-Karen Michelle

We hear the word nationalism and we tend to immediately picture white nationalist parades and tiki torches-and that is an ugly and disgusting manifestation but it is not limited to that small horrific section of society.In fact, the core principles of nationalism are quite global. As we have seen in the case of the Texas school shooter’s father, who has been reported to be a Greek nationalist, those  same them carried over into his interpretation of President Trump’s America First messaging.

Nationalism is very pervasive and it tends to feed our base level selves-which is never a good thing.

Nationalism also encompasses many aspects-it is not cut and dry.

It is likely we all are somewhat nationalist in some sense.

In order to discuss nationalism, we must first define it.

Merriam-Webster:loyalty and devotion to a nation : a sense of national consciousness, exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism

The terms nationalist and patriot are often used interchangeably but it is vital to note the two words have very different meanings. Orwell nailed it when he wrote:

-“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Orwell, also had this to say about nationalism.

“Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.”

Senator John McCain also spoke about the difference between nationalism and patriotism:
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

America has always prided itself on being a melting pot.  Accepting of anyone who was willing to accept a set of loosely defined American ideals. At least that is the story we tell ourselves. But lately shifting political winds have strained that notion. Nationalism is replacing patriotism. The  melting pot has been put up on the top of the cabinet to gather dust.

Walls, real and perceived are now shaping our national landscape.  

The problem with Nationalism
-Nationalism-especially ethnic nationalism, at its core is separation. It is about insulation and fear as well as well as a desire for power and a belief that one is superior for a given reason, be it ethnicity, race, religion or creed.

The idea that one is better than another can be used to create, start, maintain and promote acts of hate driven violence, and war.
-Nationalism creates bonds (which can be manipulated for good or evil-but all too often it veers to the negative). These bonds can create the concept of  “the other” which is anyone NOT within the bonded group
-Another dangerous aspect to nationalism is that it can exist without critical thinking. It is the ingraining aspect that makes nationalism so difficult to root out.

-Nationalism also chips away at individuality-one just becomes a cog in a machine.
But, on the flip side, uniting different groups of people under a common banner can create sources of individual investment than allow a citizen to feel a part of their community-the question can be-at what cost?
-Nationalism can also be a tool of manipulation by the leader of a nation and can lead to horrific consequences. The worst, most obvious example is the Holocaust, which sprang directly from German nationalism.

Types of Nationalism

There are many different types of nationalism, but they basically split into two main groups: Civic and Ethnic.


Civic nationalism unites people based on shared values without regard to ethnicity, race, color, religion, gender, or language. Citizens unite under the common bonds of choice, law, liberty, and a sense that the individual built the nation. Several subtypes of nationalism spring out of civic nationalism:
Humanitarian Nationalism:  An outgrowth of Enlightenment philosophy influenced by the likes Bolingbroke, Rosseau and Herder who all emphasized local self-rule through democratic forms of government based on the peculiar characteristics of each nation.

This theory believes that humans are divided into natural groups, each having a separate identity-but with the view that the world as a whole is a collection of these sovereign nations.

Humanitarian nationalists believe that this organization of people would further the cause of peace, prosperity, development and cooperation.

The presence of cultural and political unity in democratic nation states would make war irrational and subjugation of one nation by another impractical. Subscribers perceive nationalism as a source of mutual respect, brotherhood, trust and friendship.

Traditional Nationalism: Traditional nationalism does not demand that a nation exclude all foreigners-in fact it embraces immigration.  Traditional nationalism does not have its hands tied by a deterministic obsession with race, in and of itself. It has the resilience to be able to enrich itself with the right kind of immigrant, while rejecting the globalistic, open-borders fanaticism which demands that western nations allow the mass migration of culturally and socially hostile foreigners into their societies.

At its core, nationalism is conventionally understood to refer to the belief that a nation should be able to exist autonomously and independently apart from the domination of others, and that the good of the nation should be placed ahead of international or global concerns.

Most established Republicans espouse this form of nationalism.

Liberal (also known as civic or economical) Nationalism: The term liberal here does not mean what it is commonly thought of today. To explain this a bit more, let’s go into the historical definition of liberalism.

The term liberalism comes from the latin term liber which means  “free”.

Politically, liberalism emphasizes the role of the government. In an ideological sense, liberalism stands for freedom and equality under the law. But economically, liberalism stood for a free market and abolition of state imposed regulations that would hinder the movement of goods and capital.    In fact, Steve Bannon identified himself as this type of nationalist.

Economic nationalism emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of the national state but, in seeming contradiction, also seeks to limit the power of the government to interfere with individual liberty by proclaiming the goal of the state to be to protect individual liberty and provide public goods.  

liberal nationalism comes closest to what a great majority economists think of as the proper role of the state.

Integral Nationalism:  This type of nationalism centers the nation and its state in the life of all citizens.  Instead of a being committed to supplying public goods to people, this form of nationalism emphasizes individual sacrifice for the benefit of the nation and its government.

The Latin root of nationalism is natio, meaning tribe, ethnic group, or division by birth and seeks to expand the state to include all ethnicities  living in other territories. This is done through militarization.

Hayes summarized this form of nationalism as intensely “anti-individualistic and anti-democratic”, where all other loyalties are absorbed into loyalty to the national state.

One example of civic nationalism gone wrong is :

Jakabin in Nationalism:

A state ideology adopted by the revolutionary French government to solidify its hold on power.  Its four characteristics were suspicion and intolerance of internal dissent, heavy reliance on force and military force to attain government goals,  fanatical support for the state. It also encompassed the tearing down of institutions.

