Nationalism is a political, cultural, social and economic philosophy of promoting one’s own nation above all others. This philosophy is so complicated that it brings several interpretations, just like the word God does depending on one’s religion. As a result of its complexity, the word nationalism is oftentimes used with both positive and negative connotations.
A simple search on Google would prove that. According to the well-known Wikipedia, there are seven varieties of nationalism, some of which overlap:
- National purity which excludes groups that are generally not considered to be part of the nation.
- Civic nationalism which considers people of all backgrounds to be part of the nation as long as they consider themselves part of the nation.
- Ethnocentrism which is, as the word suggests, centered in a specific ethnic group. In other words, a nation is defined by ethnicity. According to this variety of nationalism, if person A and person B are of different ethnic backgrounds, they are representatives of two different nations, even if they are citizens of one and the same country. This ideology alienates people as we have seen the case is with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and other polyethnic countries and territories.
- Expansionist nationalism which advocates for the territorial expansion of a country for economic purposes.
- Left-wing nationalism which is conspiratory in nature. Such nationalism is formed as a result of the notion that one’s own nation is being persecuted by other nations for the purpose of terminating the nation’s existence. According to this ideology, such a persecution should be addressed with unity in order to liberate the nation from its perceived persecution. An example of left-wing nationalism is revolutionaries fighting for their nation’s liberty from a perceived enslaving or agressive nation on economic, territorial, cultural or other grounds.
- Territorial nationalism which advocates for the preservation of national identity regardless of whether the individial lives in their nation’s country or abroad.
- Ultra-nationalism which calls for an unquestioned allegiance to one’s nation.
What about this?
Grigor Velev, Ph. D. from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences wrote a book titled The Nationalism where he explained his theory on what nationalism is. In his book, he interpreted the Bulgarian history through his theoretical perspective on nationalism and ended up interpreting nationalism in the other Balkan states.
In my opinion, the book was an unsuccessful attempt to define nationalism except for its last quarter where the social scientist discussed more recent historic events. After all, the idea of nationalism in the Balkans doesn’t appear before the 19th century when there were national uprisings against the Ottoman Empire for the liberation of today’s countries in the region, except for Kosovo which is a different story.
Professor Velev divided nationalism in two categories: constructive nationalism and destructive nationalism.
Constructive nationalism resembles what Wikipedia calls civic nationalism but the subtheory adds components of the other six varieties. While it doesn’t deny globalization, it puts a little more emphasis of the national identity and national pride. For instance, it calls for respect toward, and pride with, one’s nation without hating other nations, while following the rule of national and international law. However, it also advocates for bringing back territories that are claimed to be belonging to a nation different from the country that currently possesses these territories. For example, according to Grigor Velev, the Bulgarian state should make sure that the Western Outlands, a term used in Bulgaria only where ethnic Bulgarians live, become part of Bulgaria’s territory.
Meanwhile, destructive nationalism is defined as one that contains xenophobia, racism, chauvinism and terrorism.
My theory on nationalism
While I like the idea of constructive nationalism, I deny its territorial claims clause. In a globalizing world where territories matter a lot less than before, nations should focus on more cooperation between each other so that both end up being better off. Here are the clauses that I view as genuine constructive nationalism:
respect for your country of birth
respect for other countries
respect for all peaceful religions, including for not practicing religion at all
respect for all peaceful cultures
respect for representatives of other countries meaning never judging them on their national, cultural or ethnic background but on their accomplishments and on their personalities
connection between your individual well-being and your country’s image’s well-being meaning that for every good that you do you improve your own and your country’s images and vice versa
be proud of what you have accomplished, not of what your country’s historic heroes or other representatives of your nation have accomplished, so that you consider yourself a decent representative of your nation
question all interpretations on history, including your nation’s
it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you consider yourself to represent but what your national identity is
However, for one reason or another, at least one of these clauses is violated by every form of modern nationalism. The most violated one is national pride. While national pride is a useful tool against a nation’s potential assimilation or annihilation, it has the potential of being used as populism and demagoguery. The best example of populism and demagoguery is Adolf Hitler’s propaganda. So beware of such a rhetoric.