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The concept of nationalism is quite complicated, and many scholars still debate about it in academic circles. Nationalism has been defined differently by scholars who have developed various schools of thought about it. “Nationalism involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms” (Allan 13). It can also be explained as a unifying factor since it aims at uniting a group of people who share common social and cultural values. Many historians believe that nationalism began in the post-medieval period in Europe. According to Kohn, nationalism began in 1642, while Acton believes that it started developing during the partition of Poland in 1772. Kedourie contends that it began in 1806 in Berlin.
Many scholars believe that it originated during the French Revolution that took place in 1789. “This is because the French Revolution brought together the elements of nationalist ideas, which were brewing up throughout the previous two centuries” (Smith 56). Trevor Roper traces the origin of nationalism in Germany and Hungary. From these territories, it was spread to Eastern and Southern Europe by intelligentsias. The idea of nationalism, later on, spread to Asia and Africa. Nationalism became one of the major developments that took place during the 19th century. This paper seeks to discuss the importance of nationalist ideologies. “Ideology can be defined as a set of consensually shared believes and doctrines that provide the moral and intellectual basics for a political, economic, or social system” (Berger 72).
Importance of Nationalist Ideologies
The growing popularity of nationalist ideologies in the 19th century was as a result of the following factors. Nationalist ideologies made it possible for nations to interact peacefully and constructively with each other. In this case, nationalist ideologies were used in empowering nations to make better decisions on international issues. This was achieved by struggling for self-determination. The 19th century was also characterized by despotic regimes like Germany, which dominated international politics. This encouraged other territories to fight for self-governance. For example, the First World War was partly caused by the simmering arguments between different countries.
Nationalist ideologies were also important because they facilitated the formation of nations and states. Many scholars who support this argument perceive nationalism as an ideology. They perceive nationalism as a relationship that exists among people. During the 19t century, politicians used nationalist ideas to claim political power. Such politicians argued that the state would be governed by a few individuals, representing the people’s cultural and ethnic identities. This ideology always brought conflicts between the dominant and minority groups, especially in territories with mixed races, and different cultural practices. For example, the American civil war occurred between the blacks and the whites because they had different cultural beliefs.
Some communities remained stateless, but they were bonded by the common cultural practices that they shared. For example, the Kurds in the Middle East and the Zulu in South Africa had common identities. On the other hand, some countries with many ethnic groups were brought together by one political system. Nationalist ideologies facilitated the formation of centralized political systems as many people increasingly engaged in politics. This brought efficiency since despotic regimes could be ousted from power. Nationalist ideologies mainly facilitated the development of the nation-state. These ideologies encouraged various States to have more powers to manage the citizens effectively. Therefore, state laws became more effective and powerful. With the development of nationalist ideologies, the aristocracy was no longer recognized as the only sign of authority.
Many people were exposed to political knowledge as a result of the spread of nationalist ideologies. In the 18th century, many people were governed by aristocratic regimes which were very powerful and could not be questioned by their subjects. People were always expected to obey the rules set by the aristocratic regimes. However, the modern state demanded the participation of many people in politics. Several pressure groups emerged in the 19th century, and they forced their governments to carry out reforms. For example, in Britain, several laws were amended to widen the democratic space. This enabled many British citizens to participate in political activities. Many political parties were also formed in Germany after its unification in 1871. These political groups participated in politics and cultural activities. The German citizens encouraged their government to colonize other territories. This was implemented by Bismarck, who was serving as the German Chancellor (Hobsbawm 89).
The idea of common identity was spread to many nations after the French Revolution. Nationalists believed that cultural homogeneity would encourage nation-building. Minority groups were therefore expected to subscribe to the cultural practices of dominant groups. This was done with the aim of fostering national unity. National unity could be achieved through the assimilation of minority groups to the dominant ones. Nation-building was further promoted by cultural elites. Scholars were very important in facilitating the development of national language in countries like Germany and Italy.
Even though nationalism encouraged national unity, in some cases, it ended up being counterproductive. This is because sub-nationalism could always emerge in some countries which had many ethnic groups. When the minority groups were enlightened about nationalist ideologies, they also started forming their own identities; hence they fought for their own nationalism. Nationalism increasingly became common, especially towards the end of the 19th century, and it also led to the dissolution of large and strong empires. “The ruling elites of Austria, for example, were forced to make concessions to the Hungarian population group in 1867” (Berger and Lorenz, The contested nation: ethnicity, class, religion, and gender in nations histories 180).
The above discussion indicates that the need for democracy and cultural identity led to nationalist movements in the 19th century. Nationalist ideologies were very instrumental in shaping the development of various countries in the 19th century. French Revolution acted as a source of inspiration for many people who faced political oppression from the dictatorial regimes. The media and the elites’ role was crucial in spreading the nationalist ideologies in various territories. For example, “the French ideologies, equality, liberty, and fraternity, were commonly used by many people when they were fighting for reforms in their countries” (Allan 56).
The spread of nationalism did not stop at the end of the 19th century, but it continued even in the 20th century. Nationalism is also one of the factors that led to the colonization of Africa. Many African countries fought for self-determination after the Second World War, and they mainly used the nationalist ideologies. Nationalism is still being practised even at present. For example, a wave of nationalism recently emerged in Arab countries such: as Egypt Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya. These revolutions demonstrate that despotic regimes still exist, and many people are still fighting for nationalism even after achieving independence. Nationalism, therefore, remains one of the greatest developments that started in the 19th century.
Allan, Bayly. The birth of modern of modern world 1780-1914: global connections and comparisons. Malden: Blackwell, 2004.
Berger, Stefan. A companion to ninetenth cetury Europe: 1789-1914. Malden: Blackwell, 2006.
Berger, Stefan and Chris Lorenz. The contested nation: ethnicity, class, religion, and gender in nations histories. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Hobsbawm, Eric. Nations and nationalism since 1780: programme, myth, reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
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Smith, Antony. Nationalism: theory, ideology, history. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001.