Political Theories for Students. Editor: Matthew Miskelly & Jaime Noce. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002.


Nationalism is sometimes labeled a political phenomenon or ideology that is not truly a theory. Some political activists and scholars see nationalism not as something to be theorized about but merely as a strong, sentimental feeling about one’s own country, a patriotic fervor directed toward advancing the “national interest.” Others view nationalism as the driving philosophy behind social movements that can both infect and inspire (depending on one’s viewpoint) large numbers of people living in the same geographical region to attack other groups or countries for the anticipated benefit of one’s interests. Still others see nationalism as a phenomenon that can be appropriately conceptualized and described, analyzed, and explained in theoretical terms. The variety of perspectives on nationalism—whether, for example, nationalism simply exemplifies overzealous feelings for one’s country or is rightfully placed within the scope of political theories—has fluctuated over time. At certain periods in history, no one talked about “nationalism” per se, although the concept of “nations” appeared during European Middle Ages, if not earlier. Nationalist movements seem not to have occurred before the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Beginning with the fall of the French Emperor Napoleon in the early 1800s and the expansion of European imperialism across Africa and Asia in the late nineteenth century, nationalism increasingly appeared as a phenomenon whereby those seeking independence from imperial powers claimed rights to self-determination and gathered support for their national liberation movements.

In the late twentieth century, particularly after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the study of nationalism became a well-developed field, crossing the disciplinary boundaries of political science, sociology, anthropology, international relations, and history. Theories of nationalism can be divided into roughly two major categories: ethnic nationalism, based on concepts of shared ethnic identity, and civic nationalism, based on shared appreciation and respect for key political values.

Other theorists, including scholars from the developing world, have viewed the theoretical construction of national identities and of nationalism as something far more complex than can be adequately summarized into two categories. Similarly, differences of opinion are to be found as to whether nationalism is a modern phenomenon, appearing only when societies shifted from feudalism to capitalism and began to form independent states, or whether nationalism has existed for centuries, if not millennia, as the natural expression of people’s deepest sense of their cultural and ancestral roots. By the late twentieth century, many assumptions typical of the earlier theoretical approaches to nationalism were challenged by the rise of movements throughout the world advocating ethnic separatism and irredentism (“consolidationist” movements, in the words of Deborah Larson of the University of California at Los Angeles, as cited by Kristen Williams in Despite Nationalist Conflicts). The growing demands of indigenous peoples for political and cultural self-determination and the increasing heterogeneity of populations in multicultural societies in much of the developed world also are challenging traditional notions of nationalist theory at the start of the new millennium.


Nationalism, as a field of study, is fraught with controversial interpretations, including disagreement over when nationalist thinking and nationalist movements first appeared. The historical review presented here of the development of nationalism in theory and in practice thus should be read with an awareness of this lack of consensus among scholars as to the exact nature of nationalism, the causes for its arising in particular societies and periods of history, and the best way it should be theorized.


That said, it is worth noting that early examples of the concept of the nation can be found in both the European and the non-European world, together with rather precise political formulations of how nations should function and work together. For example, at some point between the eleventh century and the early sixteenth century (estimates of the exact date range from 1142 to 1450), Dekanawidah, known as The Peacemaker, emerged from the Native American nation of the Hurons in the Great Lakes region to establish the Haudenosaunee (pronounced “ho-dee- no-sho-nee,” known by the French as the Iroquois), a political confederation of five (later, six) Native American nations living in the northeastern region of what would later be the United States of America.

Across the Atlantic, at about the same time, the system of feudal states and monarchical rule established during the European Middle Ages gradually was reshaped as commerce grew, urban areas developed, and the Renaissance introduced new concepts of the position of man (and woman) within European society. Among the earliest European groups to build a national identity were the Scots, who between 1296 and 1328 fought King Edward I (1239-1307) and the English in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Prepared on April 6, 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish nation’s formal declaration of independence from England, was drawn up at the Monastery of Arbroath in Scotland and sealed by 38 Scottish lords. Addressed to the Pope, the Declaration spoke of the Scottish nation and urged the Pope to disregard the English claim on Scotland, which the Pope subsequently did.

On October 24, 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed between the King of France, the Holy Roman Emperor, and their allies, ending the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants in Europe and marking new boundaries for European states. For the most part, however, a genuine sense of national identity had yet to develop among the peoples living in each of these European states. Although religious influence on political affairs would continue to shape history, governments would now be based more on a secular rather than religious rule. In 1690, a half-century after the Treaty of Westphalia, English physician John Locke (1632-1704) published his “Second Treatise on Government,” further developing English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) “social contract theory” to identify civil government as resting on the consent of the governed. Locke’s writings are now seen by many as having sparked the “Age of Enlightenment” in Europe—a period in history when the rights of individuals were enumerated and exalted and the concept of government based on the will of the people took hold. Interest in democratic self-governance and political self-determination grew among European and American philosophers and ordinary citizens alike.


France, one of the most powerful European countries at the time, underwent profound political changes in 1789. On July 14 an angry mob stormed the Bastille Prison in Paris, sparking the French Revolution with the goal of achieving “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” for all citizens living in France. The growth of a “bourgeois” middle class had led to demands by commoners for a greater say in their governance, which up to then had been controlled mainly by the clergy and the nobility. October 16, 1793 saw the execution by guillotine of Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV of France, ending royal rule in France and paving the way for an attempt at democratic rule. However, the repression and violence visited upon those unwilling to subscribe to the new method of government was so enormous that the country fell back into disarray under the “Reign of Terror” of the Jacobins, who wished to instill an excessive degree of control and order on French society and to eliminate all who they deemed enemies. A decade later, Napoleon Bonaparte, a general in the French army, led the French people on an expansive campaign to conquer Europe.

Witnessing the transformation of European states away from monarchical rule, German theologian Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) published his Outline of a Philosophy of a History of Man, a set of theories developed by Herder between 1774 and 1781, which detailed his views on the proper identity of nations and on the growth of nationalism. In this document and others he wrote over the next two decades, Herder promoted the idea that true nations are comprised of persons who share a common ancestry and linguistic heritage, along with common cultural and religious traits. His idea of “romantic nationalism” was one of the earliest theoretical portraits of nationalism as stemming from the desires of language communities to shape their own destinies and to create their own territorial states.

Johann Gottfried Herder

Johann Gottfried Herder was one of the earliest of the European writers on nationalism. His principal works include A Treatise upon the Origin of Language (1772) and Outline of a Philosophy of the History of Man (1784-91). Herder’s concept of nationalism focused on the cultural side of nation formation, with ethnicity figuring much more significantly in the development of nationhood than the more “civic” aspects featured by later theorists. In Herder’s Social and Political Thought: From Enlightenment to Nationalism, F.M. Barnard described Herder’s life and the development of his nationalist vision, noting that Herder’s conception of nationalism emerged during the German Romantic period that began in the eighteenth century. At that time, the idea of a German national identity grew in popularity across the feudal states that eventually would be united as the German Confederation of 1815 and later, in 1871, as the German Empire.

Despite his personal charisma and ability to attract others to take part in stimulating intellectual discussions and correspondence with him, Herder became increasingly isolated in his work and views and dissatisfied with life as he aged. Nonetheless, he reportedly was a keen observer of his surroundings and enjoyed being of service to others. Herder’s discontent with the social and political life of his times had much to do with the lack of democratic practices in eighteenth century German society. Concerned with social justice, Herder objected to the exclusionary nature of German hereditary politics, nobility, and feudal structures, to the arbitrariness of political tyrants, and to the continual warfare of nations that sought to dominate each other. He was especially opposed to slavery and colonialism.

