term “nationalism” has a variety of meanings, it centrally encompasses two phenomena: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their identity as members of that nation and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take in seeking to achieve (or sustain) some form of political sovereignty (see for example, Nielsen 1998–9: 9). Each of these aspects requires elaboration.

  • raises questions about the concept of a nation or national identity, about what it is to belong to a nation, and about how much one ought to care about one’s nation. Nations and national identity may be defined in terms of common origin, ethnicity, or cultural ties, and while an individual’s membership in the nation is often regarded as involuntary, it is sometimes regarded as voluntary. The degree of care for one’s nation that nationalists require is often, but not always, taken to be very high: according to such views, the claims of one’s nation take precedence over rival contenders for authority and loyalty. [ 1 ]
  • raises questions about whether sovereignty requires the acquisition of full statehood with complete authority over domestic and international affairs, or whether something less than statehood suffices. Although sovereignty is often taken to mean full statehood (Gellner 1983: ch. 1), [ 2 ] possible exceptions have been recognized (Miller 1992: 87; Miller 2000). Some authors even defend an anarchist version of patriotism-moderate nationalism foreshadowed by Bakunin (see Sparrow 2007).

There is a terminological and conceptual question of distinguishing nationalism from patriotism. A popular proposal is the contrast between attachment to one’s country as defining patriotism and attachment to one’s people and its traditions as defining nationalism (Kleinig 2014: 228, and Primoratz 2017: Section 1.2). One problem with this proposal is that love for a country is not really just love of a piece of land but normally involves attachment to the community of its inhabitants, and this introduces “nation” into the conception of patriotism. Another contrast is the one between strong, and somewhat aggressive attachment (nationalism) and a mild one (patriotism), dating back at least to George Orwell (see his 1945 essay). [ 3 ]

Despite these definitional worries, there is a fair amount of agreement about the classical, historically paradigmatic form of nationalism. It typically features the supremacy of the nation’s claims over other claims to individual allegiance and full sovereignty as the persistent aim of its political program. Territorial sovereignty has traditionally been seen as a defining element of state power and essential for nationhood. It was extolled in classic modern works by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau and is returning to center stage in the debate, though philosophers are now more skeptical (see below). Issues surrounding the control of the movement of money and people (in particular immigration) and the resource rights implied in territorial sovereignty make the topic politically central in the age of globalization and philosophically interesting for nationalists and anti-nationalists alike.

In recent times, the philosophical focus has moved more in the direction of “liberal nationalism”, the view that mitigates the classical claims and tries to bring together the pro-national attitude and the respect for traditional liberal values. For instance, the territorial state as political unit is seen by classical nationalists as centrally “belonging” to one ethnic-cultural group and as actively charged with protecting and promulgating its traditions. The liberal variety allows for “sharing” of the territorial state with non-dominant ethnic groups. Consequences are varied and quite interested (for more see below, especially section 2.1 ).

In its general form, the issue of nationalism concerns the mapping between the ethno-cultural domain (featuring ethno-cultural groups or “nations”) and the domain of political organization. In breaking down the issue, we have mentioned the importance of the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity. This point raises two sorts of questions. First, the descriptive ones:

Second, the normative ones:

This section discusses the descriptive questions, starting with (1a) and (1b) ;the normative questions are addressed in Section 3 on the moral debate. If one wants to enjoin people to struggle for their national interests, one must have some idea about what a nation is and what it is to belong to a nation. So, in order to formulate and ground their evaluations, claims, and directives for action, pro-nationalist thinkers have expounded theories of ethnicity, culture, nation, and state. Their opponents have in turn challenged these elaborations. Now, some presuppositions about ethnic groups and nations are essential for the nationalist, while others are theoretical elaborations designed to support the essential ones. The definition and status of the social group that benefits from the nationalist program, variously called the “nation”, “ethno-nation”, or “ethnic group”, is essential. Since nationalism is particularly prominent with groups that do not yet have a state, a definition of nation and nationalism purely in terms of belonging to a state is a non-starter.

Indeed, purely “civic” loyalties are often categorized separately under the title “patriotism”, which we already mentioned, or “constitutional patriotism”. [ 4 ] This leaves two extreme options and a number of intermediates. The first extreme option has been put forward by a small but distinguished band of theorists. [ 5 ] According to their purely voluntaristic definition, a nation is any group of people aspiring to a common political state-like organization. If such a group of people succeeds in forming a state, the loyalties of the group members become “civic” (as opposed to “ethnic”) in nature. At the other extreme, and more typically, nationalist claims are focused upon the non-voluntary community of common origin, language, tradition, and culture: the classic ethno-nation is a community of origin and culture, including prominently a language and customs. The distinction is related (although not identical) to that drawn by older schools of social and political science between “civic” and “ethnic” nationalism, the former being allegedly Western European and the latter more Central and Eastern European, originating in Germany. [ 6 ] Philosophical discussions centered on nationalism tend to concern the ethnic-cultural variants only, and this habit will be followed here. A group aspiring to nationhood on this basis will be called an “ethno-nation” to underscore its ethno-cultural rather than purely civic underpinnings. For the ethno-(cultural) nationalist it is one’s ethnic-cultural background that determines one’s membership in the community. One cannot choose to be a member; instead, membership depends on the accident of origin and early socialization. However, commonality of origin has become mythical for most contemporary candidate groups: ethnic groups have been mixing for millennia.

Sophisticated, liberal pro-nationalists therefore tend to stress cultural membership only and speak of “nationality”, omitting the “ethno-” part (Miller 1992, 2000; Tamir 1993,2013; Gans 2003). Michel Seymour’s proposal of a “socio-cultural definition” adds a political dimension to the purely cultural one: a nation is a cultural group, possibly but not necessarily united by a common descent, endowed with civic ties (Seymour 2000). This is the kind of definition that would be accepted by most parties in the debate today. So defined, the nation is a somewhat mixed category, both ethno-cultural and civic, but still closer to the purely ethno-cultural than to the purely civic extreme.

Let us now turn to the issue of the origin and “authenticity” of ethno-cultural groups or ethno-nations. In social and political science one usually distinguishes two kinds of views, but there is a third group, combining element from both. The first are modernist views that see nationalism as born in modern times, together with nation-states. [ 7 ] In our times the view was pioneered by Ernst Gellner (see his 1983). [ 8 ] Other modernist choose similar starting points with century or two of variation. [ 9 ] The opposite view can be called, following Edward Shils (1957) “primordialist”. According to it, actual ethno-cultural nations have either existed “since time immemorial”.

The third, quite plausible kind of view, distinct from both primordialism-ethno-symbolism and modernism, has been initiated by W. Connor (1994). [ 10 ] A nation is a politicized and mobilized ethnic group rather than a state. So, the origins of nationalism predate the modern state, and its emotional content remains up to our times (Conversi 2002: 270), but the actual statist organization is, indeed, modern. However, nation-state is a nationalist dream and fiction, never really implemented, due to the inescapable plurality of social groups. So much for the three dominant perspectives on the origin of nationalism.

Indeed, the older authors—from great thinkers like Herder and Otto Bauer to the propagandists who followed their footsteps—took great pains to ground normative claims upon firm ontological realism about nations: nations are real, bona fide entities. However, the contemporary moral debate has tried to diminish the importance of the imagined/real divide. Prominent contemporary philosophers have claimed that normative-evaluative nationalist claims are compatible with the “imagined” nature of a nation. [ 11 ] They point out that common imaginings can tie people together, and that actual interaction resulting from togetherness can engender important moral obligations.

Let us now turn to question (1c) about the nature of pro-national attitudes. The explanatory issue that has interested political and social scientists concerns ethno-nationalist sentiment, the paradigm case of a pro-national attitude. Is it as irrational, romantic, and indifferent to self-interest as it might seem on the surface? The issue has divided authors who see nationalism as basically irrational and those who try to explain it as being in some sense rational. Authors who see it as irrational propose various explanations of why people assent to irrational views. Some say, critically, that nationalism is based on “false consciousness”. But where does such false consciousness come from? The most simplistic view is that it is a result of direct manipulation of “masses” by “elites”. On the opposite side, the famous critic of nationalism Elie Kedourie (1960) thinks this irrationality is spontaneous. A decade and a half ago Liah Greenfeld went as far as linking nationalism to mental illness in her provocative 2005 article (see also her 2006 book). On the opposite side, Michael Walzer has offered a sympathetic account of nationalist passion in his 2002. Authors relying upon the Marxist tradition offer various deeper explanations. To mention one, the French structuralist Étienne Balibar sees it as a result of the “production” of ideology effectuated by mechanisms which have nothing to do with spontaneous credulity of individuals, but with impersonal, structural social factors (Balibar & Wallerstein 1988 [1991]). [ 12 ]

Some authors claim that it is often rational for individuals to become nationalists (Hardin 1985). Can one rationally explain the extremes of ethno-national conflict? Authors like Russell Hardin propose to do so in terms of a general view of when hostile behavior is rational: most typically, if an individual has no reason to trust someone, it is reasonable for that individual to take precautions against the other. If both sides take precautions, however, each will tend to see the other as increasingly inimical. It then becomes rational to start treating the other as an enemy. Mere suspicion can thus lead by small, individually rational steps to a situation of conflict. (Such negative development is often presented as a variant of the Prisoner’s Dilemma; see the entry on prisoner’s dilemma ). It is relatively easy to spot the circumstances in which this general pattern applies to national solidarities and conflicts (see also Wimmer 2013).

Finally, as for question (1d) , the nation is typically seen as an essentially non-voluntary community to which one belongs by birth and early nurture and such that the belonging is enhanced and made more complete by one’s additional conscious endorsement. Not everyone agrees: liberal nationalists accept the idea of choice of one’s national belonging and of possibility for immigrants to become nationals by choice and intentional acculturation.

2. Varieties of Nationalism

We pointed out at the very beginning of the entry that nationalism focuses upon (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) some form of political sovereignty. The politically central point is (2): the actions enjoined by the nationalist. To these we now turn, beginning with sovereignty and territory, the usual foci of a national struggle for independence. They raise an important issue:

The classical answer is that a state is required. A more liberal answer is that some form of political autonomy suffices. Once this has been discussed, we can turn to the related normative issues:

Consider first the classical nationalist answer to (2a) . Political sovereignty requires a state “rightfully owned” by the ethno-nation (Oldenquist 1997). Developments of this line of thought often state or imply specific answers to (2b) , and (2c) , i.e., that in a national independence struggle the use of force against the threatening central power is almost always a legitimate means for bringing about sovereignty. However, classical nationalism is not only concerned with the creation of a state but also with its maintenance and strengthening.

Classical nationalism is the political program that sees the creation and maintenance of a fully sovereign state owned by a given ethno-national group (“people” or “nation”) as a primary duty of each member of the group. Starting from the assumption that the appropriate (or “natural”) unit of culture is an ethno-nation, it claims that a primary duty of each member is to abide by one’s recognizably ethno-national culture in all cultural matters.

Classical nationalists are usually vigilant about the kind of culture they protect and promote and about the kind of attitude people have to their nation-state. This watchful attitude carries some potential dangers: many elements of a given culture that are universal or simply not recognizably national may fall prey to such nationalist enthusiasms. Classical nationalism in everyday life puts various additional demands on individuals, from buying more expensive home-produced goods in preference to cheaper imported ones to procreating as many future members of the nation as one can manage (see Yuval-Davies 1997, and Yack 2012).

Besides classical nationalism (and its more radical extremist cousins), various moderate views are also now classified as nationalist. Indeed, the philosophical discussion has shifted to these moderate or even ultra-moderate forms, and most philosophers who describe themselves as nationalists propose very moderate nationalist programs.

Nationalism in this wider sense is any complex of attitudes, claims, and directives for action ascribing a fundamental political, moral, and cultural value to nation and nationality and deriving obligations (for individual members of the nation, and for any involved third parties, individual or collective) from this ascribed value. The main representative of this group of views is liberal nationalism , proposed by authors like Miller, Tamir, and Gans (see below).

Nationalisms in this wider sense can vary somewhat in their conceptions of the nation (which are often left implicit in their discourse), in the grounds for and degree of its value, and in the scope of their prescribed obligations. Moderate nationalism is less demanding than classical nationalism and sometimes goes under the name of “patriotism.” (A different usage, again, reserves “patriotism” for valuing civic community and loyalty to state, in contrast to nationalism, centered on ethnic-cultural communities).

Let us now turn to liberal nationalism, the most discussed kind of moderate nationalism.

Liberal nationalists see liberal-democratic principles and pro-national attitudes as belonging together. One of the main proponents of the view, Yael Tamir, started the debate in her 1993 book and in her recent book talks about the nation-state as “an ideal meeting point between the two” (2019: 6). Of course, some things have to be sacrificed: we must acknowledge that either the meaningfulness of a community or its openness must be sacrificed to some extent as we cannot have them both. (2019: 57). How much of each is to give way is left open, and of course, various liberal nationalists take different views of what precisely the right answer is.

Tamir’s version of liberal nationalism is a kind of social liberalism, in this respect similar to the views of David Miller who talks about “solidaristic communities” in his 1999 book Principles of Social Justice and also takes stance in his 1995 and 2008 books. They both see the feeling of national identity as a feeling that promotes solidarity, and solidarity as means for increased social justice (Tamir 2019, in particular ch.20; compare Walzer 1983, Kymlicka 1995a, 2001, and Gans 2003, 2008).

Liberal nationalists diverge about the value of multiculturalism. Kymlicka takes it as basic for his picture of liberalism while Tamir dismisses it without much ado: multicultural, multiethnic democracies have a very poor track record, she claims (2019: 62). Tamir’s diagnosis of the present day political crisis, with politicians like Trump and Le Pen coming to the forefront, is that “liberal democrats were paralyzed by their assumed victory” whereas “nationalists felt defeated and obsolete” (2019: 7).

Tamir lists two kinds of reasons that guarantee special political status to nations. First kind, that no other political entity “is more able than the state to promote ideas in the public sphere” (2019: 52), and the second kind that nation needs continuous creative effort to make it functional and attractive.

The historical development of liberalism turned it into a universalistic, anti-communitarian principle; this has been a fatal mistake that can be and should be corrected by the liberal nationalist synthesis. Can we revive the unifying narratives of our nationality without sacrificing the liberal inheritance of freedom and rights? Liberal nationalism answers in the affirmative. From its standpoint, national particularism has primacy: “The love of humanity is a noble ideal, but real love is always particular…” (2019: 68).

Interestingly, Tamir combines this high regard of nation with an extreme constructivist view of its nature: nations are mental structures that exist in the minds of their members (2019: 58).

Is liberal nationalism implemented anywhere in the present world, or is it more of an ideal, probably end-state theory, that proposes a picture of a desirable society? Judging by the writings of liberal nationalists, it is the latter, although presented as a relatively easily reachable ideal, combining two traditions that are already well implemented in political reality.

The variations of nationalism most relevant for philosophy are those that influence the moral standing of claims and of recommended nationalist practices. The elaborate philosophical views put forward in favor of nationalism will be referred to as “theoretical nationalism”, the adjective serving to distinguish such views from less sophisticated and more practical nationalist discourse. The central theoretical nationalist evaluative claims can be charted on the map of possible positions within political theory in the following useful but somewhat simplified and schematic way.

Nationalist claims featuring the nation as central to political action must answer two crucial general questions. First, is there one kind of large social group that is of special moral importance? The nationalist answer is that there certainly is one, namely, the nation. Moreover, when an ultimate choice is to be made, say between ties of family, or friendship, and the nation, the latter has priority. Liberal nationalists prefer a more moderate stance, which ascribes value to national belonging, but don’t make it central in this way. Second, what are the grounds for an individual’s obligations to the morally central group? Are they based on voluntary or involuntary membership in the group? The typical contemporary nationalist thinker opts for the latter, while admitting that voluntary endorsement of one’s national identity is a morally important achievement. On the philosophical map, pro-nationalist normative tastes fit nicely with the communitarian stance in general: most pro-nationalist philosophers are communitarians who choose the nation as the preferred community (in contrast to those of their fellow communitarians who prefer more far-ranging communities, such as those defined by global religious traditions). [ 13 ]

Before proceeding to moral claims, let us briefly sketch the issues and viewpoints connected to territory and territorial rights that are essential for nationalist political programs. [ 14 ] Why is territory important for ethno-national groups, and what are the extent and grounds of territorial rights? Its primary importance resides in sovereignty and all the associated possibilities for internal control and external exclusion. Add to this the Rousseauian view that political attachments are essentially bounded and that love —or, to put it more mildly, republican civil friendship—for one’s group requires exclusion of some “other”, and the importance becomes quite obvious. What about the grounds for the demand for territorial rights? Nationalist and pro-nationalist views mostly rely on the attachment that members of a nation have to national territory and to the formative value of territory for a nation to justify territorial claims (see Miller 2000 and Meisels 2009). This is similar in some respects to the rationale given by proponents of indigenous peoples’ rights (Tully 2004, but see also Hendrix 2008) and in other respects to Kolers’ 2009 ethno-geographical non-nationalist theory, but differs in preferring ethno-national groups as the sole carriers of the right. These attachment views stand in stark contrast to more pragmatic views about territorial rights as means for conflict resolution (e.g., Levy 2000). Another quite popular alternative is the family of individualistic views grounding territorial rights in rights and interests of individuals. [ 15 ] On the extreme end of anti-nationalist views stands the idea of Pogge) that there are no specific territorial problems for political philosophy—the “dissolution approach”, as Kolers calls it.

