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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Unit 5b: Other ideological traditions
Howard Williams
The Professor in International Politics at the Department of International Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth writes for BBC Parliament

St Georges Day celebrates the English nation
Nationalists believe that nations should govern themselves.

In order that this occurs they usually claim that state boundaries should coincide with ethnic, cultural or traditional boundaries.

They generally reserve for themselves the right to define in which sense these boundaries apply. A nation may define itself in a variety of ways not only by stating who is to be included but also (often more significantly) who is to be excluded.

There is no precise essence to a nation, however, a common territory, a common language, economic life, culture and psychological make-up all may play a significant role in allowing a nation to emerge.

Nationalism is one of the major political doctrines of modern times. As a political ideology it has been spectacularly successful, making a profound impression on the social, cultural and economic development of the world.
Louis XVI was menaced by the mob

The French revolution

A point at which its importance as a political doctrine became evident was at the time of the French Revolution.

One of the major acts of the National Assembly in France on assuming sovereign power was to issue a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens.

According to the third clause of this declaration: "The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any individual, nor any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it."

This clause associates the nation with the legitimate source of political authority and depicts it as the key focus of political loyalty. Nationalists seek self-determination not only for themselves as participating subjects but also for their nation through the state.

Language and the nationalism

Linguistic homogeneity plays an important part in nationalist doctrine. For romantic nationalists, like Herder, it forms the key link between individuals and their community. In his 1770 essay 'On the origins of language' Herder claims that, "no man lives for himself alone; he is knit into the texture of the whole.

He is only one link in the chain of generations, one cipher in the cumulative progression of his species". For Herder it is within a linguistic community that an individual first develops her personality.

From the moment of our birth we are heavily dependent on others for our survival and progress.

We communicate to survive, and it is through the family that this first takes place: "Parents accumulate experience not just for themselves but also in order to communicate their store of ideas to the offspring. By means of language", Herder explains, the nation and the individual merge into one another.

The infant, "is able to enter into communion with the way of thinking and feeling of his progenitors, to take part, as it were, in the workings of the ancestral mind."

The bond between an individual and her first language is a deep and emotional one. Through language a sense of identity with our kin is created which persists throughout life.

Herder was writing as a German speaker at a time when multi-lingual, multi-national dynasties dominated his part of Europe. Herder thought these dynasties were artificial formations that ought gradually to make way for a more natural order.

Romantic nationalists like Herder do not necessarily want to see political change occur from the bottom up through the people. Herder believed that rulers should themselves recognize the desirable, natural form of political organization.

This 'natural state' was "one nation, an extended family with one national character."

Modern nationalism

Modern political nationalism can be seen more clearly in the writings of the Italian nationalist Guiseppi Mazzini. Mazzini followed closely the principles of the French Revolution believing in self-determination expressed through representative government.

Your country is one and indivisible
Guiseppi Mazzini
He supported the extension of the franchise believing it would lead to the unification of Italy and its inclusion within the international community of states.

Mazzini, as a liberal humanist, thought that man's first duty was to humanity. But humanity he saw as too vast. Hence the nation is the essential mediator between the individual human being and humankind in general.

As a Christian Mazzini thought that God "divided humanity into distinct groups on the face of our globe, and thus planted the seeds of nations."

He claimed that if "bad governments have disfigured the design of God which you may see clearly marked the courses of the great rivers, by the lines of lofty mountains and by other geographical conditions."

The political arrangements of Europe had, in Mazzini's view, to be brought more in line with God's original intentions. The historically inherited map of Europe has to be remade.

Mazzini stresses that human individuality expresses itself only in community with others. He thinks that: "without country you have neither name, token, voice, nor rights no admission as brothers into the fellowship of peoples."

He says of his own Italian people who were without a state: "You are the bastards of humanity". Human freedom in general rests for Mazzini first and foremost upon the creation of your own state.

The nationalist cause has to take precedence over all other causes. To the Italians he says: "Do not be led away by the idea of improving your material condition without first solving the national question."

People have first to combine as nations to enjoy their full rights. This is also a prerequisite for a place in the international community.

The Italians must note that ,"before associating ourselves with the nations which compose humanity we must first exist as a nation." The common good can only be realized through our "own country".

Necessity of the nation state

National unity is both an ideal at which to aim and a reality that can be attained. Mazzini associates the nation with the common tongue that God has given a distinct people. This leads to an irredentist frame of mind.

"As the members of a family cannot rejoice at the common table if one of their members is far you should have no joy or repose as long as a portion of the territory upon which your language is spoken is separated from the Nation." National unity is a paramount political consideration.

For the nationalist it is wrong to regard the modern nation state as just a convenient form of government, simply a tried and tested arrangement that gives us the rule of law. It is far more than that.

For Mazzini, "a country is a fellowship of free and equal men bound together in a brotherly concord of labour towards a single end." A country is not simply where you happen to live and lead your life. It is "not an aggregation, it is an association".

Nationalism and other ideologies

The duty to your country comes before the demands of other political ideologies. Indeed, it is the basis for the success of any political ideology.

The goal of socialists to raise the living standards of the less well off by organizing and advancing the aims of the working class is a commendable one, but it has to be subordinated to the objective of national emancipation.

In stark contrast to
Giuseppe Mazzini
Mazzini's liberal nationalism many anti-colonial nationalists of the twentieth century have regarded nationalism as the most effective means of bringing socialism to their societies.

In order to remove what they have regarded as the oppressive burdens of western imperialism and to introduce a fair economic and social system they have sought to unify their own people to overthrow the colonial power.

Many of the new nations of the twentieth century owe their emergence to such movements.

This form of nationalism illustrates the chameleon like nature of the ideology. Although it is an ideology with a distinctive nature of its own it also lends itself to combination in various degrees with other political ideologies.

Although perhaps best at home with liberalism, nationalism can and has been combined with conservatism, socialism, communism, fascism and religious fundamentalism with remarkable and sometimes highly damaging effects.

Professor Howard Williams 2004
Department of International Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth


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