Nationalism. Nationalism Defined. Generally, “nationalism” refers to the attitude that members of a collective political unit have toward their nation, whether that nation is equated with the state or not…
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It is common place to talk about ethnic nationalism, civic nationalism, cultural nationalism, constitutional nationalism, judicial, economic, and even separatist nationalism.
Nationalism, as Tom Nairn says in The Break-up of Britain, is “a mechanism of adjustment and compensation” or a continuous practice of definition and redefinition that structures innumerable, some might say, every aspect of a culture, especially where the values that subtend or underwrite these beliefs and practices are perceived to be threatened.
Canadians are well position to look at U.S. nationalism, which appears almost non-existent except when it is thought to be threatened. Canadians would probably define themselves as somewhat more nationalistic than Americans, if only because many Canadians feel their values and beliefs constantly under threat from the larger neighbour to the south.
So, the –ism points us to this continuous quality, this mechanism, but it also points us to the fact that nationalism is a field of scholarly research, and it is sometimes difficult to separate what is happening in this body of collective research with what is happening in the real world. In fact, at times it appears that the two are inseparable.
In the case of Irish nationalism, problems in the nation are sometimes thought to emerge out of deficiencies in the scholarship. We are going to get back to this periodically in this course: how the body of knowledge sometimes tries to distance itself from the real world (Gellner, Anderson) even while this is impossible.
Perrenialists: nations are very old, but developed over time and in certain historical ways
Modernists: nations are entirely contemporary phenomena, developing in 19th century Europe, and any attempt to see them as emerging earlier is borne out of the misapprehension of the historian who grafts contemporary social realities onto past epochs that either did not know about them or did not care about them. Modernists like Ernest Gellner tend to stress the economic underpinnings of the historical change towards nationalism.
Part of the appeal of the modernist approach, and perhaps the reason that it is most popular today, is that it allows us to talk about the central political unit of our time without talking too much about ethnic nationalism, which is usually regarded as the ugly side of nationalism.