We now pass to the normative dimension of nationalism. We shall first describe the very heart of the nationalist program, i.e., sketch and classify the typical normative and evaluative nationalist claims. These claims can be seen as answers to the normative subset of our initial questions about (1) pro-national attitudes and (2) actions.

We will see that these claims recommend various courses of action: centrally, those meant to secure and sustain a political organization for the given ethno-cultural national community (thereby making more specific the answers to our normative questions (1e) , (1f) , (2b) , and (2c) ). Further, they enjoin the community’s members to promulgate recognizable ethno-cultural contents as central features of the cultural life within such a state. Finally, we shall discuss various lines of pro-nationalist thought that have been put forward in defense of these claims. To begin, let us return to the claims concerning the furthering of the national state and culture. These are proposed by the nationalist as norms of conduct. The philosophically most important variations concern three aspects of such normative claims:

  • The normative nature and strength of the claim: does it promote merely a right (say, to have and maintain a form of political self-government, preferably and typically a state, or have cultural life centered upon a recognizably ethno-national culture), or a moral obligation (to get and maintain one), or a moral, legal, and political obligation? The strongest claim is typical of classical nationalism; its typical norms are both moral and, once the nation-state is in place, legally enforceable obligations for all parties concerned, including for the individual members of the ethno-nation. A weaker but still quite demanding version speaks only of moral obligation (“sacred duty”).
  • The strength of the nationalist claim in relation to various external interests and rights: to give a real example, is the use of the domestic language so important that even international conferences should be held in it, at the cost of losing the most interesting participants from abroad? The force of the nationalist claim is here being weighed against the force of other claims, including those of individual or group interests or rights. Variations in comparative strength of nationalist claims take place on a continuum between two extremes. At one rather unpalatable extreme, nation-focused claims take precedence over any other claims, including over human rights. Further towards the center is the classical nationalism that gives nation-centered claims precedence over individual interests and many needs, but not necessarily over general human rights (see, for example, MacIntyre 1994, Oldenquist 1997). On the opposite end, which is mild, humane, and liberal, the central classical nationalist claims are accorded prima facie status only (see Tamir 1993, Gans 2003, and Miller 2013; and for applications to Central Europe Stefan Auer 2004).
Universalizing nationalism is the political program that claims that every ethno-nation should have a state that it should rightfully own and the interests of which it should promote.

Alternatively, a claim may be particularistic, such as the claim “Group X ought to have a state”, where this implies nothing about any other group:

Particularistic nationalism is the political program claiming that some ethno-nation should have its state, without extending the claim to all ethno-nations. It claims thus either by omission (unreflective particularistic nationalism), or by explicitly specifying who is excluded: “Group X ought to have a state, but group Y should not” (invidious nationalism).

The most difficult and indeed chauvinistic sub-case of particularism, i.e., (B), has been called “invidious” since it explicitly denies the privilege of having a state to some peoples. Serious theoretical nationalists usually defend only the universalist variety, whereas the nationalist-in-the-street most often defends the egoistic indeterminate one.

The nationalist picture of morality traditionally has been quite close to the dominant view in the theory of international relations called “realism”. Put starkly, the view is that morality ends at the boundaries of the nation-state; beyond there is nothing but anarchy. [ 16 ] It nicely complements the main classical nationalist claim about the nation-state, i.e., that each ethno-nation or people should have a state of its own, and suggests what happens next: nation-states enter into competition in the name of their constitutive peoples.

3. The Moral Debate

Recall the initial normative question centered around (1) attitudes and (2) actions. Is national partiality justified, and to what extent? What actions are appropriate to bring about sovereignty? In particular, are ethno-national states and institutionally protected (ethno-) national cultures goods independent from the individual will of their members, and how far may one go in protecting them? The philosophical debate for and against nationalism is a debate about the moral validity of its central claims. In particular, the ultimate moral issue is the following: is any form of nationalism morally permissible or justified, and, if not, how bad are particular forms of it? [ 17 ] Why do nationalist claims require a defense? In some situations they seem plausible: for instance, the plight of some stateless national groups—the history of Jews and Armenians, the historical and contemporary misfortunes of Kurds—lends credence to the idea that having their own state would have solved the worst problems. Still, there are good reasons to examine nationalist claims more carefully. The most general reason is that it should first be shown that the political form of the nation-state has some value as such, that a national community has a particular, or even central, moral and political value, and that claims in its favor have normative validity. Once this is established, a further defense is needed. Some classical nationalist claims appear to clash—at least under normal circumstances of contemporary life—with various values that people tend to accept. Some of these values are considered essential to liberal-democratic societies, while others are important specifically for the flourishing of creativity and culture. The main values in the first set are individual autonomy and benevolent impartiality (most prominently towards members of groups culturally different from one’s own). The alleged special duties towards one’s ethno-national culture can and often do interfere with individuals’ right to autonomy.

Liberal nationalists are aware of the difficulties of the classical approach, and soften the classical claims, giving them only a prima facie status. They usually speak of “various accretions that have given nationalism a bad name”, and they are eager to “separate the idea of nationality itself from these excesses” (Miller 1992, 2000). Such thoughtful pro-nationalist writers have participated in an ongoing philosophical dialogue between proponents and opponents of the claim. [ 18 ] In order to help the reader find their through this involved debate, we shall briefly summarize the considerations which are open to the ethno-nationalist to defend their case (compare the useful overview in Lichtenberg 1997). Further lines of thought built upon these considerations can be used to defend very different varieties of nationalism, from radical to very moderate ones.

For brevity, each line of thought will be reduced to a brief argument; the actual debate is more involved than one can represent in a sketch. Some prominent lines of criticism that have been put forward in the debate will be indicated in brackets (see Miscevic 2001). The main arguments in favor of nationalism will be divided into two sets. The first set of arguments defends the claim that national communities have a high value, sometime seen as coming from the interests of their individual member (e.g., by Kymlicka, Miller, and Raz) and sometimes as non-instrumental and independent of the wishes and choices of their individual members, and argues that they should therefore be protected by means of state and official statist policies. The second set is less deeply “comprehensive”, and encompasses arguments from the requirements of justice, independent from substantial assumptions about culture and cultural values.

The first set will be presented in more detail since it has formed the core of the debate. It depicts the community as the source of value or as the transmission device connecting its members to some important values. For the classical nationalist, the arguments from this set are communitarian in a particularly “deep” sense since they are grounded in basic features of the human condition.

The general form of deep communitarian arguments is as follows. First, the communitarian premise: there is some uncontroversial good (e.g., a person’s identity), and some kind of community is essential for acquisition and preservation of it. Then comes the claim that the ethno-cultural nation is the kind of community ideally suited for this task. Then follows the statist conclusion: in order for such a community to preserve its own identity and support the identity of its members, it has to assume (always or at least normally) the political form of a state. The conclusion of this type of argument is that the ethno-national community has the right to an ethno-national state and the citizens of the state have the right and obligation to favor their own ethnic culture in relation to any other.

Although the deeper philosophical assumptions in the arguments stem from the communitarian tradition, weakened forms have also been proposed by more liberal philosophers. The original communitarian lines of thought in favor of nationalism suggest that there is some value in preserving ethno-national cultural traditions, in feelings of belonging to a common nation, and in solidarity between a nation’s members. A liberal nationalist might claim that these are not the central values of political life but are values nevertheless. Moreover, the diametrically opposing views, pure individualism and cosmopolitanism, do seem arid, abstract, and unmotivated by comparison. By cosmopolitanism we refer to moral and political doctrines claiming that

  • one’s primary moral obligations are directed to all human beings (regardless of geographical or cultural distance), and
  • political arrangements should faithfully reflect this universal moral obligation (in the form of supra-statist arrangements that take precedence over nation-states).

Confronted with opposing forces of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, many philosophers opt for a mixture of liberalism-cosmopolitanism and patriotism-nationalism. In his writings, B. Barber glorifies “a remarkable mixture of cosmopolitanism and parochialism” that in his view characterizes American national identity (Barber 1996: 31). Charles Taylor claims that “we have no choice but to be cosmopolitan and patriots” (Taylor 1996: 121). Hilary Putnam proposes loyalty to what is best in the multiple traditions in which each of us participates, apparently a middle way between a narrow-minded patriotism and an overly abstract cosmopolitanism (Putnam 1996: 114). The compromise has been foreshadowed by Berlin (1979) and Taylor (1989, 1993), [ 19 ] and in the last two decades it has occupied center stage in the debate and even provoked re-readings of historical nationalism in its light. [ 20 ] Most liberal nationalist authors accept various weakened versions of the arguments we list below, taking them to support moderate or ultra-moderate nationalist claims.

Here are then the main weakenings of classical ethno-nationalism that liberal, limited-liberal, and cosmopolitan nationalists propose. First, ethno-national claims have only prima facie strength and cannot trump individual rights. Second, legitimate ethno-national claims do not in themselves automatically amount to the right to a state, but rather to the right to a certain level of cultural autonomy. The main models of autonomy are either territorial or non-territorial: the first involves territorial devolution; the second, cultural autonomy granted to individuals regardless of their domicile within the state. [ 21 ] Third, ethno-nationalism is subordinate to civic patriotism, which has little or nothing to do with ethnic criteria. Fourth, ethno-national mythologies and similar “important falsehoods” are to be tolerated only if benign and inoffensive, in which case they are morally permissible despite their falsity. Finally, any legitimacy that ethno-national claims may have is to be derived from choices the concerned individuals are free to make.

Consider now the particular pro-nationalist arguments from the first set. The first argument depends on assumptions that also appear in the subsequent ones, but it further ascribes to the community an intrinsic value. The later arguments point more towards an instrumental value of nation, derived from the value of individual flourishing, moral understanding, firm identity and the like.

  • The Argument From Intrinsic Value . Each ethno-national community is valuable in and of itself since it is only within the natural encompassing framework of various cultural traditions that important meanings and values are produced and transmitted. The members of such communities share a special cultural proximity to each other. By speaking the same language and sharing customs and traditions, the members of these communities are typically closer to one another in various ways than they are to the outsiders.
  • The Argument from Flourishing . The ethno-national community is essential for each of its members to flourish. In particular, it is only within such a community that an individual can acquire concepts and values crucial for understanding the community’s cultural life in general and the individual’s own life in particular. There has been much debate on the pro-nationalist side about whether divergence of values is essential for separateness of national groups.

The Canadian liberal nationalists Seymour (1999), Taylor, and Kymlicka pointed out that “divergences of value between different regions of Canada” that aspire to separate nationhood are “minimal”. Taylor (1993: 155) concluded that it is not separateness of value that matters.

  • The Argument from Identity . Communitarian philosophers emphasize nurture over nature as the principal force determining our identity as people—we come to be who we are because of the social settings and contexts in which we mature. This claim certainly has some plausibility. The very identity of each person depends upon his/her participation in communal life (see MacIntyre 1994, Nielsen, 1998, and Lagerspetz 2000). Given that an individual’s morality depends upon their having a mature and stable personal identity, the communal conditions that foster the development of personal identity must be preserved and encouraged. Therefore, communal life should be organized around particular national cultures.
  • The Argument from Moral Understanding . A particularly important variety of value is moral value. Some values are universal, e.g., freedom and equality, but these are too abstract and “thin”. The rich, “thick” moral values are discernible only within particular traditions; as Charles Taylor puts it, “the language we have come to accept articulates the issues of the good for us” (1989: 35). The nation offers a natural framework for moral traditions, and thereby for moral understanding; it is the primary school of morals.
The ‘physiognomies’ of cultures are unique: each presents a wonderful exfoliation of human potentialities in its own time and place and environment. We are forbidden to make judgments of comparative value, for that is measuring the incommensurable. (1976: 206)

Assuming that the (ethno-)nation is the natural unit of culture, the preservation of cultural diversity amounts to institutionally protecting the purity of (ethno-)national culture. The plurality of cultural styles can be preserved and enhanced by tying them to ethno-national “forms of life”.

David Miller has developed an interesting and sophisticated liberal pro-national stance over the course of decades from his work in 1990 to the most recent work in 2013. He accepts multicultural diversity within a society but stresses an overarching national identity, taking as his prime example British national identity, which encompasses the English, Scottish, and other ethnic identities. He demands an “inclusive identity, accessible to members of all cultural groups” (2013: 91). miller claims such identity is necessary for basic social solidarity, and it goes far beyond simple constitutional patriotism. A skeptic could note the following. The problem with multicultural society is that national identity has historically been a matter of ethno-national ties and has required sameness in the weighted majority of cultural traits (common language, common “history-as-remembered”, customs, religion and so on). However, multi-cultural states typically bring together groups with very different histories, languages, religions, and even quite contrasting appearances. Now, how is the overarching “national identity” to be achieved starting from the very thin identity of common belonging to a state? One seems to have a dilemma. Grounding social solidarity in national identity requires the latter to be rather thin and seems likely to end up as full-on, unitary cultural identity. Thick constitutional patriotism may be one interesting possible attitude that can ground such solidarity while preserving the original cultural diversity.

The arguments in the second set concern political justice and do not rely on metaphysical claims about identity, flourishing, and cultural values. They appeal to (actual or alleged) circumstances that would make nationalist policies reasonable (or permissible or even mandatory), such as (a) the fact that a large part of the world is organized into nation-states (so that each new group aspiring to create a nation-state just follows an established pattern), or (b) the circumstances of group self-defense or of redressing past injustice that might justify nationalist policies (to take a special case). Some of the arguments also present nationhood as conducive to important political goods, such as equality.

  • The Argument from the Right to Collective Self-determination . A group of people of a sufficient size has a prima facie right to govern itself and decide its future membership, if the members of the group so wish. It is fundamentally the democratic will of the members themselves that grounds the right to an ethno-national state and to ethno-centric cultural institutions and practices. This argument presents the justification of (ethno-)national claims as deriving from the will of the members of the nation. It is therefore highly suitable for liberal nationalism but not appealing to a deep communitarian who sees the demands of the nation as independent from, and prior to, the choices of particular individuals. [ 22 ]
  • The Argument from the Right to Self-defense and to Redress Past Injustices . Oppression and injustice give the victimized group a just cause and the right to secede. If a minority group is oppressed by the majority to the extent that almost every minority member is worse off than most members of the majority simply in virtue of belonging to the minority, then nationalist claims on behalf of the minority are morally plausible and potentially compelling. The argument establishes a typical remedial right, acceptable from a liberal standpoint (see the discussion in Kukathas and Poole 2000, also Buchanan 1991; for past injustices see Waldron 1992).
  • The Argument from Equality . Members of a minority group are often disadvantaged in relation to the dominant culture because they have to rely on those with the same language and culture to conduct the affairs of daily life. Therefore, liberal neutrality itself requires that the majority provide certain basic cultural goods, i.e., granting differential rights (see Kymlicka 1995b, 2001, and 2003b). Institutional protections and the right to the minority group’s own institutional structure are remedies that restore equality and turn the resulting nation-state into a more moderate multicultural one.
  • The Argument from Success . The nationstate has in the past succeeded in promoting equality and democracy. Ethno-national solidarity is a powerful motive for a more egalitarian distribution of goods (Miller 1995; Canovan 1996, 2000). The nation-state also seems to be essential to safeguard the moral life of communities in the future, since it is the only form of political institution capable of protecting communities from the threats of globalization and assimilationism (for a detailed critical discussion of this argument see Mason 1999).

Andreas Wimmer (2018) presents an interesting discussion of the historical success of nation-state (discussed in Knott, Tolz, Green, & Wimmer 2019).

These political arguments can be combined with deep communitarian ones. However, taken in isolation, their perspectives offer a “liberal culturalism” that is more suitable for ethno-culturally plural societies. More remote from classical nationalism than the liberal one of Tamir and Nielsen, it eschews any communitarian philosophical underpinning. [ 23 ] The idea of moderate nation-building points to an open multi-culturalism in which every group receives its share of remedial rights but, instead of walling itself off from others, participates in a common, overlapping civic culture in open communication with other sub-communities. Given the variety of pluralistic societies and intensity of trans-national interactions, such openness seems to many to be the only guarantee of stable social and political life (see the debate in Shapiro and Kymlicka 1997).