(It is our belief that people are seeing and feeling similar themes under the current administration)

Ethnic nationalism

Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethno-nationalism, is a form of nationalism wherein the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity.
The central theme of ethnic nationalists is that “nations are defined by a shared heritage. This  is often characterized by  Common roots (“blood”),  Inheritance, emotional attachment, unity by ascription, majority rule, fraternity,common faith and language and the idea that the nation shapes the individual.  

This type of nationalism can easily devolve into blatant separatist violence and even genocide and can also include these dangerous subgroups:

Religious Nationalism

Religious nationalism can be viewed as a situation in which religion is used as a tool or veil to justify nationalistic attitudes and actions. This is on the rise across the globe and is increasingly associated with religious terrorism.

Expansionist nationalism:

Is an aggressive and radical form of nationalism that incorporates patriotic sentiments with a belief in expansionism. Most associated with militarist governments during the 20th century including Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Japanese empire. What distinguishes expansionist nationalism from liberal nationalism is its acceptance of chauvinism, a belief in superiority or dominance. Nations are thus not thought to be equal to their right to self-determination; rather some nations are believed to possess characteristics or qualities that make them superior to others. Expansionist nationalism therefore asserts the state’s right to increase its borders at the expense of its neighbours.

Nationalism in the U.S.
Our current President represents a radical shift in views from his predecessors. His election was less surprising than it should have been.  Trump was elected by an overwhelming number of white, working class voters. These voters found a voice that shared their concerns. In a study done by the Public Religion Research Institute and Atlantic magazine,Beyond Economics: Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump the findings could almost predict a Trump win, with his message of Make America Great Again. A message of returning to  back to “better days”.

Most attribute his win to economic anxiety, and there is no doubt that Americans who had suffered greatly under the Great Recession of 2008 had good reason to have a fair amount of economic anxiety.  But by the time of his election, the economy had recovered. However, the middle class, the white working class had yet to see real economic gains. And many were extremely unhappy with their current situation. But that was not their overriding concern.

The study found a number of factors that made his message effective.  It was white, working class voters that overwhelmingly supported the President, and here are their views, according to the report.

  • Notably, while only marginally significant , being in fair or poor financial shape actually predicted support for Hillary Clinton among white working-class Americans, rather than support for Donald Trump.
  • White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of white working-class Americans believe American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.
  • More than six in ten (62%) white working-class Americans believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American culture, while three in ten (30%) say these newcomers strengthen society.
  • Six in ten (60%) white working-class Americans say because things have gotten so far off track, we need a strong leader who is willing to break the rules.
  • Despite the conventional wisdom that Trump attracted financially depressed voters, white working-class Americans who report being in good or excellent financial shape are significantly more likely to say that Trump understands their problems than those who report their financial condition as being fair or poor A majority (55%) of white working-class Americans in fair or poor shape say Trump does not understand the problems facing their communities well.

These findings run counter to the economic anxiety model often used to explain his very unlikely election.  
So that’s in the US-what about globally?

A global perspective on nationalism

Totalitarian nationalism is extinct except in North Korea, where the ruling family preaches a weird mixture of Marxism and racial purity, enforced with slave-labour camps for dissidents.Nonetheless, it is clear that an exclusive, often ethnically based, form of nationalism is on the rise. In democracies, it is a powerful vote-winner. In autocracies, leaders use it to distract people from their lack of freedom and, sometimes, food.


The last ten years have been challenging for the European Union. From the economic Euro Crisis in 2009, the after effects of the Arab Spring in 2011, and the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, the governments of the EU are increasingly finding themselves in dsagreement. Currently, nations are increasingly divided over immigration, with strong nationalistic movements emerging as many member states look to reclaim their sovereignty. In 2016 Britain voted to leave the Union, leaving open the possibility that other states will follow, with nationalism, xenophobia and support for right-wing populist parties rising throughout Europe. Europeans are erecting barriers from Greece to Germany as member states have become overwhelmed with the influx and are having difficulties processing such large quantities of people, leaving many refugees stranded in squalid conditions in makeshift camps all over Europe.

Europe’s migrant crisis is dwarfed by the wave of displacement that
has washed into Syria’s neighbors. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan alone host around 4.4 million refugees from Syria; in Lebanon, they make up more than one-fifth of the population.


Turkey is undergoing a new nationalist wave led by President Erdogan. This new nationalism includes real hostility towards the West, particularly the U.S., but also Germany and Europe. Correlated to that, there is widespread hostility towards Syrian refugees and to a large extent, other immigrants to Turkey.”


An alarming consequence of Greece’s economic meltdown has been the rise of the ultra-nationalist political party, Golden Dawn.Golden Dawn has tapped into anti-immigrant resentment that has been slowly building since the 1990s when the first big wave of foreigners—Albanians—came to Greece en masse. As the economic crisis has stripped Greek institutions of trust, that resentment has metastasized into outright fear that is defining mainstream political and social debate.

Russia nationalism stems almost directly from the humiliation Putin felt over the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his desire to make the Soviets a credible super-power and leans to imperial nationalism.  

Final Thoughts

Overall, it seems as though many people are afraid of losing their historical culture to newcomers. To older generations, this is especially troubling because they are already facing fears of feeling like they no longer have purpose. Instead of writing those concerns off as limited thinking or racism, perhaps we should explore ways to weave in the fabric of new immigrant cultures into the framework of our own.

In America, it’s hard to even see how ethnic nationalism can even exist at all. The founding principles of our country defy the idea of ethnic separation. When a cornerstone of our country is e pluribus unum (out of many, one), Trying to cling on to some type of ethnic pride is just a  bubble encasing nothing.

Civic nationalism has its place, but must be kept in balance. But if someone says they are patriotic and then takes on a “us against them” approach of integrating immigrants into American culture, then they don’t understand what truly makes this country great.


Separating nationalism from patriotism:

Mccain on nationalism


Atlantic Poll

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