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Nationalism remains a powerful force that continues to influence human relations across the globe. Unfortunately, it is a critical issue that has not received as much attention as it deserves, especially after the end of the Second World War in 1945. This gap explains why sociologists and researchers are currently focusing on the subject in order to understand its role in the contemporary world. Using various examples from different periods, this paper explains why nationalism should be studied as both a liberating and enslaving force.
Nationalism as a Liberating and Enslaving Force
The word “nationalism” is defined as any form of devotion or loyalty to a given country (Bruenig, 2018). Its unique aspects include exalting one’s country above others, promoting its cultural practices, and strengthening national awareness. This means that the attributes of other cultures or nations are accorded only secondary importance or treated as irrelevant. Many politicians have used nationalism to drive their agendas or encourage their followers to embrace their leadership philosophies. Some have also gone further and confused it with the concept of patriotism. The discussion presented below describes how nationalism can liberate and at the same time enslave people.
Nationalism: A Liberating Force
Throughout the nineteenth century, European philosophers developed various concepts in an attempt to reorganize their respective societies. Liberal nationalism and Marxism are some of the ideas that became common during the time. One striking feature was that they both focused on the challenges affecting different European peoples, including exploitation and oppression. Many liberal nationalists were convinced that the right time had come to do away with every autocratic government (Tornimbeni, 2018).
In France, the people managed to overthrow an oppressive regime that made it impossible for them to lead satisfying lives. The French Revolution would eventually become a model for formulating contemporary laws and establishing freethinking democracies across the globe. Nationalism can therefore be viewed as a powerful liberating force.
After independence from the major colonial powers such as Germany, France, and Britain, many governments in Asia and Africa introduced democratic concepts to their people (Quimpo, 2016). The ideals of nationalism continued to reinforce evidence-based practices such as shared decision-making, democratic election of leaders, equal rights for minority groups, and promotion of balanced welfare policies. Such achievements made it possible for many people to lead fulfilling lives, pursue their potential, and live as free global citizens.
In the recent past, the upheavals associated with the Arab Spring of 2011 can be used to explain how nationalism can be a liberalizing force. Several Arab nations, including Libya and Egypt, experienced government transitions and regime changes within less than a decade (Wien, 2017). These occurrences came as a result of ideals that borrowed abundantly from the notions of Islamic nationalism. The people of these nations wanted to create or secure new regimes that would address their challenges and bring prosperity to their respective nations. Wien (2017) acknowledges that this kind of nationalism can be used as a powerful force for supporting the viability and sustainability of a country.
Another outstanding example is Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU). Many English academics argued that the EU was making it difficult for the United Kingdom to exist as a sovereign nation. According to Wien (2017), historical English nationalism had been affected by the EU, making it impossible for many citizens to pursue their ambitions as citizens of a sovereign country. The success of Brexit is therefore expected to maximize the autonomy and liberty of many English people and their respective businesses.
Quimpo (2016) argues that many societies across the globe have benefited from nationalistic tendencies. This is true because many countries have managed to use similar ideas to deal with various challenges such as exclusion and racism. Citizens guided by nationalistic concepts can come together to fight against radicalism, corruption, or oppression. Different forms of aggression also tend to decline with nationalism. These examples indicate that nationalism can be a powerful source of liberalization.
Nationalism: An Enslaving Force
Tornimbeni (2018) argues that nationalism is a double-edged sword that should not be taken lightly. Although the above contemporary examples indicate that nationalism can have a liberating effect, many scholars still believe that it can have a detrimental impact. Quimpo (2016) indicates that nationalism tends to bring people together based on their identities, religions, values, and ethnicities. Due to this, the citizens of many countries are focusing on the major challenges affecting them. Unfortunately, many case studies have revealed that nationalism can encourage people to devalue or oppress those who do not share similar features or ideologies. For example, the current problem of Islamophobia in the United States can be attributed to nationalism.
Many analysts have studied nationalism from a political perspective. While it has been found to encourage many citizens to fight for their liberties and rights, some scholars have presented its critical negative side. Negative aspects can persist since nationalism remains insensitive to tribal or religious differences (Quimpo, 2016). Although many people tend to be guided by nationalism whenever fighting for their rights, they eventually fail to consider the liberties of minorities living among them.
Kristof (2018) believes that contemporary constructs of nationalism have continued to support the importance of solidarity. This means that differences tend to emerge even when communities or citizens are pursuing a nationalistic objective. Quimpo (2016) adds that modern theories of nationalism have continued to encourage people to find where they belong based on parameters such as social class, gender, or age. The challenge of nationalism’s negative side is apparent in several other examples, including the predicament of unemployment and gender inequality. These problems affect many people around the globe.
In different parts of the world, the wave of nationalism has been observed to promote dictatorial tendencies. This is something that can be seen in many African nations such as Rwanda. Many political leaders in these nations use nationalistic ideas to garner support from their followers. However, the reality is that some people lead hopeless or troubled lives because they lack resources and jobs. In a country like North Korea, the force of nationalism has made it possible for its dictatorial leadership to thrive (Denney, 2016). This has created a nation full of enslaved citizens.
The problem of racism in different societies cannot be studied without examining the dangers of nationalism. In the United States, criminal investigations and court judgments have been found to affect many minority groups negatively. This is the case despite the fact that many people promote nationalistic values, including equality, freedom, and justice. This challenge continues to affect ever more individuals across the globe. Women and children also tend to be sidelined in the developing and developed worlds (Tornimbeni, 2018). They lack access to education or quality medical services despite the fact that their countries promote nationalistic concepts. This is a clear indication that nationalism is an ideology that is capable of promoting enslavement.
The above discussion has revealed that the proponents of nationalism should analyze it carefully since it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can empower citizens to fight oppression, misrule, or inequality. The people of Libya and Egypt have reaped the liberating benefits of nationalism. On the other hand, this force can promote oppressive practices such as gender inequality, autocracy, and slavery.
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Bruenig, E. (2018). Trump’s solution to America’s crisis: Nationalism. The Washington Post. Web.
Denney, S. (2016). North Korean nationalism: Lessons from Pyongyang. Sino NK. Web.
Kristof, N. (2018). What to read if you want to know more about North Korea. The New York Times. Web.
Quimpo, N. G. (2016). Mindanao: Nationalism, Jihadism and frustrated peace. Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs, 3(1), 1-26. Web.
Tornimbeni, C. (2018). Nationalism and internationalism in the liberation struggle in Mozambique: The role of the FRELIMO’s solidarity network in Italy. South African Historical Journal, 70(1), 194-214. Web.
Wien, P. (2017). Arab nationalism: The politics of history and culture in the modern Middle East. New York, NY: Routledge.