In general, the liberal nationalist stance is mild and civil, and there is much to be said in favor of it. It tries to reconcile our intuitions in favor of some sort of political protection of cultural communities with a liberal political morality. Of course, this raises issues of compatibility between liberal universal principles and the particular attachments to one’s ethno-cultural nation. Very liberal nationalists such as Tamir divorce ethno-cultural nationhood from statehood. Also, the kind of love for country they suggest is tempered by all kinds of universalist considerations, which in the last instance trump national interest (Tamir 1993: 115; 2019: passim, see also Moore 2001 and Gans 2003). There is an ongoing debate among philosophical nationalists about how much weakening and compromising is still compatible with a stance’s being nationalist at all. [ 24 ] There is also a streak of cosmopolitan interest present in the work of some liberal nationalists (Nielsen 1998–99). [ 25 ]

In the last two decades, the issues of nationalism have been increasingly integrated into the debate about the international order (see the entries on globalization and cosmopolitanism ). The main conceptual link is the claim that nation-states are natural, stable, and suitable units of the international order. A related debate concerns the role of minorities in the processes of globalization (see Kaldor 2004). Moreover, the two approaches might ultimately converge: a multiculturalist liberal nationalism and a moderate, difference-respecting cosmopolitanism have a lot in common. [ 26 ]

“Populism” is an umbrella term, covering both right-wing and left-wing varieties. This section will pay attention to right-wing populist movements, very close to their traditional nationalist predecessors. This corresponds to the situation in the biggest part of Europe, and in the US, where nationalist topics are being put forward by the right-wing populist. [ 27 ]

However, it has become quite clear that nationalism is only one of the political “isms” attracting the right-wing populists. The migration crisis has brought to the forefront populist self-identification with linguistic-cultural communities (“we, French speaking people” for the former, “we Christians” for the later) that goes beyond nationalism.

Jan-Werner Müller (2016) and Cas Mudde (2007) note that the form common to all sorts of populism is quite simple and describe it as “thin”. Mudde explains: “Populism is understood as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the People” (2007: 23). Populism, so defined, has two opposites: elitism and pluralism. First, there is the elite vs. people (“underdog”) contrast. Second, it is possible to distinguish two ways of characterizing “the people”: either in terms of social status (class, income-level, etc.) or in terms of ethnic and/or cultural belonging (see also de Cleen 2017).

The second, horizontal dimension distinguishes the predominantly left-wing from the predominantly right-wing populisms and leaves a place for a centrist populist option. Take classical strong ethnic nationalism. The relation between right-wing populism and such a nationalism is very tight. This has led some theoreticians (Taguieff 2015) to present “nationalist populism” as the only kind of populism. The term captures exactly the synthesis of populism and the strong ethnic nationalism or nativism. From populism, it takes the general schema of anti-elitism: the leader is addressing directly the people and is allegedly following the people’s interest. From nationalism, it takes the characterization of the people: it is the ethnic community, in most cases the state-owing ethnic community, or the ethno-nation. In his work, Mudde documents the claim that purely right-wing populists claim to represent the true people who form the true nation and whose purity is being muddied by new entrants. In the United States, one can talk about populist and reactionary movements, like the Tea Party, that have emerged through the recent experience of immigration, terrorist attacks, and growing economic polarization. We have to set aside here, for reasons of space, the main populist alternative (or quasi-alternative) to national populism. In some countries, like Germany, some populist groups-parties (e.g., German AfD party (Alternative for Germany)), appeal to properties much wider in their reach than ethno-national belonging, typically to religious affiliations. Others combine this appeal with the ethno-national one. This yields what Riva Kastoryano (2006) calls “transnational nationalism”.

Interestingly, liberal nationalism is not very attractive to the populists. On the theoretical side one can note that Tamir (2019) sees her liberal nationalism as a good recipe against the threat of demagogues like Trump and Boris Johnson (she avoids the use of the label “populist”, e.g., 2019: 31).

The rise of populism is changing the political playfield one must work with. The tolerant (liberal nationalist or anti-nationalist) views are confronting new problems in the populist age marked by migration crisis, etc. The dangers traditionally associated with military presence are gone; the national populists have to invent and construct a presumed danger that comes into the country together with foreign families, including those with children. In short, if these conjectures hold, the politicians and theoreticians are faced with a change. The traditional issue of the contrast between patriotism/nationalism and cosmopolitanism has changed its profile: the current drastic contrast is between the populist aversion to the foreigners-migrants and a more generous attitude of acceptance and Samaritan help. Finally, the populist understanding of “our people” (“we-community”) encompasses not only nationalist options but also goes way beyond it. The important element is the promiscuous character of the populist choices. It is probable that the future scholarship on nationalism will mainly focus on this new and challenging playfield, with an aim to address the new contrast and locate kinds of nationalism in relation to it. [ 28 ]

The migration crisis has made the nation-state in global context the central political topic concerning nationality. Before moving on to current events, the state of art before the crisis should be summarized. First, consider the debates on territory and nation and issues of global justice.

Liberal nationalists try to preserve the traditional nationalist link between ethnic “ownership” of the state and sovereignty and territorial control, but in a much more flexible and sophisticated setting. Tamar Meisels thus argues in favor of “taking existing national settlements into account as a central factor in demarcating territorial boundaries” since this line “has both liberal foundations” (i.e., in the work of John Locke) and liberal-national appeal (2009: 159) grounded in its affinity with the liberal doctrine of national self-determination. She combines it with Chaim Gans’ (2003: Ch. 4) interpretation of “historical right” claims as “the right to formative territories”. She thus combines “historical arguments, understood as claims to formative territories”, with her argument from settlement and insists on their interplay and mutual reinforcement, presenting them as being “most closely related to, and based on, liberal nationalist assumptions and underlying ideas” (Meisels 2009: 160). She nevertheless stresses that more than one ethnic group can have formative ties to a given territory, and that there might be competing claims based on settlement. [ 29 ] But, given the ethno-national conflicts of the twentieth century, one can safely assume that culturally plural states divided into isolated and closed sub-communities glued together merely by arrangements of modus vivendi are inherently unstable. Stability might therefore require that the pluralist society envisioned by liberal culturalists promote quite intense intra-state interaction between cultural groups in order to forestall mistrust, reduce prejudice, and create a solid basis for cohabitation.

But where should one stop? The question arises since there are many geographically open, interacting territories of various sizes. Consider first the geographical openness of big continental planes, then add the modern ease of interaction (“No island is an island any more”, one could say), and, finally and dramatically, the substantial ecological interconnectedness of land and climate. Here, the tough nationalistic line is no longer proposed seriously in ethical debates, so the furthest pro-national extreme is in fact a relatively moderate stance, exemplified by Miller in the works listed. Here is a typical proposal of his concerning global justice based on nation-states: it might become a matter of national pride to have set aside a certain percentage of GDP for developmental goals—perhaps for projects in one particular country or group of countries (2013: 182).

This brings us to the topic of migrations, and the heated debate on the present scene. [ 30 ] In Europe immigration is probably the main topic of the present day populist uproar, and in the United States it is one of the main topics. So, immigration plus the nationalist-populist reactions to it are in the current decade the main testing ground for nationalist and cosmopolitan views.

Let’s look at the pro-national side in the debate. Liberal nationalists, in particular Miller, have put forward some thoughtful pro-nationalist proposal concerning immigration. Miller’s proposal allows refugees to seek asylum temporarily until the situation in their country of origin improves; it also limits economic migration. Miller argues against the defensibility of a global standard for equality, opportunity, welfare, etc., because measures of just equality are context-bound. People do have the right to a minimum standard of living, but the right to migrate only activates as a last resort after all other measures within a candidate-migrant’s country of origin have been tried. However, he also (particularly in his book on “Strangers in our midst”, 2016), claims that national responsibility to accept immigrant refugees is balanced by considerations of the interest of would-be immigrants and the interests that national communities have in maintaining control over their own composition and character.

If we agree with the liberal nationalists on the positive side, we can ask about the dynamics of the help required for the immigrants. Distinguish at least three stages, first, the immediate emergency (starvation, freezing, urgent medical problems) and catering to it, second, settlement and learning (on the host and the immigrant newcomer side), and third, the stage of (some kind of) citizenship, of relatively stable life in the host country.

In the first phase, the immediate help comes first, both normatively and causally: just accept the would-be refugees (indeed, the would-be refugees should be helped in leaving their countries and travelling to the host country). In longer term, staying should involve opportunity for work and training.

But there is more. The Samaritan obligation can and should function as a preparation for wider global activity. [ 31 ] So, we have two theoretical steps, first, accepting Samaritanism and second, agreeing with deeper trans-national measure of blocking distant causes, like poverty and wars in the Third world. Let us call this “Samaritan-to-deeper-measures model”. The model is geared to the dramatically changed playground in which the nationalism issues are played out in the context of populism and refugee crisis, raising issues that were not around two decades ago.

In presenting the claims that the pro-nationalists defend, we have proceeded from the more radical towards more liberal nationalist alternatives. In examining the arguments for these claims, we have presented metaphysically demanding communitarian arguments resting upon deep communitarian assumptions about culture, such as the premise that the ethno-cultural nation is the most important community for all individuals. This is an interesting and respectable claim, but its plausibility has not been established. The moral debate about nationalism has resulted in various weakenings of culture-based arguments, typically proposed by liberal nationalists, which render the arguments less ambitious but much more plausible. Having abandoned the old nationalist ideal of a state owned by a single dominant ethno-cultural group, liberal nationalists have become receptive to the idea that identification with a plurality of cultures and communities is important for a person’s social identity. They have equally become sensitive to trans-national issues and more willing to embrace a partly cosmopolitan perspective. Liberal nationalism has also brought to the fore more modest, less philosophically or metaphysically charged arguments grounded in concerns about justice. These stress the practical importance of ethno-cultural membership, ethno-cultural groups’ rights to have injustices redressed, democratic rights of political association, and the role that ethno-cultural ties and associations can play in promoting just social arrangements.

The events in the current decade, the refugee crisis and the rise of right-wing populism, have dramatically changed the relevant practical and theoretical playground. The traditional nationalism is still relevant, but populist nationalism attracts much more attention: new theories are being produced and debated, coming to occupy the center stage. On the other hand, migration crisis has replaced the typical cosmopolitan issue of solidarity-with-distant-strangers with burning issues of helping refugees present at our doors. Of course, the causes of the crisis are still the same ones that cosmopolitans have been worrying about much earlier: wars and dramatically unequal global distribution of goods, and of threats, like illnesses and climate disasters. The task of the theory is now to connect these deeper issues with the new problems occupying the center-stage of the new playground; it is a challenge now formulated in somewhat different vocabulary and within different political conceptual frameworks than before.

This is a short list of books on nationalism that are readable and useful introductions to the literature. First, two contemporary classics of social science with opposing views are:

  • Gellner, Ernest, 1983, Nations and Nationalism , Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Smith, Anthony D., 1991, National Identity , Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Three presentations of liberal nationalism, two of them by the same author, Yael Tamir, offer the best introduction to the approach:

  • Miller, David, 1995, On Nationality , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/0198293569.001.0001
  • Tamir, Yael, 1993, Liberal Nationalism , Press, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • –––, 2019, Why Nationalism , Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Two short and readable introductions are:

  • Özkirimli, Umut, 2010, Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction , second edition, London: Palgrave Macmillan. First edition is 2000; third edition is 2017.
  • Spencer, Philip and Howard Wollman, 2002, Nationalism, A Critical Introduction , London: Sage.

The two best anthologies of high-quality philosophical papers on the morality of nationalism are:

  • McKim, Robert and Jeff McMahan (eds), 1997, The Morality of Nationalism , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Couture, Jocelyne, Kai Nielsen, and Michel Seymour (eds.), 1998, Rethinking Nationalism , Canadian Journal of Philosophy , Supplement Volume 22, Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press.

The debate continues in:

  • Miscevic, Nenad (ed), 2000, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict: Philosophical Perspectives , La Salle and Chicago: Open Court.
  • Dieckoff, Alain (ed.), 2004, The Politics of Belonging: Nationalism, Liberalism, and Pluralism , Lanham: Lexington.
  • Primoratz, Igor and Aleksandar Pavković (eds), 2007, Patriotism, Philosophical and Political Perspectives , London: Ashgate.
  • Breen, Keith and Shane O’Neill (eds.), 2010, After the Nation? Critical Reflections on Nationalism and Postnationalism , London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9780230293175

A good brief sociological introduction to nationalism in general is:

  • Grosby, Steven, 2005, Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction , Oxford: Oxford University Press.

and to the gender-inspired criticism of nationalism is:

  • Yuval-Davis, Nira, 1997, Gender & Nation , London: Sage Publications.
  • Heuer, Jennifer, 2008, “Gender and Nationalism”, in Herb and Kaplan 2008: vol. 1, 43–58.
  • Hogan, Jackie, 2009, Gender, Race and National Identity: Nations of Flesh and Blood , London: Routledge.

The best general introduction to the communitarian-individualist debate is still:

  • Avineri, Shlomo and Avner de-Shalit (eds.), 1992, Communitarianism and Individualism , Oxford: Oxford University Press.

For a non-nationalist defense of culturalist claims see:

  • Kymlicka, Will (ed.), 1995a, The Rights of Minority Cultures , Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A very readable philosophical defense of very moderate liberal nationalism is:

  • Gans, Chaim, 2003, The Limits of Nationalism , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511490231

And for application to Central Europe see:

  • Auer, Stefan, 2004, Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe , London: Routledge.

A polemical, witty and thoughtful critique is offered in:

  • Barry, Brian, 2001, Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism , Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

And a more recent one in

  • Kelly, Paul, 2015, “Liberalism and Nationalism”, in The Cambridge Companion to Liberalism , Steven Wall (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 329–352. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139942478.018

Interesting critical analyses of group solidarity in general and nationalism in particular, written in the traditions of rational choice theory and motivation analysis, are:

  • Hardin, Russell, 1985, One for All, The Logic of Group Conflict , Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Yack, Bernard, 2012, Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community , Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

There is a wide offering of interesting sociological and political science work on nationalism, which is beginning to be summarized in:

  • Motyl, Alexander (ed.), 2001, Encyclopedia of Nationalism , Volumes I and II, New York: Academic Press.

A fine encyclopedic overview is:

  • Herb, Guntram H. and David H. Kaplan, 2008, Nations and Nationalism: a Global Historical Overview , four volumes, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio.

A detailed sociological study of life under nationalist rule is:

  • Billig, Michael, 1995, Banal Nationalism , London: Sage Publications.

The most readable short anthology of brief papers for and against cosmopolitanism (and nationalism) by leading authors in the field is:

  • Cohen, Joshua (ed.), 1996, For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism , Martha Nussbaum and respondents, Boston, MA: Beacon Press
  • Anderson, Benedict, 1983 [2006], Imagined Communities , London: Verso; revised edition, 2006.
  • Aron, Raymond, 1962, Paix et guerre entre les nations , Paris: Calmann-Levy. Translated as Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations , Richard Howard and Annette Baker Fox (trans), Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
  • Balibar, Etienne and Immanuel Wallerstein, 1988 [1991], Race, nation, classe: les identités ambiguës , Paris: Editiones La Découverte; translated as Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities , Chris Turner (trans.), London-New York: Verso.
  • Barber, Benjamin R., 1996, “Constitutional Faith”, in J. Cohen (ed.) 1996: 30–37.
  • –––, 1996, Jihad Vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World , New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Barry, Brian, 1999, “Statism and Nationalism: a Cosmopolitan Critique”, in Shapiro and Brilmayer 1999: 12–66.
  • –––, 2001, Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism , Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.
  • Bauböck, Reiner, 2004, “Territorial or Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities?”, in Dieckoff 2004: 221–258.
  • Bechhofer, Frank and David McCrone (eds.), 2009, National Identity, Nationalism and Constitutional Change , London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9780230234147
  • Bell, Duncan (ed.), 2008, Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Berlin, Isaiah, 1976, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas , London: The Hogarth Press.
  • –––, 1979, “Nationalism: Past Neglect and Present Power”, in Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas , London: Hogarth Press, 333–355.
  • Betts, Alexander and Paul Collier, 2017, Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System , London: Penguin.
  • –––, 2017, “Banal Nationalism and the Imagining of Politics”, in Everyday Nationhood: Theorising Culture, Identity and Belonging after Banal Nationalism , Michael Skey and Marco Antonsich (eds.), London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 307–321. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-57098-7_15
  • Blake, Michael, 2013, Justice and Foreign Policy , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552009.001.0001
  • Breuilly, John, 2001, “The State”, in Motyl (ed.) 2001: Volume 1.
  • –––, 2011, “On the Principle of Nationality”, in The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Political Thought , Gareth Stedman Jones and Gregory Claeys (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 77–109. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521430562.005
  • Breuilly, John, John Hutchinson, and Eric Kaufmann (eds), 2019, special issue on populism and nationalism in Nations and Nationalism , 25(1): 1–400.
  • Brubaker, Rogers, 2004, “In the Name of the Nation: Reflections on Nationalism and Patriotism1”, Citizenship Studies , 8(2): 115–127. doi:10.1080/1362102042000214705
  • –––, 2013, “Language, Religion and the Politics of Difference”, Nations and Nationalism , 19(1): 1–20. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2012.00562.x
  • –––, 2015, Grounds for Difference , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Buchanan, Allen, 1991, Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce from Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec , Boulder: Westview Press.
  • –––, 2004, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/0198295359.001.0001
  • Buchanan, Allen and Margaret Moore (eds.), 2003, States, Nations and Borders: The Ethics of Making Boundaries , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511613937
  • Butt, Daniel, Sarah Jane Fine, & Zofia Stemplowska (eds), 2018, Political Philosophy, Here and Now: Essays in Honour of David Miller , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Calhoun, Craig, 2007, Nations Matter. Culture, History, and the Cosmopolitan Dream , London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203960899
  • Canovan, Margaret, 1996, Nationhood and Political Theory , Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • –––, 2000, “Patriotism Is Not Enough”, British Journal of Political Science , 30(3): 413–432. doi:10.1017/S000712340000017X
  • –––, 2001, “Sleeping Dogs, Prowling Cats and Soaring Doves: Three Paradoxes in the Political Theory of Nationhood”, Political Studies , 49(2): 203–215. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.00309
  • Carens, Joseph H., 2013, The Ethics of Immigration , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Casertano, Stefano, 2013, Our Land, Our Oil! Natural Resources, Local Nationalism, and Violent Secession , Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. doi:10.1007/978-3-531-19443-1
  • Chatterjee, Deen K. and B. Smith (eds.), 2003, Moral Distance , special issue of The Monist , 86(3): 327–515.
  • Christiano, Thomas, 2008, “Immigration, Community and Cosmopolitanism”, in San Diego Law Review , 933(Nov–Dec): 938–962.
  • –––, 2012, “The Legitimacy of International Institutions”, in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Law , Andrei Marmor (ed.), London: Routledge, pp. 380–394.
  • Christiano, Thomas and John Christman (eds.), 2009, Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy , Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781444310399
  • Cohen, Joshua (ed.), 1996, For Love of Country? (Martha C. Nussbaum with respondents), Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  • Colm Hogan, Patrick, 2009, Understanding Nationalism: On Narrative, Cognitive Science and Identity , Ohio: Ohio State University Press.
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  • Tully, James, 1994, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511607882
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  • Twining, William (ed.), 1991, Issues of Self-determination , Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.
  • Vick, Brian, 2007, “Of Basques, Greeks, and Germans: Liberalism, Nationalism, and the Ancient Republican Tradition in the Thought of Wilhelm von Humboldt”, Central European History , 40(4): 653–681. doi:10.1017/S0008938907001070
  • Vincent, Andrew, 2001, “Political Theory”, in Motyl (ed.) 2001: Volume 1, 589–599.
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  • Walker, R.B.J., 2001, “Postmodernism”, in Motyl (ed.) 2001: Volume 1, 611–630.
  • Walzer, Michael, 1983, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality , New York: Basic Boooks.
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  • Wellman, Christopher Heath, 2005, A Theory of Secession: The Case for Self- Determination , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511499265
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How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. 2002, “ Beyond the Social Contract: Toward Global Justice ”, Tanner Lecture, Australian National University.
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  • Academy of European Law , at the European University Institute.
  • Territory and Justice network: repository of pre-publication papers .

