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Role of Nationalism in Developed Democracies Research Paper


Nationalism and democracy are two political concepts that are incompatible in theory, but they are closely related. Conceptually, the concepts are contradictory because they are based on different principles. While nationalism is based on the principle of exclusively, democracy is majorly reliant on inclusive principle whereby each group should be included in policy formulation. History shows that the two concepts have been applied successfully to realize better results in terms of socio-political and economic development. In this regard, democratic states are in need of the nation-state to perform well in the international arena. In fact, some scholars are of the view that democracy cannot exist without nationalism because a particular cultural homogeneity must exist for a political system to flourish. Therefore, it is true that shared national identity and cultural features play a critical role of fostering solidarity and trust among members of society.

Moreover, shared national goals give a sense of belonging to its members. For some scholars, nationalism can never coexist with democracy because nationalism calls for the exclusion of certain groups in resource distribution. Exclusivity is a threat to democracy because it denies some groups a chance to participate in development. Democracy is defined as a system of government that grants people political sovereignty meaning that the populace is allowed to exercise governmental power through representatives. Some analysts are of the view that the people include the entire population of the world while others observe that homogeneity is always considered when talking about the people. Based on this standpoint, cultural homogeneity (nationalism) is the prerequisite of democracy. Moreover, certain homogenous characteristics must be considered for a democracy to work.

Nationalism is a concept that applies in all societies, including the developed democracies, such as the United States and Britain. Miller (3) noted that nationalism in industrialized states plays a moral role because it encourages people to care for one another. The main function of democracy is to ensure equal participation, but it does not foster the sense of belonging, which is critical as far as nation building is concerned. The nation-state is made up of moral communities whose major responsibility is to realize the interests of the group. Through realization of group goals and objectives, an individual would have a chance to fulfil his or her interests.

Rationality is not needed for an individual to help a fellow citizen. In developed countries, such as the United States, huge organizations are seen supporting the poor through funding educational and health programs. This is a show of nationalism and patriotism because such organizations do not consider social corporate responsibility a loss. Haugaard (350) noted that nationalism relieves an individual of thinking about his or her security because the nation would definitely provide security. Giddens posited that modernity presents a number of challenges that makes it difficult for an individual to coexist peacefully. In other words, modernity increases reflexivity, which calls for social actors to establish a lasting logic of their behaviour.

The actions of individuals in the modern society are no longer determined by the family lineage, but instead they are influenced by their own choices. In some situations, events might overburden an individual, which calls for the intervention of the community. Therefore, nationalism plays the role of providing safety, something that Haugaard (350) referred to as an inherent being in the world. On the other hand, democracy demands that an individual be sovereign and should have the right of making decisions without necessarily consulting other people. This means that an individual stands on his own in modern society, unlike in the traditional society whereby an individual belonged to the community.

In industrialized societies, such as the United States and Japan, nationalism plays a critical role of allowing individuals to make rational decisions. However, an individual is faced with the danger of solitude and alienation in case the community does not intervene. The nation offers an individual a sense of belonging. Moreover, it liberates people from disaffection, loneliness and inscrutability. Based on this view, it is evident that nationalism enables solidity, which is a fundamental requirement of democracy.

Some scholars observe that nationalism in industrialized societies has assumed the role of religion because it brings people together. Tamir was of the view that people feel a sense of being when they belong to the national culture meaning that living in a nationalized community is of great value to individual development. Through national culture, an individual would be an independent self-governing actor. This would further enable him or her to contribute in decision-making. Tamir further noted that life in a recognizable cultural atmosphere is a requirement for making logical decisions and becoming independent (Tamir 434).

Ringmar (539) observed that nationalism brings about intimacy, which implies that individuals in the modern society are not only logical actors, but also interior individuals who aim at disclosing their identity in the public. It is true that people in developed democracies have nothing to hide because their public life is just like their private life. In other words, they are proud of their identities, as compared to individuals from developing countries, who might be unwilling to reveal their identities in public for fear of ridicule. Political leaders are evaluated based on their policies because people are concerned with the performance of their nation. Nations are compared to families because their members are morally connected, irrespective of the leadership. Political leaders an important role when it comes to dealing with crises hence they should be people of high integrity. They are expected to offer help to their co-citizens in the same way a family helps its members during a crisis.