Religiously taught and inspired, Herder drew from the Bible, secular humanist principles, and the humanitarian writings and philosophy of the Renaissance and the European Enlightenment periods in developing his theory of nationalism. He found the Hebrew people particularly interesting, for he viewed them, according to Barnard, as the “oldest example of a Volk [people] with a developed national consciousness and of an ‘organic’ community in which socio-political organization grew naturally out of the socioeconomic functions of its members.” This concept of “Volk” was key to Herder’s understanding of nationalism. The character of a Volk, in Herder’s mind, was shaped in particular by language, which brought people together into a community and allowed them to express their innermost spiritual qualities in a natural way. Herder saw language and ethnicity as needing to correspond to a political, territorial state. Consequently, mixtures of ethnic communities living in the same territorial region would not form as vital or cohesive a state as a single language community would.

In some ways, Herder’s conception of nationalism overlaps with “civic nationalism.” He believed that self-government and the choice of individuals to be governed by a state were essential. However, in his theory of “linguistic nationalism,” Herder assumed that when a state coincided with an ethnic community, legislation would not need to be coercive, since laws would flow naturally from the social awareness of the Volk. While he valued the creation of individual states, each corresponding to a specific Volk, Herder also viewed the respect of different peoples for each other and for international cooperation as extremely important. Thus, the right of one particular ethnic community to self-determination could be exercised only if self-governance did not prevent another Volk from governing themselves. Rather than advocating a formal world government structure, however, Herder believed international cooperation could best be achieved through looser associations of nations where mutual interests would be advanced by peaceful cooperation.

Historical events in Europe just after Herder’s death created new boundaries for major European states and inspired further thought among political philosophers on the nature of the nation and the phenomenon of nationalism. Between 1806 and 1807, the French army under the leadership of Napoleon defeated Prussia. During these same years German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) delivered a series of lectures, “Addresses to the German Nation,” advancing the idea that common “civic” values are the basis for nations; that is, a liberal citizenry is fundamentally based on shared respect for individual freedoms and liberties and that government is created of, by, and for those governed. Having grown ever more dictatorial and autocratic, Napoleon’s rule eventually came to an end. Crowning himself Emperor of France, Napoleon eventually met his downfall at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium in 1815, where the Prussian army halted Napoleon’s murderous, self- annihilating campaign. In the same year, the German Confederation was formed, linking thirty-nine German feudal states (thirty-five monarchies and four free cities), a significant step toward the unification of Germany to take place in 1871 under King Wilhelm I (1797-1898).

Throughout the nineteenth century, dramatic political changes continued to occur in Europe, sparked by the growing number, size, and economic importance of capitalist industries and the appearance of a solid middle class. Political and economic discontent grew at mid-century, especially among the lower- level aristocrats and the bourgeoisie—the newly appearing middle class consisting largely of businessman and businesswomen—who saw their interests inadequately represented in the governing structures of Europe. In 1848 economic problems, discontent by the middle class over their lack of opportunity for political participation, and growing nationalist movements led to revolutionary attempts to establish a new political order. To a substantial measure, the growing influence of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels’ (1820-1895) writings on socialism and communism as alternatives to capitalism inspired political insurgencies and economic riots in many European cities that year. Though the revolts failed to establish more liberal, socialist governments, nationalist movements gained momentum throughout Europe from the tumultuous events of that year.

Building Nations

Following the French expulsion of Austrians from power in Northern Italy by 1859 and the uniting of southern Italian city-states under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), Italy became a single kingdom in 1861 under Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878), acclaimed by popular vote. Ten years after Italy was united, King Wilhelm I was crowned emperor of the new German Empire, at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War. The unification of Prussia and the thirty-nine German states and cities of the German Confederation culminated the campaign to unify Germany into a single state by the military conquests of Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia. Nation building in Europe was at a high point. A decade later, on March 11, 1882, French philosopher Ernest Renan (1823-1892) lectured on “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” (“What is a nation?”) at the Sorbonne, Paris’ premier university. His lecture, published in Paris by Calmann-Levy later that year, explored questions of the essence of national identity and national unification movements and marked out new theoretical territory in developing a civic conception of nationalism.

Around this time, concepts of national identity became ever more exclusive, with the criteria for supposed membership in national groups growing increasingly specific and focused on culture and “race.” The growth of anti-Semitism in France and Germany during the late 1870s reflected growing popular sentiment toward what it meant to be a member of a nation, this time in a cultural and racial sense. In terms of political party activity, nationalism was becoming an increasingly dangerous phenomenon by the 1890s, especially for those deemed unworthy of inclusion as members of the nation. The growth of anti-immigrant parties such as the “Know-Nothing Party” in the United States and the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s in France—a case of anti-Semitic action directed against Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), a French general staff officer who was convicted of treason despite insubstantial evidence—marked the dangerous turn nationalism was taking in both Europe and America.

For the African continent, the most significant event of the nineteenth century arguably was the 1884-85 Conference of Berlin, involving the heads of several European states, among them France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. At this series of meetings, the participating European countries established their “rights” to stake out colonial claims and extend their political and economic control in Africa. Only Liberia, colonized by freed American and Caribbean slaves beginning in 1822 and made independent in 1847, and Ethiopia, historically an independent kingdom (except under Mussolini’s Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941), escaped the ravages of the European imperialists in the decades that followed the Berlin Conference. What came to be known as the “Scramble for Africa” had begun, with dire consequences for the indigenous nations across the African continent, from the Arab Maghreb in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the south.

At the close of the nineteenth century, an international conference in Europe offered the promise of a future world where national sovereignty would be better respected and nations would cooperate in peace. In 1899 this First International Peace Conference was held in the Belgium city of The Hague to establish the fundamentals of multilateral diplomacy and light the way for a future world federation of nations working collectively toward peace and security. Although the principal goals of the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 and the Hague Conference of 1907—including goals for disarmament—have not yet been realized a century later, the Hague Conference represented a new step forward in seeking the means to settle differences without violence, putting forth a greater respect for the rights of all.

World War

Unfortunately, the resolve to create a more peaceable means to settling disputes did not prevent the outbreak of a massive war in Europe a few years later. From 1914 to 1918 the First World War raged across Europe. Engendered by nationalistic claims to territory in the Balkan Mountains region of southeastern Europe, the war entangled Europe’s major states in what came to be the bloodiest war in history. Toward the close of the war, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States gave his “Fourteen Points” speech before a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress on January 8, 1918, outlining his recommended program to resolve the problems associated with the First World War and to prevent future outbreaks of violence among nation-states. As his fourteenth point, Wilson recommended the following: “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

Although the cease-fire, or Armistice, of November 11, 1918 ended World War I, the peace agreement formally concluding the First World War was the treaty signed at the Palace of Versailles just outside of Paris on June 28, 1919. While the Treaty of Versailles reinforced Wilson’s plan to create the League of Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it simultaneously laid the groundwork for future wars. By requiring the German state to pay costly war reparations, the Treaty of Versailles virtually guaranteed that Germany would face severe economic problems in the years to come. The war reparations and consequent downslide in the German economy, further undermined by the Wall Street stock market crash 1929, fostered sufficient discontent among the German people that the charismatic political actor Adolf Hitler managed to take the reins of power in Germany. Capitalizing on the desire of the German people to rekindle their national pride and to carve out a significant place for themselves in Europe and the world, Hitler’s popularity in Germany grew rapidly during the difficult times of the 1920s and early 1930s. The attention given by the German National Socialist Party (“Nazi” Party) to Germany’s economic troubles, coupled with rising racist sentiment and the growth of nationalist ideology and rhetoric, appears to have made Hitler’s extremist party more successful in gathering public and electoral support than other extremist parties of that time. Although his popularity had begun to decline when he was named German Chancellor by President Hindenburg of Germany on January 30, 1933—a move largely the result of political infighting—his promotion to Chancellor placed him in a political position where he could wreak increasing havoc on the peoples of Germany and the rest of Europe.

