The term nationalism is difficult to define, and any universal definition would be incomplete and oversimplified. Certainly history, culture, language, race and religion are important in the building of nation-states but they are not necessarily essential or universally applicable; the unifying factors for a Swiss in Switzerland, and for a German in Germany, are quite different. Studying the events of recent history and the evolution of modern social organization is not possible without a study of nationalism.
This modern phenomenon has been evolving from its conception, in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. It has transformed and recently become, not so much an ideology, but an identify, as something you are rather than something you merely prescribe to or believe in. Modern nationalism is a movement based on exclusion and opposition, as compared to the ideology that once sought to include people and populations. Understanding this contemporaneous phenomenon, especially in one s own context, is synonymous with understanding the events of modern history and predicting the repercussions it will have in the future.
Taking into account merely the goals of the nationalist, nationalism can be loosely defined as the drive of individuals to move toward an autonomous political structure, where the soul of the state is conducive to the national identity of its collective members. It is the conscious decision and will of a nationalist to actively seek to create, and to only accept a nation-state. That is to say, where the identity of the state is complementary and favorable to the national character of its members, and where the state will actively defend the existence and importance of this group.A nationalist is far more concerned about collective action rather than individual preferences, more interested in the well-being and preservation of the state than the protection of individual freedoms and forms of expression.
He places the needs of the nation, (and these are certainly never static), over the particularities of its many members, and he often does this at the expense of other nationalities. This is why the term nationalism must be placed in a league of very potentially dangerous ideologies. The effect of nationalism has always been two-sided.On one side, there is the culmination of social and cultural attributes into a political structure, fueled by the romantic idea that one s destiny sits at the foot of self-preservation.
On the other, far more disturbing side, is the expansionist nature of nationalism, that seeks to put boundaries around people based on a specific set of criteria. Certainly every school of thought has its proponents along with its ugly face; modern nationalism however, seeks the destruction of one nation s right to exist for the creation of another and uses this as its primary doctrine.It is interesting to note here, the all or nothing character of nationalism. The nationalist Qu b cois, in Canada for example, will not merely be satisfied with pseudo-self-government, they will only accept complete political autonomy.
It is this attitude and this defiance of compromise coupled with patriotic fervor that creates modern nationalistic movements with potentially violent outcomes. An era of globalization has dawned.With the creation of the United Nations, and more recently the European Union, it would seem as though the interests of particular states have been forsaken for the interests of the world. These global players interests lie in pursuing economic considerations and preserving relative peace.
National movements within the particular states can often be realized with the support the global community, however it is often the global players themselves that determine whether some specific nations push for statehood merit their attention and/or support.For example, the Palestinian road to statehood is viewed by the international community as the plight of a captive peoples and their struggle to free themselves from the shackles of their rich neighboors. At the same time, even the utterance of a Hispanic national identity in the United States is viewed as a threat to international economic and social security, and it is labeled anti-liberal and irresponsible. In this modern international era, our attitudes toward nationalist movements are often superimposed on us by the interests of the global players.
In Canada today, our nationality is becoming increasingly defined as our opposition to immigrants. The idea of who we are not as opposed to who we are is generally favored, because here, who we are as private individuals, has very little to do with who our national identity. Our nationalist feelings and sentiments of being Canadian stem from our political citizenship versus our cultural traditions or history (Gerard Delany, 1996). Whereas, in a country like France or Mexico nationality is more defined by birthplace, language, race and culture rather than naturalization.
However, in a modern era where travel and relocation is feasible, even countries with traditionally strong links between nationality and statehood are now faced with the dilemma of many ill-fated questions: What defines us as a nation? and When does immigration threaten our national identity (if ever)? It should be noted again, that the term nationalism is in a state of perpetual change; it is used and applied whenever it suits the purpose of one group or another.The belief that every nation should have its own state, is a modern belief and the realization of this experiment has often had catastrophic historical results. There are no clear-cut boundaries and no definite parameters for the building of nation-states. It is our responsibility to look at cases of homeless nations with altruism and simple humanity and in doing so, we must then re-evaluate the validity of the system we have created: a system that chooses one from of oppression for another.
My country will exist in the absence of yours. However, with international groups, such as the E. U. , it seems clear that we are moving away from statehood nationalism and into an age of international cooperation, where security and stability are favored over appeasing the needs of special interest groups.
The current trend to identify ourselves with our nation, has perhaps reached its climax. Possibly we will be able to answer the unanswerable question, which has fueled human evolution, who are we? without looking to our nation-state.