Nationalism is inherently expansionist and destructive - discuss
“Nationalism is inherently expansionist and destructive” – discuss
Nationalism has often been perceived as an expansionist and destructive ideology due to its somewhat self-centred nature. Unlike Socialism or Liberalism, which focus on what’s best for people generally (be it collectivism and co-operation or equality of opportunity and freedom), nationalism takes a more self-focused approach. The emphasis is on the situation of the nation itself as opposed to all of humankind. However the idea that this is expansionist and destructive is perception, the question of whether this is so in reality can only be judged by considering the forms of nationalism that have been evident in history. Whether in actuality nationalism is a force that encourages nations to behave in an expansionist and destructive manner (both towards other nations and to minorities within the nation itself) is largely dependent on the form of nationalism in question. The central themes of nationalism – belief in the nation, organic community, self-determination and identity – do not in themselves give a presentation of an expansionist and destructive ideology, merely one concerned with pride and preservation. However nationalism is an ideology that can be adapted to fit with various ways of thinking, from liberal to fascist. Within some varieties of nationalism, such as expansionist nationalism, the extreme interpretations of these core ideas can result in a dominating and destructive nationalistic feeling. However this is not representative of nationalism as a whole as most types of nationalism do not take such an aggressive approach.
Within Liberal nationalism there is little evidence of destructive and expansionist feelings. In contrast the focus of nineteenth century liberal nationalists on the concept of self-determination (freedom for nation-states) was liberating as it allowed individual nations to be seen not as the property of another nation but as having their own rights and freedoms. For example the liberal nationalist view allowed for the Italian states to remove the oppressive Austrian regime that controlled them and instead achieve desired unity. It can clearly be seen that liberal nationalism is in no way expansionist or destructive – there is no urge to claim or destroy another nation in order to assert ones own superiority. Liberal nationalism supports the idea of freedom for all nations, if a nation is free the individuals within it will be free also. This is evidently a positive concept rather than a destructive one. Furthermore liberals value toleration, meaning they accept each nation’s right to govern itself and therefore do not regard it as acceptable for one nation to infringe on another’s freedom. It could be argued that liberal nationalism, though not inherently expansionist or destructive, is largely irrelevant because it is most notably associated with the Enlightenment as opposed to more recent times and it is therefore unrepresentative of nationalism as a whole. However this is not the case as liberal nationalism has clearly been evident within the twentieth century. This can be seen in the growth of support for self-determination in Scotland in the latter half of the century, ultimately resulting in devolution of power. In addition the formation of the independent, liberal, democratic Czech Republic during the collapse of the Soviet Union shows indisputable strong liberal nationalist feelings. Liberal nationalism therefore remains a significant strand of nationalism and is neither expansionist nor destructive by nature, but instead respects and regards each individual nation.
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Cultural nationalism is another common form of nationalism that does not express expansionist destructive tendencies, indeed it even lacks the strength of self-determination evident in liberal nationalism. Instead it retains a clear sense of pride for the cultural factors that bind the nation together, for example language, art and history. This is apparent in Wales where there is a desire to preserve Welsh language, literature and history within social and educational contexts, yet maintain the political link with England. This type of nationalism is obviously not inherently expansionist and destructive as nations in which it is evident do not display a sense of supremacy or desire to force their culture on to others. The emphasis is on preservation of self-pride without hostility towards other nations and their cultures.
Conservative nationalism can be seen as more expansionist and destructive than either liberal or cultural nationalism. This is apparent within the conservative nationalist attitude towards immigration. Conservative nationalists such as the British National Party and the French Front National are hostile towards people of a different culture residing in a nation that they feel is characterised by tradition because those people are part of an altogether different tradition. The expectation is of conformity to support the same national values. This could be regarded as expansionist because there is desire to forcibly expand the nationalistic feelings onto individuals who do not welcome them. In turn this is destructive for individuals’ feelings of belonging and as a result to society as a whole. Whilst it is not necessarily expansionist and destructive towards other nations it expresses expansionist sentiments towards internal alternative cultures and is destructive towards the social balance within the nation itself. This can be seen in the hostile attitudes towards immigration of conservative nationalists such as Enoch Powell, who illustrated the feelings with his “rivers of blood” speech in the 1960s. However the destructive expansionist tendencies within conservative nationalism are minimal. They are limited to within the nation itself as opposed to attempting to force nationalistic values upon other nation-states. Furthermore the focus within conservative nationalism is not on being expansionist and destructive but instead on maintaining social cohesion and importance of tradition. If people are united by traditional elements, for example the monarchy in England, then they are less likely to support social revolution. Therefore conservative nationalism is not destructive but preservative, aiming to retain sources of pride within society. It focuses not on expanding and taking over other nations, but on being willing to defend ones own nation-state. Whilst conservative nationalism does appear inclined towards destructive expansionist feelings to a small extent this is not inherent. By nature conservative nationalism takes a more positive approach, emphasising pride for ones nation-state. It is only when this is taken to the extreme that negative destructive attitudes result.
