Notes of Ch 7 Nationalism| Class 11th Political Science

Introducing Nationalism

• During the last two centuries or more, nationalism has emerged as one of the most compelling of political creeds which has helped to shape history.

• It has united people as well as divided them, helped to liberate them from oppressive rule as well as been the cause of conflict and bitterness and wars.

• Nationalism has passed through many phases.

• In the nineteenth century Europe, it led to the unification of a number of small kingdoms into larger nation-states. The present day German
and Italian states were formed through such a process of unification and consolidation.

• But nationalism also accompanied and contributed to the break up of large empires such as the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires in the early twentieth century in Europe as well as the break-up of the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese empires in Asia and Africa.

• The process of redrawing state boundaries continues to take place.

• Today, in many parts of the world we witness nationalist struggles that threaten to divide existing states. Such separatist movements have developed among the Quebecois in Canada, the Basques in northern Spain, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, and the Tamils in Sri Lanka, among others.

Nations and Nationalism

• A nation is an ‘imagined’ community, held together by the collective beliefs, aspirations and
imaginations of its members. It is based on certain assumptions which people make about the collective whole with which they identify.

Shared Beliefs

• First, a nation is constituted by belief.

• Nations are not like mountains, rivers or buildings which we can see and feel.

• It is to refer to the collective identity and vision for the future of a group which aspires to have an independent political existence.

• A nation exists when its members believe that they belong together.


• Second, people who see themselves as a nation also embody a sense of continuing historical identity.

• Nationalists in India invoked its ancient civilisation and cultural heritage and other achievements to claim that India has had a long and continuing history as a civilisation and that this civilisational continuity and unity is the basis of the Indian nation.


• Third, nations identify with a particular territory. Sharing a common past and living together on a particular territory over a long period of time gives people a sense of their collective identity.

• People who see themselves as a nation speak of a homeland. The territory they occupied and the land on which they have lived has a special significance for them, and they claim it as their own.

• The Indian nation identifies with the rivers, mountains and regions of the Indian subcontinent.

• However, since more than one set of people may lay claim to the same territory, the aspiration for a homeland has been a major cause of conflict in the world.

Shared Political Ideals

• Fourth, it is a shared vision of the future and the collective aspiration to have an independent political existence that distinguishes groups from nations.

• In a democracy, it is shared commitment to a set of political values and ideals that is the most desirable basis of a political community or a nation-state. Within it, members of political community are bound by a set of obligations.

• A nation is strengthened when its people acknowledge and accept their obligations to their fellow members.

Common Political Identity

• Many people believe a shared cultural identity, such as a common language, or common descent bind individuals together as a nation.

• Observing the same festivals, seeking the same holidays, and holding the same symbols valuable can bring people together, but it can also pose a threat to the values that we cherish in a democracy.

• There are two reasons for this:
→ One, all major religions in the world are internally diverse. There exists within each religion a number of sects who differ significantly in their interpretation of the religious texts and norms.
→ Two, most societies are culturally diverse. They have people belonging to different religions and languages living together in the same territory.

• For both these reasons it is desirable to imagine the nation in political rather than cultural terms.

• That is, democracies need to emphasise and expect loyalty to a set of values that may be enshrined in the Constitution of the country rather than adherence to a particular religion, race or language.

National Self-Determination

• Nations, unlike other social groups, seek the right to govern themselves and determine their future development. They seek, in other words, the right to self-determination.

• In making this claim a nation seeks recognition and acceptance by the international community of its status as a distinct political entity or state.

• In some cases such claims to self-determination are linked also to the desire to form a state in which the culture of the group is protected if not privileged.

• In the nineteenth century in Europe. The notion of one culture - one state began to gain acceptability

• After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles established a number of small, newly independent states, but it proved virtually impossible to satisfy all the demands for self determination which were made at the time.

• Besides, re-organisation of state boundaries to satisfy the demands of one culture - one state, led to mass migration of population across state boundaries.

• Indeed most states had more than one ethnic and cultural community living within its boundaries.

• These communities, which were often small in number and constituted a minority within the state were often disadvantaged. Hence, the problem of accommodating minorities as equal citizens remained.

• The right to national self-determination has also been asserted by national liberation movements in Asia and Africa when they were struggling against colonial domination.

• It proved almost impossible to ensure that each cultural group, some of whom claimed to be distinct nations, could achieve political independence and statehood. As a result, migration of populations, border wars, and violence have continued to plague many countries in the region.

• Thus we have the paradoxical situation of nation-states which themselves had achieved independence through struggle now acting against minorities within their own territories who claim the right to national self-determination.

• Virtually every state in the world today faces the dilemma of how to deal with movements for self-determination.

• More and more people are beginning to realise that the solution does not lie in creating new states but in making existing states more democratic and equal.

• This may be essential not only for resolving problems arising from new claims for self-determination but also for building a strong and united state.

Nationalism and Pluralism

• The kinds of group rights which have been granted in different countries include constitutional protection for the language, cultures and religion, of minority groups and their members.

• In some cases identified communities also have the right to representation as a group in legislative bodies and other state institutions.

• Different groups need to be granted recognition as a part of the national community.

• Ultimately, the right to national self-determination was often understood to include the right to independent statehood for nationalities.

• But not only would it be impossible to grant independent statehood to every group that sees itself as a distinct cultural group, or nation, it would probably also be undesirable.

• Today we witness many struggles for the recognition of group identities, many of which employ the language of nationalism.

• In a democracy the political identity of citizen should encompass the different identities which people may have.

• It would be dangerous if intolerant and homogenising forms of identity and nationalism are allowed to develop.
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