Theories of Nationalism


Nationalism can be defined as social-economical and political doctrine defined by supporting a nation’s engrossment with the purpose of upholding that government’s predominance. Nationalism holds that every government should be self-determined to govern itself without external interferences (Carlson-Rainer, 2018). Once a group of people who are collectively united by self-reflected force such as identity and can mobilize resources, then the nation becomes the only legitimate source of political sovereignty (Foster & Murphy, 2016). Nationality also aims at building a single identity which is based on social attributes such as culture, distinctive traditions, language and also politics which are shared in a single setting.

Generally, nationality seeks to support the nation’s traditions and all cultural revivals associated with its movements. It is connected to patriotism and encourages a nation to have pride in its achievements as ideology nationalism is considered modern. In the entire history, people had always had an attachment to their traditions, regional groups and also their homeland but, nationalism was never recognized until in the eighteenth century. There are three ways to understand the origins and purposes of nationalism. Primordialism which suggests that since nations exist naturally, then nationalism should be a natural occurrence (Ozkirimli, 2017). Ethno symbolism insists on the significance of traditions and myths in any nation’s development; it describes nationality to be a high evolutionary occurrence. Modernism suggests nationalism to be a current phenomenon, and it needs a social and economic constitution for a modern community to exist (Mass, 2017). Different variations of defining a nation lead to a contrasting shoreline of nationalism. It can mean national identification in a country should be on the basis of ethnicity, culture or religious groups.  Multi-nationality, on the other hand, equates to the fact that everyone has a right to exercise their right of national identification.

Theories in Nationalism

Theories of nationalism are mainly primordial and constructivism. Nationalism is solely defined in reference to the two theories. Primordialism defines nationalism as an embedded national identity. It holds that nations are ancient phenomena. Philosophically, primordial can be traced to the ideas German Romanticism, particularly in the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Johann Gottfried Herder (Carlson-Rainer, 2018). Herder argues that since language was closely related with thought and that language was learnt in the community, then each community should think differently. Primordial’s faced extensive criticism after the second world war where many scholars came about to treat nations as a community that is built by technologies and modern politics (Coakley, 2017). Concerning ethnicity, it argues that the main reason why nationality and ethnic groups exist is that there is a heritage of belief and actions towards a primordial object such as biological factors and especially territorial location (Hearn, 2006). This argument lies in kinship concept whereby, members of a particular ethnic group feel that they share specific characteristics, origins and in some cases blood relation. An excellent example of primordialism would be the 1994 genocide experienced in Rwanda which was led by the rivalry between two ethnic groups known as Hutu and Tutsi.

The constructivist’s theory, on the other hand, states that national identity is established in reference to historical occurrences and whereby nationalism is a method of finding replacements as a result of cultural concepts losses (Mass, 2017). Constructivism can be equated to three significant themes which state that a state plays a major and vital role in creating a sense of identity to its citizens, and this is what makes a nation. Also, that national contribution is as a result of loads of people being educated and gaining literacy. Lastly, the last theme is that new social tensions were created as a result of the emergence of industrial economies and they broke social tradition bonds which called for a need for national identity.

Types of Nationalism

For a long time in history, scholars have always differed on whether there is more than one type of nationalism. Nationalism can be presented as a state doctrine and can manifest itself in the line of an ethnic, cultural or religious path (Foster & Murphy, 2016). These individual definitions are the ones used to classify types on nationalism. The national movements can alternatively be classified in regards to their location and their scale. One thing that is evident is that in all kinds of nationalism, there is a common culture. This has led to some theorists arguing divergence in any form of nationalism is not true. They believe that such topology strives to curve relatively uncomplicated notion of nationalism and have a clear understanding of its many definitions. To argue this, altogether, these types of nationalism have all these years directed too many non-identical educational data.

Ethnic Nationalism

Just like the word itself, ethnic nationalism refers to a nation by ethnicity; it includes an element of ancestry from previous generations. It contains their ancestral language and all cultural ideas shared among these members of the group. Membership of such a nation is hereditary, and the political legitimacy is derived from the state’s status as a homeland of this ethnic group.



