What is Nationalism?
The term “nationalism” is generally used to describe two phenomena: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination. (1) raises questions about the concept of nation (or national identity), which is often defined in terms of common origin, ethnicity, or cultural ties, and while an individual’s membership in a nation is often regarded as involuntary, it is sometimes regarded as voluntary. (2) raises questions about whether self-determination must be understood as involving having full statehood with complete authority over domestic and international affairs, or whether something less is required.
It is traditional, therefore, to distinguish nations from states — whereas a nation often consists of an ethnic or cultural community, a state is a political entity with a high degree of sovereignty. While many states are nations in some sense, there are many nations which are not fully sovereign states. As an example, the Native American Iroquois constitute a nation but not a state, since they do not possess the requisite political authority over their internal or external affairs. If the members of the Iroquois nation were to strive to form a sovereign state in the effort to preserve their identity as a people, they would be exhibiting a state-focused nationalism.
There are four core debates which permeate the study of nations and nationalism. First among these is the question of how to define the terms "nation" and "nationalism." Second, scholars argue about when nations first appeared. Academics have suggested a variety of time frames, including (but not limited to!) the following:
* Nationalists argue that nations are timeless phenomena. When man climbed out of the primordial slime, he immediately set about creating nations.
* The next major school of thought is that of the perennialists who argue that nations have been around for a very long time, though they take different shapes at different points in history.
* While postmodernists and Marxists also play in the larger debates surrounding this topic, the modernization school is perhaps the most prevalent scholarly argument at the moment. These scholars see nations as entirely modern and constructed.
It should not be surprising that the third major debate centers on how nations and nationalism developed. If nations are naturally occurring, then there is little reason to explain the birth of nations. On the other hand, if one sees nations as constructed, then it is important to be able to explain why and how nations developed. Finally, many of the original "classic" texts on nationalism have focused on European nationalism at the expense of non-western experiences. This has sparked a debate about whether nationalism developed on its own in places like China, or whether it merely spread to non-western countries from Europe.