Nationalism and the Modern State


Nationalism and the Modern State

Nationalism is a political movement designed to foster autonomy, unity and identity within an ethnically defined population. It often strives for the establishment of a state or the preservation of cultural life centered on this identity.

Classical nationalism emphasizes both a right to territorial sovereignty, as well as moral and legal obligations to obtain and preserve it. Liberal nationalists strive to uphold this linkage but in a much more flexible and sophisticated framework.


Nationalism is an ideology that strives to foster national identity by drawing upon shared social characteristics such as ethnicity, language, religion, politics (or government), and traditions. Additionally, it seeks to preserve and foster a nation’s traditional culture.

The modern state was born of the consolidation of political power during the early modern era. However, this process was slow and sometimes violent.

In the early centuries of modern history, monarchs sought to unify their subjects under one rule. They achieved this by weakening feudal nobles and uniting with newly emerging commercial classes.

During this period, many countries experienced the emergence of a strong sense of national identity. Nations became integral components of peoples’ social and political lives.

A modern state is a form of government that places its focus on centralized control over an identified territory. Through this power, they have the capacity to make decisions regarding economics, foreign policy, and domestic affairs with relative ease.


Nationalism is an ideology that exalts the identity and legitimacy of one nation over that of another, often with a negative tone.

In the 19th century, many nations experienced disintegration and fragmentation. But there was a push to restore unity by creating new state units – often referred to as nation-states – by creating national languages. While policies to restrict, replace, or abandon minority languages have become commonplace throughout history, creating national languages was a unifying force that served as a unifier.

The modern state is unique, characterized by centralized power and authority over a defined territory. Its purpose is not only to suppress but also to foster and promote the general good.


Many studies have been done to explore the influence of nationalism on modern states, from its rise in newly formed states to minority group struggles for statehood and sudden outbreaks of nativism and xenophobia in otherwise stable societies.

This literature has often taken the teleological view that national identity was created through macro-historical transformations. Recent scholarship has challenged these unilinear evolutionary accounts and highlighted the variety of polities formed in response to contextual variations.

Scholars have highlighted the significance of longue duree analysis or long-term perspective. This has enabled them to avoid making hasty generalizations about how nationalism began and its significance during different eras.


Historiographers, sociologists, and political scientists have long been fascinated by the rise of nationalism over two centuries, particularly its effects on established democracies.

Nationalists have often had problematic conceptions of statehood. They would typically be overly restrictive when defining what constitutes a nation.

Second, they typically focus on territorial claims. The predominant view is that any ethnonational group must have the right to self-government within their given area (Miller 2000; Meisels 2009).

Many scholars have challenged this view, asserting there are practical limits to the scope and effectiveness of territorial claims. For instance, Kolers (2009) contends that ethnic-linguistic homogeneity should not be used as the foundation for territorial rights.

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