Is it possible to imagine nationalism without the nation? Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


After the end of the Second World War, populations assembled within their nations with great hope of developing their home countries, which had undergone destruction following the aftermath of the war. Emigration and migration activities were part of the events that marked the World War II with powerful states exercising slave trade that displaced cultural communities to form mixed states.

Nation-building started immediately and the world exponentially started developing into unique world structures characterised by globalisation. Latin American, Europe, and Asian nations have been historically the predecessors of campaigning for nationalism, though quite unsuccessful, following ethical and religious divisions that have proven critical matters over the years.

Nationalism can be understood as the conception that a society, state, or nation is the natural political and social appearance of the modern world. Little literature prevails on nation-state and nationalism, hence the poor understanding or misunderstanding surrounding this concept. This essays thus seeks to examine whether it is possible to imagine nationalism without the nation.

Meaning of the two terminologies


Nationalism has become a huge field of study, discourse, and one of the globally controversial concepts with studies seeking to expound the understanding of the concept to reduce the augmenting fury of confusion (Wimmer & Schiller 2002). Studying the concept of nationalism is becoming essential in understanding world politics.

The historical development of the notion of nationalism streams from the ancient politics that witnessed the dramatic emergence of the French Revolution of 1789 that marked the formation of the first ‘nation-state’ (Spruyt 2002). It was during this moment that nationalism, as a global concept, became a powerful idea, thus changing the European states into rising towards nationalism and governing through Napoleonic rules.

Nationalism, in its simplest terms, can be expressed as a desire of citizens of a nation to establish and maintain an autonomous political component. According to Tishkov (2000), nationalism generally refers to the creed and intuition streaming from the political dogma that describes the attitude of individuals over their identification and association with a certain nation.

A nation

Latin America has been the most renowned anomaly in the backdrop of nationalism and hence the term nation itself. The word nation came from the Latin and when it was first introduced, it clearly demonstrated the idea of common blood bonding. From the contemporary literature as elucidated by Lowrance (2012), “a nation refers to a group of people thought to share a common history, culture or some aspects of identity” (p. 85).

A nation entails individuals or nationalists mainly embedded by transnational boundaries and guided by certain political principles, judicial frameworks, and certain religious convictions, but with distinct racial, cultural, and ethnical backgrounds.

Defining a nation thus becomes a confronting issue, especially considering the socio-ethnical dimensions and political systems that finally lead to distinguishing nationalism in different perspectives, including civic nationalism and ethnonationalism (Connor 1978).

With several racial and ethnical dimensions, a nation can thus mean a community or populace living under certified transnational boundaries bounded by certain statutory and political principles.

Quandary in connection between the terminologies

Tracing the history and development of the concept of nationalism and its context within nations and states have never proved challenging as finding its appropriate definition and its connection with the state or nation.

An incessant quandary exists over the concept of nationalism and its relationship with a nation or state, as nationalists themselves within countries differ idiosyncratically and the question is whether there is any interdependence.

Despite streaming from Western nations with the French Revolution making the beginning of nation-state politics that nationalism signifies numerous nations, including the European states and Latin American nations themselves, have failed to achieve nationalism.

Miller (2006) affirms, “Lacking the linguistic and ethnic distinctions commonly associated with national identities in Europe or Asia, lacking a secure process of state consolidation, and lacking, too, the economic success of the United States and Canada” (p.201).

A nation can only be distinguished best from its boundary, but not from behaviour of its people, as it is very normal that a nation comprises individuals with different ethnical and racial backgrounds.

Researches consider the aspect of nationalism and nation as one of the most challenging, especially when individuals seek to identify the connection prevailing in the two terminologies. As postulated by Connor (1978), “far more detrimental to the study of nationalism, however, has been the prosperity to employ the term nation as a substitute for that territorial juridical unit, the state” (p. 381).

How the practice of interchanging the two terminologies developed over the years is still ambiguous, but the French Revolution and the West politics of the seventeenth century can provide a substantial background.

Early literature is crucial in understanding how nationalism gradually developed, including the terminology ‘nation’ as a territorial juridical unit for any state.

As noted by Connor (1978), the literature and theories discussed by writings of the early men including Locke are integral in the discussion of nationalism as they always identified people as the forerunners of political power, hence making the state and people almost the same thing.

Perhaps the augmenting mental quagmire and failure concerning political practice and theory relating to the practice of a nation and nationalism, inclusive of general and contemporary studies of nationalism, is making it even more challenging to understand the nation-state ideology.

As noted by Tishkov (2000), a nation is continuously becoming a powerful symbol in which two forms of social alliances known as polity (the state) and ethnic unit (the people) are confronting to possess as their elite property.

The question that continues to linger across scholars’ minds is whether a nation is the geographical boundaries that differentiate one state from another or the people and the principles, culture, and belief they consider in their life practices.

Nationalism is one’s perception or conception that he/she belongs to a certain nation and at this point, the issue of patriotism becomes essential while considering whether nationalist can prevail without a nation (Miller 2006). The notion that nationalism has to come first before a nation will also remain debatable.

Can nationalism exist without a nation?

