Meaning and Definitions of Nationalism

Meaning of Nationalism

The ideology of modern state is called nationalism. It is the most powerful object of contemporary politics. Nationalism was first practiced by Greeks who considered that non Greeks are inferior to Greeks. In simple words nationalism can be explained as; “The attachment or feeling of attachment of one towards one’s nation and state.

Every person has a natural tendency to like and love his blood relatives, family members. tribe’s men, fellow beings and nation respectively. First of all, he has emotional attachment with his family members and offers all sacrifices for the protection and development of his family then his hot attachment with his clan and tribe. It is nationalism and it is due to Nationalism that people protect one another’s interests and rights. It saves social existence from disintegration but on contrary protects and strengthens society.

Definitions of Nationalism

It is hard to define nationalism as several Scholars have defined nationalism in different ways. Following are some definitions of nationalism.

“Nationalism is a condition of mind, feeling or sentiment of a group of people, living in well-defined geographical area, speaking a common language, possessing a literature in that the aspirations of the nation have been expressed, attached to common customs and in some cases having a common religion. It is a product of political, economical, social and intellectual factors at a certain stage in history”. Prof Synder

“Nationalism consists of modern emotional fusion and exaggeration of two very phenomena nationality and patriotism. J.H. Hays

“Nationalism is first and foremost state of mind and an act of consciousness. that manifests an independent nation-state.” Han Kohn.

A nation includes a certain defined unit of territory and a common origin and a hope that the nation will have a great and glorious future usually in territorial expansion.” B.Shafer

Thus from the above definitions we can conclude that Nationalism is a feeling that makes the political and cultural values of the nation or a phenomena of consciousness and feeling among a group of people.

Characteristics of Nationalism

The Royal institute of International Relations pointed out the following characteristics of nationalism in its report published in 1930.

  1. One Nation. An idea of a common government always implies in a nation. It may he the reality of past or present or just an ambition of the future.
  2. Group Feelings. There is sense of belonging together among the people of a nation.
  3. Distinction. There is distinctiveness in a nation that separates it from other nation as language, religion, race and national character.
  4. Defined Territory. There is defined territory large or small.
  5. Common Interest: Existence of same common interest shared by all is also one of the most important features of nationalism.
  6. General Picture of State. A general picture of state in the mind of every individual.

Tools and Symbols of Nationalism

The most important instruments and symbols of nationalism are: Flag. School. Press, Radio and Television etc.

  1. Flag: The first and most important instrument of nationalism is flag. According to Organski, “Flag makes excellent national symbols for they can be carried into battlefield and thus share in the glory of victory.”
  2. School: The nationalistic propaganda is found in most of the school and college textbooks. Charles Marirras writes, “When honest efforts are made to secure objectivity in history text book writing, they meet with stiff resistance from powerful interest groups in most national communities. Under the guise of patriotism, such groups exert pressure upon ministers of education, boards and teachers in order to prevent a balanced treatment of the relations with other countries.”
  3. Press: Through newspaper the people are educated and the feeling of patriotism is provided through generals. books and newspapers etc.
  4. Radio: It also plays great role in nationalistic propaganda. The people are informed through Radio. The patriotic songs and lectures are providing through Radio to the whole world.
  5. Television: The essays, lectures, songs and news about state to provide and inspired nationalism to the people for they make to give sacrifice for the sake of the state.


Following are some examples of nationalism

  1. When nation comes closer for a certain cause
  2. Waves national flag
  3. Singing anthem passionately
  4. Supporting your national team in tournament, Olympics etc

Origin and History of Nationalism

J.H.Hays has described five successive stages of nationalism i.e. humanitarian, Jacobian, traditional, liberal and integral. “The first three fall in 18th century and liberal nationalism took place in 19th century while integral is primarily growth of 20th century. The last stage is characterized by the policies of totalitarian states.

Prof. Synder has discussed four stages i.e.

  1. integrative (1815-1871)
  2. disruptive (1871-1890)
  3. Aggressive (1890-98) and
  4. Contemporary since (1945 onward)

To analyze the whole history of nationalism is difficult but in the following lines an attempt has been made to analyze nationalism.

Nationalism During 19th Century

Nationalism played an important role in unification of German and Italian states. The war of independence was fought in the colonies of Spain and Portuguese. Tension increased between the colonial masters in Asian colonies. Nationalistic feelings arose among Arabs who investigated Sharif Hussain of Mecca who declared independence and caused the disintegration of Turkish Empire. Napoleon filled with nationalistic feelings gathered his Armies under a single banner in a single plate-form and successfully invaded several European States.

