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Concept of nationalism and its key elements

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1767 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The concepts of a nation in which individuals are left open the idea identifying with a territory calling it their identity gave way for the concept of nationalism. Nationalism in its context makes people conscious of the fact that they belong to a nation. This coupled with sentiments of security looking for advancement of the nation will enable visualise nationalism as the whole process of forming and maintaining nations or nation. [1] 

Like Marx and Engels agreed with the theory of ideology as a system of beliefs that falsely stimulates the awareness of workers under an economic system established on private ownership of capital, Nationalism employs the concept of nation to achieve its political objectives thus serving as a political ideology.

Whether nationalism depicts an ideology in the sense that it can be seen as a political movement or a collective sentiment of shared identity or a form of loyalty or attachment to the state or a process of nation-building or a set of symbols and myths expressed through a common language or a proactive sentiment and behaviour towards protecting and enhancing the nation’s cultural heritage, it still has its philosophies centred around the visual modalities of psychological impacts in a community to the end that the nation is believed to be the vault for supreme loyalty [2] .

Nation in this context is referred to as a “large social group integrated by a combination of various kinds of objective relationships which includes economic, political, linguistic, cultural, religious, geographical, historical, and their subjective reflection in collective consciousness” [3] 

In harmony with its own system of beliefs, Nationalism assumes that in an international pluralism perspective the world is naturally divided into different distinct existence called ‘nations’, each with its own indigenous right to exist, self-rule and be free from foreign encroachment. Although nationalism is perceived to lack political content rather encompasses national identity [4] it assumes that in light of politics being legally authorized, the nation is the ultimate source of political power for the person who rules it. It further supports that each nation has the right to determine it one’s own fate and to embark on its course of action without compulsion [5] . No wonder Breuilly referred to Nationalism as “political movements seeking or exercising state power and justifying such actions with nationalist arguments.” [6] 

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Taking a close look at how famous individuals define nationalism and comparing views, Handler, described “Nationalism in an anthropologic perspective as an ideology about individuated being. It is an ideology concerned with boundedness, continuity, and homogeneity encompassing diversity. It is an ideology in which social reality, conceived in terms of nationhood, is endowed with the reality of natural things” [7] while Breuilly from a historical perspective relates nationalism with political movements seeking or exercising state power. [8] 

Accepting that there are normative differences between nationalist movements does not put in plain words why nationalism has taken such different forms in different societies. Therefore approaching this from an analytical angle will better explain the issue through classifying these dissimilarities.

Beginning with the class of nationalism that absorbs or incorporates culturally distinctive territories in a given state, this State-building type of nationalism which emerged as a result of the premeditated efforts of key leaders who turned a multicultural population into a population of uniform culture is exemplified in the period between the sixteenth and twentieth century when the leaders of England and France attempted to promote the growth of homogeneity by causing populations with distinct cultures in the Celtic regions to assimilate to their own culture. But in as much as this type of nationalism tends to focus primarily on culture, the underlying principle is often motivated by the effects of economic geography on the controlling influence of the state. Conversely, key rulers of a certain culture can unify their country by expelling or exterminating populations of unfamiliar culture.

In order to understand the general inclusive concept of nationalism as an ideology, a system of assumptions and standards that warrants the term and gives it meaning needs to be examined. This is why Michael Freeden logically laid out various key elements of the core structure of nationalism which in turn assists in constructing ideas that argue about and deliberate on the ideology and its application. Topping the list is “the prioritisation of a particular group – the nation – as a key constituting and identifying framework for human beings and their practices”. Followed by, “a positive valorisation is assigned to one’s own nation, granting it specific claims over the conduct of its members”. Thirdly, “the desire to give politico-institutional expression to the first two core concepts”. Fourthly, “the space and time are considered to be crucial determinants of social identity” and lastly, “‘a sense of belonging and membership in which sentiment and emotion play an important role”. [9] 

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Taking a critical look at the first element of nationalism, notice that nation in this context does not need any particular format to be clearly expressed because it might be envisaged as an entity of the same kind or with different and diverse ethnic, religious, or political backgrounds. Yet, regardless of this imagination, the state of being a nation will always inhibit other modes of categorising the humanity of a particular nation. In light of the above, recognizing that liberal nationalism adopts the existence of entities with the sources of identity and illiberal nationalism incorporates other areas under nationality, therefore in a similar way, the outcome of these nationalist classifications may either be affected equally or given support, the possible ways of assigning political ‘community’ in different categories will be reached. In the Functional aspect of this classification, people often identify with functional rather than territorial groups. This was why Marx, applied his awareness of this belief when he said: “Workers of the world unite!” [10] , a request for workers all over to become unified against the unfair conditions they shared, irrespective of their nationalities.

While the second method is focused on religion which ascertains and sets off loyalties that hardly lean on territorial location or boundaries. In many cases a factor of time and uncontrollable conditions can dramatically change religion as well as gender and class. The third method revolves around regionally and globally.

Having looked at the first key element of the core structure of nationalism, let us examine the second element which explains a nation that identifies with a pluralistic community where members with different ethnic, religious, or political backgrounds exist has slim chances to establish or make certain broad principles or rules centred on its expectations on the behavioural attributes of its members. Conversely, a nation that identifies with a uniform type of homogenous culture has the tendency to control its members. While valorisation in this context includes all spheres of “loyalty demands” and “superiority claims” there is no definite vital link between racism and nationalism. And even though this statement clearly connected with the former parliamentary government of Europe, for instance, the victory of National Front Fascist, Jean-Marie Le Pen in becoming one of the final two candidates to settle a tied election by running for the French presidency in 2002, the reverse was the case for liberal classes of nationalism belonging to the era of colonies becoming independent from the country that used to control them. [11] 

Avner made a very important point concerning the forth element of nationalism that over the years, people give emotional attachment to their land [12] . For instance scenarios likened to Africans seeing themselves as sons of their motherland (nation). This depicts a broad view of the concept of nationalism which refers to its land boundaries, people living within the territory; history of people of the land as well as their culture and traditions usually makes people have a sense of belonging to the nation.


After minutely examining the various subjective explanations of the meaning of nationalism both in an ideological perspective and with reference to nation, it is obvious that nationalism is a multilateral and powerful political ideology. Despite the fact that there are normative differences between nationalist movements, in a conclusive way, the elements of nationalism that served in constructing ideas that argue about and deliberate on the ideology and its significance.


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