Between 1939 and 1945 the Second World War devastated Europe and the Asian Pacific region as ultra-nationalist leaders sought to enlarge their political jurisdiction and create societies that matched their plans for advancing their own peculiar perspectives on what best constitutes a nation. The 1930s saw the build-up of Hitler’s genocidal campaign by the Nazis, a disastrous attempt to rebuild the German nation by exterminating those Hitler and his cohorts considered “non-Aryan” and consequently “racially inferior”: essentially, all who were non-white, non-Protestant, and non-German—specifically, minorities such as Jews, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Roman Catholics, and the mentally and physically disabled—were targeted. Even before Hitler’s sudden rise to power, Italian military commander Benito Mussolini had begun his fascistic campaign to heighten Italy’s position in Europe, and his own position as well. As Hitler’s popularity in grew and Germany built itself into a state to be reckoned with, Mussolini struck out on his own nationalist, murderous campaign across Italy, the Balkans, and North Africa, based on the ideology that the Italian state could reclaim the former glory of the Roman Empire. Japanese Emperor Hirohito (1901- 1989) did likewise with his genocidal treatment of the peoples of China, Korea, and other countries in Southeast and East Asia as he sought to increase the power of the Japanese state.

The United Nations

Before the Second World War had fully ended, a new international organization of sovereign states, the United Nations (UN), was founded in hopes of preventing future wars by encouraging cooperative efforts of nation-states acting together to foster peace and development through a system of collective security. An event of lasting international importance was the conference held in October 1945 in San Francisco, involving the political leaders of the five principal states of the Allied Alliance that had fought in World War II—the United States, France, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China. The leaders of these states gathered to write a charter for a new international organization, one that despite its shortcomings would be vastly more effective than the failed League of Nations. Whereas the League had lacked the power to enforce its members’ decisions and could not stop the rise of Hitler or the other Axis leaders, the UN was designed to provide measures by which states could reinforce directives to nations failing to comply with standards of international law and behavior. Additionally, the new UN ideally would promote peaceful economic and social development in all parts of the world, for the benefit of all.

It is worth noting here that one problematic aspect of the United Nations has to do with its composition as a collective body of states rather than of individual nations, nationalities, or peoples. Most of the member states of the UN actually comprise a mixture of nations—for example, Great Britain’s population includes not only the English but also the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish minorities along with members of many other nations who voluntarily immigrated or were brought to Britain’s shores. Other nationalities such as the Kurds, the Palestinians, and the Basques lack their own nation-states as well as UN representation. These stateless peoples have been at a decided disadvantage in international arenas like the UN, a problem many hope eventually will be overcome as more nations are granted their own territorial states and as international recognition and representation are granted to at least some stateless peoples, including the indigenous nations often called “First Nations” or the “Fourth World.”

The Cold War

Despite the good intentions of those who created the United Nations, the “Cold War” that was waged between the United States and its democratic allies and the Soviet Union and its communist allies from the late 1940s until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 all but prevented the UN from achieving many of its goals for several decades. Pitting democratically governed states whose economies were primarily capitalist or mixed (socialist blended with capitalist) against totalitarian, communist states, the Cold War monopolized the political attention and the military and economic resources of much of the developed world for over four decades. Since the weapons of mass destruction developed in the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States included myriad nuclear missiles and other highly destructive arms, direct warfare could not be conducted between these two superpowers. Instead, many proxy (substitute) wars came to be waged between “Western bloc” colonies (developing nation-states influenced and financed by the United States) and those of the “Eastern bloc,” influenced and financed by the Soviet Union. These wars entailed the deaths and maiming of countless civilians and combatants in the very parts of the world that suffered most from poverty, malnutrition, poor health, and underdevelopment.

Third World Independence

During the Cold War period, however, not all political events in what came to be known as the “Third World” (less-industrialized, less economically developed regions) were unwelcomed by their peoples. Beginning in the early 1950s and extending through the 1960s, numerous African nations achieved their independence from the European imperial powers that had colonized them and had deprived them of their rights, their land, and their economic resources. Nationalist independence movements in many African colonies developed momentum as one after another of Europe’s former colonies liberated themselves from their former rulers. In a relatively quick succession of declarations of independence, the newly established African states typically agreed to set their territorial boundaries along the lines of those established arbitrarily by the European imperialists during the Scramble for Africa. This meant, however, that many tribal and ethnic groups came to be divided across two or more countries, despite their common heritage and culture. The implications of the construction of national boundaries by the Europeans in the nineteenth century and of the subsequent legal reinforcement of these boundaries upon independence in the 1950s and 1960s were that in many countries, interethnic warfare would be waged toward the end of the twentieth century as ethnic groups sought to establish their authority to govern themselves and improve their economic and social lot.

In both Africa and Europe a substantial rise in internal strife within states appeared toward the close of the twentieth century. From 1981 through the early 1990s, popular democratic uprisings took place in Eastern Europe and brought the end of communist rule. The Polish Solidarity (Solidarnosza) movement, started in 1981 among striking shipyard workers in the Polish city of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea, climaxed with the electoral victory of President Lech Walesa (1943-) in 1990 and the inauguration of a democratically elected parliament. The execution of communist dictator Nicolas Ceausescu of Romania and his wife in October of 1989 marked the culmination of dramatic public protests against Ceausescu’s autocratic rule and the triumph of the Romanian people, among the most impoverished in Europe during the years of communist rule. Perhaps most exhilarating for both Western and Eastern observers was the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall that had divided East and West Berlin since 1961, culminating in the reunification of East Germany with West Germany in 1990. The democratization of other countries in Eastern Europe and the declarations of independence of many of the republics of the former USSR after its break-up in August 1991 similarly astounded the world at large. Many of these popular movements were stimulated not only by the desire to end autocratic communist rule but also by growing national movements that have sought to reclaim the ethnic and national identities of the people of Europe and Asia submerged under communism.

Problematic Nationalism

Not all nationalist movements in Europe in the post-Cold War period have been positive, however. In the southeast region of Europe, for example, violent warfare in Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990s, spurred on by attacks from Bosnian Serbs supported by the Serbian Army of Yugoslavia, led to the first genocide in Europe since World War II, followed a few years later by genocidal war in Kosovo and revenge killings in Serbia. By creating a federated country in the Balkans—Yugoslavia—from previously separate states along the Adriatic Sea, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles had brought a mixture of ethnic and religious groups together into one federated nation-state that would survive the years of communist rule, only to crumble disastrously into brutal interethnic warfare and genocide in the early 1990s when communist control in Eastern and Southeastern Europe dissolved. Manipulated by unscrupulous political leaders wishing to hold onto power at all costs despite the end of communist rule, the peoples of the former socialist Yugoslavia witnessed and became victims of some of the worst interethnic fighting and atrocities of the twentieth century.

