Nationalism unites people of different classes and ideological perspectives and enhances same understanding of political, economical and social problems affecting them. Historically nationalism has been used for national building and spearheading revolutionary wars against oppressive rule. Religious, political and economic groups have used nationalism to unite and forge ahead with one spirit in achieving their goals. Leaders such as the famous Martin Luther King, Churchill and Roosevelt used nationalism as a weapon to unite their nations against enemies for the preservations of democratic principles. While nationalism has also been used to promote barbaric and horrible acts on other races, it has been used by dictators and powerful hungry politicians the likes of Hitler and Mussolini to silence opposition alliances and exclude other races from socio-economic benefits. Therefore from history nationalism can be seen a force for self-preservation, bravery and admiration or for retribution, subjugation, enslavement and discredit. This essay will critically analyse nationalism as an ideology.
Different Definitions of Nationalism and features
In the modern realm nationalism has been subjected to different definitions, just like any other ideology the definitions are a legion. Proponents from different fields have come up with different definitions; no actual definition can be classified as substantiative and fundamental in defining the term nationalism. According to Smith nationalism is defined as “a process of formation or growth of nations”, as a “sentiment or consciousness of belonging to a nation”, as a “language and symbolism of the nation”, as a social and political movement on behalf of a nation and lastly as a “doctrine or ideology of a nation” (2010: 5). The major question of nationalism is its viability to be classified as an ideology various proponents of ideologies view nationalism as lacking values and characteristics to be categorized as an ideology. According to Quayam (2004) despite nationalism quality, and the difficulties involved in defining it, the phenomenon still enjoys profound political and emotional legitimacy in modern society. Nationalism is embedded with its own features according to Alter (1989:70) these include consciousness to the uniqueness of a group, respect of ethic, linguistic or religious homogeneity; emphasizing of shared socio- cultural attitudes and memories.
Is nationalism an Ideology?
Although there are contending views on whether nationalism is an ideology or not, nationalism must evaluated and analysed to understand the weakness and merit of the ideology. According to Freeden (1998:749) in order of nationalism to be an ideology it has to be unique to itself alone and need to provide a comprehensive range of answers to the political questions that society generate. Nationalism has through historical context has not really provided the answers to political questions however it has been paramount in uniting people of different classes and ideological perspectives and enhances same understanding of political, economical and social problems affecting them. Freeden characterises nationalism as a thin centred ideology that “arbitrarily serves itself from wide ideational contexts by the deliberate removal and replacement of concepts” (1998: 750).
The very different conceptual arrangements of nationalism in transcending to the perceptions and needs of different communities according to Freeden makes the modern literature on nationalism to be full broadly dichotomous, distinctions between liberal, constructive, moderate, aggressive and integrative nationalisms (1998:751). In my own argument nationalism is a poor ideology which lacks characteristics such as those embedded in socialism and liberalism Freeden (1998:751) retaliates the same sentiments as its structure is incapable of providing its own solutions to questions of social injustice, distribution of resources and conflict management as other ideologies provide. In English dictionary most words that end with ‘ism’ are considered as ideologies but most of them lack substantial merits to be classified as ideologies.
Contending aspects of Nationalism
However although different contending views envisaged in the categorization of nationalism, nationalism is a broader political ideology that does bestow a picture of what happens in human societies. According to Alter (1989;5) nationalism can mean exploitation and emancipation these attributes make nationalism difficult to understand it justified expulsion of people in their homelands and justified territorial conquests. Nationalism has been used to amplify differences, promote generality and cause prejudiced thinking in nations according to Freeden “nationalism contain certain assumptions about a nation’s independent attributes and will be reluctant to accept the detachment of individuals from national aims though different degrees of holism may apply” (1998:753). Hence nationalism is paramount in creating a nation state that is driven by same strategic objectives and provides an umbrella in the country policies. However Freeden (1998:753) critics nationalism as it enforces homogeneous and holistic tendances which an individual is subservient to a monolithic set of values attached to national wills and purposes. This would imply that individuals can not display their opposition to the national policies that are embedded with nationalism synthesis according to Quayum (2004) “radical nationalism acts as opiate of the people, making them irrational and fanatical, blind to the senses of truth and justice, and willing to both kill and die for it, perpetuating a logic of “lunacy” and war, instead of a cycle of freedom and peace”.
