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What is "nationalism" and how did it lead to imperialism?

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samurai17 | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted October 7, 2013 at 9:22 PM via web

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What is "nationalism" and how did it lead to imperialism?

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kipling2448 | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:27 PM (Answer #1)

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Drawing a direct connection between "nationalism," which is endemic to all nation-states, and imperialism is a questionable proposition.  If one defines "nationalism" as strong feelings of loyalty to one's country and an innate belief in its goodness, than nationalism in and of itself cannot necessarily be equated with or even a contributor to imperialist policies.  Taken to its extreme, to include in its definition an intense feeling of superiority over other nations, then it could spawn policies that manifest themselves in imperialist ambitions.  Such was certainly the case with Nazi Germany, which clung to an extreme nationalist culture imbued with a sense of racial or ethnic superiority over other nations and ethnicities, and which resulted in invasions of many countries, especially in the Slavic realm, intended to subjugate the native peoples for purposes of enslavement. 

Mainstream nationalism, however, is simply characterized by feelings of pride in one's country and a strong desire to see it prevail in international competitions and negotiations.  The populations of virtually every country in the world can be characterized as nationalistic in terms of pride in country.  The Japanese, for instance, remain almost as nationalistic today as during the period of Imperial Japan, but post-World War II political transformations driven by U.S. occupation policies have eliminated from mainstream Japanese thinking the notion of imperialistic endeavors.  British imperialism was driven by a combination of nationalistic sentiments and economic ambitions.  Since the decline of the British Empire, however, it has eschewed imperialistic ambitions, but the underlying sense of British greatness remains.  

Imperialism, driven mostly by economic and occasionally geopolitical considerations, does not derive automatically from nationalism.  One can logically argue that all historical cases of imperialism have involved countries imbued with strong senses of nationalism, but that would not account for the huge discrepency between the number of nationalistic populations and imperialistic ambitions on the part of those same people.  As political cultures change, popular perceptions of a country's place in the world change with them. Pride in country, though, remains.  

People celebrate their differences.  They value their cultures, languages, histories, and sense of uniqueness.  They may even believe in their superiorty relative to other nationalities.  That does not, however, translate to imperialist policies.  


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