Political developments in other parts of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Latin America in the post-World War II period have similarly represented the interplay of various forces, including autocratic repression as well as democratic, nationalist movements whose participants have aimed to express or reassert their ethnic identities and claims for civil governance by attaching their demands to a national state. Not all efforts have succeeded in realizing self-determination, but many nationalist leaders and activists have established themselves as viable political actors and forces to be reckoned with on the international stage. Increasingly during the 1990s and into the early twenty-first century, as an after-effect of the end of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for allies and influence, local conflicts have escalated into wide-ranging interethnic violence that has been difficult to control.

These “low-intensity” wars have killed and injured countless people, and conflict resolution efforts have been only minimally successful at quelling their violence. Not only have interethnic conflicts taken place in the developing world, but also in countries such as Northern Ireland and Cyprus, plagued with what sometimes appear to be never-ending conflicts (often labeled “intractable”) between ethnic and national groups. In many cases, the problems have centered on competing claims for the assertion of political authority at the state level by numerous stateless nations such as the Basque minority in Spain and the Palestinians in the Middle East.

Other nationalist challenges are perhaps less violent but more long-standing and equally hard to resolve—for example, the struggle of indigenous peoples worldwide to secure their own territory and resources in the face of a dominant ethnic group that controls state governance. The case of the Saami of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula of Russia is one such case where the level of direct violence in the late twentieth century was relatively low compared to the violence experienced by ethnic and religious groups contending for power in such places as Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and the Philippines. As with many Native American groups, the problems faced by the Saami and other indigenous minority nations stem from a state authority’s imposing its will through internal colonization and the negation of previous treaties and formal agreements—or at least from the perception by stateless peoples that this is taking place. In such cases no clear arbiter other than, perhaps, the United Nations or the International Court of Justice (the World Court) in The Hague exists to decide how such claims should be settled. Furthermore, what Norwegian peace theorist Johann Galtung has termed “structural” violence—violence indirectly wrought by oppressive social, political, and economic structures and discriminatory practices—afflicts indigenous communities worldwide but is particularly hard to correct since the violence is occurring at the systemic level.

Theory in Depth

Definitions of “Nation”

Crucial to the concept of “nationalism” is the definition of “nation” and its distinction from the notion of “state.” To begin with, a “state” in a political sense can be defined as a politically governed territory with distinct boundaries, having the sovereign authority to control its own domestic affairs and to represent the interests of its polity (i.e., those living within and governed by the political authority of the state) in deliberations and interactions with other states. The concept of the polity as a collection of persons sharing specific political values (such as the preservation of individual freedoms and liberties or the notion that all individuals in the polity should have the right to make political decisions together) or certain common characteristics (for example, language ties or a common cultural heritage) does not really come into play in the strict definition of a state. In contrast, the idea of the “nation-state” brings together the belief that territorial boundaries, political authority, and the composition of the population inhabiting the territory somehow should coincide, theoretically with the population all belonging to the same homogeneous nation. Few nation-states actually fit this strict definition, since nearly all states in the twenty-first century are composed of a multiplicity of peoples from many national groups.

In defining the nation, scholars have produced both culturally and civic-oriented definitions, although some, such as Anthony D. Smith, have attempted to combine elements of both. To Smith, a nation is a group of people who share the same geographical territory as well as certain common elements of history, culture, economy, and law.

In his 1882 lecture, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” (“What is a nation?”), Frenchman Ernest Renan described a nation as

a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life.

Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, defines a nation as “an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Anderson is one of the key theorists of “constructed nationalism,” where nationalism is viewed as a socially constructed idea meant to serve the interests and needs of the members of a nation and those participating in nationalist movements. Presenting the view that nations are “imagined communities” created in the minds of those who live in them, Anderson’s book represents a departure from the views of the “primordialists” who considered nationalism an outgrowth of an innate human need for ethnic community.

Definitions of “Nationalism”

Theories of nationalism range from explanations focusing on the why and wherefore of the formation of social movements that take on a nationalist tone to attempts to explain the basis of the concept of “nation” and campaigns to promote a nationalist agenda. Whether the motivation to identify with a “nation” is a biologically based, “primordial” given, characteristic of all populations, whether it is something cultivated by political philosophers and activists seeking to promote specific agendas under the guise of ethnic identity, or whether it is something in between continues to be hotly debated. Many theorists look at nationalism as having existed only from the seventeenth or eighteenth century onward and as having its origins in Western European philosophical thought. Others view nationalism as a phenomenon with a more ancient history and interpret the drives to create great empires among the peoples of antiquity as synonymous with attempts in recent times to forge nation-states aligned to the ethnic identity or political values of the inhabitants.

Most Western-trained scholars view nationalism as a modern phenomenon, but some continue to insist that nations and nationalism originated much further back in time. Disagreement also persists as to whether the desire to establish territorial states coinciding with national groups is biologically determined or is shaped by political actors. The “primordialists”—those who see the quest for ethnic identity and solidarity as rooted physically in the human animal—see ethnicity as related to the official announcement of the species and the preservation of one’s own community, however defined. In contrast, many “modernization theorists” tend to believe that the impetus for nationhood and the development of distinct national identities are integrally connected to the rise of capitalism and the end of political empires and monarchies that began with the period of the European Enlightenment in the seventeenth century. Other modernizationists view ethnic identity formation and the growth of nationalism as phenomena of the post-Napoleon era, beginning only in the early nineteenth century.

Civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism

From the mid-twentieth century on, if not earlier, many scholars of nationalism came to view the range of differences in theoretical approaches to nationalism in a fairly dichotomous (i.e., two-category) way, distinguishing between “ethnic nationalist” and “civic nationalist” approaches. Michel Seymour, Jocelyne Couture, and Kai Nelson summarized the main differences between these two conceptualizations of nationalism in the introduction to their edited volume, Rethinking Nationalism. Aligned with the views of Ernest Renan, civic nationalists believe “that a nation is a voluntary association of individuals.” A good example would be the French Revolution. The ethnic nationalist’s approach is “based upon language, culture, and tradition, and thus appeals to more or less objective features of our social lives.” Nationalism in Germany during German Romanticism is ethnic nationalism, as are Johann Gottfried Herder’s views.

However, as the authors further note, “A careful reader of Renan and Herder will protest that this is an oversimplification of their views, for both authors integrate objective and subjective features in their characterization of the nation.” Consequently, theories of nationalism cannot accurately be categorized into two distinct groups, since the features of certain theoretical formulations of nationalism labeled “ethnic” may well overlap with aspects of a mainly “civic” nationalism.

Like Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), but contrasting with Johann Gottfried Herder—two of nationalism’s early theorists who wrote at the start of the nineteenth century—Renan viewed nations as resulting from political efforts to define a physical space for democratic governance by those who share similar civic values such as the preservation and promotion of individual rights, freedoms, and liberties. Cultural, linguistic, and ethnic identities do not predetermine national movements, Renan claimed. Instead, it is the political action of those who seek to unify a people based on a notion of shared experience and destiny.

Renan’s famous lecture at the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1882, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” (“What is a nation?”), raised questions about the origins of nations and the nature of their identity. After briefly examining the history of a number of nations, empires, and dynasties, Renan concluded,

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial.

To Renan, nation building requires “that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things.”

Renan saw nations as a relatively modern phenomenon, “brought about by a series of convergent facts.”