From the conviction that a nation-state exists when individuals come forth and with anticipated solidarity, unify their nation through nation-building, the question of whether nationalism can prevail without a nation persists (Kuzio 2002). The struggle to build a nation-state has always been in existence with inventors and predecessors of the nationalism concept struggling to achieve this vision but constantly ending up in dismay.

This assertion holds as the messianic nationalists have never believed that human beings are capable of joining their nation in any possible way (Spruyt 2002). Any nation struggling to achieve nationalism through nation-building, including those that consider themselves democratically governed, have always suffered a massive blow towards achieving a nation-state status.

Nation-state continues to be applied indiscriminately to all nations within ethicised political systems taking place each successive regime. Brubaker (2004) notes that in some contexts, “the community imagined as nationalists to a certain nation fail to coincide with the territorial aspects and citizenry of the state” (p.119).

Building a nation needs nationalists

A nation is, as stated before, a geopolitical area that entails individuals or nationalists mainly embedded by transnational boundaries and guided by certain political principles, judicial frameworks, and certain religious convictions, but with distinct racial, cultural, and ethnical backgrounds (Wimmer & Schiller 2002).

However, nationalists or people within a nation from an integral basis of the ethnic composition and not the geographical boundary, which is still unclear to many. Nation-building is efforts of nationalists to engage harmoniously in activities that promote impartiality, justice, and peace within their nation (Connor 1978).

Formation of laws, governance of people, and community building that result in strengthened nationhood is achievable through contributions of nationalists through the process of civilisation.

The actuality beyond this assertion is that a nation entails people and building it requires real patriots or nationalist, all of which are persons still. A nation marred with socio-political and ethnic bias will receive potential challenges when struggling to build a nation-state.

In a bid to enjoy equal state rights and privileges once in a nation-state, it is paramount for all individuals to remain bound to the reality that solidarity in nationalists is critical and viewing one another as individuals who need one another is of importance. Territorial states become nation-states on the basis that state-building and nation-building contain a relatively closer meaning of nation-state building.

Spruyt (2002) posit, “State-building (the attempt to enhance the capacity to rule) and nation-building (the attempt to construct a shared political identity among the subjects of that particular territorial state) thus went hand in hand” (p. 133). Further importance in acknowledging the essence of people and nation as inseparable entities prevailed in studies throughout literal documentations.

One of the noticeable documentations is the conceptions of Tishkov (2000) that a nation is not merely a political entity, but it comprises a system of cultural representations and that people are not only legal citizens of a certain nation, but also possess critical knowledge on nation-building through the national culture.

Why it is impossible to have nationalism without a nation

A great excitement over whether nationalism can prevail without the presence of a nation will remain an endless argument whether one is liberal or democratic. From this paper’s arguments, a nation needs nationalists who are patriotic at building it, and thus, it is impossible to have nationalism without a nation.

While arguing on this stand, individuals should understand that a “nation is a symbolic community and this element accounts for its power to generate a sense of identity and allegiance” (Tishkov 2000, p. 629). One is a nationalist when he/she considers her/himself as an individual belonging to a certain nation with all prerequisites needed to become a nationalist, including national identity.

This assertion explains why it becomes significantly challenging to develop states bound to individuals cultural dimensions and ethnographic circles (Kuzio 2002). Citizenship is all about considering oneself to be of an origin or currently attached to a certain nation and this aspect happens only when there is a willingness to shift from tribal affinity to associational citizenship.

Referring an individual to a certain national background begins with building civic knowledge that makes individuals entitled to beliefs of having a connection with a certain state and the strength of defending patriotism will depend on how individuals feel about their nations (Wimmer & Schiller 2002).

As denoted earlier, state-building and nation-building are two inseparable things that complement each other in development. State building requires public building and the vice versa and at this point, nation-state building becomes achievable (Spruyt 2002).

Building a nation requires patriotism from nationalists and through this aspect, one should concur that it is relatively impossible to have the concept of nationalism within the existence of a geopolitical nation itself.

However, the role of nationalism in the modern state-building to develop nation-state is downsizing as real nationalism remains anticipation, but not an achievement (Wimmer & Schiller 2002). As public building requires patriotism from nationalist, it becomes difficult to imagine nationalism without a nation.

Following a survey conducted in 1971, Connor (1978) presented significant evidence that nation-state building signifies the importance of nationalism as well as nation-building. From the survey that included approximately 132 entities considered as states in 1971, the following protracted from this survey.

Only 12 (9.1%) states out of the surveyed 132 could remain described as nation-states, twenty-five (18.9) contained a nation accounting for above 90% of the state’s total population, but also with minorities. Another 25, accounting to 18.9%, included a nation accounting for approximately 75% and 89%.

From the few evidences, it is possible to realise that nation-building has primarily depended on state-building and hence making the two inseparable concepts from theoretical to a practical perspective.

From this analysis, Connor (1978) concluded that there are no vital differences between nation and state as no great harm would occur from referring to them as simply nations as they theoretically and practically coincide in their application.

