Nationalism is... essentially sub-human and primitive in character, a deformity which no rational or civilised person would have anything to do . Discuss.

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‘Nationalism is... essentially sub-human and primitive in character, a deformity which no rational or civilised person would have anything to do” (Miller p. 5)

     Great controversy surrounds the subject of nationalism. Nationalism has for over two hundred years helped to shape and re-shape history in all parts of the world, but have also many times been the grounds of conflict, revolution and genocide. For some, the ideology can be seen as an irrational and reactionary creed that allows politicians to pursue war in the name of the nation. Paradoxically, it can also be a progressive and liberating force, offering the prospect of national unity or independence (Heywood 2007 pp. 115). The term nationalism has its origin in the French Revolution where it was first used to denote the energy and power of the everyday people that was used to overthrow the monarchy. This essay will look at different examples of nationalism, through both theory and evidence, in order to investigate whether nationalism is deemed to be primitive or civilised, thus considering the statement in Miller’s work.

     According to Oxford English dictionary, nationalism can be defined as a patriotic feeling, often to an excessive degree or an advocacy of political independence for a particular country. It has been contested whether nationalism is an ideology, doctrine or movement (White 2008). The ideology is based on the principle that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state outdo other personal or group interests, which can be seen when individuals go to war in order to fight for their country knowing it might be their last battle. As a doctrine, Heywood (2000 pp. 254) defines nationalism as “the belief that all nations are entitled to independent statehood, suggesting that the world should consist of a collection of nation-states”.  However, as an ideology, which Heywood describes as “a set of ideas that provide the basis for some kind of organised political action”, nationalism is portrayed as “the belief that the nation is the central principle of political organisation”. Nationalism can be divided into three categories; political, cultural and ethnical nationalism. Political nationalism take many forms, where Liberal nationalism assigns to the nation a moral status giving the nation the right to self-determination and claiming that all nations are equal, therefore the nation-state ideal is universally applicable. Conservative nationalism is more concerned with the promise of social cohesion and public order embodied in the sentiment of national patriotism.  Furthermore, expansionist nationalism is an aggressive and militaristic form sometimes associated with chauvinistic beliefs (Heywood 2000). Nazism is a good example of how nationalism has fulfilled Heywood’s definition; Hitler’s rapid rise and popularity among the German population, his ideas of expanding Germany and the extermination of Jews from the world were both the basis for political action and provided, amongst supporters, a desired future. Supporters of nationalism view the ideology as a means of enlarging freedom and defending democracy, since it is grounded in the idea of self-government. However, opponents of nationalism argue that it is implicit and sometimes explicitly oppressive, linked to intolerance, suspicion and conflict. We can see evidence of both claims, where nationalism has been rational or irrational, which will be explained later on (Heywood 2000 pp. 254-256). There are also those who argue that nationalism is not an ideology, for example Goodwin (1997), who claims that “nationalism appears to lack the encompassing quality which distinguishes an ideology from other, partial beliefs... it does not, for example, inform us about what kind of political system should be set up”. However, it must be acknowledged that nationalism, and all its effects, cannot be considered just a belief.

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     The statement used in Miller’s work of nationalism being sub-human and primitive, leading to irrational actions seem to be led by a fear of the right of the self-determination nationalistic movements strive for, and the willingness for nationalism to be seduced and used as a political tool of power. However, Miller overvalue this fear, looking only at some results of nationalism and overlooking nationalism as a tool for political independence and thought, that have formed the states, or nation-states, that we live in today. Nationalism can be seen as a driving force that takes its power from ...

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