Sometimes unity has been effected by a dynasty, as was the case in France; sometimes it has been brought about by the direct will of provinces, as was the case with Holland, Switzerland, and Belgium; sometimes it has been the work of a general consciousness, belatedly victorious over the caprices of feudalism, as was the case in Italy and Germany.

In other words, a variety of events can lead to a nation’s emerging on the historical scene. Nonetheless, according to Renan, the determining factors in the creation of nations are not race, religion, culture, or language, as these may unite a people but do not oblige persons to act together. As Renan said, “A community of interest is assuredly a powerful bond between men. Do interests, however, suffice to make a nation? I do not think so. Community of interest brings about trade agreements, but nationality has a sentimental side to it; it is both soul and body at once …” Renan admitted that geography, too, influences the formation of nations, although it, too, is not a determining factor. In the end, Renan concluded, “A nation is a spiritual principle, the outcome of the profound complications of history; it is a spiritual family not a group determined by the shape of the earth.”

In Nationalism and the State, John Breuilly, too, identified nationalism as a modern phenomenon. Additionally, Breuilly sees nationalism as an evanescent phenomenon: appearing and then disappearing after serving its function. Instead of arising as a naturally occurring feature of nations defined as persons sharing a common culture, nationalism, according to Breuilly, is a politically pragmatic phenomenon: having accomplished its end, it then disappears.

Worth noting here is Michael Billig’s concept of “banal nationalism,” which he discusses in his book by the same name. Billig identifies patriotism as a banal, or everyday, form of nationalism, a pervasive phenomenon in nation-states that can quickly be kindled up into what Billig terms “hot nationalism.” This form of fervent, ultra-patriotic feeling—evident in the heated displays of patriotism by many Americans in response to the September 11, 2001 catastrophes—can sometimes produce significant, often harmful results such as the granting of excessive powers to a chief executive, the suspension of constitutional rights, and xenophobic attacks against those perceived to belong to “terrorist” religions or nationalities.

Theory in Action

In “The Promise, the Peril,” a special report appearing in the December 17, 2001, issue of Newsweek magazine, Marcus Mabry and his colleagues asked a critical question pertinent to scholars of nationalism: “How do you build a nation?” The authors suggest that Europeans and Americans accomplished nation building by “subjugation and might” during the days of imperialism. And they conclude that, since the end of the Cold War, the task of nation-building increasingly has been taken on by the United Nations. Clearly, the business of constructing a nation depends on contextual historical factors that vary significantly from case to case and over time. What worked to build a nation-state in eighteenth century Europe is not necessarily what works in the twenty-first century, particularly where nation-states were already constituted but were subsequently torn apart by ethnic violence, civil strife, or international warfare, only to be shaped again.

Nationalist theories range widely in scope and content, despite the certain amount of agreement that exists among scholars of nationalism as to what constitutes a “nation” and how a “nationalist” social movement can be identified and described. In many ways, nationalism would have assumed far less importance had there been no European colonization of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. It was to the liberation struggles that appeared in response to the oppressive nature of European imperial control that theories of nationalism took on special importance, starting especially in the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless, the specific context of oppression may be less important to the creation of national movements than the reality of oppression itself. Without the appearance of national movements to liberate oppressed peoples, whether as an outgrowth of the development of liberal thought amidst autocratic rule in Europe in the late 1600s and early 1700s, in response to industrialization, or in relation to campaigns in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s to throw off the shackles of European control, theories of nationalism hardly would have flourished or become as finely nuanced as they had by the early twenty-first century.

As to whether nationalist theories are necessary to inspire oppressed peoples to work for their own liberation, the debate continues. Some theorists maintain that nationalist campaigns—that is, nationalism in action—cannot occur without there first being intellectuals who envision the possibilities of creating a new national identity and new political structures to match (essentially, a “top-down” stage in the process), followed by the cultivation of these ideas among the masses, then the emergence of capable political actors who can lead their people to press for recognition of their nationalist demands (“bottom-up,” or grassroots, stage). Whatever the case, it is obvious that virtually no nation-state in the world today could have been formed or would have achieved independence without some measure of motivated, concerted action on the part of historical actors seeking to secure an environment where their own national group could play a significant political role.

The Haudenosaunee

The Haudenosaunee, or Six-Nations Confederacy, known to the French as the Iroquois (a name resembling a common greeting used by Native Americans in the confederacy), overlaps the northeastern part of the United States. The case of the Haudenosaunee exemplifies the fact that Native American and other indigenous political systems can be based on a concept of nationhood differing somewhat from more Western European-based concepts of a nation.

Some scholars may doubt that Native American nations are true identity nations in the actual sense of the word. Among the Haudenosaunee, however, the concept of “nation” as an identity group clearly exists and has for centuries. Closely related to the spiritual history of the people belonging to each of the Six Nations, Haudenosaunee national identity implies membership in both a constituent nation (for example, the Mohawks) and in a confederation of distinct but integrally connected nations.

The identity of each of the Six Nations was shaped by historical events that took place perhaps some one to two thousand years ago, if not longer. These events were originally recorded in wampum—sacred messages in beaded code created from black and white beads of shell—although most wampum was destroyed by the European colonizers of North America. Some of the earliest tales of the Haudenosaunee concern the origins of the confederacy that would later shape the course of American history not only through treaties, peaceable agreements, and battles between the indigenous nations and the European settlers, but also through the influence of the Haudenosaunee constitution and practices on the American Articles of Confederation and, to perhaps a lesser extent, on the U.S. Constitution.

Apparently responding to dissension and continual fighting among the five Native American nations of the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks, The Peacemaker, also known as Dekanawidah—a member of the Huron nation from the North American Great Lakes region—met with the Five Nations’ leaders somewhere between 1000 A.D. and 1450 A.D. He provided the confederate chiefs with a model for governance through a new constitution known as the Great Law of Peace (Great Binding Law or Gayanashagowa). According to the Great Law, each nation of theHaudenosaunee was to play an integral role in the affairs of the confederacy, which would be governed by the chiefs and the clan mothers through direct—that is, participatory—democracy, meeting regularly in clan councils and in councils of the entire league, or confederacy. The original political association thus formed consisted of five Native American nations, with the Tuscarora Nation joining the confederacy as the sixth nation in the early 1700s. Planting a Tree of Great Peace in the Onondaga Nation, centrally located among the other four nations, The Peacemaker designated the Onondaga Nation the “Keepers of the Fire,” the council fire around which the nations’ chiefs would meet to discuss affairs of mutual interest and determine domestic and international action.

In the Haudenosaunee confederacy, women as well as men have figured highly in political decision making. Each of the clans making up the Five (later, Six) Nations is guided by a woman, the clan mother, who is entrusted with monitoring the political decisions of those sitting in council and who can depose any leader deemed to be acting not in accordance with the Great Law of Peace. Additionally, Haudenosaunee clan mothers have the responsibility to deliberate in their own councils, governing structures parallel to the chiefs’ councils, and to grant citizenship in the confederacy to other Native Americans through clan adoption. For example, the Wyandots of Ohio and the Delawares (the Lenni Lenapes) were adopted into the Haudenosaunee by this method. Furthermore, the clan mother of the Onondaga Nation has played a central role in the affairs of the Haudenosaunee. In the early twenty-first century, Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah presides over the Haudenosaunee.

