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On the concept of nationalism

July 7, 2011

When discussing nationalism, one must make a distinction between various aspects of the politicisation of identity. Nationalism is different from other modernist ideologies in the fact that the core of the nationalist ideology is based on the human being, not on the human thinking or on certain aspects of human society. Contrary to the opinions of many, nationalism is not just a means to promote another ideology, be it socialism, fascism, liberalism or other ideology. Contrary to liberalism and marxism, nationalism does not find its core embedded in certain social and/or economic changes in society.

A marxist ideology can only find fertile ground in a pre-industrial or industrial society where a proletarised working class finds itself at odds with a bourgeoisie which controls most of the industrial and financial means of a nation. Liberalism can in its turn only find followers when a nation outgrows the phase wherein a large part of the intellectual and financial elite no longer needs to occupy itself on a daily basis with survival and agriculture due to their influence in economical and financial matters. Summarising one can conclude that both ideologies, who find their revolutionary birth in the French Revolution, are dependent on certain social and economical changes in society.

Nationalism dates its roots back much further, but the seeds of nationalism only start blossomming in times of crisis. French nationalism came to being in times when most of Europe seemed to descend on revolutionary France, German nationalism was born in the French-occupied German lands. And when looking at modern nationalism on continental Europa (one must know that there are large difference between anglosaxon and continental nationalism) one can see that nationalism is manifesting itself again due to large communities of non-European immigrants. The need to stress one’s identity as a means of defence is one of the most important possible origins of a nationalist resurgence. It would however be wrong to class the experience of one’s identity through cultural means as a political or nationalist action. One can be a cultural conservative or traditionalist without being a nationalist. When expressing the love for one’s language one does not have to be a nationalist, being a poet for example does not make a nationalist. When I wrote earlier in this text that the roots of nationalism are deep entrenched in history I referred to the essence of the core of nationalist ideology: the nation. The nation is a combination of ethnic and cultural factors (the four S-factors of Riehl) and the imagined community (Anderson). I will be going into further detail about the concept of a nation and identity in following articles.

What does one make a nationalist when considering the previous thoughts on nationalism and identity? One must first see a difference between nationalisms. The imperialist state nationalism was born out of the French jacobites whereby the state defines the essence of the people. The nation in state nationalism encompasses all people(s) within the borders of the state and an imperialist policy for the good of the nation actually means that the state dominates other states and/or peoples for the good of the state. It is a nationalism which contradicts itself as it does not actually considers a people a nation. State nationalism is often a nationalism that denies the uniqueness of each people and wishes to nullify cultural differences to create an identity that is useable for manipulation by the state and/or the industrial and financial elite (although these two factors are often greatly intertwined, without giving up their own agenda or independence of action). One can consider the current effect of globalism on national identity to be largely similar to state nationalism. Opposite to this vision on nationalism stands popular nationalism.

One can easily confuse popular nationalism with a socialist view wherein popular refers to the masses which take the power, as the Libyan government of Khadaffi claims to have installed. Popular nationalism is a nationalism wherein the borders and policy are defined by the needs of the nation it needs to protect. It is an emancipatory nationalism wherein one strives to emancipate the nation as a whole, without denying the fact that people are not born completely equal or ever will be, and not seeks to be used by an elite to fulfill their own class agenda. Nationalism does not seek to erase all social, financial or economical differences as inequality between individuals is a natural concept. A popular nationalist however does seek to redistribute a certain part of the wealth and giving individuals a maximum amount of possibilities to develop his own skills and traits as part of the national community. It is this nationalism I will be referring to when talking about nationalism in future use.

Summarising one can conclude that nationalism is an emancipatory ideology wherein the nation as a whole is involved. It defies colonialism and imperialism, although it is not completely protectionist in its foreign policy. The geopolitical reality forces nations to find allies for the short and long term to advance the goal of popular nationalism: the survival of the own nation among the other nations without reaching for jingoistic/imperialistic means. Should the nation however come under attack and be subjected to military, colonial in military, ethnic, cultural or economic sense, pressure, the nation as a whole must rally to drive back these enemy forces. As the ancient Romans used as their creed: negotiation is only possible when there are no enemies within your borders.

In the next articles I will be delving deeper into the definition of a nation according to popular nationalist thinking and into the social and economic policy as seen through the looking glasses of popular nationalism.

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