Elements Of Nationality


It is very difficult to define nationality in terms of its elements. It is a psychological concept or a subjective idea and therefore it is impossible to find out any common quality or definite interest, which is everywhere associated with nationality. We cannot say with certainty that this particular element makes for a separate nationality. We can at best list out some factors –

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Common Geography

People living in a common territory constitute one of the major elements of nationality. This is because such people are likely to develop a common culture. This is also the reason why the countries are called as motherland or fatherland.

We also see an identity of people with their country. Thus people of Denmark are called the Danes, France as the French, India as the Indians, America as the Americans and so on.

But this point should not be stretched too far. Common territory is not an absolutely essential element of nationality.

  • The Jews were scattered all over the world before the creation of Israel. They had no common territory, yet they constituted a strong nationality.
  • Similarly, the Poles were denied their homeland for a long time before 1919 but they were a nationality.

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Common Race

Common race denotes the idea that a people belonging to a particular nationality belong to one group or they have a social unity.

Some people suggest that purity of race makes a nationality. This is scientifically wrong. Today due to immigration and inter-caste marriages, purity of race has become almost an impossibility. Today this phenomenon has become a myth. But certainly the belief that one belongs to the same race, real or fictitious, has contributed to the idea of nationality.

The idea of a common race is also important because it strengthens common language, common traditions and common culture.

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Common Language

A common language is a medium of communication, which enables the people to express their ideas. It is the basis of all the other elements of nationality.

A common language not only means a common literature but also a common heritage of historical traditions. Common historical experiences and common traditions as reflected in the literature bind together members of a nationality by certain bonds.

A common language creates a cohesive society. Most of the European nations developed out of a common language as England from the English language, France from the French language or Spain from the Spanish language.

But this factor is not a necessary one. Today we find many bi-lingual or multilingual nationalities. Further, the English language is a global language which is spoken in all parts of the world and it cannot be associated only with England.

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Common Religion

Religion is also an important element of nationality. A common religion is a strong incentive to national feeling. England fought against the Spanish Armada largely due to her determination to defend Protestantism.

However this factor is also not a necessary one. In fact in modern times, nationalities tend to become multi-religious and under such circumstances religion is regarded as a private affair of individual and secularism prevails in the collective life.

Further religion cannot always be a cementing factor.

  • The two wings of Pakistan fell apart and Bangladesh was created despite the common religious affinity.
  • Religion, rather, works negatively as a divisive factor in the Indian Sub-Continent, when Pakistan came into existence due to the partition of India.

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Common Political Framework

The existence of a common political framework or a State, whether in the past or present, is another element of nationality. People living in a State are knit together through the laws. Living under one common state creates a sense of unity.

Various crises like wars further develop the feelings of patriotism. In fact the government also encourages this idea through various methods.

As Gilchrist aptly observes that “a nationality lives either because it has been a nation, with its own territory and State or, because it wishes to become a nation with its own territory and State.

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Economic Factor

The economic activities bring people closer. It has been argued that historically, nationality emerged as a result of fusion of various tribes and clans. One cannot think of nationality in a primitive society. The Marxists also believe that nationality emerged due to economic factors. According to them nationality had no place in a slave-owning or a feudal society and it emerged due to the emergence of capitalist mode of production. Undoubtedly economic factor is an important element of nationality. It is also an important factor in the maintenance of nationality. But on its own single-handedly, it cannot create a nationality.

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Common Subjugation

Common subjugation has been a dominant factor in the rise of national movements in the Afro-Asian countries. They were invaded by the various European imperialist powers. The feelings of nationality arose due to common subjugation as it created a feeling of oneness among the people. In India, a common Indian nationality arose due to the common colonial exploitation.

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Common Political Aspirations

The will to be a nation is regarded by some as the principal factor of nationality. Before the First World War, the Poles always wanted Poland. Similarly there were many minorities living in Europe, which desired a separate nationhood. In 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference, this was accepted in the principle of self-determination.

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While all the factors mentioned above help in the growth of nationality, none of them is absolutely essential. In fact nationality is a subjective sentiment which cannot be defined in terms of any objective factor. The presence or absence of any one or more of these factors does not imply the presence or absence of the spirit of nationality.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Political Science

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