The most expansionist and destructive variation of nationalism is (appropriately) expansionist nationalism. Expansionist nationalism is particularly characterised by its chauvinistic nature, i.e. the belief in the superiority of one nation over others. This was apparent in nineteenth century imperialist Europe as well as in the authoritarian regimes of Germany, Italy and Japan in the inter-war period of the twentieth century. In all of these cases the belief in national, cultural and racial superiority was almost inevitably destructive and expansionist as it led to the view that other nations were unimportant and it was therefore acceptable to take them over. This is clearly demonstrated in the case of Nazi Germany where expansionist national feelings led to the invasion of Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Rhineland and Poland. In this form it is difficult to regard nationalism as anything other than expansionist and destructive due to the willingness to expand into and destroy other nations and their cultures. It is for this that nationalism is most particularly remembered. However the values of expansionist nationalism cannot be regarded as inherent to nationalism as an entire ideology. Expansionist nationalism is part of an altogether different ideology – fascism. Fascists have altered the idea of nationalism, making it more expansionist and destructive to suit their own understanding of natural inferiority. The fact that this was not apparent in nationalism originally suggests that it is not inherent to the ideology. Whilst it can be argued that the development of the attitude has caused it to be a significant characteristic of nationalism, expansionist nationalism remains only a small part of the nationalist ideology. In addition it is markedly different to other forms of nationalism, suggesting that of all the varieties it is the least representative of the ideology in its entirety. It is impossible to dispute that expansionist nationalism is destructive and expansionist but this does not constitute nationalism as a whole. Expansionist nationalism is an exhibit of nationalist feelings being combined with fascist beliefs to produce an ideological extreme that the majority of nationalists would disregard.
Another strand of nationalism is that which developed in much of Asia and Africa – anti-colonial and post-colonial nationalism. To some extent this could be seen as destructive as it is in part characterised by a hatred of the West. An example of this is Iran where anti-Americanism has been prominent and the USA is nicknamed the ‘Great Satan’. Such an attitude is destructive in terms of relations between countries as, unlike liberal nationalism, there is hostility towards national differences as opposed to an acceptance of them. Furthermore in addition to this negative external focus there is evidence of an internal destructive approach within post-colonial nationalism. For example in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Angola it is seen as necessary to suppress tribal rivalries in order for the country as a whole to progress. However it is problematic to attempt to attribute certain characteristics to anti-colonial and post-colonial nationalism, as it has varied significantly between different countries. For example the focus in India was non-violent and tolerant. Though the country wanted to be regarded as separate from the British Empire there remained a respect for cultural differences, as Ghandi said “we must respect other religions, even as we respect our own”. The characteristic that links all forms of post and anti colonial nationalism is a desire for independence, the need to be recognised as distinct. This uniting value reflects the fact that nationalism is largely not a negative force but a celebration of pride for cultural differences and identifications, for example in post colonial China there was a revival of Confucianism, something specific to Chinese history. Whilst in can be regarded that there has been some evidence of destructive forces within post colonial nationalism, this is largely an attempt to rediscover identity (one of the fundamental principles of nationalism) after a long period of being suppressed. It is therefore temporary and not a major part of the nature of this form of nationalism, ultimately post-colonial and anti-colonial nationalism is characterised by a love of liberty, hence the support of independence. Furthermore even if it is argued that there is evidence that this form of nationalism is destructive it cannot be seen as expansionist as it is identified by its objection to the idea that nations can be considered superior. Therefore post-colonial and anti-colonial nationalism is certainly not by nature expansionist or destructive.
In conclusion nationalism is not inherently expansionist and destructive, though within certain forms of the ideology there is evidence of expansionist and destructive feelings. Destructive tendencies are more evident than expansionist desires as the suppression of cultural differences is evidence in more varieties of nationalism. However these do not form a significant part of nationalist ideology, as the focus is on the positive rather than the negative. This is evident in the core themes of nationalism. Furthermore it is questionable how destructive cultural suppression actually is, as it does not necessarily suggest an eradication of cultural differences. The ideas of expansionism are even less evident within the nature of the ideology, they merely occur in extreme applications of it. Whilst examples of this are notable and memorable they remain a marginal part of nationalism. Generally it is national self-pride not a belief in superiority that characterises nationalist ideology.