Nationalism and Contemporary World Politics Term Paper

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Nationalism Contemporary Politics

I believe that Nationalist identities are as hard to break as if they were ancient. At first, one assumes that, because nationality is an artificially constructed and imagined community based on tenuous social ties, it can be dissolved when those social ties are proved false or obsolete. However, the task of dissolving a national identity is completely different than the task of forming one. Identifying the methods and patterns through which nations are created does not necessarily explain how they can be dissolved.

The endurance of national qualities cannot be fully explained by examining political or historical trends, but only by understanding the individual. National identities persist because people simply refuse to relinquish them. People refuse to relinquish national identities because the identity is either embedded in them, they are invested in them, or because they are no viable alternatives.


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With over 195 nation-states in the world, many of which are failed states or are undergoing intense ethnic conflicts, it is natural to question the rationality of the nation-state. If nation-states were organized naturally or rationally, there would not be so much ethnic conflict and disunity within states. There is a growing idea individuals and their communities remain steadfast in their national or ethnic attachments, and especially on the idea that national loyalties can be nearly as fixed and durable as heritable traits. A variety of scholars, including political scientists, sociologists, and psychologists, claim that "National identity is perpetually malleable and there are an array of mechanisms through which national loyalties can be built and broken."

Durable National Loyalties

Term Paper on Nationalism and Contemporary World Politics Assignment

Keith Darden argues that the national loyalties instilled in a population during the introduction of mass schooling-when a community shifts from an oral to a literate mass culture-are internalized by individuals and their families through unique changes of status and culture to produce a powerful affective tie.

Once initially established through the schools, national identities are preserved and reproduced over time within families and reinforced by local communities in a way that makes these constructed identities virtually impervious to significant change or elimination over time.

The Collapse of Indirect Rule and Nationalism

Hechter argues that it was the pluralistic rule of pre-modern states, including empires, which suppressed the ascendancy of nations to exclusive political control of whole states. In the pre-modern state, Indirect Rule thwarted Nationalism because it tolerated cultural heterogeneity as a means of governance.

Empires imply that one state rules many other states. There was no expectation that one should by ruled by a sovereign who shared one's ethnicity, culture, language, etc.

Anarchy and Ethnic Violence

According to Barry Posen, the question is not whether ethnic identities endure but how ethnic groups survive while under constant threat. Many ethnic groups, just like states, fear for their survival, and this fear is allayed only by the presence of a strong state.

Where there is no strong state to ensure security, the area undergoes a security dilemma. During a security dilemma, ethnic groups, fearing for their safety, take mutual defensive measures which, unchecked by outside powers, eventually spiral into war.

Posen describes the process in the modern era: "When traditional Sovereigns disappear, they leave in their wake a host of groups -- ethnic, religious, cultural -- of greater or lesser cohesion. These groups must pay attention to the first thing that states have historically addressed -- the problem of security -- even though many of these groups still lack many of the attributes of statehood."

Posen uses the example of Serbs and Croats who have a terrifying oral history of each other's behaviour yet have only been in existence for 125 years.

The Hungarian Divide-and-Conquer strategy pitted Serbs and Croats against each other and Serbia eventually emerged as a nation-state out of the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The Serbian nation-state perceived itself as representing all South Slavs but Croats believed they were separate and preferred a confederacy of South Slavic states.

This is contrasted with Russia and Ukraine emerging from the fall of the Soviet Union but with a much less terrifying history of each other.

Ukrainian nationalists assert that Russia, through Soviet Union, extracted substantial economic resources from Ukraine and ignore that the Soviet Union actually invested heavily in the Ukraine.


The creation of nationalist identities is very subtle but surprisingly deep. Once created, a nation cannot be broken, unless it is broken into smaller sub-nationalities. Nations are formed to allow one group of people to gain some type of power for themselves, be it territory, political rights, or recognition (to distinguish themselves from another group). The variations of criteria for a nation are innumerable: language, history, culture, religion, geography etc. Scholars are not able to settle on a common definition of these criteria because, quite probably, there are none. Almost any "group" is coherent enough for a "cultural entreprenuer" to organize a political unit. When that political unit acquires enough power in the right situation, that unit can become a nation.

National Identities are Embedded

Nationalist identities are hard to alter because they are so deeply entrenched, as most were created during the formative years of a person's development. As with any bad habit or personality trait, a national identity is an essential instrument with which the person copes with the world. If a group of persons prosper and struggle together for long enough, they will inevitably form a bond, a feeling of common interest and humanity. As most people are rather inarticulate in explaining why they feel a sense of togetherness with someone, they adopt neat labels which can be easily understood and recognized by others.

When a nationality is embedded, it is almost impossible for the person to truly abandon that identity. Some of it has to do with ego, that nothing that is "you" could be somehow inauthentic or malignant. It would be like choosing to leave your family or for some, like ceasing to root for a sports team you have rooted for all your life.

Members are Invested in National Identities

Nationalist identities are hard to alter because by the time people reach a point where they realize the hollowness of the national identity, they are too invested in that identity to relinquish it. There is usually little incentive in this world for a person to relinquish membership in a nation but many disincentives. One could lose all of one's friends, family, home, or social position if one were to relinquish one's national identity.

No Viable Alternatives for Individuals

Nationalist identities endure, and even multiply, because there are no viable alternatives in a world dominated by nations. Very few people in this world choose to become nation-less. For many, as Posen's study of Serbs and Croats shows, the nation is perceived as the only way in which a group of people can survive.


Nationhood is such a slippery concept that a satisfactory consensus regarding its creation is a long way off. It is possible that nations will always exist so long as conflict exists. However, perhaps we do not have to understand nationhood in order to contain the worst effects of nationhood.


Because of its particularly brutal and senseless history, ethnic conflict stands out in a century of conflict which will be famous for the brutality of its wars. Wars undertaken for power or economic motives are understandable because those factors have tangible effects. Wars undertaken for ethnic reasons confound us because they seem irrational. However, recent studies of ethnic violence may indicate otherwise.


Ethnic Violence as Political Tool

Gagnon argues that ethnic violence is often provoked by threatened elites in order to create a political context where ethnicity is the only politically relevant identity. It thereby constructs the individual interest of the broader population in terms of the threat to the community defined in ethnic terms.

The Decision to Make War

Fearon does not address national identities directly, but rather an equally incisive question: if wars are so costly for leaders, why do rational leaders ever choose to go to war. The most useful idea Fearon has for understanding ethnic conflict comes through his elaboration on the theory that "wars usually begin when two sides disagree on their relative strength."

Fearon points out a tendency where one side, in order to avoid the appearance of military vulnerability, misrepresents its power to the other side.

Miscalculation by Ethnic Groups

Figueiredo attempts to provide a missing link in the explanation of how leaders engage average citizens who prefer peace over conflict and, in particular, how the plausibility of the threat can be enhanced if certain power and informational conditions exist. The observation that leaders promote conflict to acquire or retain power is nothing new. Neither is the observation that citizens obey the call for war because they are scared. The question for Figueiredo is, why do citizens go to war when there is no rational fear to their safety or interests?

According to Figueiredo, three factors interact to produce ethnic violence: leaders with a tenuous hold on… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Nationalism and Contemporary World Politics.  (2011, March 5).  Retrieved April 12, 2021, from

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"Nationalism and Contemporary World Politics."  5 March 2011.  Web.  12 April 2021. <>.

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"Nationalism and Contemporary World Politics."  March 5, 2011.  Accessed April 12, 2021.