Unfortunately, leaders do not have a moral responsibility towards members of other nationalities. Nations are also compared to clubs whereby selection committees play a role of ensuring that membership is attained by using certain systems. Numerical quotas and availability of materials determine the national membership status of people in developed democracies. Cultural boundaries are often drawn regarding the definition of the nation. Incidentally, citizens of any nation are always unwilling to allow anybody to be a member. People with shared aspirations, wishes, and interests are the only ones allowed to be members of a particular nation. Since the nation influences the life of an individual in a number of ways, people are always interested in the process of selecting leaders. Macedo (74) was of the view that nation-states make decisions that have adverse consequences to citizens hence the populace must always be consulted before allowing people to their culture of the nation.

How Secessionist Movements Convince their Followers

Secessionist movements refer to a group of individuals or certain subunits that aim at separating from the larger political unit in which they initially belonged. Separatist groups are always in constant conflict with the main political unit mainly because of issues related to resource distribution and allocation. In Africa, the secessionist groups advocated for freedom since they perceived that colonialism never favoured their interests. In developed democracies, such as Canada, secessionism is associated with political parties and movements, which arose in early 1960s. The political parties and the social movements in Canada advocated for self-governance and sovereignty in early 1960s.

South Sudan is the latest country to be declared a sovereign state after a very long time of struggle. The leadership of South Sudan employed a number of strategies in order to convince the electorate to support its secessionist claims. In Canada, a secessionist group emerged in Nova Scotia shortly after Confederation mainly because of the unbearable economic conditions. However, the movement did not achieve its objectives, as it was defeated before it became strong. In late 1950s, a strong secessionist movement emerged in Canada in Quebec, as the country was undergoing socio-economic changes. The movement participated in elections and managed to garner only nine percent of the Quebec vote. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, secessionist movements intensified their campaigns in Quebec, with economic independence as their main priority. In 1976, the separatist group garnered forty-one percent of the Quebec vote and attained seventy-one seats. The group promised to consult the people of Quebec before holding a referendum to realize full independence. The separatist movement formed government and held a referendum in 1980 whereby it was defeated by sixty percent. The group retained power in 1981 and promised to delay its secessionist plans for four years.

In the subsequent elections, the group attained forty percent of the Quebec vote on the declaration of self-governance. The popularity of the separatist group went down in 1985, after several of its members defected to the opposition. In the late 1980s, the separatist group restored its lost glory by capturing the major seats and forming government, with promise of secession being its major agenda. In early 1990s, the group managed to garner over sixty-five percent of the Quebec vote on secession. In 1994, the popularity of the group went back to its initial status since only forty percent of the populace was in support of secession. The group became a national movement in 1993 when it convinced a section of the Canadian electorate to support its quest for independence. In 1995, the movement entered into negotiations with other regions to strategize on economic matters. Bouchard became the premier in the subsequent elections whereby he came up with economic reforms that would enable Quebec eliminate economic deficits.

At this time, secession was not the priority since the economy of the region was on its toes. The central government came up with various measures to silence the secessionist movements in Quebec. The country’s premier appointed experts to ensure that resistance in Quebec was eliminated. Stephen Dion was assigned the responsibility of dealing with the menace at Quebec. He drafted two major plans that he termed plan A and plan B. Plan A consisted of inducements that would encourage the secessionist groups to enter into agreements with the government while plan B was aimed at stopping the activities of the group through the courts. The court supported secessionist claims by declaring that the groups had the right to demand for sovereignty, as long as they followed the right procedures.

From the above analysis, it is eminent that secessionist groups employ a number of strategies to convince the electorate to vote for them. One of the major strategies is to prove to the electorate that their reasons for demanding sovereignty are valid. In Quebec, the movement proved to the electorate that their national share was not distributed adequately because all major resources were being channelled to other parts of the country. In terms of employment, the movement convinced the electorate that it would provide adequate jobs for the youths who lacked something to do. When it acquired power in Quebec, the movement performed very well. It provided job opportunities to the youths and women, as well as improving the economy. The voting system proved that the movement gained support from all quarters, including the trade unionists, professionals, such as teachers and administrators, and white-collar workers.

