If we were to take a quick poll of what people commonly understand by the term nationalism we are likely to get responses which talk about patriotism, national flags, sacrificing for the country, and the like.

The Republic Day parade in Delhi is a striking symbol of Indian nationalism and it brings out the sense of power, strength, as well as diversity which many associate with the Indian nation.

Nationalism plays an important role in world affairs

  • During the last two centuries or more, nationalism has emerged as one of the most compelling of political creeds which has helped to shape history.
  • It has inspired intense loyalties as well as deep hatreds.
  • It has united people as well as divided them, helped to liberate them from oppressive rule as well as been the cause of conflict and bitterness and wars.
  • It has been a factor in the break up of empires and states.
  • Nationalist struggles have contributed to the drawing and redrawing of the boundaries of states and empires.
  • At present a large part of the world is divided into different nation-states although the process of re-ordering of state boundaries has not come to an end and separatist struggles within existing states are common.

Nationalism has passed through many phases

  • For instance, in the nineteenth century Europe, it led to the unification of a number of small kingdoms into larger nation-states.
  • The present day German and Italian states were formed through such a process of unification and consolidation.
  • A large number of new states were also founded in Latin America.
  • Along with the consolidation of state boundaries, local dialects and local loyalties were also gradually consolidated into state loyalties and common languages.
  • The people of the new states acquired a new political identity which was based on membership of the nation-state.

Nationalism also accompanied and contributed to the break up of large empires

  • the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires in the early twentieth century in Europe;
  • the break up of the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese empires in Asia and Africa;
  • The struggle for freedom from colonial rule by India and other former colonies were nationalist struggles, inspired by the desire to establish nation-states which would be independent of foreign control.

The process of redrawing state boundaries continues to take place

  • Since 1960, even apparently stable nation-states have been confronted by nationalist demands put forward by groups or regions and these may include demands for separate statehood.
  • Today, in many parts of the world we witness nationalist struggles that threaten to divide existing states. Such separatist movements have developed among the Quebecois in Canada, the Basques in northern Spain, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, and the Tamils in Sri Lanka, among others.
  • The language of nationalism is also used by some groups in India.
  • Arab nationalism today may hope to unite Arab countries in a pan Arab union but separatist movements like the Basques or Kurds struggle to divide existing states.

Nationalism is a powerful force in the world even today. But it is more difficult to arrive at agreement regarding the definition of terms like nation or nationalism.

  • What is a nation?
  • Why do people form nations and to what do nations aspire?
  • Why are people ready to sacrifice and even die for their nation?
  • Why, and in what way, are claims to nationhood linked to claims to statehood?
  • Do nations have a right to statehood or national self-determination?
  • Can the claims of nationalism be met without conceding separate statehood?



Bibliography : NCERT – Political Theory


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