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What Is Nationalism? Definition and Examples

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Nationalism is an ideology expressed by people who fervently believe that their nation is superior to all others. These feelings of superiority are often based on shared ethnicity, language, religion, culture, or social values. From a purely political standpoint, nationalism aims to defend the country’s popular sovereignty —the right to govern itself—and to protect it from the political, social, and cultural pressures posed by the modern global economy. In this sense, nationalism is seen as the antithesis of globalism .

Key Takeaways: Nationalism

  • Politically, nationalists strive to protect the nation's sovereignty, the right to govern itself.
  • Nationalists’ feelings of superiority are usually based on shared ethnicity, language, religion, culture, or social values.
  • Extreme nationalists believe that their country has the right to dominate other nations through military aggression if necessary.
  • The ideologies of nationalism are contrary to those of globalism and the modern globalization movement. 
  • Economic nationalism strives to protect a nation’s economy from foreign competition, often through the practice of protectionism.
  • Carried to its extremes, nationalism can lead to authoritarianism and the exclusion from the society of certain ethnic or racial groups.

Today, nationalism is generally recognized as a shared sentiment that because of the extent to which it influences public and private life, serves as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, determining factors of modern history.

History of Nationalism

Despite the common feeling that people who believe their country is the “best” have always existed, nationalism is a relatively modern movement. While people have always felt an attachment to their native land and the traditions of their parents, nationalism did not become a widely recognized sentiment until the end of the 18th century.

The 18th century American and French revolutions are often considered to have been the first impactful expressions of nationalism. During the 19th century, nationalism penetrated the new countries of Latin America and spread throughout central, eastern, and southeastern Europe. During the first half of the 20th century, nationalism arose in Asia and Africa.

Pre-20th Century Nationalism

The first true expressions of nationalism occurred in England during the Puritan Revolution of the middle 1600s.

By the end of the 17th-century, England had assumed a reputation as the world leader in science, commerce, and the development of political and social theory. After the English Civil War of 1642, the Puritan work ethic of Calvinism merged with the optimistic ethics of humanism .

Influenced by the Bible, an expression of English nationalism emerged in which the people equated their perceived mission to that of the people of ancient Israel . Swollen with pride and confidence, the English people began to feel that it was their mission to usher in a new age of reformation and individual liberty throughout the world. In his classic 1667 work “Paradise Lost,” English poet and intellectual John Milton described the English peoples’ efforts to spread what had by then become "England’s vision of liberty as being “celebrated for endless ages as a soil most genial to the growth of liberty,” to all the corners of the earth.

The nationalism of 18th century England, as expressed in the “ social contract ” political philosophy of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau would influence American and French nationalism during the rest of the century.

Influenced by ideas of liberty put forth by Locke, Rousseau, and other contemporary French philosophers, American nationalism arose among the settlers of the North American British colonies . Stirred to action by current political thoughts expressed by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine , the American colonists began their struggle for liberty and individual rights during the late 1700s. Similar to the aspirations of 17th century English nationalism, 18th-century American nationalism envisioned the new nation as humanity’s guiding light to liberty, equality, and happiness for all. Culminating with the American Revolution in 1775 and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the influence of the new American nationalism was clearly reflected in the French Revolution of 1789.

In America as well as in France, nationalism came to represent a universal adherence to the progressive idea of a future of freedom and equality rather than the authoritarianism and inequality of the past. The new belief in the promise of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “Liberty, equality, fraternity” following the American and French revolutions inspired new rituals and symbols, such as flags and parades, patriotic music, and national holidays, that remain the common expression of nationalism today.

20th Century Movements

Beginning in 1914 with the onset of World War I , and ending in 1991 with the dissolution of Communism in Central-Eastern Europe, the 20th century saw the emergence of new forms of nationalism shaped largely by World War I and World War II .

After World War I, Adolf Hitler based a new brand of fanatical nationalism in Germany on racial purity, authoritarian rule, and the mythical glories of Germany’s pre-Christian past. After the Second World War, most new forms of nationalism were driven by independence movements in the wake of decolonization. As they struggled to free themselves from their European colonizers, people created national identities to distinguish themselves from their oppressors. Whether based on race, religion, culture, or the political entanglements of the Cold War in Europe , all of these new nationalistic identities were in some way connected with the drive for independence.

World War I proved to be a triumph of nationalism in central and Eastern Europe. New nation-states of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Romania were built from the remains of the Habsburg, Romanov, and Hohenzollern Russian empires. Budding nationalism in Asia and Africa produced charismatic revolutionary leaders like Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, Mahatma Gandhi in India, and Sun Yat-sen in China.

After World War II, the establishment of multinational economic, military, and political organizations such as the United Nations (UN) in 1945 and NATO in 1949 led to a general reduction of the spirit of nationalism across Europe. However, the policies pursued by France under Charles de Gaulle and the bitter Communism versus democracy division of East and West Germany until 1990 proved the appeal of nationalism remained very much alive.

Nationalism Today

It has been argued that at no time since Words War I has the power of nationalism been as evident as it is today. Especially since 2016, there has been a significant increase in nationalist sentiment across the world. For example, it was a nationalism-driven desire to regain lost national autonomy that led to Brexit, the controversial withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union . In the United States, presidential candidate Donald Trump rode nationalistic appeals to “Make America Great Again” and “America First” to the White House.

In Germany, the nationalist-populist political party Alternative for Germany (AfD), known for its opposition to the European Union and immigration, has become a major opposition force. In Spain, the self-proclaimed conservative right-wing Vox party won seats in the Spanish parliament for the first time in the April 2019 general election. Nationalism forms the basis for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to make China a world economic leader. Similarly, nationalism is a common theme among right-wing politicians in France, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, and Turkey.

Economic Nationalism

Most recently characterized by the reaction to the global financial crash of 2011, economic nationalism is defined as a set of policies and practices designed to create, grow, and most of all, protect national economies in the context of world markets. For example, a 2006 proposal to sell port management businesses in six major U.S. seaports to Dubai Ports World based in the United Arab Emirates was blocked by political opposition motivated by economic nationalism.

Economic nationalists oppose, or at least critically question the advisability of globalization in favor of the perceived safety and stability of protectionism . To economic nationalists, most of not all revenue from foreign trade should be used for what they consider to be essential national interests such as national security and building military power, rather than for social welfare programs. In many ways, economic nationalism is a variant of mercantilism—the zero-sum theory that trade generates wealth and is stimulated by the accumulation of profitable balances, which the government should encourage through protectionism.

Based on an often unfounded belief that it steals jobs from domestic workers, economic nationalists oppose immigration. For example, President Trump’s Mexican border security wall followed his nationalistic immigration policies. In convincing Congress to allocate funds to pay for the controversial wall, the President claimed the loss of American jobs to undocumented immigrants . 

Issues and Concerns

Today, developed nations are typically made up of multiple ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious, groups. This recent increase in anti-immigration, exclusionary brand of nationalism could become dangerous to groups considered to be outside the politically favored group, especially if taken to extremes, as it was in Nazi Germany . As a result, it is important to examine the potential negative aspects of nationalism.

First of all, nationalism’s sense of superiority differentiates it from patriotism . While patriotism is characterized by pride in one’s country and a willingness to defend it, nationalism extends pride to arrogance and potential military aggression. Extreme nationalists believe that their country’s superiority gives them the right to dominate other nations. They justify this by the belief that they are “liberating” the people of the conquered nation.

As it did in Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries, nationalism was used to justify imperialism and colonization . Under the shield of nationalism, western nations overtook and controlled countries in Africa and Asia, the crippling economic and social consequences of which linger today. During World War II, Adolf Hitler mastered nationalistic propaganda to rally the German people to rationalize his tactics of ethnic Aryan supremacy as being in the best interest of Germany. When used in this manner to establish one group to be the only rightful citizens of a country, nationalism can be extremely dangerous in an increasingly globalized world.   

At several times throughout history, nationalistic fervor has led nations into prolonged periods of isolationism —the stifling and potentially dangerous doctrine of playing no role in the affairs of other nations. For example, widely supported isolationism during the late 1930s played a significant role in preventing the United States from becoming involved in World War II until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Nationalism inevitably creates a competitive “us” vs. “them” or “love it or leave it” attitude among the people. As George Orwell put it in his 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism, “A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige… his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.”

Nationalism can also contribute to domestic division and unrest. By demanding that the people decide who is and isn’t truly part of the nation, it encourages discrimination against anyone within the nation’s borders who is identified as part of “them” instead of “us.”

  • “ Nationalism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , September 2, 2020,
  • Sraders, Anne. “What is Nationalism? Its History And What It Means in 2018. The Street , 2018,
  • Galston, William A. “Twelve Theses on Nationalism.” Brookings , August 12, 2019,
  • Pryke, Sam. “Economic Nationalism: Theory, History and Prospects.” Global Policy , September 6, 2012, ttps://
  • Walt, Stephen M. “The most powerful force in the world.” Forbes , July 15, 2011,
  • Holmes, Ph.D., Kim R. “The Problem of Nationalism.” Heritage Foundation , December 13, 2019,
  • Orwell, George. 1945. “ Notes on Nationalism .” Penguin UK, ISBN-10:‎ 9780241339565.
  • Manfred Jonas. “Isolationism in America 1933-1941.” Cornell University Press, 1966, ISBN-10: 187917601
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Definition of nationalism noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


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define as nationalism

Nationalism is a political ideology which advocates for people to identify with and take pride in a nation whose members share certain cultural, ideological, religious or ethnic characteristics. Nationalism can also be defined as the devotion of people to their respective countries. Nationalism is comparable to patriotism, with the two sharing certain characteristics such the celebration of a nation’s achievements by its citizens. However, it can be said that patriotism comes from the actions of one's country, and nationalism exists regardless of the actions of one's country.

Varieties of Nationalism

The ways in which nationalism can manifest itself is quite broad, and could concern the ethnic, cultural or political background of a country. These varieties include civil nationalism, religious nationalism, territorial nationalism, ethnic nationalism, anti-colonial nationalism, economic nationalism, cultural nationalism and racial nationalism.

What is Civil Nationalism?

Civil nationalism is the instance where people from different cultural, ethnic and economic background identify as being equal citizens of a particular nation. Civil nationalism is also termed as liberal nationalism as it involves the nurturing of liberal values such as individual rights, freedom, and tolerance.

What is Ethnic Nationalism?

Ethnic nationalism is the nationalism variety where a nation defines it citizens through ethnic composition where the desirable members of a nation are of a common ethnicity, common religious belief, and a common language. Ethnic nationalism can be viewed as the direct opposite of civic nationalism.

What is Religious Nationalism?

Religious nationalism involves the relations between religious beliefs and nationalism where persons sharing a common religious belief or a common religious affiliation have a sense of national unity. Religious Zionism is one example of religious nationalism.

What is Anti-colonial Nationalism?

Anti-colonial nationalism is the variety of nationalism seen with countries under a colonial authority and had its peak during the decolonization period in the mid-20th century particularly in African and Asian countries. Anti-colonial nationalism in these countries was propagated either through peaceful protests (India’s Mahatma Gandhi is a perfect example) or through armed conflict.

What is Territorial Nationalism?

Territorial nationalism is the form of nationalism where every person is required to be from a specific nation and should pledge allegiance to their respective nation. Citizenship is sometimes seen as a product of territorial nationalism. Cultural nationalism is defined as the variety of nationalism where members of the nation are identified through sharing a common cultural heritage. Cultural nationalism can be labeled as the intermediate variety between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism.

What is Economic Nationalism?

Economic nationalism is the type of nationalism where a political authority prioritizes on economic and labor control through placing restrictions on the international movement of capital, labor, and products while encouraging doctrines such as mercantilism, protectionism, and anti-globalization.

What is German Nationalism?

In Germany, nationalism exists in the form of German Nationalism where people of German heritage are encouraged to be united and identify with a common nation. German people are mainly identified through language as all are native speakers of a particular variety or dialect of the German language. Friedrich Karl von Moser, who was one of the early German nationalists stated in the 18th century that German people lacked the pride of national identity seen in the Swiss and the British. Friedrich, as well as other German nationalists, called for the establishment of a German nation which the German people would identify with. The German nationalism movement grew through the 18th and 19th centuries and by the early 20th century, the movement had a huge following in Germany. However, extreme forms of German Nationalism whose beliefs were based on racial purity were also popular in the country and particularly with the members of the Nazi Party. These extreme forms of German Nationalism ultimately led to the start of the Second World War as Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler invaded Austria and Poland in his violent way to unify the German nation.

What is African Nationalism?

African Nationalism was a form of nationalism which was exhibited in many Sub-Saharan African countries from the mid-20th century to the late 20th century as the former European colonies fought to realize self-rule and independence. African Nationalism is an example of Anticolonial Nationalism, and it involved the self-determination of Africans and the realization the importance of fighting against European colonial authority. The origin of the African Nationalism movement is traced back to the mid-19th century in West Africa among educated middle-class black Africans who believed in the establishment of nation-states. However, it was not until the end of the Second World War that the movement became a mass movement as Africans who had extensively traveled all over the world began calls for the expulsion of European colonial authority and the establishment of independent nation-states. These movements either engaged the colonial powers through peaceful political processes or through violent protests and armed conflict with the latter being the preferred means in most Sub-Saharan countries.

What is Chinese Nationalism?

Chinese Nationalism is the political ideology which advocates for the national unity and cultural unification of the Chinese people. In Chinese Nationalism, Chinese people are encouraged to identify with their common cultural ancestry as well as to collectively identify themselves as a nation. China as a nation has existed in numerous forms since ancient times. Chinese Nationalism is mainly based on the imperialism practiced in the early Chinese Empire. During this period, the Han Chinese was the underlying ethnic description of the Chinese people. Chinese Nationalism is seen as the primary motive behind the unification of Taiwan and mainland China. In some instances, popular events such as the 2008 Summer Olympics as well as natural disasters such as the Sichuan earthquake galvanize Chinese citizens to have a sense of national pride.

What is French Nationalism?

French nationalism is said to have first emerged as a byproduct of wars with England. Joan of Arc is known as the traditional icon of French pride. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was an important figure in the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799, believed in the expansion of French ideals and enlightenment.

What is American Nationalism (United States Nationalism)?

American Nationalism, also known as United States Nationalism, is a form of nationalism unique to the United States. American Nationalism has its roots in the 1700s when the Thirteen Colonies began to identify less with the identify of being British and more with a new "American" identity. The idea of American nationalism is said to have evolved over time, and still plays a prominent role in American politics today.

What are Some Common Criticisms of Nationalism?

While nationalism is seen as noble by many politicians and citizens, the political ideology is not without its critics. Nationalism and particularly the economic nationalism variety is seen by some scholars as the main hindrance to globalization. History has shown how extreme forms of nationalism is linked to social ills such as racism, segregation and even wars.

