Sunday, July 14, 2024

Nationalism- A Force to Reckon With

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In the history of ideas, nationalism has been a contested concept, but standing in the 21st century, it begs the question- is it a pernicious or positive force?

Nationalism began with the French revolution of 1789.

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As a social force, it is necessary what it is.

Although the scholarship on nationalism has been relatively low, yet it is solid.

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It is defined as the perception among members of a community with homogenous or heterogeneous cultural traits to belong to a ‘nation’.

This belief manifests itself in the idea that my nation is greater than others and is eulogized as a force for good.

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Scholarship on the Matter

Age of Nationalism, as Steven Pinker puts it, began in the late 18th century.

It has, since then, moved to all parts of the world, igniting various kinds of movements over the centuries.

As a force to reckon with, it is necessary to understand its in-depth scholarship in a nuanced manner.

The first name that comes to mind, in the context of nationalist scholarship is Benedict Anderson.

In his book ‘Imagined Communities’ Anderson stated that the multitude of human individuals are grouped as ‘nations’.

He argued that nations constitute an ‘imagined community’.

The imagined community includes common language, food habits, dressing, religion which are considered to be a way of life.

Then comes the scholarship of Martin Heidegger; He is considered to be the architect of Nazism or ethnocentric nationalism that the Nazis and Fascists sponsored.

India, the United States are, however, notable exceptions in the 21st century.

A Western Contribution

To be honest, this is a western phenomenon.

The Oriental world hasn’t known the idea of nationalism because it was under colonial subjugation. Thinkers like Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, championed the cause of nationalism in the western world.

Apart from empiricism, rationality, scientific fervor, nationalism is a western export to the world.

Is Nationalism Good?

The answer to this question is very complicated.

It is not an easy social force to define. This phenomenon triggered the Napoleonic wars in the 18th century. Besides that, nationalism’s ghastly nature was seen in full force in the 20th century.

The previous century was marked by extreme nationalism that manifested itself in Nazism, Fascism and Japanese militarism.

Combined with communism, nationalistic-imperialistic ambitions wrecked havoc in Europe.

World Wars I & II claimed the lives of over sixty million people and left more people inter alia either missing or displaced etc.

However, it would be wrong to dismiss nationalism as out-rightly evil.

The nationalistic values of the French revolution i.e., liberty, equality, fraternity which underlined the notion of self-determination and Hobbesian principle of self-preservation helped in de-colonization.

The period after Second World War saw the overthrow of the European colonial empires of the Spanish, Dutch, British etc.

New countries or ‘nation-states’ as it is called now emerged in Asia, Africa, Latin America etc., thanks to the values espoused by it.

Nationalism in the 21st Century

Shashi Tharoor in his book The Battle of Belonging has given a detailed description of every form of nationalism.

However, in the 21st century the force is largely a phenomenon which is still alive and kicking.

It has morphed into different forms-religious, territorial, ethnic etc. Religious nationalism is seen in India in the form of Hindutva, territorial in the form of Ukrainian nationalism against the Russians.

It in its ethnic form manifests itself in Kosovo and Armenian nationalism.

However, the globalization of commerce, democracy and inter-governmental organizations, which constitute the three triangles in the Kantian triangle of perpetual peace has tamed it.


It needs to be noted that this strong social force may become a hydra. Therefore, care should be taken to metamorphose nationalism into a humanitarian nationalism.

This can help combat common threats that humanity faces.





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