Nationalism: European and Non-European

Nationalism is a strong sense of loyalty and devotion to one’s own nation, often characterized by a desire for its sovereignty and a shared cultural identity. It can manifest as a powerful force for unity or lead to conflicts when taken to extremes.

Nationalism: European and Non-European


Nationalism, a powerful concept deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, has played a pivotal role in shaping the course of nations. This ideology revolves around the promotion of a specific nation’s interests with a primary aim of gaining and maintaining national sovereignty. At its core, nationalism celebrates the idea of self-determination for each nation, working to establish a unified national identity rooted in shared cultural characteristics such as culture, ethnicity, geography, language, politics, religion, tradition, beliefs, and values, all bound by a singular historical narrative.

According to Ernest Gellner, “Nationalism is a political principle that holds that National and Political units should be congruent”. Basically it is the articulation of the nation’s desire for Autonomy, Unity and Identity of a unit called a Nation. Therefore, it refers to the self determination and self consciousness of people as a unified entity. 

According to Anthony D. Smith, “Nationalism is an ideological movement for the attainment or maintenance of Self Government”. Nationalism is the main spiritual and emotional force that is cementing all the elements of statehood in nation States and has facilitated popular allegiance, loyalty and legitimacy to state power, authority and actions.

For Toynbee , “Nationalism is the religion of the Modern States”. Therefore, it is an integral part of the thoughts and actions of the people of modern States. 

In this article, we delve into the elements and various types of nationalism, shedding light on this influential force that has shaped the modern world.

Types of Nationalism

Liberal Nationalism

Emerging in the 19th century, liberal nationalism holds that humanity is divided into different nation-states characterized by ultimate legal and political authority over an integrated territory, a specific economic system, and cultural homogeneity. It opposes foreign domination and advocates for self-government.

Aggressive Nationalism

Aggressive nationalism can transform into imperialism, driven by a fervent patriotism celebrating national glories and military victories. It prioritizes social cohesion, order, and stability, but does not necessarily advocate for universal self-determination.

Conservative Nationalism

Conservative nationalism is rooted in tradition and history, promoting the preservation of traditional institutions and ways of life. However, it can tend to foster intolerance.

Anti-Colonial Nationalism

Anti-colonial nationalism emerged as a result of resistance to colonial powers in Asia and Africa. It combines the desire for independence with the need for social transformation.

Sub-State Nationalism

Sub-state nationalism arises due to uneven resource distribution and development, leading economically and socially underdeveloped regions to embrace nationalist politics in the pursuit of a more equitable distribution of wealth.

European Nationalism 

Nationalism, the driving force that reshaped Europe over the centuries, played a pivotal role in the continent’s transformation. The European landscape bore witness to distinct manifestations of this ideology, each influenced by unique historical and societal contexts. In the context of European Nationalism , we explore the evolution focusing on the cases of England, France, and Germany. These three nations represent diverse models of nationalism, shedding light on the complex and multifaceted nature of this powerful force.

England: The Birth of Individualistic Civic Nationalism

The seeds of nationalism in England were sown in the 16th century as a response to the prevailing feudal order of the late 15th century. In medieval English society, inequality was considered natural and divinely ordained, making it seemingly unchangeable. This belief was entrenched, justified by divine order, and challenging God’s orders was unthinkable. An individual’s status was determined by their position in the social hierarchy, which was divided into nobility, clergy, and Toilers (New Aristocracy not based on birth).

However, a monumental shift occurred with the conclusion of the War of Roses in 1485, resulting in the rise of the Tudor dynasty. This war marked the decline of traditional feudal aristocrats, paving the way for a new aristocracy and an educated class. This emerging educated class altered the very fabric of English society. Birth was no longer the sole determinant of one’s status, and the ability to excel became the new criterion.

Moreover, a burgeoning class of traders contributed to this transformation, promoting upward mobility and distancing themselves from the divine order of the feudal era. This new mindset was termed “nationalism” in England, reflecting a redefined social order where the nation was collectively sovereign. This English nationalism was both individualistic and civic, and national identity was linked to new ideas of citizenship and community participation.

France: The Rise of Collectivistic Nationalism

In contrast to England, France’s historical context was characterized by the belief that the king represented God on Earth, blurring the lines between religion and politics. However, the 16th century brought about significant religious wars in France, contributing to the emergence of French identity as a political entity. The subjects of the French kingdom were bound by a hierarchical chain of officials, closely tied to the authority of the king and the state.

Over time, the subjects began to reinterpret the state as the “French state,” aligning the territory with the nation. This concept of the nation was influenced by English notions and remained synonymous with the nobility until the French Revolution of 1789. Following the revolution, the idea of the nation shifted to encompass all the people, represented by the elites who wielded political power. French nationalism became collectivist, characterized by the gap between the masses and their representatives. It adopted a civic nature, focusing on participation as a citizen rather than race or ethnicity.

Germany: Romantic Reaction to Enlightenment

German nationalism was spearheaded by the dissatisfied middle-class intellectuals who, despite their lower-class origins, enjoyed elevated status after acquiring university education. The Enlightenment movement’s promises and aspirations gave direction to these new intellectuals. However, the increasing number of intellectuals led to unemployment and poverty, triggering criticism against Enlightenment ideals.

