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Nationalism and Conflict

Political Science
Course Code
Jeffrey Kopstein

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POL101 Nationalism and ConflictJanuary 17th 2010
What is Nationalism?
Seemingly obvious answer: the ideology of nations. A nation is a group that wants
to have its own state.
But things are not so simple
Nations do not invent nationalism.
Instead, nationalism invents nations.
Nations do not exist outside of the imagination of the ideology of nationalism
What is a nation?
A group of people who believe they share a common fate, history, culture, and
That does not mean their belief is illegitimate or legitimate
Nationalism says that the state and nation should be congruent
Nations should have states
The leaders of the states should share with the masses a common culture,
language, history, religion, etc.
But this (the feeling of a common culture and the belief that the leaders of the state
should share in that culture) occurs only under modern conditions
It has never existed before in history
Raises a hypothesis that there has to be something about modernity that fuels
What is it about modern conditions?
Never before in human history did people insist that their leaders be of the same
culture and never did leaders try to make the people share their culture
This is a modern phenomenon
Its this need for congruence that needs to be explained
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POL101 Nationalism and ConflictJanuary 17th 2010
Nationalism and Modernization
High culture and low cultures: European monarch and populations
Historically, European monarchs didnt have to share the culture of their
There was no need for the monarchs to even speak the same language as
their people
Industrial society and need for universalization of high culture
Before the industrial era, it wasnt necessary for people to speak to each
other in a standard way
Something about industrial society required the universalization of culture,
so that the masses could communicate in a common culture and language
How is that common culture created? In order to create a standard you need an
organization to do it, to impose it
States can impose it
States decide which language to educate the masses in, and this is momentous
This puts certain groups at an advantage the people who dont speak the language
are automatically disadvantaged
Its only necessary in modernity to that because we have a need to communicate with
people we do not have intimate relationships with, in a non-context-bound way
It is universally understood
In this way, nations are constructed, they are projects of elites, sometimes competing
projects. They dont exist as things in themselves but are the products of aggregated
individual beliefs.
But stakes are very high: if YOUR culture is not adopted as the high (and universal)
culture, you face systematic disadvantage
In industrial societies, states are service organizations for providing common
cultures: education
This all accounts for why nationalism is a modern event
There was no need back then
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