Effects of the outside world

Despite the long tradition of deliberations and direct democracy practiced by the Haudenosaunee, the political integrity of Native America has been severely challenged by the presence of European Americans on native soil and by interference from the United States government and state governments in indigenous affairs. By the late twentieth century the majority of Native American tribes and nations were facing severe economic and social problems such as extremely high unemployment, alcoholism, inadequate health care, poorly equipped schools, and a lack of political autonomy, all this despite the numerous treaties they had signed over the centuries with the various states of the U.S. and the federal government. Nearly all of these problems stemmed from the policies of “internal colonialism” conducted against Native Americans by the United States government and by state governments as well. Systematically stripped of the rights to their own natural resources on Native American land and lacking an adequate economic base from which to operate and raise revenue, Native Americans have suffered severe discrimination and the dispossession of their land and resources.

In consequence, numerous casinos run by Native Americans on their reservations or lands sprang up at the close of the twentieth century and the start of the new millennium as an alternative means of generating revenue for the indigenous nations. Among the Haudenosaunee as with certain others in Native America, in 2001 internal debates raged over the appropriateness of building and operating gambling casinos on Indian land. These “Indian casinos” are sometimes seen as a panacea, or cure-all, to the economic troubles of Native America. For instance, Foxwoods Resort and Casino, operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation on their own sovereign territory within the state of Connecticut, is filled with slot machines and other games of chance and features well-known performers and athletes. Foxwoods has proven so lucrative that casino proceeds easily covered the construction of a Museum and Research Center that opened in 1998 on Mashantucket Pequot land.

Another case in point: the Oneida Nation, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, grappled in 2001 not only with the question of whether its Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, was worth keeping and replicating but also with serious internal dissension. The controversy was brought on primarily by concern among many Oneidas that their traditional ways are being jeopardized and their political autonomy from the State of New York is being undermined by Turning Stone. New York State authorities increasingly have tried regulating gambling casinos on Native American land, despite prior agreements that the Haudenosaunee could operate their own economic concerns without state interference such as taxation and regulation. Disagreement over whether relying on casinos as a means of building greater economic wealth for the indigenous peoples of North America is a healthy course to pursue extends far beyond theHaudenosaunee. Numerous other Native American nations and tribes in the United States and Canada are facing similar debates and problems with the handling of casinos, some involving instances of corruption and murder sparked by conflicts over the rightful ownership and operation of these enterprises.

As some people—including many Native Americans—see it, then, casinos may be flourishing at the moral, spiritual, and cultural expense of the very people they are meant to serve. Additionally, the casinos are viewed as a potentially dangerously one-sided way of generating income. Should a particular casino fail to attract sufficient clients, few other economic alternatives may be available to sustain newly created projects and the ongoing economic and social needs of Native Americans. Gambling addiction, added to the already prevalent problem of alcoholism among many Native American groups, also is seen as an inherent problem with this method of raising revenue, a serious hazard whose potential to further destroy the health and integrity of Native American nations is substantial.

Included within the debate over the validity of gambling casinos on Native American land is the critical issue of whether indigenous peoples are best served by assimilating, or blending in, with the cultural majority population in whose midst they live, whether they should maintain an existence separate from and parallel to the surrounding majority, or whether indigenous peoples profit most by considering themselves as simultaneously belonging to two societies—the indigenous and the non-native—that is, citizens of both the majority society and of their own indigenous nations, or as some in Canada have termed it, “citizens-plus.” The special challenge for indigenous minorities, as for the larger, encompassing state, is to discern where multiple cultures and identities fit “in the political and social order of the nation state” and how a sense of alienation can be avoided when not all belong to the dominant culture.

National identity

Based on differing conceptions of what it means to be an American, contentious disputes have arisen over obligations to the various governments that seek to both nurture and control indigenous nations. The Haudenosaunee consider themselves to be a sovereign, independent people living in the midst of non-indigenous citizens of the United States. As such, the Haudenosaunee issue and carry their own Haudenosaunee passports that, though unrecognized by the United States government, are viewed as legitimate national documents by certain other Western nations, including Switzerland. Seeking representation at the level of the United Nations at the turn of the millennium consequently was one objective of the Haudenosaunee who attended the Millennium Summit of worldwide religious traditions held at United Nations headquarters in New York in August 2000.

Similarly, the efforts of the Haudenosaunee to right environmental wrongs in New York State have been recognized internationally, including at the UN, where in July 1995 the UN Environment Programme hosted a day-long session to consider Haudenosaunee concerns about the pollution of Native American lands in New York State. However, the claims and desires of the Six Nations have often conflicted with the assumptions and practices of the United States government, and the ultimate outcome of the Haudenosaunee quest for recognition as a sovereign nation and for UN membership was uncertain at the close of 2001. Possessing dual or triple national identities—for example, simultaneously belonging to the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee while at the same time being a citizen of the United States—has raised significant challenges and posed problems and contradictions not easily resolved.

Although many of the Haudenosaunee’s recent experiences have been far more positive than the casinos controversies imply, the nature of national identity among America’s indigenous peoples has been radically affected in recent years by shifts in community fortunes associated with gambling revenues. Since the basis of economic livelihood by necessity shapes culture, the identity of indigenous nations in America has been changing as the economies have changed. National identity, as scholars such as Anthony D. Smith have noted, is not a fixed entity but can change and mutate over time, sometimes in positive directions, sometimes in ways harmful to the group. As the casino dilemmas reveal, long-standing conflicts between Native American nations and the United States over issues of sovereignty, land rights, and rights to economic resources are far from being settled and in fact have become more complicated over time.

Atatürk and the Modernization of Turkey

In the early years of the twentieth century, Turkey was governed by the Ottoman Dynasty, formed during the expansion of control by the Ottoman caliph (leader of Islam) some six hundred years earlier. Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey was still a primarily agrarian country, a composite of ethnic groups as varied as the Ottoman Turks and the nomadic Kurds, a stateless people living in several countries. Having emerged as a military hero among Turks in 1915 while the rest of Europe was embroiled in World War I, Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938) led the Turkish liberation struggle beginning in 1919 against Ottoman rule, a campaign that culminated in independence for the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Born to Ali Riza, his father—a customs official who later became a merchant but died while Mustafa was still a child—and to Zubeyde, his mother, who single-handedly raised Mustafa and his sister after his father’s death, Mustafa grew up in the former Ottoman city of Salonica, now a city in Greece. Enrolled at first in a traditional religious school then educated in a modern school, and afterwards in a military high school, Mustafa Riza was given the name Kemal— “perfection”—by one of this high school teachers in honor of his high scholastic achievement. After graduating from the War Academy in 1905, Mustafa Kemal and his compatriots fought and successfully deposed the Ottoman sultan in 1908, the beginning of an illustrious military career for the future president of Turkey.

After the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, with Mustafa Kemal as its first president, Mustafa proceeded to implement widespread reforms throughout the various sectors of the Turkish government and society. During his fifteen-year reign as president, Mustafa—who was renamed “Atatürk” (“Father of the Turks”) in 1934 by the Turkish Parliament when legislation was passed requiring everyone to adopt a surname—managed to modernize Turkey more quickly than had ever been done in any other state. Reforming the political, social, legal, economic, and cultural sectors of Turkey, Atatürk secularized the government and the education system, granted women equal rights with men (including full political rights), converted the Arabic script-based alphabet used in Turkey to a new Turkish alphabet based on Latin script, shifted Turkish dress from traditional Middle Eastern garb to Western-style clothes, and promoted the arts, sciences, agriculture, and industry.

