Nationalism is essentially expansionist and destructive. Discuss.

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Catherine Robinson


Nationalism is essentially expansionist and destructive.  Discuss.

Nationalism can be considered both constructive and destructive; that is, it sometimes led to nation building as with Italy and Germany but also resulted in weakening existing political states such as those of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. By the mid-nineteenth century a spirit of nationalism was evident in previously fragmented areas of Europe. One culmination of nationalism was the unification of Germany and Italy. Another outcome of nationalism was divisiveness within existing empires.  Nationalism made history particularly in the 19th century, 'the golden age’ of nationalism, bringing about some of the greatest events. Belgium secured its independence, while in South and Central America, the colonies of Portugal and Spain declared their independence under the leadership of Simon Bolivar and Jose Martin. But the strongest sentiments of nationalism were roused by Western governments in the European colonies of the Ottoman Empire, tempting them into claiming independence.  However, these events were trivial as compared to the unprecedented expansion of imperialism in the Third World, and the political clashes and conflicts of Western governments. Therefore, in my opinion, history has shown that nationalism has been far more expansionist and destructive than liberating and constructive. British, French colonialist policies and aggressions, and the expansionism of Napoleon III and Bismarck, proved that the deceptive slogans of Western nationalism and liberalism were empty covers and excuses for enslaving oppressed nations.

Nationalism was not always expansionist and destructive however.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the greatest original advocates of Nationalism. He emphasised the unity, solidarity and the group spirit of the masses and insisted that one should have the highest attachment to one's home and country where one has been brought up. He believed the fatherland to be the core and centre of a person's and a group's love and loyalty.  The main fabric of the school of nationalism was laid by the French Revolution, where it was first put to practice.  However, with the rise of the Jacobins to power and the disasters which followed the Revolution, the evils of nationalism evinced themselves. For the Jacobins, nationalism became the means to toy with the masses, encourage mobilisation and aggression upon neighbouring countries, and justify expansionism, corruption, and suppression, showing that nationalistic sentiments always result in aggression and imperialism.  With the progressive influence of the French Revolution in the West, the concept of nationalism rapidly gained popularity leavening behind the notions of freedom and democracy. The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte quickened its pace in the West. His strong sense of nationalism laid the grounds for its expansionistic and aggressive policies, his wars and massacres had encouraged a spirit of domination in the French nation, and soon, other nations were contaminated with his nationalistic sentiments. In Germany and Italy, this spirit rose rapidly, and in the name of nationalism, horrible crimes were committed and a desperate fight for power was started. 

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Most nation-states, theoretically speaking, have an ultimate goal and they exist in order to achieve it. According to Walzer in 1983, that goal is to form and maintain one nation in one country; to bring all the members of a single national or ethnic group in a unified political structure.  All other citizens are members of minority groups, and they tend to be seen, and see themselves as outsiders. The politics of the nation-state at its linguistic, cultural, or religious dimensions is dominated by a single ethonational or 'ethnocultural' group.  Consequently, relations between the dominant group and the minority or ...

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