No nationalism in nations

From the historical development of the concept of nation-state and its political campaign to achieve this form of civilisation, nationalism has been ever challenging to achieve especially considering the prevailing social, cultural, and economic differences that result in the presence of minority population.

The forerunners of the nationalism concept, including the Latin Americans, Europeans, and other Asian countries have been anticipating, but not successful in achieving nationalism. The current state compositions include individuals of diverse racial backgrounds and ethnic origins following the migration activities that have been eminent in the modern decades.

Racial and ethnic differences in the western nations have persisted and despite their democratic governance, which they contend so, significantly failed to achieve nationalism.

Miller (2006) affirms, “All these experiences, together with those of black people and other immigrant groups, have led to severe questioning of the official claim that Latin American nations are racial democracies” (p. 204). Nations have become ethnical and they behave more of racial and religious identity rather than region and national identity.

Racial & Ethnical disparities

Nationalism occurs after individuals feel free and have an attitude of relationship with their certain state or nation. This feeling erodes in situations where civilians feel unappreciated, undermined, and living with differences from their statehood.

Despite holding significant evidence over their contribution to the development of the nation-state, Latin American states became part of the racial divide in the1960s when the US started nation-building based on racial foundations.

The United States itself has been a victim of social aggression, within the nation-state building characterised by racial differences rather than building the nation on civil grounds (Wimmer & Schiller 2002).

Efforts to build nations on strong civilisation grounds has received substantial challenges following the conviction that different races are battling for the same share of state with each of them claiming as its property. Coupled with globalisation that is racially divided, this aspect seems to generate different perceptions of the state of nationalism as perceived by its practical meaning.

The United States and other West nations, including Europe, have been witnessing racial differences that have been marred by political and cultural contributions. Of late, they have witnessed separatist movements resulting from a racial confrontation with the nations divided on perceptions that specific cultural units (whites or blacks) are more important than others in these nations are.

Blacks, American Indians, Black Americans, Mexican Americans and other minority group races in the US and other European nations have been fighting for equity and recognition by their governments, claiming of racial partiality, employment favouritism, and political segregation.

The United States’ immigrants from history to present have experienced prejudice in one way or the other and continuously received unequal treatment in their nation.

How would these individuals then consider themselves as nationalist of such countries where prejudice forces them to have a different perception over their connection with their nation? Presumably, this issue will remain a debatable factor when almost every nation contains minority groups.

Religious differences

Religion is one of the important players of contemporary global politics as nations are divided on religious grounds. Nationalism has been a controversial concept in determining the context at which nations’ politics are becoming largely influenced by the religious issues (Connor 1978). Israel and Palestine are practical examples of nations divided by religious differences, with Israel promising to deliver its civilisation to humankind.

The main religions involved in changing global politics that have led to different perceptions against nationalism are the Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

As noticed by Brubaker (2004), “needless to say, this use of ‘nation’ excludes Muslims from membership of the nation, just as similar claims to ‘ownership’ of the state due to ethnocultural core nation exclude other ethnoreligious, ethnolinguistic, or ethno racial groups” (p. 117). This assertion brings up the question of nation-state with individuals divided into ethnoreligious groups and very divided into nation-building.


Nationalism is all about considering oneself to be connected legally to a nation and having a creed that one belongs to certain ethnic group. Ideally, a nation is more of a political entity and it contains significant consideration of cultural representations.

People also are not only legal citizens belonging to a particular nation, but also they are capable of participating in the idea of statehood or nationhood bound to certain national cultures.

Building a nation requires one’s understanding and love for the state, with aspects of racism and prejudice creating a different perception over nationalism, nation, and nation-state building. Nationalists are the people who remain patriotic to a nation and state-building and thus there cannot be nationalism without the nation.

Reference List

Brubaker, R 2004, ‘In the Name of the Nation: Reflections on Nationalism and Patriotism’, Citizenship Studies, vol. 8 no. 2, pp. 115–127.

Connor, W 1978, ‘A nation is a nation, is a state is an ethnic group is…’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 1 no. 1, pp. 377-400.

Kuzio, T 2002, ‘The myth of the civic state: a critical survey of Hans Kohn’s framework for understanding nationalism’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 25 no. 1, pp. 20–39.

Lowrance, S 2012, ‘Nationalism without Nation: State building in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine’, Middle East Critique, vol. 21 no.1, pp. 81-99.

Miller, A & Schiller, G 2002, ‘Methodology nationalism and beyond: nation-state building, migration and the social sciences’, Global Network, vol. 2 no. 4, pp. 301-334.

Miller, N 2006, ‘The historiography of nationalism and National identity in Latin America’, Nations and Nationalism, vol.12 no.2, pp. 201-221.

Spruyt, H 2002,’The origins, development, and possible decline of the modern state’, Annual Review of Political Science, vol. 5, pp. 127- 149.

Tishkov, V 2000, ‘Forget the ‘nation’: post-nationalist understanding of nationalism’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 23 no.4, pp. 625-650.

Wimmer, A & Schiller, N 2002, ‘Methodological nationalism and beyond: nation–state building, migration and the social sciences’, Global Networks, vol. 2 no.4, 301-334.

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