Nationalism is essentially expansionist and destructive. Discuss.
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 minorities, are all too often tense and conflict-ridden. Nationalism is constructive if it successfully assimilates all groups under one state without conflict, and is at peace with other nations, but nationalism is destructive if it discriminates and isolates groups, or is in conflict with other nations.
The two types of Nationalism can determine whether Nationalism is seen as constructive or destructive. State nationalism is based on patriotism or self-identification with a state, and ethnic nationalism based on loyalty to an ethnic nation or community. There are some success stories where Nationalism has proved to be constructive, transforming its subjects into members of a single national state. During the 19th century, for example, France was able to assimilate many non-French speaking nationals into the French ethnic nation. Similarly, in America, the "melting pot" policy led many immigrants to identify themselves as members of an emergent American "nation". The success of a state nation can be determined by reference to the patriotism of its citizens, i.e. the extent of their state nationalism. Clearly many states have failed to generate such patriotic dedication, for example Czechoslovakia in the 20th century where ethnic nationalism prevailed over state nationalism and led to the partitioning of this country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Some state nations also tried to expand their size by annexing foreign territories, for example the German seizure of Austria in 1938. However, much more often, ambitious states, like France, Britain, America, Russia and Japan conquered heterogeneous peoples and created empires in which, not surprisingly, they failed to transform them into nationals of the imperial power. Prior to their annexation the peoples involved were not divided ethno nations, as in the German/Austrian case, but separate socio-cultural communities who sometimes became assimilated to the language, life-style and culture of the dominant community and its elites, although in most cases of imperial conquest, they resisted integration and, instead, developed their separate ethnic national identities. I believe that modern expansionist and destructive imperialism is a logical consequence of the rise of nationalism and that the liberation of conquered peoples was its unavoidable consequence. In some regions, Europeans exerted complete political authority, in other areas, spheres of influence were established, and leaving the existing governments as puppets, occasionally only economic influence was exerted. Imperialism in Africa created colonies designed to serve the needs of the colonial powers. Colonial boundaries often exacerbated long-standing ethnic rivalries. European imperialism which concentrated on the need for raw materials and a determination to europeanise local populations, destroyed indigenous cultures and stripped some regions of their natural resources in the process.
Francis Cooker, the well-known Western thinker writes: “In the 19th century, most nationalists out of their fanatical nationalism were convinced and claimed that advanced nations had a lofty history and culture, and a racial and national superiority; therefore they were not justified in confining their talents to their own borders. Their national and patriotic duty must not be summed up in their defense and preservation of the independence and territorial integrity of their own country. They have a universal mission to expand the radius of their political and national cultural influence to all parts of the world in the interest of mankind, and help to civilize retarded lands even by force and violence if necessary.”
The consequences of this nationalist development was destructive and in my opinion also predictable. Competition between the expanding modern empires, rooted in state nationalism, led to inter-state wars, starting overseas in the peripheral territories where these states sought to expand their rule, and it ended, during the 20th century, in gigantic inter-state wars at the centre. World Wars I and II brought the defeat of Germany and Italy vis-à-vis France, England, America and Russia, but all of Europe suffered from war devastation. In this period, the true off-springs of nationalism who elevated this school to its highest position and gave it its severest form were Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, Peron in Argentina, Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal.
The basic design of modern empires was self-contradictory. It relied on democracy and nationalism at home to motivate the conscription of citizen soldiers, thereby expanding its military capabilities. The principles of nationalism and democracy that prevailed in the West, however, were denied to their subjects in conquered territories. The ultimate costs of the wars that weakened the imperial powers included their eventual collapse as nationalism and dreams of democracy spread to their dependencies. With values of self-determination spreading through the Empire, increasing numbers of ethnic nations rebelled against the states that block their aspirations, often relying on violent means to realise goals rationalised by the principle of national self-determination.
It is difficult to define Nationalism as either essentially destructive or essentially constructive. It depends on the type of Nationalism and the circumstances in which is arises and how people use or abuse it as an ideology. Heywood defines four main breeds of Nationalism; Liberal Nationalism, Conservative Nationalism, Expansionist Nationalism, and Anti-colonial Nationalism. Liberal Nationalism advocates self-determination and popular sovereignty, it is usually seen as constructive because it was founded upon a defence of individual freedom. It has been directed as a liberating force, opposing all forms of foreign domination and oppression, and regarding all nations as equal. Their goal is the construction of a world of independent nation-states. Conservative Nationalism develops in established nation-states and therefore neither inherently constructive nor destructive. They believe nations emerge naturally because humans desire familiarity and security, they wish to maintain national unity by fostering patriotic loyalty and defending tradition and history. Conservative Nationalism does not advocate expansionism, although Conservatives such as Disraeli and Bismarck had an imperialistic foreign policy. However, Conservative Nationalism does appear, more often than not, to cause conflict within the nation-state as the nation feels their national identity is under threat due to immigration and rejects the minority groups rather than attempting to integrate them into the state. An example of this is in Britain in 1960s-90s under the Conservatives with anti-immigration politicians such as Enoch Powell making their views heard. Expansionist Nationalism, as its name suggests, is essentially destructive and expansionist. It advocates a form of national chauvinism where patriotism and national pride reaches a higher level. The nation believes that imperialism is both necessary and desirable because it spreads the benefits of their own civilisation on the lesser civilised countries. Anti-colonial Nationalism has been triggered by imperialism and expansionist nationalism, although it is constructive from the point of view of the oppressed, it is obviously destructive for the oppressor and entirely destructive and unnecessary from a world view.
In conclusion, Nationalism has played an important part in the unification and independence of many nation states. It is an idealistic concept and is capable of being a significant constructive force. However, because of the ideology’s massive potential for exaggeration and abuse that has led in so many occasions to war, oppression, discrimination and conflict, I have to agree with the statement that Nationalism is essentially expansionist and destructive.