Nationalism During 20th Century

It was hoped that 20th century would be the century of internationalism, but the hopes were converted into practice and on contrary nationalism reached its peak during this century. Therefore, the hopes and ideas of internationalism extinguished for the near future. Nationalism both politically and economically was the greatest cause of the outbreak of the World War I, when Japan was in the way of nationalism and communism was converted in nationalism by establishing Soviet Union, and other communist countries in Europe Eastern, and that was also the period of rivalries among great power in various fields, such as industrial, military and naval supremacy. The nationalism was the sole factor that emphasized at national interest and national security. After the had defeat of Germany, the Treaty of Versailles was enforced on it and as a result Germany was disintegrated. This suffered Germany to great extent and as Hitler came to power in 1933 he altered the whole course and expanded Germany to a great extent. and started re­uniting Germany because of his nationalistic feelings. He wanted to see Germans the ruler and master of the world.

Similarly, Mussolini of Italy challenged the world peace due to his nationalistic feelings, and these nationalistic feelings caused the World War II. After the war the two powers emerged as super powers i.e. USA and USSR whip entered into proxy wars against each other such as in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Morgenthau has called this nationalistic universalism that claims for one nation and one state. This continued till the collapse of USSR. Now USA claims to be the leader of the whole world.

Nationalism in Third World Countries

Nationalism can be said the major cause or reason of beginning on end to colonialism in third world countries. The French. Dutch, Italian and British colonies got independence from their imperialists masters. The leaders in third world countries infused in masses the nationalistic feeling and they reached the fact that they are in no way inferior to white man who ruled them for centuries. Leaders like Marshall Tito, Jamal Abdul Nasir and Jawaher Lal Nehru did a lot in this connection. They successfully gathered their nations on “Afro-Asianism” that means political as well as economic freedom and independence from white men. They were able to convince the general masses that they should no more to suffered and exploited economically and politically. To satisfy their nationalistic feelings they realized that they could only develop if they were educated in field of technologies, transportation and communication.

Communism that can also be said as nationalism also helped in this connection. For example, USSR always supported colonies in order to get rid of their colonial masters. After 1917 communist Russia always helped those who were struggling for the cause of independence in order to topple down autocratic rule of a single nation. And that was the cause that in 1945 the total strength of independent states was about 54 and now it has reached to 195.

Types of Nationalism

Many scholars believe that there are many forms of nationalism.  Nationalism may manifest itself as an integral part of state ideology and expressed same as civic, religious, ethnic and cultural lines.

Follwing are the diferent types of nationalism in international relations.

  1. Liberal nationalism
  2. Aggressive nationalism
  3. Totalitarian nationalism
  4. Integral nationalism

Liberal Nationalism

The 19th century was the great age of nationalism both in theory and practice. The predominant type of nationalism from 1815-1870 that were of liberal nationalism. It was a galvanized force in the unification of several countries. During this period Germany, and Italy were integrated and unified. Greece and Belgium was nationhood and agitation for nationhood took place in Poland, Ireland and Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the new world, the colonies under Spain and Portugal revolted. Regarding the nature of Liberal nationalism, it can be observed that it was Pacific. It was neither exclusive nor aggressive. It was based solidly on the support of the middle class growing under individualism. But when liberal nationalism failed to unity. due to its pacifism, was become the practical means of transforming cultural nationalism into political nationalism.

Aggressive Nationalism

The late 19th century and early 20th century brought. growingrivalries for trade, industrial, military and naval supremacy for Allies and for colonies in the great imperialistic scramble, it made nationalism aggressive and militant and thus became one of the cause of the First World War that three empires disintegrated. Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czarist Empire and Ottoman Empire.

Totalitarian Nationalism

The First World War followed by the rise of Fascism in Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain. Fascism being totalitarian turned nationalism also into totalitarian more powerful and encompassing. brutal though in theory and international and anti-colonial gospel has also acquired in practice in nationalistic character. It can therefore be spoken of another form of totalitarian nationalism. Nationalism in USSR and the people’s Republic of China has become more restless and aggressive. Totalitarian nationalism regards the state or nation as the supreme instrument of powers to that the rights of the individuals are subordinated.

Integral Nationalism

It is the characteristic form of the 20th century nationalism. It is however different from the 19th century nationalism. In order to suppress violence and killing of humanity though nation is still an ultimate point of reference for political loyalties and actions. The idea behind this nationalism is “What is good on my nation is good for the world.” Under its impacts a nation aspires to turn the whole world into the image of a single country.

H.T Morgentha terms this phenomenon as, “Nationalistic Universalism” that claim for one nation and ‘one state, the right to impose its own valuations and standards of action upon the other nations

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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