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define as nationalism

Definition and Examples of Nationalism

How does nationalism work, nationalism vs. patriotism, the history of nationalism, how economic nationalism is different, frequently asked questions (faqs).

Nationalism is the idea that your nation is superior to all others. This sense of superiority often has its roots in a shared ethnicity. 

Nationalism is the idea that your nation, often identified by a shared ethnicity or set of values, is better than all other nations. Nationalism can be—and oftentimes is—expressed as aggression toward other nations. 

Nationalism is built around a shared language, religion, culture, or set of social values. A nation will emphasize shared symbols, folklore, and mythology.

Nationalism can impact foreign and domestic political policies and typically has economic implications.

A nationalist is someone who believes their nation is better than all others. Nationalist politicians have gained favor across parts of the world in recent years.

Examples of nationalism in the 21st century are spread across the globe.

In 2014, India elected Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi. In 2015, Vladimir Putin rallied Russians to invade Ukraine to "save" ethnic Russians. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted in favor of Brexit, the British exit from the EU.

Closer to home, the United States elected populist Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. In 2018, President Trump declared at a Texas rally that he was a nationalist, though many felt that was already evident from his protectionist policies. He and his former advisor Steve Bannon had often advocated for economic nationalism.

Nationalists demand to be independent of other countries. They don't join global organizations or collaborate with other countries on joint efforts. If the people are part of another nation, then they will want freedom and their own state.

Because they believe in the superiority of their shared attribute, nationalists often stereotype different ethnic, religious, or cultural groups. The resultant prejudice keeps their nation unified.

Intolerance can lead to a desire to rid the country of those deemed as "different." In an extreme form, it can lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Nationalists work toward a self-governing state. Their government controls aspects of the economy to promote the nation’s self-interest. 

Nationalism sets policies that strengthen the domestic entities that own the four factors of production. These four factors are:

  • Capital goods
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Natural resources

Different types of Nationalists may disagree on whether the government or private businesses should own the factors, however, they are generally happy as long as these factors singularly make the nation more insular or stronger in their eyes.

Nationalist trade policy is based on protectionism . It subsidizes domestic industries that are deemed to be of national interest. It also includes tariffs and quotas on foreign imports. If it escalates to a trade war , it reduces international trade for all parties.

For example, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 reduced global trade by at least 60% and worsened the Great Depression.

Nationalists believe that their shared interests supersede all other individual or group interests. They oppose globalism and empires. They also rally against any philosophy, such as religion, that supersedes national loyalties. They are not necessarily militaristic, but they may quickly become so if threatened.

Nationalists' feeling of superiority differentiates their nationalism from patriotism. Patriotism equates to pride in one's country and a willingness to defend it.

Nationalism, on the other hand, extends that to arrogance and potential military aggression. Nationalists believe they have a right to dominate another nation because of their superiority. They may feel that they are doing the conquered a favor. This attitude can encourage militarism.

Nationalism, as we understand it today, didn't arise until the 17th century. Before that, people focused on their local town, kingdom, or even religion. The idea of nation-states can be said to have begun in 1658 with the Treaty of Westphalia. It ended the 30 Years' War between the Holy Roman Empire and various German groups.

Industrialization and capitalism strengthened the need for a self-governing nation to protect business rights, and merchants partnered with national governments to help them beat foreign competitors.

The government supported this mercantilism, because the merchants paid them in gold. The steam-powered printing press helped enable nations to promote unity within and prejudice against outsiders.

In the late 18th century, the American and French revolutions formalized large nations that were free of a monarchy. They ruled by democracy and endorsed capitalism. In 1871, Otto von Bismarck created the nation of Germany from different tribes. By the 20th century, the North American and European continents were governed by sovereign nations.

The Great Depression created economic conditions so harsh that many countries adopted nationalistic policies and mindsets as a defense, which often made the economic conditions worse.

Fascist leaders such as Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy used nationalism to override individual self-interest, subjugating the welfare of the general population to achieve social goals.

Nationalism under fascism works within existing social structures rather than destroying them. It focuses on "internal cleansing and external expansion," according to Professor Robert Paxton in  The Anatomy of Fascism . This thinking attempts to justify violence as a way to rid society of minorities and opponents.

World War II convinced the Allied nations to endorse global cooperation. The World Bank , the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization were just three of many global groups. In the 1990s, Europe's nations formed the European Union.

Economic nationalism is a form of nationalism that specifically prioritizes domestic businesses. It seeks to defend them against multinational corporations that benefit from globalism. It advocates protectionism and other trade policies that protect local industries. President Trump espoused economic nationalism when he announced tariffs on steel and Chinese imports.

Economic nationalism also prefers bilateral trade agreements between two countries. It says that multilateral agreements benefit corporations at the expense of individual nations. It would even adopt unilateral agreements where the stronger nation forces a weaker one to adopt trade policies that favor the stronger country.

After the stock market crash of 1929, countries began adopting protectionist measures in a desperate attempt to save jobs. Instead, those efforts helped to send the world economy down by 60%. As a result, those measures likely prolonged the Great Depression.

To compensate for less trade, economic nationalism advocates increased fiscal policies to help businesses, including increased government spending on infrastructure and tax cuts for businesses.

Economic nationalism might oppose illegal immigration, arguing that it takes jobs away from domestic workers. President Trump's immigration policies followed nationalism when he built a wall on the border with Mexico.

Key Takeaways

  • Nationalism is an ideology that a person's nation is superior to all others. The root of nationalism is often based on shared ethnicity.
  • An example of nationalism can be seen in much of Adolf Hitler's rhetoric.
  • The difference between nationalism and patriotism is the feeling of superiority. Nationalists think their country is better than all other countries, while patriots have pride in their country.

Is nationalism on the rise?

Yes, according to some experts. This is due to several factors including economic instability, various refugee crises, and the ongoing pandemic. It is not unusual to see a rise in nationalism during a crisis in a country.

Where did nationalism get its start?

Modern nationalism got its start in England in the 17th century during the Puritan revolution.

How did nationalism cause World War I?

Nationalism led to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, which in turn led to World War I, along with several other important factors.

Ziya Öniş Mustafa Kutlay. " The Global Political Economy of Right-Wing Populism: Deconstructing the Paradox ,"  The International Spectator .

Eric Helleiner. " The Diversity of Economic Nationalism ," New Political Economy .

Samuel MacIsaac, Buck C. Duclos. " Trade And Conflict: Trends in Economic Nationalism, Unilateralism and Protectionism ," Canadian Foreign Policy Journal .

U.S Congressional Research Service. " U.S. Trade Debates: Select Disputes and Actions ," Page 1.

Muchkund Dubey. “ The Nationalism Debate: Past and Present ,” Indian Journal of Public Administration .

Jan-Otmar Hesse. “ Financial Crisis and the Recurrence of Economic Nationalism ," Journal of Modern European History .

Robert O. Paxton. “ The Anatomy of Fascism ,” Pages 216-220. Penguin Random House, 2004.

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The Mass Psychology of Ethnonationalism pp 15–78 Cite as

What Is Nationalism?

  • Dusan Kecmanovic 7  

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Part of the Path in Psychology book series (PATH)

Nationalism, like nation, is very hard to define clearly and unequivocally. The contention that nationalism is what nationalists make of it is, in fact, an evasion. There are no two authors, whether sociologists, historians, political scientists, or psychologists, who define nationalism in the same way. This may lead novices in the study of nationalism to infer that, having read a few works on the subject, they are even less knowledgeable than when they began. 1

  • Social Identity
  • National Identity
  • National Feeling
  • Social Identity Theory
  • National Group

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Nationalism as a term was mentioned for the first time in 1409 at Leipzig University. It was not before the end of the eighteenth century that it began to be used in the sense of national egoism, (cf. Hyslop, B., 1934, French Nationalism in 1789 According to the General Cahiers , and Kemilainen, A., 1964, Problems Concerning the Word, Concept and Classification ).

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Many scholars who have dealt with nationalism share the idea that nationalism is but a modern form of the human tendency to congregate and to submit to a social entity that is dominant, that is most important, at a given epoch. Thus Hertz (1944:292) points out that nationalism is “certainly but one expression of human instinct and not a bit more natural and more ‘latent’ than tribalism, clannishness.... Yet it is nationalism, far more than any other expression of human gregariousness, which has come to the fore in modern times.” Geertz (1963:106-7) stresses that “the grouping under a common rubric” such as tribalism, parochialism, communalism, nationalism, etc., is not simply adventitious. “These phenomena are in some way similar.” Shafer (1980) made the same point: “Group and community sentiments are as old as humankind; nationalism is a late modern, powerful, and pervasive variant.” Hayes (1968:12), for his part, contends that “modern nationalism signifies a more or less purposeful effort to revive primitive tribalism on an enlarged and more artificial scale.” Yet Gellner (1983:138) argues that nationalism is “a distinctive species of patriotism, and one which becomes pervasive and dominant only under certain social conditions, which in fact prevail in the modern world, and nowhere else.” Cobban (1969:106-7) states that while “loyalty to the community in which for the time being are enshrined the highest aspirations is a perennial quality, the object of that loyalty varied widely from age to age. There is little to suggest that the combination of cultural and political unity in the idea of the nation state is the last, or that is the highest, of those mortal gods to which men have sometimes paid undue adoration.” According to Kedourie (1960:72), “patriotism, affection for one’s own country, or one’s group, loyalty to its institution, and zeal for its defense, is a sentiment known among all kinds of men; so is xenophobia, which is dislike of the stranger, the outsider, and reluctance to admit him into one’s own group. Neither sentiment depends on a particular anthropology and neither asserts a particular doctrine of the state or of the individual’s relation to it. Nationalism does both; it is a comprehensive doctrine which leads to a distinctive style of politics.... If confusion exists, it is because nationalist doctrine has annexed these universally held sentiments to the service of a specific anthropology and metaphysic.” Pfaff (1993:196) observes that ethnic and communal conflict, and racial, religious, or linguistic rivalry and struggle exist for reasons having nothing originally to do with nation states, and concludes: “Nationalism is an expression of the primordial attachments of an individual to a group, possessing both positive and destructive powers, and this is a phenomenon which existed long before the group to which such passionate loyalty was attached became the modern nation-state.” Garvin (1993:64-5), pointing to the continuities between modern nationalisms and older traditions of collective identitty, stresses that these older traditions have a “life of their own and can dictate the form of the succeeding nationalist identity in many important ways, or even take it over Modern nationalisms...’ sit on top’ of older traditions or collective belief systems....” And Walzer (1995:331-2) concludes, along the same lines, that tribalism, that is, “the committment of individuals and groups to their own history, culture and identity, is a permanent feature of human social life,” and its destruction “lies beyond the reach of any repressive power.” Yet parochialism, which has been bred by tribalism, “is similarly permanent. It can’t be overcome; it has to be accommodated, and therefore the crucial universal principle is that it must always be accommodated: not only my parochialism, but yours as well, and his and hers in their turn.”.

It was Nairn (1981:348) who first said that nationalism can be pictured as the old Roman god, Janus. Nairn contends that it is, essentially, groundless to draw a distinction between “healthy” and “degenerate” sorts of nationalism, because “the substance of nationalism as such is always morally, politically, humanly ambiguous.” “Without for a moment,” writes Nairn (1981:347-8), “denying that these moral and political distinctions are justified, and indeed obvious, one is none the less forced to point out that the theoretical dimension attaching to them is quite mistaken. The distinctions do not imply the existence of two brands of nationalism, one healthy and one morbid. The point is, as the most elementary comparative analysis will show, that all nationalism is both healthy and morbid. Both progress and regress are inscribed in its genetic code from the start. This a structural fact about it. And it is a fact to which there are no exceptions: in this sense, it is an exact (not a rhetorical) statement about nationalism to say that it is by nature ambivalent.” Griffin (1993:150) calls schizoid this ambiguous nature of nationalism, its capacity for “double thinking, and at times to act both as an enlightened Dr Jekyll and a sociopathological Mr Hyde.... “As long as it has been an active force in history,” this author emphasizes (1993:150), “it has always contained the potential for promoting both genuine liberal democracy and its grotesque travesty, one which upholds the rights of on segment of humankind at the expense of others.”.

Mazzini was the first to argue for a need to distinguish a good and a bad nationalism (Hertz, 1944:34), and Balibar (1991:47) points out that all the questions concerning the definition of nationalism revolve around the dilemma: a good nationalism or a bad nationalism. “There is one,” writes this author, “which tends to construct a state or a community and the one which tends to subjugate, to destroy; the one which refers to right and the one which refers to might; the one which tolerates other nationalisms and may even argue in their defense and include them a single historical perspective... and the one which radically excludes them in an imperialist and racist perspective. In short, the internal split within nationalism seems as essential—and as difficult to pin down—as the step that leads from ‘dying for one’s fatherland’ to ‘killing for one’s country.’” Various authors use different terms to refer to mainly identical phenomena—a good and a bad nationalism: original nationalism and derived nationalism (Hayes, 1928); political nationalism and cultural nationalism (Kohn, 1944); people-oriented nationalism and power-oriented nationalism (Bay, Gullvag, Ofstad, and Tonnessen, 1950); a belligerent, megalomaniac, superiority-delusional nationalism and a relatively peaceful, self-conceited, isolationist form (van der Dennen, 1987); an ordinary nationalism and a destructive nationalism (Berke, 1989); political nationalism and ethnic nationalism (Nodia, 1994); and so on.

The authors of a report on nationalism, published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1939), in a introductory note point to this twofold meaning of nationalism. “Its [of nationalism] effect is not necessarily taken as being confined to the individual’s own nation, although admittedly this is very often the case, nor is the nationalist necessarily conceived of as making the interest of his own nation supremely important. In short, the term is used in such a sense that Mazzini, Gladstone, and Woodrow Wilson can be described as exponents of nationalism, as well as Herr Hitler.”.

By applying Meinecke’s principle of distinction between the political and cultural nation (see Chapter 1), Kohn (1944:455-576) has contrasted the western European, and the central and eastern European concepts of nation. Like the different concepts of nation, there are different understandings of nationalism in these regions. Germanophilism and Slavophilism provide examples of central-eastern European nationalism, in which the emphasis is on Eigenart (or samobytnost). Arendt (1951:226-7) calls the western European type of nationalism chauvinism, and the central and easternEuropean, tribal nationalism. “Chauvinism now usually thought of in connection with the nationalism integral of Maurras and Bares... even in its most wildly fantastic manifestations did not hold that men of French origin, born and raised in another country, without any knowledge of French language would be ‘born Frenchmen’ thanks to some mysterious qualities of body and soul.... In psychological terms, the chief difference between even the most violent chauvinism and this tribal nationalism is that one is extroverted, concerned with visible, spiritual and material achievements of the nation, whereas the other, even in the mildest forms... is introverted, concentrates on the individual’s own soul which is considered as the embodiment of the general national qualities.” See also Pejovic (1993), who states that “the ethos in Eastern Europe has a strong bias towards communalism. The prevailing concept of the community in the region is not the classical-liberal one of a voluntary association of individuals who, in the pursuit of their private ends, join and leave the community by free choice. Instead, the community is seen as an organic whole to which individuals are expected to suboordinate their private their private ends and in which all cooperate to pursue their common value.” Along the same lines Hutchinson (1994:17) makes the distinction between the two conceptions of the nation. “The first is civic, focusing on the achievement of an autonomous state of equal citizens, a concept which emerged first in Western Europe, and the second is ethnic, associated with Central and Eastern Europe, where the nation was initially conceived of as a historical and cultural individuality which must be preserved or revived.”.

About the transition from liberal nationalism to imperialist nationalism see Arendt, “Imperialism,” In part II The Origins of Totalitarianism .

Griffin (1993:148-9) rightly noticed that the demarcation line between the two nationalisms—nationalism that is “indispensable to the cohesion of democratic institutions and values”, and nationalism as “chauvinism, integral nationalism, hyper-or ultra-nationalism”—is rarely as straightforward as it might seem.

“What we call fascist style was in reality the climax of a ‘new politics’ upon the emerging eighteenth century idea of popular sovereignty. A common substance of citizenship was said to exist, of which all could partake. No longer would royal or princely dynasties take the place of popular self-expression. The concept popular sovereignty was given precision by the ‘general will,’ as J.J. Rousseau has expressed it, by the belief that only when men are acting together as an assembled people does man’s nature as a citizen come into active existence. The general will became a secular religion, the people worshipping themselves, and the new politics to guide and formalize this worship. The unity of the people was not merely cemented by the idea of common citizenship; rather a newly awakened national consciousness performed this function” (Mosse, 1975:1).