This critique was termed “Romanticism” and was marked by discontent, ultimately leading to two revolutions – the French and the industrial revolutions. These movements rejected the idea of a well-ordered society and brought forth progressive ideas. Under the influence of Romantic philosophy, communities began identifying themselves as the only true communities, connected by language and blood ties or race. The concept of the nation was transformed into a national community, based on notions of race and language. German nationalism, like the French counterpart, emerged as a collective entity.

Cultural Nationalism: A Unique Perspective

Cultural nationalism, a distinct approach to nationalism, emphasizes group allegiance based on shared heritage encompassing language, history, literature, songs, religion, ideology, symbols, land, and monuments. This perspective prioritizes culture over race, ethnicity, or institutional statehood.

Johann Gottfried von Herder, a prominent figure in the development of cultural nationalism, believed that the nation transcends all other aspects of social differentiation. He championed the concept of “Volksgeist,” which represents the spirit of the people, and asserted that the cultural nation is the true basis of community and identity. Herder’s ideas countered the Enlightenment view of the political community as a social contract, advocating that language and cultural traditions are the ties that truly create a nation.

Overall, The evolution of nationalism in Europe has been a complex and transformative journey. England, France, and Germany each followed a unique path, adapting to their historical and social contexts. These diverse manifestations of nationalism highlight the intricate relationship between history, culture, and the concept of the nation. Understanding the roots of nationalism in these countries is essential for comprehending their contemporary identities and politics.

Non-European Nationalism: A Paradigm Shift

Benedict Anderson is renowned for his significant contributions to the discussion of non-European nationalism. He has provided a fresh perspective on the concept of the nation, emphasizing its role in fostering social solidarity and collective identity. He introduced the idea of the nation as an “imagined political community.” According to Anderson, the term “imagined” signifies that even in the smallest of nations, individuals may not be acquainted with or even aware of most of their fellow citizens. Nevertheless, in their minds, they all feel a sense of connection. However, this imagination is confined to the boundaries of the nation, forming a community. Even in the presence of inequalities and expectations among citizens, there is a profound connection within the nation. Nationalism takes on a dynamic form and remains open for future mobilization by future generations.

Anderson proposes that one of the crucial factors contributing to the development of imagined communities was the rise of “print capitalism”. The invention of the printing press enabled the mass production of books, newspapers, and other printed materials, which facilitated the spread of common languages and the dissemination of shared information. This, in turn, helped create a sense of unity among people who read the same materials and identified with the same linguistic and cultural markers.

Anderson presents three models of non-European nationalism:

  • Creole Nationalism: This emerged in Latin America, where imagined communities were created by earlier settlers. Creole communities, made up of individuals of various ethnic backgrounds, often played a crucial role in the early stages of nation-building. They acted as intermediaries between the colonizers and the colonized, and their mixing of cultures and languages contributed to the development of new national identities. Anderson explores the influence of “creole pioneers,” intellectuals from colonial territories, in shaping national identity during colonial times. These pioneers, who bridged European and indigenous cultures, used writings and print media to express ideas of equality and self-determination, fostering a shared identity among diverse colonial populations.
  • Linguistic Nationalism: Found in Europe, this concept was based on the idea of the nation-state. Anderson talks about how language and nationalism are connected. He says that groups of people who speak the same language, even if they live in different places, help create a feeling of togetherness. Shared language, especially through printing, lets people read and connect, making them feel part of a bigger community beyond where they live. This language unity forms the basis of nationalism.
  • Nationalism through the imposition of cultural homogeneity and National struggles.

According to Anderson, these forms of nationalism were adaptable for colonial people to express as per their requirements. They played a pivotal role in shaping anti-colonial awareness, especially with the assistance of bilingual intellectuals produced through colonial education. 

These intellectuals comprehended and interpreted the experiences of the masses, which ultimately contributed to the downfall of colonial rule. 

Colonial rule had been a challenging historical experience for the people of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Consequently, when nationalism began to develop in colonial societies, it tended to be anti-colonial and stemmed from the solidarities of earlier groups. The initial nationalist movements in these colonies were often led by elites who shared the same language and religion as the ruling colonial powers they were challenging. As these ideas gained traction, the concept of a nation transitioned into a more cosmopolitan context, leading to a global anti-colonial struggle against European thought and politics.


In conclusion, the examination of nationalism in both European contexts, including France, England, and Germany, and non-European perspectives as presented in Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities,” sheds light on the multifaceted and influential nature of this concept. These case studies demonstrate that nationalism is a dynamic force with significant historical and social implications.

In Europe, the journey of nationalism within France, England, and Germany reveals the intricate interplay of historical, cultural, and political factors in shaping national identities. It has both unified and divided these nations, driving them to assert their distinctiveness in various ways throughout history.

Benedict Anderson’s work, “Imagined Communities,” offers a global perspective by highlighting the impact of nationalism in non-European regions and its role in the post-colonial world. It underscores the idea that nations are not natural entities but rather social constructs, emphasizing the power of collective imagination in shaping identities.

In sum, the study of nationalism in these diverse contexts underscores the profound influence of national identity, historical narratives, and the concept of imagined communities in shaping our world. These examples remind us that the legacy of nationalism continues to influence the trajectory of nations and global history in complex and often unforeseen ways.

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