Nationalism We Live in a World Thesis

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Nationalism

We live in a world that is constantly searching for its identity, one which is made up of state actors, non-state actors, organizations, corporations and leaders. They all have a strong voice and opinion concerning the new direction of the world and they all represent important pieces in the way in which world politics is conducted. However, the traditional aspect of the international law contends that the state remains the most important and most legitimate actor in the international system. This assessment is viewed as modern and as dissolute at the same time. Around this subject and the theoretical aspects it entangles, there are a wide variety of debates and scholarly discussions some of which use the most interesting yet specific aspects of the definition of a state and of a nation. These perspectives have led to a series of theories which analyses the role as well as the actual birth of the nation and that of nationalism which in the end defines the nation state.

The thesis the present paper will discuss focuses on several important premises. Firstly, it will be argued that nations as well as nationalism are two essential elements of today's world which have developed since the French Revolution onward. In this sense, it is considered that nations have emerged as a continuous process in the sense that the notion itself as well as the meaning evolved in time and remain an area of study to this day. There are several theories which discuss these aspects and deal with the evolution of nations and nationalism both to underline it as well as to explain it. These include Ernest Gellner's who contends that nations and nationalism are outgrowths of a modern industrial society and Anthony Smith's who argues that although we can not discount the influence of human creativity in their formation, nations and nationalism are also the products of preexisting traditions and heritages.

Principles

The theory of international relations tends to consider the aspects which are related to its field of analysis through the use of various definitions of terms and paradigms. Therefore, in order to have a better understanding of the terms of "state," "nation" and "nationalism" it is important to properly define them.

The definition of the state from a legal point-of-view is present in all the documents of international law which deal with this matter. In this sense, the term of "state" as it results from the constitutions of the countries of the world implies a human collectivity settled on a permanent term on a specific territory having a well established structure of government which enjoys an unlimited amount of sovereignty. These general characteristics were particularly emphasized in the Montevideo Treaty of 1933 signed between the U.S. And Latin American countries which underline the rights and obligations of the states. More precisely, according to the provisions of the Convention, "the state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states." (the Avalon Project, 2008) Despite the fact that the Convention referred to the American states, its provisions are important because they underline the fact that a "state" demands for a coherent form of government which is endowed with the power of its population. Most importantly however, it benefits from its sovereignty as a sign or independence. This is nowadays one of the most discussed matters concerning the right to intervene in a certain state, precisely due to its right to sovereignty that is defended by the international law as well as the Charter of the United Nations.

The "nation" was poetically described at the end of the 19th century by one of the most important and representative personalities of the French theoretical view as being "a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present- day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavors, sacrifice, and devotion" (Renan, 1996). From the perspective of this definition it is rather clear that the nation is the representation of the past as well as the future in the sense that it may be considered to be the cradle of the past civilization and culture and the spring of the future of that civilization and culture.

Another definition of the term was given by Joseph Stalin who concluded that a nation is "a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture" thus underlining the basic elements of what even today constitutes a nation (Schwartz, n.d.). In any situation, a general definition of the term is based on the agreed assumption that a nation is based on a common culture, language, and history.

The debate however takes into consideration the notion of nationalism and the birth of this term as it is presented in history. In this sense, the term is often associated with the French Revolution whereas the idea of the nation most of the times is assumed to be related to earlier periods. Historian Eric Hobsbawn talks about the rise of nationalism as a result of the French Revolution and in response to the different views which appeared after the end of the French Revolution, during the early decades of the 1800. More precisely, "after 1830 the general movement in favor of the revolution broke apart. A product of this breakup was the nationalistic movements" (Hobsbawm, 1962). From this point-of-view the connection can be made between the French Revolution and the rise of nationalism.

Another worthy example of the idea of nationalism is that of Louis Wirth who considers that nationalism is "the social movements of nationalities striving to acquire, maintain, and enhance their status in a world where they are confronted by opposition or conflict" (Wirth, 1936). This definition comes to point out an essential element. It proves the wide negative belief in the power of nations to fight conflict. More precisely, there is today a comprehensive belief in the way in which nations and nationalist forces try to impose their will on governments or other nations. This represents the precise set in motion of Wirth's definition of nationalism and of its contribution to historical wars especially those from the second part of the 19th century onward.

Finally a very comprehensive definition of nationalism is offered by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It argues that "the term "nationalism" is generally used to describe two phenomena: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination. (1) raises questions about the concept of nation (or national identity), which is often defined in terms of common origin, ethnicity, or cultural ties, and while an individual's membership in a nation is often regarded as involuntary, it is sometimes regarded as voluntary" (2001)

Taking into account these definitions, it can be stated that to a certain degree they represent the general assumptions related to the understanding of the notion of nation and nationalism. These definition were used to determine several theories and enabled them a starting point for their debates.

Theories and their discussion

The main theories concerning nations and nationalism argue on the different perspectives in terms of origins and the role of nations and nationalisms. More precisely, the debates focus on the actual origin of nations and nationalism because while some consider nations to be an intrinsic element of our society, others view it as being a proof of development. Even more, "Nationalists argue that nations are timeless phenomena. When man climbed out of the primordial slime, he immediately set about creating nations. The next major school of thought is that of the perennialists who argue that nations have been around for a very long time, though they take different shapes at different points in history. While postmodernists and Marxists also play in the larger debates surrounding this topic, the modernization school is perhaps the most prevalent scholarly argument at the moment. These scholars see nations as entirely modern and constructed." (Nationalism Studies information Clearinghouse, 2007) We tend to see the world in a constant desire to move and expand and from this point-of-view it may seem natural that the general perception on states and especially on modern ones is that of a modern state created through development and revolution.

Some of the most important theorists in this respect are Ernest Gellner and Anthony Smith. Their theories can both be agreed upon and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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