Mead (1968:222) emphasizers that war depends upon the establishment of unequivocal and mutually exclusive identities and loyalties, today represented by national boundaries. In this sense, in considering the alternatives to war, Mead, among negative requirements, points out “the reduction of the strength of all mutually exclusive loyalties, whether of nation, race, class, religion or ideology, and constructing some different form of organizations in which the memory of these loyalties and the organizational residues of these former exclusive loyalties cannot threaten the total structure”; and among positive requirements she emphasizes “the establishment of the conditions for a variety of mutually overlapping and non-exclusive identifications with larger groups of many kinds, without any single or overriding loyalty.” This last requirement comes down to a depatriotizing. Morris (1969:153-4), in his book “The Naked Ape,” posits that “defeat is what an animal wants, not murder; domination is the goal of aggression, not destruction,” and basically humans “do not seem to differ from other species in this respect.” However, the original goal has become blurred for the individuals involved in the fighting due to “the vicious combination of attack remoteness and group cooperativness.” The result is that humans “attack now more to support their comrades than to dominate their enemies.” Morris warns that “this unfortunate development may yet prove to be our undoing and lead to the rapid extinction of the species,” and proposes three possible solutions: massive mutual disarmament, to depatriotize the members of the different social groups and to provide and promote harmless symbolic subistitutes for war. The question arises how feasible are these solutions. As far as the depatriotizing is concerned, the author is very skceptical. “This would be working against a fundamental biological feature of our species. As fast as alliances could be forged in one direction, they would be broken in another. The natural tendency to form social in-groups could never be eradicated without a major genetical change in our make-up, and one which would automatically cause our complex social structure to desintegrate.” However questionable is Morris’s opinion that such a thing as group mentality is naturally, biologically, genetically conditioned, he is near the mark when he states that there is no way to change humans’ tendency to form social ingroups and to prevent all the ramifications and consequences of such a proclivity or disposition. Scheff (1994:2) also blames excessive committment to only one social group for one of the most devastating plights humans may experience. “Destructive wars require not only isolation between nations but also engulfment within: blind loyalty that overrides reason and dissent.” According to this author (1994:58), nationalism constitutes a bimodal alienation: engulfment within the group, isolation outside of it.

Connor (1987:213) states that the question of accommodating ethnonational heterogeneity within a single state revolves about two loyalties—loyalty to the national and loyalty to the state, and gives his opinion about the most likely outcome of this conflict of loyalties. “The great number of bloody separatist movements that have occurred in the past two decades within the first, second, and third worlds bear ample testimony that when the two loyalties are seen as being in irreconcilable conflict, loyalty to the state loses out.”.

Except in periods of crisis, “when international tensions and national fears become dominant,” certain circumstances, according to (Grodzins, 1956:51-68), make it comparatively easy for individuals to reconcile nonnational and national loyalties. The ambiguity of the meaning of the nation . “It is by no means clear in a democratic state what the ‘nation’ is to which loyalty is required. Is it the government in power? Is it the system of government? Is it the moral creed or the historic ideas on which government rests. Is it the duly elected leaders? Is it the enduring cultural complex?... Individuals and groups define for themselves to which of these ‘nations’ they owe their allegiance.... It is thus possible for all manner of activities to be defined as loyal by all manner of men.” In addition to that, loyalty is defined in law only negatively . “No constitutional provision or statute attempts to set forth what loyalty is. The legal documents define disloyalty: treason, espionage, sabotage, and related crimes.” Legitimization . The practice of “making other loyalties right and justified by equating them with national loyalty” is quite widespread. “Private and special interests are given the prestige of the national interest. Some persons and organizations argue that their own goals are—or should be—the nation’s goals; others take up national programs as their own.” The segmentation of life and multiplicity of roles . “The very segmentation of life makes it typically easy for individuals to reconcile the different kinds of action demanded of them by their various group loyalties.... A citizen can be exclusively concerned with private affairs and he can still assume that his fulfils his role as citizen.... The center of his life and the center of his interests are rarely the nation. The nation’s demands can thus be put into a pigeonhole alongside other pigeonholes. The segmentation of life makes possible the segmentation of loyalties. Expressions of loyalty to the nation seldom conflict with the expression of other loyalties.”.

According to Hertz (1944:21), national aspirations are composed of four elements: the striving for national unity, the striving for national freedom, the striving for separateness, distinctiveness, individuality, originality, or peculiarity, and the striving for distinction among nations. Hertz considers the striving for distinction among nations to be the strongest of all four aspirations and to underlie them all. And what seems to be even more important, “the striving for distinction among nations, for honour, dignity, prestige and influence easily becomes a striving for domination.”.

See the paper “Ethnic Mobilization in New and Old States: an Extension of the Competition Model,” in which Nagel and Olzak (1982) account for the resurgence of ethnic mobilization in the modern world by urbanization, the increased scale of social organization, the expansion of the secondary and tertiary economic sectors, the expansion of the political sector, and the supranational organizations.

Distinction is to be made between crimes inspired by a supraindividual entity and committed in its name and crimes, the perpetrator of which, tries to justify by referring to the dictates and interests of a supraindividual entity.

liiere are a number of psychological studies in which group members are shown to prefer ingroups to outgroups (e.g., Doise, 1972; Kahn and Ryen, 1972; Turner, 1978; Brewer and Silver, 1978; Locksley, Ortiz, and Hepburn, 1980).

Connor (1994:46) rightly observes: “Ethnic strife is too often superificially discerned as principally predicated upon language, religion, customs, economic inequity, or some other tangible element. But what is fundamentally involved in such a conflict is that divergence of basic identity which manifests itself in the ‘us-them’ syndrome.”.

“Only when our sense of justice is offended do we react with rage, and this reaction by no means necessarily reflects personal injury” (Arendt, 1970:63).

See Smith’s (1983) criticism of the van den Berghe’s sociobiological position.

“Even if it is true that more nationalistic or ethnocentric groups are more likely to survive in time of danger, more nationalistic or ethnocentric groups may decrease the chances for continued existence by increasing the number of dangerous situations in which they get involved, by decreasing the amount of constructive criticism offered by group members in the face of threats to survival” (Rosenblatt, 1964). Braunthal (1946:5), in a more open and direct form, expresses the same opinion about the perilousness of nationalist views. “Nationalist emotion was the strongest creative force during the last hundred and fifty years. In the age of modern warfare and world-wide economic interdependence it became, however, the most destructive force. Hitherto, nationalist emotion sought its political satisfaction in the sovereignty and grandeur of the national State. In the atomic age, however, national egotism conflicts with the conditions for national self-preservation, because national self-preservation requires the subordination of national sovereignty to an international sovereignty and the subordination of national economic interests to those of the whole world. The true nationalist must therefore become a true internationalist in order to avoid the peril of the impoverishment and destruction of his nation.”.

Wertham’s reasoning (1966:88) about the psychological preparation needed for racism-driven mass killing may also be applied to ethnocentrism-inspired taking of other people’s lives. This author points out that the dehumanization of people of other races is a part of the rationalization process designed to provide acceptable reason for killing, especially mass killing. Rationalization actually encompasses two steps. The first step is deindividualization: people of another ethnonational background (and another race, too) are not looked upon as individuals but rather as a type or a stereotype. The stereotypical view of other people supersedes the individualized approach aimed at respecting the individual specificities of every human being. In the second step the victim is “consigned to nonhuman status and is no longer entitled even to mercy”; in other words, he or she is dehumanized. Sanford (1972:40) argues that “since in most cultures there are strong prohibitions against killing people... this process of defining them as outside the human race makes the killing or enslavement possible.” Schwartz and Struch (1989:153) share the same opinion: “It is when people dehumanize others, viewing them as lacking the moral sensibilities that distinguish humankind, that they can ignore the internalized and social norms that enjoin compassion and oppose cruelty to others.” And Bernard, Ottenberg, and Redl (1971:102) observe that dehumanization as a kind of misperceiving of others ranges from viewing them en bloc as “subhuman” or “bad human” (a long-familiar component of group prejudice) to viewing them as “nonhuman.” There are two kindred but distinct forms of dehumanization (Rieber and Kelly, 1991:16). Self-directed dehumanization “relates to intrapsychic events where the self protects itself by immunizing itself against stress-laden situations that threaten to be traumatizing.” On the other side, object-dehumanization aims at depersonalizing the other; it strips other people of their human traits. Rieber and Kelly (1991:16) state that enmification, a derivative of enemy (see Chapter 4, “Nationalism and Aggressiveness”), takes the process of object dehumanization “one step further and reduces the other to a ‘thing’ that is potentially dangereous.” The sequence of events might also be reversed so that enmification precedes object dehumanization. Yet Fein (1990:36) questioned the concept itself of dehumanization, because “it presumes an universalistic norm barring collective violence.” However, the existence of such a norm, according to this author, cannot be taken for granted. That is why Fein prefers the notion of “the exclusion of the victim from the universe of mutual obligations” to the concept of dehumanization. Fein rightly stresses that the exclusion of the victim from the universe of obligations is necessary but not sufficient condition for genocide, which is always precipitated by purposeful “state action, by instrumental rationality of its perpetrators, given their ends.” Dehumanization is, according to Bar-Tal (1990:93), one of the most commonly used contents of delegitimization. This author defines delegitimization (or beliefs of delegitimization) as those “beliefs that downgrade another group with extreme negative social categories for the purpose of excluding it from human groups that are considered as acting within the limits of acceptable norms and/or values.” Delegitimization is a wider notion than dehumanization, as it includes, among others, the use of extremely negative and unique contents, the rejection of the delegitimized group, and so on.

McCall et al. (1974:28) see the social relationship as a form of social organization. Although they considers a relationship between two individuals to be the basic form of social relationship and thereby of social organization, the authors assert that a dyadic relationship is in many regards comparable to relations existing in groups and communities.

Eriksen (1993:62) calls children from “mixed” couples ethnic anomalies. He says that their identity problems “may be similar to those of the children or grandchildren of immigrants”. Children from ethnically “mixed” couples, according to this author (1993:62), can be considered “as ‘neither-nor’ or ‘both-and/ depending on the situation and/or the wider context.” It is interesting, this author adds, that in some places, for example in Mauritius, “mixed” people may be considered a particular ethnic group.

Allport (1954:13-4) points out that attitude and belief are at one and the same time related and different, particularly ethnocentric attitudes and beliefs (e.g., I cannot abide Negroes, is an attitude, and Negroes are smelly, is a belief). “The belief system has a way of stitchering around to justify the more permanent attitude. The process is one of rationalization—of the accommodation of beliefs to attitudes.” If effort were made to suppress, to correct an ethnocentric attitude, it, as a rule, would hide, slip into respective belief, and as soon as corrective pressure eased up the attitude would resurface. According to van Dijk (1987:195), ethnic prejudice has five basic properties. “A first property of prejudice is that it is a ‘group attitude’—it is shared by the members of a social group (the ‘in-group’).” In other words, “it is not a set of personal opinions.” “Second, the objects of attitude are one or more other groups (‘out-groups’) that are assumed to be different on any social dimension.” In ethnic prejudice, “this difference is attributed to the ethnic characteristic of the out-group.” Third, “the overall (macro)evaluation dominating the group attitude is negative.” Fourth, “the negative opinions of the ethnic attitude are generalizations based on lacking, insufficient, or biased models.” Fifth, “the ethnic attitude is acquired, used, and transformed in social contexts and functions as the cognitive program for intergroup perceptions and interactions that are structurally favorable for the in-group and its members.”.

Bay et al. (1950:19-20) also state that one cannot talk about distinct and descrete entities—nationalists and nonnationalists. Both can be presented on a dimension. On one pole of this dimension are persons showing a high power orientation, low people orientation, and strong hostility toward outgroups; on the other pole are persons showing low power orientation, high people orientation, and no or very little hostility to outgroups. According to the authors, people-oriented identification means identifications with people as individual human beings, independently of their social status or power, and power-oriented identification means an identification with symbols of power and authority, that is, with events, institutions, persons, or any other objects in so far as they are perceived as representing power and authority.

It was Sumner (1906:13) who first coined the term ethnocentrism and defined it as “this view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it.... Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders. Each group thinks its own folkways the only right ones, and if it observes that other groups have other folkways, these exite its scorn” Originally, ethnocentrism involved a tendency to apply the values and criteria of one’s own ethnic group “to other cultural contexts where different values are operative” (Le Vine and Campbell, 1972:1). Ethnocentrism in a broader sense implies people’s strong attachment to their national group, whereas “symbols of other groups or their values become objects of contempt and hatred.” In this broader sense, the idea of ethnocentrism is close to that of nationalism. In fact, “nationalism and ethnocentrism are similar in the sense that they both usually involve positive attitudes toward an ingroup and negative attitudes toward some or all outgroups. They do not overlap completely. Nationalism, more often than ethnocentrism, involves loyalty to a politically distinct entity, membership in an elaborately organized and relatively populous social grouping, adherence to a formalized ideology, and performance of relatively stereotyped allegiance-expressing behavior” (Rosenblatt, 1964). Stack (1981:4) also considers nationalism as “only the most visible and politicized manifestation of the phenomenon we call ethnicity.”.

If a partner to an, in ethnonational terms, mixed marriage happens to have ethnonationalist beliefs and, in addition, by his or her psychological make-up, is a assertive person, the other partner, in order to establish and sustain peaceful marital relations (“the peaceful life under the same roof”), may use the defensive mechanism called identification with the aggressor; and by so doing become the preacher of the same nationalist attitudes as his/her spouse. However, once the partner, who in this context may be considered an authentic (“genuine”) nationalist, has died or the partners, for whatever reason, have split up, the partner who resorted to nationalism for (in the above sense) defensive purposes, quite often, and almost overnight, becomes a fierce enemy of the ethnonational group of his or her former (or late) spouse. I have witnessed many a time this kind of switching from one nationalism to another during the most recent clashes among the ethnonational groups in the Balkans.

“Nationalism proved most successful in creating the new politics in part because it was based on emotion. But this emotion did not produce ‘a crowd in ecstasy’ simply because reason and logic were missing. Rather, the careful efforts of nationalist movements were directed towards disciplining and directing the masses in order to avoid that chaos which defeats the creation of a meaningful movement” (Mosse, 1975:16).

About the mythopoeic dimension of nationalism see Smith (1976:5).

“The past is an essential element, perhaps the essential element in these ideologies (nationalistic). If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented The past legitimizes. The past gives a more glorious background to a present that does not have much to show for itself” (Hobsbawm, 1993b) Smith (1995:63) calls the same nationalist invention and glorification of the past calls ‘ethno-history’ or ethnic mythistoire. “I mean,” says this author, “not an objective historian’s dispassionate enquiry into the past but the subjective view of later generations of a given cultural unit of population of the experience of their real or presumed forebears. That view is inseparable from what the historian and social scientist would term ‘myth’.”.

Many scholars consider nationalism to be one of the forms of historicist culture (cf. Breuilly, 1982:336; Smith, 1991:97, and others).

Two other paradoxes of nationalism, according to Anderson (1987:14), are “(1) the formal universality of nationality as a sociocultural concept—in the modern world one—versus the irremediable particularity of its concrete, so that, by definition, ‘Greek’ nationality is sui generis, and (2) the political power of nationalism versus its philosophical poverty and even incoherence.”.

In comparing the popularity of the nationalist and Marxist explications of human suffering, Moore (1978:485-6) points to the general advantage of nationalism. “In the first place, it is simple, which Marxism certainly is not. Nationalism puts the blame for whatever is painful in one’s own society squarely on an easily identified group: the outsiders, the foreign enemy. There is no need for nuances and complicated causal links. Class consciousness, on the other hand, runs counter to many obvious facts from daily experience. It is hard to put domestic power-holders in the same emotional and intellectual category as foreign ones, when every day’s news brings evidence of conflict between “our” leaders and those of other states. It is also not so easy to make a steelworker believe that he has a great deal in common with a brewery worker if the price of beer goes up.... The foreign enemy is also a relatively safe target for day-to-day symbolic aggression. Retaliation is far less likely than in the case of an attack on local power-holders. For that reason too the attack is much more likely to attract diverse social support.”.