Regional/National Autonomy

National/regional autonomy refers to the arrangement whereby each ethnic group is allowed to manage the affairs that affect its people both politically and economically. In China, this form of autonomy is granted to each ethnic group in various regions. It allows each ethnic group to coexist peacefully for the purposes of development. The government of the People’s Republic of China recognizes the existence of fifty-six ethnic groups implying that China is made up of unified multi-ethnic groups. Ethnic groups vary greatly in terms of culture meaning that it would be difficult for them to coexist under common regulations. The Han ethnic group is the largest in China, constituting of an approximated ninety percent of the total population. The government came to the realization that it would be very difficult for the ethnic minorities to achieve their interests in case they were subjected to similar conditions. Each ethnic group was allowed to draft polices that affected its people, but the leadership had to adhere to the regulations of the national government. Regional governments are allowed to develop self-government organs, which encourages the exercise of autonomy (Beissinger 93). The policies enable equal representation whereby equality and unity are the most valued principles.

Regional/national autonomy is very different from full independence in a number of ways. Regional governments play a delegated role meaning that the central government must always approve their policies before implementation. On the other hand, governments operating with full independence have the capacity to determine their own destinies without necessarily consulting any other authority. For instance, the regional government cannot enter into agreements with a foreign power without involving the central government. A nation with full independence has the power of engaging other actors in the international system in matters related to foreign relations. A national/regional government cannot confer citizenship to an individual, unlike a government operating with full independence, which determines the nationality of an individual. Individuals from various communities of China are not identified with their regions, but instead they are all referred to as the Chinese. China is an independent state with full sovereignty that confers citizenship to an individual.

National autonomies cannot replace full independence because they exist in small groups that cannot give them any advantage regarding economic development. For development to occur, the population must exist. For the Chinese case, a single regional autonomous group referred to as Han has a population of over ninety percent while the fifty-five of the ethnic groups have only eight percent of the total population. In terms of development, the minorities would strain because production would be hampered. Internationally, small ethnic groups would not be recognized because they would not be having numbers, which is an important variable regarding trade and commerce. China is a respected country worldwide because it has an adequate population for the consumption of goods and production. Many organizations relocate to China because they are assured of reliable labour and market.

Democratic Institutions that Impede Nationalism

Studies show that aggressive nationalism is one of the major impediments of consolidating democracy. This was proved in post-communist states during the 1990s transition period. Nationalist rhetoric cannot be substituted with social and political reform. As earlier noted in the previous section of this paper, democracy and nationalism are theoretically incompatible because one of them advocates for inclusively while the other calls for exclusivity. The civil society is one of the democratic institutions that serve to impede nationalism. Nationalism aims at making a group of people effective by uniting them. In this regard, the major aim would be to develop some loyalty and supremacy.

However, the civil society demands that any nation opens up to criticism, which is a major threat to developing the sense of community. Many individuals view nationalism as a factor behind integration. However, it becomes irrelevant when it denies an individual the chance to participate effectively in nation building. Civil groups view this as an impediment to individual fulfilment hence they will always oppose any move by the state to instil the sense of nationhood to its people (Bartolini 21).

The civil society groups claim that jingoism results to ethnocentrism or bigotry, which is prejudiced or imperialistic. Xenophobia denies some groups an opportunity of joining hands with other groups in order to improve the standards of living. Democracy demands that people cooperate in all fronts in order to better life. Nationalism would simply seek territorial extension and political supremacy hence basic rights would not be observed. In all places that nationalism is advocated, there have been bloodshed and untold suffering. In developing regions, nationalism is perceived in narrow terms, which results to serious divisions and conflicts. However, it is supported in developed democracies because it is perceived in broader terms. Civil groups observe that nationalism should be perceived in terms of patriotism if it were to benefit anybody. However, this is usually not the case because political leaders interpret it in a way that would give them an advantage over their opponents (Banting 89).

