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Importance of Nationalism

According to Stuart Hall (1992) both liberalism and Marxism led people to expect not the revival but the gradual disappearance of the nationalist passion. In Marxist theory classes not, nations would become the great historical actors while liberalism saw national differences being eroded by a global market in which trade linked all parts of the world. Many scholars have argued that there has been a resurgence of nationalism in recent decades. Individuals seem to identify more with their nation than with any other groups. Nationalism could be seen as being present in the new racism described by Gilroy. Nationalism was important in the collapse of the USSR with demands for independence for Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine contributing to the breakup of the country. In the former Yugoslavia, violent civil war raged as Croatians, Serbs and Muslims fought for territory. Benedict Anderson (1983) says that since World War II every successful revolution has defined itself in nationalist terms: the end of the era of nationalism so long prophesied is not remotely in sight. Nationalism is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time. He defined nation as an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because most members of even a small nation never meet one another or hear one another, yet they feel they all belong to one community. Whatever inequalities divide members of a nation it is always conceived as deep horizontal comradeship. It is limited in the sense that nations include some people who are regarded as belonging, while excluding others as outsiders. No nation claims to include the whole of humanity. It is sovereign because nationalism seeks or celebrates independence and self-government for a group of people. According to Anderson racism and nationalism are different concepts. Racism is based on dreams of eternal contamination. It sees groups of people as having fixed, biological characteristics. Nationalism on the other hand does not see individuals as inevitably belonging to a particular group of people. It is possible to become a member of a nation while it is not possible to become part of a race to which the individual did not originally belong. Most sociologists have not accepted Anderson’s view that racism and nationalism are quite different. Robert Miles (1989) argued that ideologies of racism and nationalism have a common historical origin. Racism was originally used to justify the exploitation of non-Europeans in various parts of the world. With the end of colonialism, the kind of racism that saw distinct biological groupings in humanity was to some extent replaced by nationalism in which individuals see their nation as superior to other nations. To Miles, racism and nationalism is similar because both claim the existence of a natural division of the world’s population into discrete groups which exist independently of class relations. People use both to justify beliefs that groups are superior to other groups. According to Miles the ideology of nationalism, unlike that of racism specifies a particular political objective and therefore a blueprint for political organization on a world scale. Although he disagrees with Anderson about the relationship between nationalism and racism, he agrees that nationalism is based upon a belief that a group of people should have a sovereign state. Thomas Hylland Eriksen examines the relationship between ethnicity and nationalism. To Eriksen nationalism and ethnicity are kindred concepts. Both are based upon the belief that a group of people is distinctive and has a shared culture. However, nationalism and ethnicity are different and the difference he identifies has a similar basis to the definitions of nationalism put forward by Anderson and Miles. He argues that a nationalist ideology is an ethnic ideology which demands a state on behalf of the ethnic group. Nationalism is sometimes used to try to unite diverse ethnic groups and is therefore stresses shared civil rights rather than shared cultural roots. Polyethnic states may emphasis universalistic moralities such as the rule of law to counter the particularistic morality of ethnic groups. In The Sociology of Nationalism (1998) David McCrone conducted a comprehensive review of sociological theories of nationalism. He found that no one theory can account for the diverse forms that nationalism takes but that several theories can contribute to an understanding of this phenomenon. He distinguishes between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism. In civic nationalism, nationalist sentiments are tied to belonging to a particular state. In USA many different ethnic groups share to some degree a sense of loyalty to the nation. It is their common citizenship that unites them rather than a common ethnic background. In other situations, nationalism focuses more on ethnicity than on citizenship. For Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia what unites these groups of people is a belief in a common ethnic origin.McCrone also distinguished between the nation and the state. Often, they are seen as one and the same thing as in the term nation state, but this is not always the case. The state is essentially a political and administrative unit, but people may feel a sense of national identity that does not coincide with political boundaries. There are examples in Western societies of stateless nations where groups in particular regions seek greater autonomy or independent states. These include Scotland in UK, Catalunya in Spain and Quebec in Canada. Stateless nations need not necessarily have a strong ethnic identity. According to McCrone, the relationships between state and nation, territory and ethnicity are complex consequently there can be no single theory of nationalism.

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