There are many aspects of the relationship between religion and nationalism. We will mention but a few of them. 1. Nationalism is a substitute for religion. The binding force of nationalism plays the role which religious beliefs used to perform. “The insecurities arising from changes in the material environment have been augmented,” asserts Lasswell (1935:50-51), “by the stresses arising from the decline in potency of the older religious symbols and practices. Nationalism and proletarianism are secularized alternatives to the surviving religious patterns, answering to the need of personalities to restabilize themselves in a mobile world.” Llobera (1994:144) observes that modern national identity appeared in Western Europe at a time “when all the intermediary bonds were collapsing, and religion itself was losing its grip on the masses.” This author attributes the success of nationalism in modernity largely to “the sacred character that the nation has inherited from religion. In its essence the nation is the secularized god of our times” (Llobera, 1994:211). Nationalism can substitute for religion because they have many common features, most clearly articulated by Hayes (1980:164-5) in his book “Nationalism: A Religion.” “Nationalism, like any religion, calls into play not only the will, but the intellect, the imagination and the emotions. The intellect constructs a speculative theology or mythology of nationalism. The imagination build an unseen world around the eternal past and the everlasting future of one’s nationality. The emotions arouse a joy and an ecstasy in the contemplation of the national god who is all-god and all-protecting, a longing for his favors, a thankfulness for his benefits, a fear of offending him, and feelings of awe and reverence at the immensity of his power and wisdom; they express themselves naturally in worship, both private and public. For nationalism, again like any other religion, is social, and its chief rites are public rites performed in the name and for the salvation of a whole community.” 2. Religion is a political extension of traditional religions. (Smith, 1976:19). The notion of political religion in the sense in which Apter (1963:77-89) uses this term in some way exemplifies this aspect of the relationship between religion and nationalism. Reconciliation systems (a government of laws and not of humans) are undergoing, according to this author, a crisis intensified by the secularization of the religious sphere. “The logic of this argument would be a return to religious belief as the way out of our difficulty.” However, this course of action seems to be “highly unlikely,” and therefore new solutions are needed. “The resulting internal danger is that reconciliation systems might turn to political religions to reinforce their own position or in an illusory effort to eradicate enemies both within and without. This was the Nazi solution in Germany, and the Fascist solution in Italy.” States in which political religion dominates, which arose in the West as a response to the loss of faith, have something in common with theocratic states. “States created through nationalism have taken a form not dissimilar to theocracies in that they attempt to create new systems of transcendental values that have the twin effects of establishing legitimacy for the state and the moral underpinnings necessary to political objectives. In this respect political religion is at least partly employed for nonreligious objectives.” 3. The secular and religious nationalism. It was Jurgensmeyer (1993:13-24) who made this distinction. According to this author, “the secular-nationalist loyalties are based in the idea that the legitimacy of the state was rooted in the will of the people, divorced from any religious sanction.” Yet the religious nationalism “dismisses secular nationalism as bereft of moral and spiritual values,” and its advocates reproach secular nationalism for having failed to political freedom, economic prosperity, and social justice. “The vision of religious nationalists is appealing in part because it promises a future that cannot easily fail: its moral and spiritual goals are transcendent and not so easy to gauge as are the more materialistic promises of secular nationalists.” 4. The holy of religion is in many ways entwined with the unholy of nationalism. Nationalism-inspired and driven warriors seek the blessings of their respective gods. “However cynical the leaders might ever have been, their followers generally believed they had these blessings and killed and died because they held certain creeds to be true, practiced certain rites, or—perhaps most commonly—lacking faith or piety or both, simply wore the badges of belonging or not belonging to this or that religious persuasion” (Isaacs, 1975:154). The same point is made by Jurgensmeyer (1993:15). He says that religion and nationalism provide an overarching framework of moral order, a framework that commands ultimate loyalty from those who subscribe to it. “Nowhere is this common form of loyalty more evident than in the ability of nationalism and religion, alone among all forms of allegiance, to give moral sanction to martyrdom and violence.”.

Griffin (1991:26) defines generic fascism in the following way: “Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of a populist ultra-nationalism.”.

Weber (1948:177) writes that “the earliest and most energetic manifestations of the idea (of the nation), in some form, even though it may have been veiled, have contained the legend of a providential ‘mission.’ Those to whom the representatives of the idea zealously turned were expected to shoulder this mission.”.

“National unity requires both a sense of cohesion or ‘fraternity’ and a compact, secure, recognized territory or ‘homeland’; all nationalisms, therefore, strive for such fraternity and homelands. But, since neither are born overnight or ex nihil, both presuppose a long history of collective experience. So ‘history’ becomes the focal point of nationalism and nation-formation. The ‘rediscovery’ or ‘invention’ of history is no longer a scholarly pastime; it is a matter of national honour and collective endeavour” (Smith, 1986:148). In the same sense, the progress in historical studies (not “rediscovery” or “invention” of history) may constitute, according to Rennan (1990:11) a danger for (the principle) of nationality. “Historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial. Unity if always effected by means of violence....”.

Fukuyama (1991:182) writes that there is no reason to believe that “all people will evaluate themselves as the equals of other people.” Rather, they may seek to be recognized as superior to other people, “possibly on the basis of true inner worth, but more likely out of an inflated and vain estimate of themselves.” Fukuyama dubs as megalothymia (“a new word with ancient Greek roots”) this desire to be recognized as superior to other people, and, later (1991:201) adds that “nationalism represents a transmutation of the megalothymia of earlier ages into a more modern and democratic form.”.

Connor (1987:204) points at two main effects or consequences of the fact that the sense of common kinship permeates the ethnonational bond. “First, it qualitatively distinguishes national consciousness from non-kinship identities (such as those based on religion or class)... and secondly, an intuitive sense of kindredness or extended family would explain why nations are endowed with a very special psychological dimension—an emotional dimension—not enjoyed by essentially functional or juridicial groupings, such as socio-economic classes or states”.

Weber (1948:179) stresses that, in the eyes of the nationals, “the significance of the ‘nation’ is usually anchored in the superiority, or at least irreplaceability, of the culture values that are to be preserved and developed only through the cultivation of the group.” The politicization of the native culture, Smith (1995:68) observes, often goes hand in hand with the purification of the community. This means, “first of all, jettisoning all ‘alien’ cultural traits—words, customs, dress, food, artistic styles—and reappropriating vernacular traits for a renewed indigenous culture. But it also means purifying the people themselves, forging the ‘new man’ and the ‘new woman,’ in the image of a pristine ideal found only in a idealized past of heroic splendour.”.

Smith (1976:18) shares the same view. “Every secession movement is fundamentally a linguistic movement.” Fishman (1985:71-2) calls the language loyalty movement this nationalists’ insistence on only “our” culture. The main goal of such a movement is “to activate and use unconscious language-and-ethnicity linkages in order to attain or reallocate econotechnical, political and cultural/educational power.... Language loyalty movements utilize language as a medium for reaching the largest possible target population and as a symbol of the purported ‘authenticity’, ‘unity’ and ‘mission’ of that population.” The main objective of national linguistic purism is to draw a linguistic boundary between our language and the language of our enemy. “The same enemies that are opposed in the struggle for national identity and autonomy are also opposed in the quest for linguistic identity and autonomy” (Fishman, 1973:409). And Hobsbawm (1990:9-11) observes that “problems of power, status, politics and ideology and not of communication or even culture, lie at the heart of the nationalism of language” and adds that that “there is an evident analogy between the insistence of racists on the importance of racial purity and the horrors of miscegenation, and the insistence of so many—one is tempted to say of most—forms of linguistic nationalism on the need to purify the national language from foreign elements.”.

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Kecmanovic, D. (1996). What Is Nationalism?. In: The Mass Psychology of Ethnonationalism. Path in Psychology. Springer, Boston, MA.

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Meaning of nationalism in English

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  • acknowledgement of country
  • anti-colonial
  • anti-colonialism
  • commonwealth
  • condominium
  • crown colony
  • decolonization
  • independence
  • Independence Day
  • intercolonial
  • land acknowledgment
  • self-determination
  • self-governing
  • self-government

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The Difference Between 'Patriotism' and 'Nationalism'

One of the many difficulties inherent in creating a dictionary that accurately reflects the language of any large group of people is that these people may not all view certain words and values as equal. Nationalism and patriotism present us with an appropriately problematic pair with which to illustrate this. Are these words synonymous? Is one an insult, and the other not? Can either of them mean different things to different people?

united states flag

How does the speaker or writer define them?

Let’s take a few minutes to go over the respective histories of these two words to see where and when they shared meaning and in what senses they have drifted apart.

Patriotism is the older of the two words, with published written evidence dating back to the middle of the 17th century. Patriotism came from adding the suffix of - ism to the existing word patriot , which itself came into English from the French patriote , and may be traced back further to the Greek word patrios (“of one’s father”).

There is hardly any judicious man but knoweth, that it was neither learning, piety, nor  patriotism that perswaded any of that Nation to Presbytery…. —C.N., Reasons Why the Supreme Authority of the Three Nations (for the time) is not in the Parliament , 1653 There hath been in London, and repairing to it, for these many yeers together, a knot of Scotish bankers, collybists, or coinecoursers, of traffickers in Merchandise to and againe, and of men of other professions, who…hug all unto themselves; that, for no respect of vertue, honor, kinred,  patriotism, or whatever else…whereof those quomodocunquizing clusterfists and rapacious varlets have given of late such cannibal-like proofs, by their inhumanity and obdurate carriage towards some (whose shoos-strings they are not worthy to unty) that were it not that a more able pen then mine, will assuredly not faile to jerk them on all sides…. —Thomas Urquhart, Ekskybalauron , 1652

(Quick side note: the Urquhart citation above serves two purposes, being both our earliest written evidence of the word patriotism and a fine excuse for drawing the reader’s attention to the beautifully splenetic turn of phrase “quomodocunquizing clusterfists.” These two words are archaic enough to only be defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, which informs us that the former is “that makes money in any possible way,” and the latter is “a ‘close-fisted’ or grasping fellow.” Should you ever find yourself in need of an insult that is not hackneyed and stale we wholeheartedly recommend quomodocunquizing clusterfist . End of side note.)

We do not have any evidence of nationalism occurring until just before the 19th century, almost a hundred and fifty years after patriotism . And in its early use, from the end of the 18th century onward for a number of decades, nationalism appears to have been largely interchangeable with patriotism , with both words primarily being used to refer to a general love of one’s country.

Nationalism must involve the consecrated devotion of a responsive citizenship, sound policies must have universal faith and unsound vagaries must have universal condemnation. — The Marion County News (Hamilton, AL), 1 Jan. 1820 Modern France, instead of diminishing, has, if possible, encreased this nationalism . Removed from his oppression and atrocities, they see nothing but the magnificence, the success and the splendor of Bonaparte, and I assure you that every poor, ignorant, stupid Creole, when he hears of an achievement of this their Demi God, evinces a lively interest, an exultation as if some choice unlooked for gift of heaven had blessed his family. — Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA), 11 Oct. 1811 If there be not Conservatism, and Nationalism, and Patriotism enough in the North to rise up and overwhelm with numbers the spirit that points to the the election of anybody but Fremont (or of Fremont) as the prelude to civil war, we had better seek to save as much fratricidal blood as possible in a peaceable line of immediate separation. — New York Daily News , 1 Jul. 1856

These two words may have shared a distinct sense in the 19th century, but they appear to have grown apart since. Or rather, it would be more accurate to say that only nationalism has grown apart, since the meaning of patriotism has remained largely unchanged. There are still obvious areas of overlap: we define patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country” and nationalism in part as “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” But the definition of nationalism also includes “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” This exclusionary aspect is not shared by patriotism .

A somewhat subtler difference between the two words may be found in their modifiers and the ideas to which each is connected. When we examine large bodies of recent text we see that patriotism is more often used in a general sense, often in conjunction with such words as bravery , valor , duty , and devotion . Nationalism , however, tends to find itself modified by specific movements, most frequently of a political bent.

In one respect, the insanities of 1947 are reverberating now with growing Hindu nationalism in a professedly secular India. – Kashmir Monitor , 14 Aug. 2017 Today, more than two decades into a democratic South Africa, Afrikaner nationalism has been severely diminished and along with it the standing of Afrikaans in the public sector. — The New Age (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2 May 2017 Canadian Nationalism emerged 150 years ago, and has always been defended and protected not only by the spoken word but also, if required, by a dedicated military. —Rosie Sanchez, Prairie Post East (Swift Current, Sask.), 7 Jul 2017 Founded in 2014—two years after Burma experienced religiously motivated riots largely targeting the Muslim minority—and now with sub-chapters across the country, Ma Ba Tha has become virtually synonymous with Buddhist nationalism. — Asia News Monitor (Bangkok), 7 Jul. 2017 Over the last few years, however, a strong contender in the form of Tamil nationalism has emerged because Tamil Nadu got into river water disputes with all the neighbouring states and the neighbours did not seem to care much for Dravidian niceties although Telugus, Kannadigas and Malayalis are putatively Dravidian. — The Times of India (New Delhi), 4 Mar. 2017 His defeat by Plaid Cymru’s Gwynfor Evans at Carmarthen in 1966 stemmed not from any upsurge in Welsh nationalism, but rather a sudden deterioration in the fortunes of Harold Wilson’s government. — The Telegraph (London, UK), 5 Apr. 2017

So now that we’ve briefly looked over the history of patriotism and nationalism can we draw any firm conclusions about whether one or the other is pejorative? The answer is: it depends. It seems certain that, at least with nationalism , it may mean different things to different people. Of the six different kinds of X nationalism cited just above, it is likely that most people would find some politically questionable, and others not. Patriotism is rarely used in these contexts.

In U.S. usage nationalism is now perhaps most frequently associated with white nationalism , and has considerably negative connotations.

Some of us imagined that we dented the nationalism, hatred and racism that roiled the world in the first half of the 20th century. —Jeanette Friedman-Sieradski (letter to editor), The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), 12 Mar. 2017 And while coded appeals to racism or nationalism aren’t new—two words: Southern strategy—overt calls to temporarily bar Muslims from entry to the United States or questioning a federal judge’s impartiality based on his Mexican heritage are new. —Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times , 8 Aug. 2016

As a dictionary, we must weigh all matters of semantic and regional difference. Therefore we can offer no firm guidance as to whether or not nationalism qualifies as an insult across the board. We can, however, advocate for the revival of the tradition of insult with precision.

May we again recommend quomodocunquizing clusterfist ?

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Patriotism vs. Nationalism: What’s The Difference?

You’ve probably heard of public servants carrying out great acts of patriotism . You’ve probably also heard of concerns of a rising wave of nationalism around the world. Yes, both words involve some form of pride in one’s country, but there is an incredibly important distinction to be made between the two.

Historically, both patriotism and nationalism were used roughly in the same way. But they significantly diverged along the way, and one has a much more positive connotation than the other. Do you know which is which?

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between patriotism and nationalism , the different forms they can take and what they can lead to, as well as how to use them correctly.

What is the difference between patriotism and nationalism ?

The word patriotism is a noun that means “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.”

The term often brings to mind people directly involved with the defense of a nation, namely military service members as well as state and local government representatives. For example: The soldiers showed exemplary patriotism defending their country from attack.

Patriotism, however, can take many other forms outside serving in the military and public office. Diplomats , teachers, first responders , and so many more all exemplify patriotism in the many forms of good they do in service of their communities.

There are millions of government employees, as well as millions who volunteer their time in the interest of their country. Individual acts of pride, such as displaying an American flag at one’s home, are also examples of patriotism .

The word patriotism is first recorded in the early 1700s. Interestingly, by the 1770s, the word patriot could refer to “a member of a resistance movement, a freedom fighter,” specifically those who fought against the British in the war for independence—associations that persist today.

Patriotism is based on patriot , which is recorded in the 1500s. This word ultimately derives from Greek patriṓtēs , “fellow-countryman or lineage member.” The root of this word, in turn, means “ fatherland .” Paternal , patriarchy , and even English’s own father are related.

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In most contexts today, nationalism is “the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.” In short, nationalism is a kind of excessive, aggressive patriotism.

Modern nationalism is rooted, in part, in French and American revolutions that fought for the sovereignty of their people over monarchies. This historic nationalism is generally viewed favorably, a cornerstone of Western liberalism and democracy.

However, fascist regimes have merged the fervor of nationalism with the notions of superiority, especially when it comes to ethnicity and religion. In such contexts,  “patriots” can become those who happened to agree with you or look like you, and “traitors” those who do not.

This form of nationalism is what happens when patriotism gets out of hand and morphs into something more exclusionary, isolationist, and … well, chauvinist . For example, The lecturer’s speech on immigration and foreign policy quickly devolved into nationalism , blaming undocumented migrants for the climbing unemployment rate, making much of the audience feel uneasy .

Such nationalism can result in jingoism , which is a form of extreme nationalism promoting vigilant preparedness for war and an aggressive foreign policy. It can also result in  isolationism , or “the policy or doctrine of isolating one’s country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreement.”

Recorded in the early 1800s, nationalism , as you probably guessed, is based on nation , ultimately from a Latin word meaning “birth, tribe.”

How to use patriotism vs. nationalism

When using these words, it’s important to keep context, and connotation , in mind:

Patriotism generally has a positive connotation. It’s used for various positive sentiments, attitudes, and actions involving loving one’s country and serving the great good of all its people.

Nationalism generally has a negative connotation. It’s used for political ideologies and movements that a more extreme and exclusionary love of one’s country—at the expense of foreigners, immigrants, and even people in a country who aren’t believed to belong in some way, often racial and religious grounds.

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David French

What Is Christian Nationalism, Exactly?

A woman wearing a white and red shawl prays as she faces an American flag on a chain-link fence.

By David French

Opinion Columnist

If you’re alarmed by the rise of Christian nationalism, the single worst thing you can do is define it too broadly. If you define it too broadly, then you’re telling millions of ordinary churchgoing citizens that the importation of their religious values into the public square somehow places them in the same camp or on the same side as actual Christian supremacists, the illiberal authoritarians who want to remake America in their own fundamentalist image.

Enter the new feature-length documentary “ God and Country ,” which examines the role of Christian nationalism in American politics. Even before I knew that Rob Reiner (the director of “A Few Good Men”) was involved in the project, I agreed to be interviewed by the filmmakers for two key reasons: First, I wanted to make sure that I could offer a sensible definition of Christian nationalism, one that didn’t cast aspersions on Christians simply for bringing their values into the public square. And second, I wanted to outline exactly why actual Christian nationalism presents a real danger to our Constitution.