A charismatic leader, Atatürk exemplified the type of leadership around which a new national identity could be formed and for which a nation could be mobilized to achieve remarkable conquests in such fields as health, education, and diplomacy in a very short time. Recognized by the League of Nations for his commitment to world peace, Turkey’s first president led the way for Turkey to be invited to join the League in 1932. And by encouraging his people to reshape their national identity in more modern directions, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk facilitated Turkey’s transformation into a society which by century’s end would be preparing itself for entry into the European Union.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Democratization of Burma

Northwest of Thailand and Laos and tucked in just south of India and China, the country of Burma (renamed “Myanmar” by the military government that captured state power in 1988) is a country with a long history of efforts toward democratization. Colonized by the British, Burma achieved independence in 1947. Just before the transition to independence was to take place, however, a bloody military coup toppled those who rightfully should have assumed power—most prominently Burma’s national hero, Aung San, who had assisted the Allies in their fight against the Japanese in World War II. Aung San would have become Burma’s first president had he and most of his prospective cabinet not been assassinated by a jealous general bent on seeking this position for himself. Just two years earlier, Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, had been born.

Though she does not recall much about her father since he died when she was only two years old, Aung San Suu Kyi reports having been inspired by her father’s reputation and image. A formidable Burmese leader in her own right, Suu takes after her father in her charismatic ability to draw supporters to the cause of human rights and democracy in Burma, despite— or perhaps in part, because of—her status as a prisoner of conscience. Suu was placed under house arrest in 1989 by the military junta who took over after the previous national leader, Ne Win, resigned in July 1988.

Educated in England at Oxford University, Suu had returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her dying mother. Apparently unwittingly, she arrived at just the right time to organize a democratization campaign among Burmese anxious to see an end to fifty years of military rule. Beloved by her supporters, encouraged by the international human rights community, and assisted by Burmese grassroots activists, Suu has pursued a non-violent campaign of resistance to Burma’s military rulers and has worked to build a democratic future for Burma where democratic political participation will finally be possible.

The political strategy followed by Suu and her fellow members of the National League for Democracy, the party she quickly founded in 1988, has been one of non-accommodation to the demands of the junta—the State Law and Order Restoration Committee (SLORC)—coupled with persistent encouragement for non-violent protests and the promotion of democracy and human rights. In 1989 Suu was placed under house arrest by the military junta, who feared the growing success of her democracy movement and Suu’s increasing popularity as an active political force. While under house arrest, Suu and her party won the national election of 1990. Although Suu rightfully should have assumed the presidency of Burma after her election, this was blocked by the military junta. In 1995, Suu was released from her house arrest. Matters intensified when a pro-democracy uprising at the University of Yangon was crushed by the military in 1998. Additionally, Suu’s sentence was reimposed in September 2000, when Suu was accused of leaving Rangoon to participate in a political event.

The winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi was honored and the cause of democracy in Burma was promoted by the Nobel Laureates attending the annual Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, Norway in the fall of 2001 and the special ceremonies commemorating one hundred years of the Prize. Recognizing Suu’s achievements with a special letter of support directed toward Burmese military leader Than Swe, the Nobel laureates in early December 2001 requested the Burmese government to release Suu from house arrest and to negotiate with her for democratic reforms. In October 2000 Suu began secret, UN- facilitated talks with the Burmese military junta to secure the release of other political prisoners, and within one year about two hundred prisoners were released. Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly is optimistic that her talks with the junta will lead to progress for the Burmese people. As she stated in a videotaped message released in the year 2000, “We are absolutely confident that democracy will come to Burma.” Suu’s campaign to build a solidaristic union of Burmese citizens committed to the values of democracy, human rights, and non-violence appears to be gradually paying off.

Flooding Nubia, Submerging a Nation

The ancient African nation of Nubia, situated along the Nile River in what is now southern Egypt and the northern part of the Sudan, is a five-thousand-year-old civilization whose relics from the past include exquisite rock carvings, temples, monuments, painted tombs, and buildings of stone. Once the rival of ancient Egypt, Nubia conquered Egypt around 700 B.C. The Nubian kingdom continued to flourish several centuries into the Christian era, its black kings continuing to rule from their capital city of Meroe. Although most Westerners seem to know little about Nubia, this African archaeological treasure boasted more pyramids in the Sudan than Egypt had. Furthermore, the oldest city yet discovered in Africa is one being excavated in Nubia at the turn of the new millennium.

By the early twentieth century, however, the Nubian nation was threatened with cultural extinction. As Egyptian engineers sought solutions to the problem of severe water shortages in Egypt due to population growth along the Nile and the need for greater sources of water for agricultural cultivation, a plan was devised to dam the Nile and create a reservoir of water. Damming the Nile River at Aswan, the Egyptian government completed the first Aswan Dam in 1902 and heightened it twice in the three decades that followed. Again in the early 1960s, a second Aswan Dam was built, again flooding the Nubian national homeland. When much of their land was flooded as the dam was built and the Nile was redirected, thousands of Nubians were forced to relocate to Cairo or to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Lower Nubia was submerged, along with many monuments from antiquity not saved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) salvaging campaign prior to the flooding.

The displaced Nubians have traveled to Cairo and Khartoum and farther, reaching the United States and Europe in their quests for new homes after Lower Nubia was flooded. Among those forced to migrate was Hamza El Din, born in Troshka, Nubia (Sudan) in 1929. Trained as an electrical engineer in Cairo, where he had moved when Nubians began to migrate, El Din took up the oud, a stringed wooden instrument—the Arabic predecessor of the European lute—after graduating from the university. Formally shifting his career to music, El Din studied in Italy and later returned to Nubia, traveling by donkey to collect traditional Nubian folk songs. El Din invented a unique blending of Nubian rhythms and sounds with Arabic and contemporary music, harmonizing musical elements across cultures.

Visiting the United States in 1964, El Din participated in the Newport Folk Festival and his career in music took off. He began recording his original combinations of Nubian-Arabic music. Using music as his vehicle to achieve recognition for the plight of the Nubian nation, its forced migration, and the tragic disappearance of the Nubian landscape, El Din has performed throughout the world and recorded several albums of his Nubian-Arabic musical synthesis. The first Nubian musician to become known in the West, El Din has been vocal about the tragedies suffered by the Nubian nation and the damage to the natural environment and ancient cultural treasures of Nubia.

In 1998 the Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Sharif al-Tuhami, announced the Sudanese state’s plans to construct three new hydroelectric dams on the Nile. One of these, the Hamdab High Dam, would be located in Nubia at Merowe at a cost of up to 1.5 billion dollars. El Din in 2001 was continuing to play an active role in the shaping of international consciousness surrounding Nubia and the ancient land’s destiny. Alerting the world of the Sudanese government’s plans to replicate the efforts of the Egyptians by constructing additional dams along the Nile that would completely flood Nubia, including the few remaining ancient treasures of the Nubian nation, El Din in 2001 continued to perform concerts in America, his homeland since 1968, and to participate in lectures concerning the land of Nubia and his music. Lacking state power, the Nubian nation is obliged to bring its concerns to the international community in hopes of securing assistance and support in its quest to save the last remaining traces of this ancient land from obliteration. The states of Egypt and Sudan literally have turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of Hamza El Din and others intent on preserving the ancient Nubian culture and carrying the Nubian nation’s rich heritage into the twenty-first century.

Creating Israel, Denying Palestine?

