Nationalism Essay

Nationalism is rather young political concept as it appeared just in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries and had gained its real power only couple of centuries ago in different countries. It’s impossible to talk about nationalism, if there is no “nation” or a community of people with common or similar political, economical and ethnic values that live on a definite territory. According to encyclopedia’s definition nationalism is “a set of symbols and beliefs providing the sense of being part of a single political community.” This sense in people’s minds had appeared only in the period of legalization of institution of private property, in the period when a group of people felt the need in basic rights that later laid into foundation of every modern democratic constitution and after people had realized that they are real source of power in state. When people feel such identity, unity and have points of interaction between representatives of different social groups they do also have the mutual desire to establish these principles in to public life, so that they’ll be able to reflect their own interests, protect themselves and guarantee gradual and harmonic development of the society, which can be called a nation.

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The sense of unity, potential of being a group with common interests, results in pride for the nation in general, desire to serve for the good of all people creating not only general good, but good to one’s self, as being a representative of the whole nation.

Even though Karl Marx says that a term nation refers only to a bourgeois society with distinct capitalist relations, and that’s why the nationalism may appear only in this type of a society, when the major group of people with similar values, origins and beliefs has vivid class distinctions; still we know that premises for nationalist movement were formed earlier than capitalist era had begun.

Different philosophers explain the phenomenon of nationalism coming out from different points: cultural, economical, religious and social. Understandably, the majority of social theories that exist in modern science does not fully respond to the explanation of “nationalism” meaning and each of these theories may be appropriate only for a definite society and historical period.

Anderson’s Imagined Communities – Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism had introduced a very interesting theory about the origins of nationalism, which was based, according to the author, in the decline of religion and decline of its dominance over the minds of the whole European civilization. Before the sense of national identity appeared in Europe, there existed “great religiously imagined communities” of Roman Catholics or “community of God’s children”. Moreover, religion official language, which was Latin was creating a formidable background for the dominance of this concept. Anderson sees the origins of capitalist decline in the spread of capitalist relations, gains of Renaissance epoch in public thought, and Great Geographical discoveries. These events had revolutionary impacted the development of Europeans’ consciousness as they became more mercantile, more practical and pragmatic people. They even demanded the change in the religion dogmas, which resulted in Reformation.

A set of these changes had impacted the development of common values typical to the certain group of people, who inhabited certain territories. These peoples began to differentiate by culture, clothes, language and ethnic traits of temper. The spread of printing books, after the invention of printing press by Johan Guttenberg, had firmed particularities in ethnic diversity of Europeans, as education and especially education through books was promoting “national culture values”. Books printed in vernacular had a greater life power than those printed in Latin, language of religion and mystery. It brought to the growing feeling of national identity and spread of nationalism premises.

According to Anderson’s concept the spread of nationalism was impacted by the development of capitalist relations, spread of print, spread of Humanism ideas and decline of religion.

Still, as it had been mentioned above, one particular theory about origins of nationalism cannot be applied to a diversity of societies, especially to societies, which were parts of colonial system up to the middle of the twentieth century. Partha Chatterjee in his study The Nation and its Fragments describes the origins of nationalist movement in the countries of Asia and Africa and makes evidence against Anderson’s arguments about the premises of nationalism in Europe. In difference to Europe, Asian and African nationalism was based on movement against colonialism and sense of identity of people against European oppressors. It had nearly nothing to do with modernity expansion, spread of education and decline of religion. In Asia and Africa nationalism development was prompted by national and religious consciousness and sense of identity primary according to religious and other ethnic traits than in Europe The nationalism of the third world consists of two forms according to Chatterjee: material nationalism and spiritual nationalism and the last one establishes a balance and equilibrium in the consciousness of people, who use all gains and achievements of modern civilization.

If to continue the study of nationalism origins and its integration with concept of national culture, we should pay a close attention to the cultural side of the questions, and study cultural particularities and changes that took place during the establishment of nationalism and nations in the 19-20th centuries. Cultural side of nationalism and concept of national culture were those factors that contributed to the organization of nationalist beliefs within the nation and had cultivated spiritual background for the sense of national identity and nationalism that goes along with it. Eric Hobsbawn in The Invention of Tradition (Canto) gives a clear description of the history of nationalism foundation in Western Europe and African societies, referring to the spread of certain customs, traditions and values that had been reserved in future national stereotypes and national culture. What is reality surprising, is that most of them had appeared and introduced during the period of colonization of Africa and Asia and establishment of the world colonial order. Those values and traditions are not older than works of Byron or Walter Scott and do not have a long history which goes all the way back to Middle centuries, to social formations that turned into nations several centuries later. Moreover, Hobsbawn states that newly established traditions had the purpose of being used in political and social manipulation mostly on colonial territories.

Etienne Bilibar and Wallerstein had made an epic and all covering research about social, national and economic contradictions that exist in modern world due to the established world economical system lead by the most developed capitalist states. This work may be considered to be a modernized version of Marx’s Das Capital, adjusted to the realities of the modern world.

The concept of race, nation and national identity is has a lot of correlations with world economy, because inner logics of capitals prompts it on further expansion. The center and peripheries of this economical system are always in dynamics, as spheres of economical interests redistribute in time, the only thing remains constant are class antagonism resulted by capitalism. Balibar mentions that ‘ historical states are instituted communities of interests and passions,’ but these passions are politically organized, and ‘therefore imply a principle of closure, if not exclusion’ (212).

States that keep the domination role in the world economy and those who are submitted to the interests of the leaders have different ideologies and policies within the country. Inner unity and independence of third world countries is always questioned as they, unsatisfied by the position in world hierarchy of economy are eager to change it for better and it often brings to the reign of nationalist ideologies within that state. Balibar aggress with Chatterjee who describers the nature of many local conflicts based on nationalism: “By the 1970s, nationalism had become a matter of ethnic politics – the reason why people in the Third world killed each other…”( Chatterjee 4)

Centered states (developed capitalist powers) are mostly free from ideologies similar to nationalism, and they afford social luxuries such as liberal democracy, because they do not have a problem of changing their status in world’s hierarchy. These authors explain the phenomenon of racism using nearly the same economical perspective, as to the point of Balibar, racism is inscribed into the logics of capitalism, and is caused by its polarization: concentration of wealth on one pole and poverty on the other; the dominance of one nation over the other. It’s the harsh realities of modern world, so even there was nothing like racism, people would make one. Contrary to Anderson who states that “the cultural products of nationalism” that “show [the love of nations] in thousands of different forms and styles” (141), Etienne Balibar introduces another point of view stating that imagined communities (nations), are “fictive ethnicities” which form a nation by mutual feeling of superiority and racism towards oppressed. So by the opinion of Balibar, nations are locatable sites characterized by cultural resistance from the one side and by existing hegemonic domination from the other.

Making a conclusion it’s important to outline the historical period of nationalism -19th and 20th century, the epoch of establishment of the world economical system. The development of bourgeois society, of local ethnic elite resulted the spread of nationalist ideas based on mutual heritage, historical, lingual and cultural identity. Scientists who had explored the origins of nationalism through different prisms, have come to the mutual agreement that nationalism is a logical culmination of social development on the current stage of progress characterized by a set of economical and political changes within particular country. The main purpose of modern statecraft has to be not to let racist and chauvinist ideas dominate over cultural nationalism, as they have the danger to turn into conflicts and massacre.

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