Nationalism Essay

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Nationalism is a complex social phenomenon with the nation as its object. Rooted in the Latin natio, denoting community of birth, the term nationalisms seems to have been coined by Johann Gottfried Herder as a part of his Romantic celebration of cultural diversity. Nevertheless, modern nationalism has its ideological roots in both the Enlightenment and the Romantic reaction to it.

Definitions of “nationalism” as, indeed, of the “nation” vary. Anthony D. Smith’s (1986) definition of nationalism is probably the most inclusive. It describes it as an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining, first, political and economic autonomy (or independence) and citizenship rights; second, ethnocultural identity; and third, social unity, on behalf of a population which is deemed by some of its members to constitute a nation. Scholars have also identified different types of nationalism. Two typologies of nationalism have been particularly influential since World War II. Those of Hans Kohn and Carlton J. H. Hayes recognize the existence of different kinds of nationalism and reconcile the division between political and cultural theorists. Kohn (1961 [1944]) distinguished between ”west” and ”east” (of the Rhine) European nationalisms. Kohn’s two types of nationalism are now usually referred to as ”civic” and ”ethnic” nationalisms and are applicable outside European societies, to Asia and Africa, where they have been diffused. Civic nationalisms of the west European type are inspired by the political, democratic, rational, and classical values of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution: liberte, egalite, fraternite.

Ethnic nationalisms of the East European type are inspired by the traditionalism, mysticism, historicism, and folklorism of Romanticism. Hayes (1960) distinguished between ”political” and ”cultural” nationalisms. Political nationalism is when a cultural group or ”nationality” strives for a state of its own; cultural nationalism is when a nationality cherishes and extols its common language and traditions without political ends.


  1. Hayes, J.  H.   (1960) Nationalism: A Religion. Macmillan, New York.
  2. Kohn, H. (1961) [1944] The Idea of Nationalism. Collier-Macmillan, New York.
  3. Smith, A. D. (1986) The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Blackwell, Oxford.

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