The mass media is one of the democratic institutions that encourage greater moves toward independence. In Africa, the mass media played a critical role in forming nationalist movements that fought for independence and self-rule. After independence, the media has always fuelled ethnicity in the name of promoting patriotism. It labels certain groups by associating them with certain traits. This encourages various groups to work hard towards the realization of certain needs. In fact, some scholars are of the view that ethnicity is not a reality, but instead it is a creation of the media. The mass media has a tremendous influence on the life of an individual because it shapes the public opinion. In the modern society, people consume according to media adverts, which shows that the media has taken over the primary socializing role of the family. If the media advises an individual to be patriotic, an individual will work hard to be patriotic.

How Democracies Use Nationalism to Hold the Country Together

Many scholars are of the view that democracy can only flourish under delimited space, which means that nationalism is a prerequisite for democracy. It is factual that no democratic regimes have ever attempted to embrace the whole world, but instead they exist within an exclusivity of a nation-state. A democratic system functions well if its constitutive organs, which are the citizens, have faith with the system. In developed democracies, Almond and Verba (89) noted that citizens can identify themselves with a system affectively or would as well support it through evaluative believes. Research shows that people tend to believe in a system particularly when they are proud of their nation. Furthermore, the support that people give any political system is determined by the national identity meaning that individuals who are willing to identify themselves with a certain nationality would be ready to support the leadership as well. Conversely, support to a political system is very weak when the nation is highly polarized.

The European Union has been able to achieve its goals and interests because of the support it receives from member states. Members are always willing to identify themselves as Europeans because they are proud of the European nation. This is compared to the African Union, which has been facing various challenges because people are not willing to identify themselves as Africans. In other words, there is no African nation as compared to the European nation and the American nation. Some individuals in Africa identify themselves with Arabs while others associate themselves with Europeans. Nationalism is applied effectively in the developed world to enforce compliance whereby individuals are encouraged to drop their extreme claims for the sake of the nation. Through nationalism, the American nation has always reached certain conclusions regarding matters that affect the state. Therefore, nationalism has always been utilized in arriving at consensus in the developed democracies (Abizadeh 870). It is concluded from the above analysis that nationalism is not a challenge to democratic ideals.

Examples of Ethnic National Identities

The United States and France are the two modern democracies that serve as examples of ethnic national identities. The two countries share many things, including the idea that they both revolted against a kingly rule to come up with stable republics. They became the state-nations of considerable size based on self-government and regime, by forcing the kings to surrender power. They both embarked on massive involuntary transportation of Africans, who provided forced labour. After independence, some groups identified themselves with certain cultures in the United States, which were very different from those of others. This led to conflicts that sparked the American Civil War. Some ethnic groups felt that their culture was superior to that of any other group hence they had to be respected. However, other ethnic groups could not allow this to happen because they also valued their culture (Abizadeh 37). Through constitutional reforms, the ethnic conflicts were resolved, which allowed communities to coexist. Constitutional reforms have dampened the ethnic national identities of various groups in the United States.

Works Cited

Abizadeh, Arash. “Democratic Theory and Border Coercion: No Right to Unilaterally Control Your Own Borders.” Political Theory, 36.1 (2008): 37-65. Print.

Abizadeh, Arash. “On the Demos and Its Kin: Nationalism, Democracy, and the Boundary Problem.” American Political Science Review, 106.4 (2012): 867-882. Print.

Almond, Gabriel, and Verba, Sidney. The Civic Culture. Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. New Dehli: Sage Publications, 2009. Print.

Banting, Keith, and Kymlicka, Will. Multiculturalism and the Welfare State. Recognition and Redistribution in Contemporary Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Bartolini, Stefano. Restructuring Europe. Centre formation, system building, and political structuring between the nation state and the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Beissinger, Mark. “A New Look at Ethnicity and Democratization.” Journal of Democracy, 19.3 (2008): 85-97. Print.

Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990. Print.

Haugaard, Mark. Nationalism and Liberalism. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.

Macedo, Stephen. The Moral Dilemma in U.S. Immigration Policy: Open Borders versus Social Justice?” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Miller, David. Multiculturalism and the Welfare State: Theoretical Reflections. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Ringmar, Erik. “Nationalism: The Idiocy of Intimacy.” The British Journal of Sociology, 49.4 (1998): 534-549. Print.

Tamir, Yael. “The Enigma of Nationalism.” World Politics, 47.3 (1995): 418-440. Print.

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