How did nationalism influence imperialism?

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All forms of nationalism, even those that are ostensibly progressive, are based upon the notion that there are those who belong to the nation and those who don't. Not surprisingly, this leads to the implementation of policies that actively discriminate against—and in some cases, repress—those deemed not to be part of the nation.

On the domestic front, such rampant chauvinism can manifest itself in an attack upon expressions of minority cultures, such as language and national dress. If the nation in question achieves sufficient military and economic might, then the suppression of minority peoples and their cultures can easily morph into full-blown imperialism.

For imperialism shares with nationalism the notion that there's a natural pecking order among cultures and civilizations—that some are inherently superior to others. Such a notion of superiority inevitably seeks an outlet abroad, where there are any number of allegedly inferior cultures just waiting to be brought up to the same standards as the more advanced nations. So the nationalist argument runs, at any rate.

Once a nation has been established, its political leadership will invariably want to increase its standing on the international stage. Imperialism, of however limited a scope, is traditionally the most reliable method for achieving such a goal.

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In many instances, nationalism is a prerequisite for imperialism. Central to nationalism is the belief that one's nation is inherently superior to others. This ideology makes it possible for people to rationalize taking control of other peoples and nations.

We can trace the mutual rise of both nationalism and imperialism if we look at Europe in the late nineteenth century. At this time, some nations, like Italy and Germany, were being reorganized around national populations. Others, like the Russian Empire, Great Britain, and Austro-Hungary, underwent rises in nationalistic sentiment that led to competition with each other.

Nationalism led to an uptick in imperialism in two main ways. First, as has been mentioned above, nations competed over colonies. By believing that their own nation deserved to be more powerful than other imperial powers, nations entered into a race to snatch up as many colonial holdings as possible before other imperial powers could. We can see this in the "Scramble for Africa" in particular.

Second, nationalistic philosophies convinced many that they were superior to the people in whose land they controlled. By believing that they were entitled merely by being English, German, French, and so on to conquer and control other places and peoples, nationalists could rationalize subjugating other peoples in their own lands. When viewed in this light, imperialism is a natural outgrowth of nationalism.

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Nationalism is a toxic ideology in which the interests and strength of one's nation is prioritized above all else, including the wellbeing of those not considered citizens who reside in that nation and those who live outside of the nation. Thus, nationalism directly influences imperialism, as those with nationalistic beliefs are generally supportive of policies and actions that promote the nation's economic and military strengths, such as imperialistic power over foreign nations/peoples/lands.

Nationalism is unfortunately inherently encouraged and fostered in children through daily rituals such as requiring students to "pledge allegiance" in schools to the nation that governs them. We are born of this earth, but unfortunately our loyalty is not taught to be to the lands and waters that give us life and sustain all life on this planet but to governments, politicians, and militaries. Support for imperialism is support for nationalistic violence and loyalty to authority and control.

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Nationalism is a belief that one's country is the best. Imperialism allows a nation to expand its borders and to gain valuable raw materials and trade markets. Also, imperialism can be viewed as a zero-sum game: if one country gains a colony, then that is one less territory that another rival country can gain. Nationalists believed that their nation's values were the best and that these had to be spread to the developing world. Britain, France, and Germany all looked to spread to the developing world during the nineteenth century in order to spread their cultures and to gain strategic trade routes. Nationalists in these countries did not take the views of the vanquished people into question; it was considered up to the Westerners to decide what was best for these people. After unification, German nationalists sought to increase their prestige worldwide by claiming lands in Africa and in the Pacific. It was hoped that the growing German economy would find ways to link these far-flung lands into an economic empire that would rival Britain, then the strongest empire in Europe, if not the world.

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One way to think through the relationship between nationalism and imperialism is through the logic of political economy and racism. Imperialism can be understood as the extension of a nation's influence  over other sovereign territories. Historically, (informal) imperial relations came to replace what were crumbling colonial (or formal imperial) relations. Economically, imperialism is understood to be the highest stage of capitalism. We can link these conceptualizations through the role race and resources played as the world transformed from colonial relations of nations and colonies to imperial relations of core nations and peripheral nations. While the creation of the Nation-state system in Europe was through internal warfare, once formed, it perpetuated itself as sovereign through constant competition for capital, labour, markets, and territory. The subjugation of foreign populations to the competing interests of (European) sovereign nations were justified on the basis of the scientifically hegemonic (and notably racist) idea of social darwinism. However, it was the exact process of colonialism which led to the emergence of nationalist movements within the occupied territories (e.g. colonies). Notably, these nationalist movements were constituted (and gained prominence) on the basis of their critique of  imperialism. Despite formal decolonization, the newly formed nations continued to be under partial control of their former colonizers - these contemporary imperial relations are what facilitates the flow of raw materials from resource-rich countries in the global south to advanced industrial nations (primarily in the global north).

 

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