To understand what Christian nationalism is, it’s important to understand what it is not. It is not Christian nationalism if a person’s political values are shaped by the individual’s Christian faith. In fact, many of America’s most important social movements have been infused with Christian theology and Christian activism. Many of our nation’s abolitionists thundered their condemnations of slavery from Northern pulpits . The civil rights movement wasn’t exclusively Christian by any means, but it was pervasively Christian — Martin Luther King Jr. was, of course, a Baptist minister.

Anyone may disagree with Christian arguments around civil rights, immigration, abortion, religious liberty or any other point of political conflict. Christians disagree with one another on these topics all the time, but it is no more illegitimate or dangerous for a believer to bring her worldview into a public debate than it is for a secular person to bring his own secular moral reasoning into politics. In fact, I have learned from faiths other than my own, and our public square would be impoverished without access to the thoughts and ideas of Americans of faith.

The problem with Christian nationalism isn’t with Christian participation in politics but rather the belief that there should be Christian primacy in politics and law. It can manifest itself through ideology, identity and emotion. And if it were to take hold, it would both upend our Constitution and fracture our society.

The sociologists Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead define Christian nationalism as a “cultural framework that blurs distinctions between Christian identity and American identity, viewing the two as closely related and seeking to enhance and preserve their union.” The author and pastor Matthew McCullough defines Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.” Both definitions are excellent, but what does ideological Christian nationalism look like in practice?

In 2022, a coalition of right-wing writers and leaders published a document called “National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles.” Its section on God and public religion states: “Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private.” That’s an extraordinary — and ominous — ideological statement, one that would immediately relegate non-Christians to second-class status. It’s utterly contrary to the First Amendment and would impose a form of compelled deference to Christianity on both religious minorities and the nonreligious.

But Christian nationalism isn’t just rooted in ideology; it’s also deeply rooted in identity, the belief that Christians should rule. This is the heart of the Seven Mountain Mandate , a dominionist movement emerging from American Pentecostalism that is, put bluntly, Christian identity politics on steroids. Paula White, Donald Trump’s closest spiritual adviser, is an adherent , and so is the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Tom Parker, who wrote a concurring opinion in the court’s recent I.V.F. decision . The movement holds that Christians are called to rule seven key societal institutions: the family, the church, education, the media, the arts, business and the government.

One doesn’t have to go all the way into Seven Mountain theology, though, to find examples of Christian identity politics. The use of Christianity as an unofficial but necessary qualification for office is a routine part of politics in the most churchgoing parts of America. Moreover, one of the common red-America arguments for Trump is that he might not be devout himself, but he’ll place lots of Christians in government.

But what is Christian identity politics but another form of Christian supremacy? How does Christian identity alone make any person a better candidate for office? After all, many of the worst actors in American politics are professed believers. Scandal and corruption are so pervasive in the church that when a person says, “I’m a Christian,” it tells me almost nothing about their wisdom or virtue.

Finally, we can’t forget the intense emotion of Christian nationalism. Most believers don’t follow ideological and theological arguments particularly closely. In the words of the historian Thomas Kidd, “Actual Christian nationalism is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” It is tied, in other words, to a visceral sense that the fate of the church is closely tied to the outcome of any given political race.

That fervor can make believers gullible and potentially even dangerous. Its good-versus-evil dynamic can make Christians believe that their political opponents are capable of anything, including stealing an election. It artificially raises the stakes of elections to the point where a loss becomes an unthinkable catastrophe, with the fates of both church and state hanging in the balance. As we saw on Jan. 6, 2021, this belief invites violent action.

Committed Christian nationalists represent only 10 percent of the population, according to a 2023 PRRI/Brookings Christian Nationalism Survey. But even members of a minority that small can gain outsize power when they fold themselves into the larger Christian electorate, casting themselves as “just like you.” That’s why we cannot conflate Christian activism with Christian nationalism. One can welcome Christian participation in the public square while resisting domination, from any faith or creed.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

David French is an Opinion columnist, writing about law, culture, religion and armed conflict. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former constitutional litigator. His most recent book is “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation .” You can follow him on Threads ( @davidfrenchjag ).


What is Christian nationalism? Here's what Rob Reiner's new movie gets wrong.

E ver since the tragic events of Jan. 6, 2021, in which a handful of the violent rioters donned explicitly Christian symbols , much ink has been spilled about the rising threat of Christian nationalism, which critics charge is a malignant anti-democratic force hellbent on overthrowing American democracy.

Fears of Christian nationalism have spawned a burgeoning subgenre of books , conferences and journal articles . One widely cited survey, which included sloppily expansive definitions, found that a whopping 51% of Americans were Christian nationalists .

And the new documentary " God & Country ," scheduled for release Friday and produced by Hollywood mogul Rob Reiner, warns in ominous tones about the nationalists lurking around every corner.

Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

To be sure, there is an academic conversation among Christian scholars about the scope of government, and there is a small but growing cohort who are dissatisfied with classic liberalism and American democracy.

Patrick Deneen , author of books such as "Why Liberalism Failed" and "Regime Change," is part of a group of Catholic thinkers who espouse what is commonly referred to as Catholic integralism . Protestant scholar Stephen Wolfe has ignited a similar discussion in evangelical academic circles with his book, " The Case for Christian Nationalism ," in which he calls for a return to “ Christendom .”

As a Baptist, I strongly disagree with the theses of both Deneen and Wolfe. While Baptists advocate for a robust Christian engagement in the public square and believe that America’s founding ideals are rooted, in part, in Christianity, we believe that the best social arrangement is a free church in a free state.

I am in full agreement with the critiques of Christian nationalism offered by such thinkers as Kevin DeYoung , Jonathan Leeman and Kevin Vallier .

Definition of Christian nationalism isn't clear

Still, the term itself has been employed to incorporate seemingly any Christian engagement in the public square. Even Michael Wear, former faith outreach coordinator for President Barack Obama, has shared his concerns about the way "Christian nationalism" is used in an overly expansive way.

Andrew Walker, a Baptist scholar, rightly pleads: “Convince me that your skepticism about Christian nationalism isn’t just a cover for wanting Christians out of politics and out of power. Convince me that Christian nationalism is not just another progressive epithet hurled against conservative Christians .”

Good vs. evil: What does 'peace on earth' mean in a world at war?

To address the lack of definition of what constitutes Christian nationalism, one group has released a survey that both dispels some of the hyperbole and gives a more nuanced picture. The group, Neighborly Faith, began with a 14-point definition of Christian nationalism. What the researchers found is that the number of actual Christian nationalists is much smaller than we’ve been led to believe: Only 5% of Americans self-identify as Christian nationalists , and only 11% of Americans fit the category of “adherents.”

Even among adherents, none hold to all 14 points of measurement , and only 31% agreed to more than seven.

What is interesting is that even among Americans who fit the label, most display pro-Democratic ideals . From the authors: "(Our) study found that many of those we classify as Christian Nationalists exhibit civic and pro-social attitudes and behaviors. They are among the most likely Americans to claim interest in working together with others on interfaith dialogues (52%); providing food, medical supplies, or clothing to those in need (77%); raising money or organize to help victims of a natural disaster (81%); and discussing local issues and solutions (65%). Over half (51%) agree that the U.S. should 'take in refugees − even if I do not share all of the same beliefs as them,' nearly identical to the mood of the general public (54%)."

The survey also found that the conflation of conservative Christian Republicans with Christian nationalists is in error. While 60% of Christian nationalists are Republicans, 40% are either Democrats or independents . And only 17% of Republicans are adherents to Christian nationalism.

Patriotism isn't the same as Christian nationalism

Advocating for public policy based on one’s faith is not Christian nationalism.

A robust love of country isn’t Christian nationalism.

Acknowledging America’s profoundly Christian roots isn’t Christian nationalism.

And those who analyze politics and religion should be honest enough to admit this.

Cruel political discourse: As scholars of religion, we cannot remain silent as this poison continues to corrode the soul of our nation

That isn’t to say there isn’t a worrisome level of extremism in the country on both sides. Both the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol and the riots in protest of George Floyd's murder prove that even a handful of extremists can cause major damage.

In an election year that promises to be as divisive as ever, we should do everything we can to ratchet down the political rhetoric.

One of the best ways to bring about unity is to diagnose problems as they are, not as we imagine them to be and to avoid a broad brush in describing our fellow citizens.

Daniel Darling, director of The Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of several books, including " The Dignity Revolution " and " Agents of Grace ."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is Christian nationalism? Here's what Rob Reiner's new movie gets wrong.

According to a Neighborly Faith survey, only 5% of Americans self-identify as Christian nationalists, and only 11% of Americans fit the category of “adherents.”

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Trump Allies Hope to Spread Christian Nationalism in the White House: Report

define as nationalism

By Caleb Ecarma

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An executive-branch-level embrace of Christian nationalism is apparently on the wish list for Donald Trump allies in a second Trump term, according to a document authored by the Center for Renewing America and  obtained by Politico .

The CRA, a self-described “America First” think tank, was founded in 2021 by Russell Vought, who headed the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump White House. Vought has shared snippets of his pious political vision in the past. He has, for instance, cited Biblical teachings while arguing for stricter immigration laws, promoting the idea that the US should prioritize immigrants who have “accept[ed] Israel’s God, laws, and understanding of history.” However, the CRA document is short on specifics related to Christian nationalism, proposing instead that Trump ignore undesirable funding allocations approved by Congress and invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office, which would allow him to deploy US troops to suppress protesters. 

Since leaving the White House, Vought has remained close to Trump. As reported by Politico, the two speak every month, and Vought hopes that their relationship will pay dividends for the Christian nationalist cause should Trump regain power next year. Vought’s other ties to Trumpworld include an advisory role for Project 2025, a Heritage Foundation–led operation constructing a sprawling roster of conservative hard-liners for Trump to usher into his administration. Its mission statement, Politico notes, includes the foundational Christian nationalist belief that “freedom is defined by God, not man.” 

While Vought has resisted revealing many of his political aspirations, the same cannot be said of his Christian nationalist ally William Wolfe, another former Trump administration official. In a now deleted post on X, Wolfe argued in favor of banning gay marriage, no-fault divorce, abortion, and sexual health education in public schools, and called for “reduc[ing] access to contraceptives.” Enacting these changes, he claimed, would mean restoring “the American family.” (Vought, Wolfe, and the Trump campaign all declined Politico’s requests for comment. However, a CRA spokesperson said, “the so-called reporting from Politico in this story is false and we told them so on multiple occasions.”)

Trump, for his part, has embraced Christian nationalist positions throughout his campaign. He has promised to “sign an executive order instructing every federal agency to cease the promotion of sex or gender transition at any age,” reportedly signaled his support for a 16-week abortion ban, and pledged to form a new federal task force to fight “anti-Christian” bias. “As soon as I get back in the Oval Office, I’ll also immediately end the war on Christians,” he said during a December stump speech in which he accused Joe Biden of persecuting Christians and linked their alleged tribulations to his own legal problems. “I don’t know if you feel it. You have a war. There’s a war,” he continued. “Government has been weaponized against religion like never before.” 

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  1. 10 Nationalism Examples (2024)

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    define as nationalism

  4. What is Nationalism? Its History And What It Means in 2018

    define as nationalism

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  1. How Do We Define Christian Nationalism?


  1. Nationalism

    nationalism, ideology based on the premise that the individual's loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests. This article discusses the origins and history of nationalism to the 1980s. For later developments in the history of nationalism, see 20th-century international relations; European Union; and ...

  2. Nationalism Definition & Meaning

    1 : loyalty and devotion to a nation especially : a sense of national consciousness (see consciousness sense 1c) exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups Intense nationalism was one of the causes of the war. 2

  3. Nationalism

    Part of a series on Nationalism Nation forming Nationalism in the Middle Ages Anthem Church Colours Emblem Father Flag Epic God Identity Language Myth Sport State Symbol Treasure Core values Allegiance Independence Patriotism Self-determination Solidarity Types African Anarchist Blind Bourgeois Business Welfare Civic American French Irish Communist

  4. Nationalism

    Nationalism First published Thu Nov 29, 2001; substantive revision Wed Sep 2, 2020 The term "nationalism" is generally used to describe two phenomena: the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination.

  5. What Is Nationalism? Definition and Examples

    Nationalism is an ideology expressed by people who fervently believe that their nation is superior to all others. These feelings of superiority are often based on shared ethnicity, language, religion, culture, or social values.

  6. Nationalism

    Nationalism is a set of beliefs about the nation: its origins, nature, and value. For nationalists, we are particular social animals. On the one hand, our lives are structured by a profound sense of togetherness and similarity: We share languages and memories.


    a nation's wish and attempt to be politically independent a great or too great love of your own country: The book documents the rise of the political right with its accompanying strands of nationalism and racism. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases Colonization & self-government acknowledgement of country annex annexation anti-colonial

  8. NATIONALISM Definition & Usage Examples

    the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one's own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or of the international community: There's a struggle between integration and global values on the one hand, and uncompromising nationalism on the other.: See also economic nationalism. an idiom or trait peculiar to a nation.

  9. Nationalism Definition & Meaning

    NATIONALISM meaning: 1 : a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries; 2 : a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own

  10. nationalism noun

    noun /ˈnæʃnəlɪzəm/ /ˈnæʃnəlɪzəm/ [uncountable] the desire by a group of people who share the same ethnic group, culture, language, etc. to form an independent country Scottish nationalism Extra Examples Topics Politics c2 Oxford Collocations Dictionary Take your English to the next level

  11. Nationalism: What We Know and What We Still Need to Know

    Nationalism is both a "collective sentiment or identity bounding and binding together those individuals who share a sense of large-scale political solidarity" and a sentiment "aimed at creating, legitimating or challenging states" (Marx 2005, p. 6). As nationalism gains popularity once again, prominent voices have decried it.

  12. nationalism summary

    nationalism, Loyalty and devotion to one's nation or country, especially as above loyalty to other groups or to individual interests. Before the era of the nation-state, the primary allegiance of most people was to their immediate locality or religious group.

  13. Nationalism as a Social Movement

    As the "angel of history," indeed of modernity itself, nationalism looks back on the past to define the future, but generally does so within closely defined limits (Nairn 1977). The privileging of the nation, of national identity, and of associated national interests, over all non-national categories, necessarily involves a process of ...

  14. READ: Origins and Impacts of Nationalism

    While nationalism has much to do with unity, its development often comes through the defining of differences. Russia in the nineteenth century is a great example. For Russians, nationalism wasn't just about customs, language, and history, though those mattered. Russian nationalists defined themselves as not part of the West—Western Europe ...

  15. What is the Definition of Nationalism and Why Does it Matter?

    Nationalism is a political ideology which advocates for people to identify with and take pride in a nation whose members share certain cultural, ideological, religious or ethnic characteristics. Nationalism can also be defined as the devotion of people to their respective countries.

  16. What Is Nationalism?

    Nationalism is the idea that your nation, often identified by a shared ethnicity or set of values, is better than all other nations. Nationalism can be—and oftentimes is—expressed as aggression toward other nations. Nationalism is built around a shared language, religion, culture, or set of social values.

  17. What Is Nationalism?

    Abstract. Nationalism, like nation, is very hard to define clearly and unequivocally. The contention that nationalism is what nationalists make of it is, in fact, an evasion. There are no two authors, whether sociologists, historians, political scientists, or psychologists, who define nationalism in the same way.


    a nation's wish and attempt to be politically independent a great or too great love of your own country: The book documents the rise of the political right with its accompanying strands of nationalism and racism. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases Colonization & self-government acknowledgement of country annex annexation anti-colonial

  19. Types of nationalism

    Romantic nationalism, also known as organic nationalism and identity nationalism, is the form of ethnic nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy as a natural ("organic") consequence and expression of the nation, race, or ethnicity. It reflected the ideals of Romanticism and was opposed to Enlightenment rationalism.

  20. The Difference Between 'Patriotism' and 'Nationalism'

    Grammar & Usage Commonly Confused The Difference Between 'Patriotism' and 'Nationalism' Although treated as synonyms, there is a distinction. But it's more complicated than "'patriotism' good; 'nationalism' bad."

  21. Patriotism vs. Nationalism: What's The Difference?

    In most contexts today, nationalism is "the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one's own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations." In short, nationalism is a kind of excessive, aggressive patriotism.

  22. What Is Christian Nationalism, Exactly?

    The sociologists Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead define Christian nationalism as a "cultural framework that blurs distinctions between Christian identity and American identity, viewing the two ...

  23. Nationalism (Multiple Choice) Flashcards

    Nationalism is best defined as. A. the achievement of world peace and global understanding. B. the desire to take over other societies by force. C. a method of solving basic economic problems of the society. D. the loyalty of a people to their values, traditions, and a geographic region. D.

  24. What is Christian nationalism? Here's what Rob Reiner's new movie gets

    Definition of Christian nationalism isn't clear Still, the term itself has been employed to incorporate seemingly any Christian engagement in the public square.

  25. Trump allies prepare to infuse 'Christian nationalism ...

    In 2019, Trump's then-secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, set up a federal commission to define human rights based on the precepts Vought describes, specifically "natural law and natural rights."

  26. Trump Allies Hope to Spread Christian Nationalism in the White House

    An executive-branch-level embrace of Christian nationalism is apparently on the wish list for Donald ... includes the foundational Christian nationalist belief that "freedom is defined by God ...