PDC – 6: Concept and relevance of Nationalism in the 21st century
Discussed on : 25th Jan 2020
The concept of nationalism and its influence in shaping the modern world system is undeniable. According to Anderson, humans consider themselves as part of imagined communities based on some common features and derive collective responsibility to that idea. This feeling over time results in identifying a language, shared heritage, and so on to develop uniqueness and distinctness of their community from others. Across history, there are various instances of multiple nations existing under a common kingdom like the Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary, etc. However, post the thirty year war and the Treaty of Westphalia, modern nation states evolved and nationalism became a primary force in shaping these entities. This found its final expression in John Locke’s philosophy that rejected the divine rights of the king and stressed that all persons are endowed with natural rights, and rulers failing to protect them should be removed, with force if necessary. These rising concepts drove the masses towards liberty, equality and fraternity resulting in the French revolution and the American war of independence. The race between powerful states and the spread of colonialism ensured that a national identity could be forged only with a population within a defined territory, ruled by a legitimate government. This Western notion of modern nation states was applied to all regions of the world, altering the natural course of evolution of the nationalism process in these regions. From Africa to Asia, territorial claims and the forging multiple nations to form nation states resulted in various challenges that still remain. For instance, Iraq was formed based on its oil reserves and not in its civilizational bonds. It brought forged the Shia, Sunni and Kurd communities with differing histories and no common bond into a single nation state, resulting in a fragile state with implications even felt today.
Interestingly, globalisation and its standardising imperatives have stimulated nationalism rather than dissolving its validity. It is argued that self- determination in the 21st century, especially when the global culture is increasingly unified, intensifies due to revival of nationalism. As communication and movement is eased, often the unique identity is weakened. These disruptors to national identities are seen as threats, which is used by politicians and world leaders to strengthen the existing uniqueness of their states. However, these nationalistic drives disregard the diversity that exists in each nation state, creating domestic challenges, particularly for minorities. Electoral politics further divides the people by creating a nation of us vs them, often painting others as potential threats. This has manifested into modern challenges of immigration, terrorism and so on. The rise of hypernationalism in modern day politics can be traced along these lines. By imposing a common national identity, it affects the subnational sentiments of the people since nationalism is more local than national. Singapore, for instance, thrives by creating an equal space for the various sections of its people. While nationalism is a requirement for the functioning of any nation, hypernationalism is a threat to its very existence.