Exploring the Role of Nationalism in the Modern World
One of the most enduring political themes of the modern world is nationalism. It is the idea that people should belong to nations that reflect their culture, history, language, and religion.
Despite its widespread appeal, however, the concept of nationhood is far from simple. It is not only philosophically difficult but also politically thorny.
How Nations Are Made
A nation is a social category that provides people with a sense of belonging, and a means of regulating access to both material and symbolic resources. Nations have a central role in global politics, and a powerful influence on individual self-identification.
There are various ways in which nations are made, ranging from objectively defined factors to subjectively engendered ones. Guibernau (1996) defines a nation as ‘a human group conscious of forming a community, sharing a common culture, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule itself’.
However, this is a rather rigid definition of ‘nation-ness’, and it also excludes some non-state ‘nations’. A more interesting approach is to consider a series of possible elements that might signify a ‘nation’, including history and culture, language and religion. But if we adopt a more subjective approach to this question, it would seem that the most important thing is awareness of the fact that a ‘nation’ exists.
What Makes a Nation Strong
Among the many things that make a nation strong are its hard power (military, economic), its institutions and values, and its people. It also takes a lot of effort to build on that strength and achieve sustained competitive advantage.
The best way to do that is to create and upgrade specialized factors. That means a world-class educational system, research facilities, and infrastructure, including state of the art facilities for developing and testing products, processes, and materials.
But the most important factor is not a piece of machinery or an advanced technology, but rather outstanding human capital. This is where the most effective government initiatives in boosting a country’s economic performance should focus. In particular, the most effective policies will improve an economy’s ability to attract and retain outstanding talent and expand it into new industries and technologies. This requires political will and a willingness to invest in the long-term future of a nation. The most successful governments will be the ones that do it.
How Nations Are Broken
Nation-states were once hailed as a panacea, unifying people and governing their lives. But the globalisation of trade, technology, finance and communications, along with a new internet era of identity-free interconnectedness, have chipped away at that power.
Nations are not easy to fix. Changes to the structure of a government or its capacity to provide public goods, for example, take generations to implement. Citizens need decades to become fluent in a new language of communication, and voluntary associations that coalesce around political alliances need a decade or more to form.
This is why many politicians, including those in the US, scoff at the idea of radical reform to the nation-state system. They see it as a dead end, incapable of dealing with the future challenges.
What Can Be Done About It
Nationalism is not inherently bad, and it can be a tool for positive change. However, it does have negative effects that can undermine the common good and erode societal stability.
While many scholars believe that nationalism is a natural part of a democratic political system, it can also be used to promote extreme, violent, and discriminatory policies. In fact, nationalism has fueled some of the most horrific atrocities in human history, including genocide and ethnic cleansing.
It is therefore important to examine how nationalism plays a role in modern politics and society. It is also essential to understand how it can be changed or prevented from causing harm.
Nationalism has been a central part of the global political landscape since the 17th century. In that period, nationalism was thought to be compatible with cosmopolitan convictions and a general love of humankind.