Civic Nationalism

It’s a type of nationalism in which a nation acquires its lawful political status through the active involvement of its citizens. To an extent, it is a representation of what the citizens want. Unlike ethnic nationalism, civic nationalism is exercised on the grounds of rationalism. Its public membership is also assumed to be non-compulsory, and its civic-national ideals affect the growth of a parliamentary government such as France and the US (Roshwald, 2015). This nationalism entails that the government is a nation to only those who are a part of maintaining and strengthening it. This nationalism also insists that the existence of every citizen is to contribute to the said objective.

Expansionism Nationalism

Expansionism nationalism is a dynamic and also rigorous type of nationalism that consolidates independent nationalistic point of view, without doubt of expansionism. The difference between expansionist nationalism and liberalistic nationalism is the fact that expansionist accepts chauvinism. These nations are therefore not thought to have a right to self-determination; instead, some countries are thought to have qualities that give them a higher ranking over the rest. Expansionist nationalism hence, advocates for the state’s rights to enlarge their borders without caring about the neighboring countries (Hechter, 2001).

Cultural Nationalism

As the name suggests, cultural nationalism defines a nation that is shared by culture. Membership in this nationalism is neither voluntary nor hereditary, yet a traditional culture can easily be incorporated into the lives of individuals especially if independent people are allowed to learn skills at an early age.

Revolutionary Nationalism

Revolutionary nationalism is a nationalism whose theory relies on ideas that insist on a national community which is shared by the purpose of destiny. It was initially attributed to advocates for thorough syndicalism and was heavily publicized by Benito Mussolini. Revolutionary nationalism can sometimes be identified with proletarian nationalism.

Postcolonial Nationalism

As a result of World War 2, there has been an increase in third world nationalism. These nationalisms commonly happen to the colonized nations. These nations are built at a furnace that requires the resistance of colonial determination as a survival tactic.

Diaspora nationalism

Diaspora nationalism is for long distance nationalism. Diaspora originated from the dispersal of people from their imagined ethnicity homeland as a result of war or famine. The difference between pan-nationalism and diaspora nationalism is the fact that those in diaspora are no longer residents in their ethnic homeland. People in diaspora often yearn to go back to their lost ethnic homelands even though that may never occur in the foreseeable future. That shared determination to return to their roots is the one that becomes their identity.



Pan-nationalism can be described as a blend of cultural nationalism and ethnic nationalism. The nation itself is a collection of ethnic groups and cultures that are closely related. Pan-nationalism can be applied when citizens are dispersed in a large area of several states.

Liberal Nationalism

Liberal nationalism is a type of nationalism that relates closely with the liberal freedom values, citizen’s rights, and their forbearance; Liberal nationalists are said to defend the importance of national identity to lead to meaningful lives (Willet, 2013).

Liberation Nationalism

This type of nationalism is dedicated to nations who feel that other nations are prosecuting their nations and for that reason, they are self-determined to liberate themselves from the accused liberators.

Issues related to the Study of Nationalism

Even though nationalism has been a topic of discussion for decades, it received clear recognition in the nineteen century (Mass, 2017). The study of nationalism is becoming harder by the day, and different universities are determined to study nationalism. There has been no conclusive evidence produced in the last 50years in regards to nationalism (Hearn, 2006). All this time, this discipline has been in between modern scientific facts and common sense theories. Defining issues related to nationalism has been done countless times leaving an array of different approaches with lack of harmony (Smith, 1969). The question of if it is possible to build an ultimate theory of nationalism remains. According to Michal Luczewski, it is crucial for scholars to create strong awareness in answering these critical questions on nationalism studies. The scholars should also produce great dealing. It is also imperative for them to ignore personal experiences and instead deal with reality. This can be achieved by using empirical evidence. He also suggests that starting consecutively from the micro level through to more general steps to achieving the macro levels.


Nationality can be an exhaustive discussion; however one may look at it. Different debates continue to evolve in regards to the nationalism debate. More attention should be incorporated in the daily to day activities of a nation to determine a clear definition of this field.




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