Whilst a nation is pluralistic with different tribes, ethnic, religious and political institutions homogeneity imposed by nationalism alienates some groups and confine them to ideological perspectives not originally formulated by them. Quayum (2004) retaliates that Tagore saw “nationalism as a political and commercial union of a group of people, in which they congregate to maximise their profit, progress and power; it is “the organised self-interest of a people, where it is least human and least spiritual” Nationalism enables citizens within a state to benefit and maximize their returns due to enshrined goals formulated as a nation. Alter propounds that nationalism brings about national consciousness and creation of a state whose general modes are centralized, uniformity and efficiency (1989;22). However nationalism has its critic as an ideology as according to Quayum (2004) it is vulnerable to regressing into more natural social units of clan, tribe and race, or language and religious groups, it’s very formative process introduces a self-deconstructing logic in it.
The historical development of Nationalism in South Africa between the Afrikaners and the Africans were the same notions of race, ethnic ties, religions affiliation Mark and Trapido (1987:10) postulates the both types of Nationalism developed and were constructed out of older building blocks of language, ethnic ties and religions affiliation. The Dutch Reformed Church according to Mark and Trapido (1987:11) provided a forum for local politics because of British institution and the use of exclusion of the majority of Cape Dutch from public life while within the African nationalism Christian imagery and believes encouraged the popular consciousness vast number of African men and women in both towns and countryside the church provided the strategies of the survival in the harsh and heartless conditions of SA towns. Nationalism in this context can be used as a political forum that asserts unity of different racial groupings however Quayum (2004) elaborates that nationalism places the dominant group at the centre, pushing the minority population to the periphery.
Other scholars have criticised nationalism as a mere invention to create spheres of exploitation. Gellner observes that nationalism is an ‘invention,’ ‘fabrication’: “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist” (1993:169). The very inception of nationalism in the 18th and 19th century during industrial capitalism period has been question to it nature and purpose according Quayum (2004) as he quotes Tagore he retaliates that nationalism is only about organisation of politics and commerce, where human relationships are regulated, so that men can develop ideals of life in co-operation with one another but rather a political and commercial union of a group of people, in which they congregate to maximise their profit, progress and power; it is “the organised self-interest of a people, where it is least human and least spiritual”. However if nationalism is about organisation of politics and commerce the nation is bound to benefit from politics and commercial sectors that are moulded with ideological perspectives involving the population.
Nationalism has been used to justify horrible acts in the history of human kind, according to Quayum (2004) he quotes Tagore propounding that the fetish of nationalism can be a source of war, hatred and mutual suspicion between nations. Nationalism was the justification of Germany going to war with the rest of the world waging war against other nations for its self-fulfilment and self-aggrandisement. The unification of Germany was solely on the principles of nationalism. The Nazis and Adolf Hitler within their nationalism ideological perspectives of Christian nationalism influenced the Germany Nazis to participate in the holocaust and other horrible acts against the Jews. In Africa nationalism has been used to legitimize unelected leaders and governments that abuse power in the name of nationalism. Alter (1989:5) elaborates the nationalist interests were the driving forces of European colonialization of Asia, with colonies characterised with intolerance, inhumanity and violence. However nationalism was the sole responsible for the development of Africa Nationalism responsible for the spearheading the war against oppression and colonialization and ensuring an independent Africa.
Nationalism as an ideology has lacked that uniqueness to itself alone and to provide a comprehensive array of answers to the political questions that society generate. However nationalism has unified nations against their oppressors and enhances common understanding of a nation state goals and objectives neither good nor bad. Although there is high contestation of classifying nationalism as an ideology due to its lack of values and characteristics to be classified as an ideology , nationalism has been a unifying force of citizens in a nation and very fundamental in creation of a state. Nationalism provides a sense of identity and nationalistic pride on the citizens which are essential factors for nation state development.
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Smith A :2010 Nationalism 2nd edition, Revised and updated UK Polity Press
Marks, S and Trapido, S:1987 Introduction The Politics of Race, Class and Nationalism in the Twentieth Century SA London pp10-22 and pp36-62
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