Authorized by UN Resolution 181 of 1947, the State of Israel was created out of territory belonging to what had been known for a quarter century as the British mandate for Palestine, an area placed under British control by the Council of the League of Nations in September of 1922. Near the end of World War I, the British had issued a statement of support for a Jewish state in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration. The Declaration of November 2, 1917, issued as a letter written by Arthur James Lord Balfour, British Foreign Secretary at the time, to the British Lord Rothschild, was a formal declaration of sympathy on the part of the British king and cabinet with the Zionist Federation, whose goal was the creation of an Israeli state in the Middle East. Although it remains somewhat unclear as to why Britain issued this declaration, speculation has it that Britain wished to win the support of Jews for the ongoing war effort in Europe.

With the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, a move sanctioned by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, some 780,000 Palestinians lost their homes and were forced to migrate out of Palestine, as their villages were destroyed. Over the next fifty years the Palestinians would become the largest stateless dispersed population in the world, with some 3.7 million Palestinians officially registered with the UN at the turn of the new millennium, including the descendents of the original Palestinian refugees, and countless more Palestinians internally displaced—that is, living near their original homes but unable to return. About one-quarter of the 1.3 million Palestinian citizens living in Israel by 2001 were internally displaced persons. Treated by the Jewish state as second-class citizens, the Palestinians lacked full participatory rights in the political structures of Israel and were subject to discrimination in employment, housing, and other sectors of their daily lives.

Although the Jewish people, too, had been denied a homeland for centuries following their expulsion from the heart of the Middle East, the creation of the State of Israel after World War II without the simultaneous creation of a State of Palestine was viewed by many—both Palestinians and non-Palestinians—as a disastrous course of action. While in 1947 the Palestinians had the right to accept a separate state for themselves, based on UN Resolution 181, they rejected this offer, hoping to secure a more favorable solution. For the next fifty-plus years, the Middle East would be embroiled in religious and ethnic conflict, heating up at times into active wars or simmering at a lower but still deadly temperature. Since the 1980s low- intensity warfare taking the form of the Intifadah waged mostly by Palestinian boys and youths and more virulent attacks on Israel by extremist groups such as Hamas, coupled with the intense aggression of the Israeli military, have produced a seething, seemingly never-ending conflict that has been extremely difficult to contain, let alone resolve.

At the turn of the millennium the continuous actions of extremist Jewish settlers intent on informally expanding the State of Israel by building Jewish homes on Palestinian territory (despite international prohibitions against such further encroachments on Palestinian land) have provoked additional violence on both sides and further complicated attempts to gradually cede territory to the Palestinians so they, too, may have their own state. Weaknesses in the creation and performance of the self-governing Palestinian Authority, the reluctance of Israel to fully withdraw from the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, the slow pace of diplomatic negotiations, and the lack of sufficient international pressure on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to end the cycle of violence and establish greater security in the region have made it unlikely that full peace will be realized in this troubled region anytime soon.

International agreements and peacemaking efforts notwithstanding, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the right to establish a secure Israeli state, the right of Palestinians to return to the land of their or their ancestors’ birth and to claim their own state, and the right for both Jews and Arabs, let alone Christians, to live in and govern Jerusalem, regarded as an especially holy city by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, has proven to be one of the thorniest international conflicts in modern history. Key problems associated with this entangled conflict have revolved around the inconsistent recognition of Palestinians and Jews as distinct nations deserving full territorial and political rights, including control of a state. When stateless peoples like the Palestinians and (formerly) the Jews contest claims over the same piece of territory, arguing from historical memory that each merits a stake in the territorial pie, if not the whole pie, then a peaceable, just outcome will be very difficult to achieve. Exemplifying the problems inherent in conflicting claims to national territory and the right to a sovereign state, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not be easily resolved in the near future, despite the number of scholars who have theorized about national identity-building and the construction of the nation.


Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), known by many as the “Father of African Nationalism,” became the first president of the independent West African nation of Ghana in 1960. He shared his esteemed title with the American black socialist leader Marcus Garvey, who reportedly inspired much of Nkrumah’s thinking on the need for black-led independence movements in Africa and the African diaspora. Nkrumah wished to see the Gold Coast (as Ghana was called while governed by the British) independent and ruled by Africans themselves. Ghana achieved internal self-rule in 1951 and in March 1957, became the first sub-Saharan African state to step out from under the yoke of European imperialism. (On December 24, 1951, Libya became the first North African state to attain independence—and like Ghana, from British rule.)

Nkrumah’s early life

Born in 1929 among the Akan people in the village of Nkroful in Nzimaland, the far southwestern area of the Gold Coast, Kwame Nkrumah trained for his first career as a teacher at the Prince of Wales College in Achimoto, just north of Accra. Inspired by the school’s Vice Principal, Dr. Kwagyir Aggrey, who had trained in America as an educator, Nkrumah grew convinced that the best means to improve the conditions of Africans’ lives was through education. Working to inspire his own students to develop their academic potential, Nkrumah began a number of literary clubs and academic societies for his students and became increasingly interested in discussing the political affairs of Africans with his colleagues at the Catholic school at Axim in Nzemaland, where he served as headmaster. The failure of indigenous Africans in the Gold Coast in 1934 to successfully oppose a British Sedition Bill aimed at stopping the anti-colonial press, coupled with the growing resistance of African cocoa farmers to British exploitation of their industry, led Nkrumah to seek training in the disciplines that would allow him to contribute to the Gold Coast’s liberation campaign.

Moving to the United States in 1935, Nkrumah earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and sociology from Lincoln University in Philadelphia in 1939 and a Bachelor of Theology degree from Lincoln Theological Seminary in 1942. He also received a Master of Science degree in education plus a Master of Philosophy degree in 1945 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed significant work toward a doctorate in philosophy. Later in 1945, Nkrumah moved to London, where he soon began participating in twice-weekly discussion sessions at the home of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, an African also educated in America. Among the other attendees at these sessions were a raft of future African leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta (c. 1894-1978), Julius Nyerere (1922-1999), Kojo Botsio, and Harry Nkumbula. In London, Nkrumah also attended lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science on politics and socialism, helped organize the West African national Secretariat, and began the Pan-African Movement, serving as Joint Secretary to the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, in late 1945. Building relationships with members of the British Parliament who were sympathetic to the cause of African liberationists and to socialism, Nkrumah laid the groundwork for his future political career, contributing articles to periodicals advocating independence for African colonies and collaborating with George Padmore, a West Indian socialist writer and activist who also opposed colonial rule.

Formation of Ghana

By the late 1940s Nkrumah and his compatriots were ready to challenge British control of the Gold Coast, a country rich in minerals and cocoa farms and ripe for revolution. Nkrumah believed, however, that an effective revolution could be waged only if the economic needs of the citizens of Ghana were appropriately addressed. His campaign to liberate the Gold Coast from British rule thus included advocating a form of socialist governance, a policy of “African Socialism,” whereby the state would own key industries and develop the national infrastructure along with social welfare programs to serve the needs of ordinary people. Nkrumah returned to his homeland in 1949 and founded the Convention People’s Party (CPP) with the goal of achieving immediate national independence. He was imprisoned for several months in 1950, having encouraged his fellow countrymen to participate in illegal strikes. After the Gold Coast was granted internal self-rule in 1951, Nkrumah served as prime minister from 1952 to 1957. When Ghana became a fully independent country in 1957, Nkrumah continued to serve as prime minister until 1960, when he became the country’s first president.

Although Nkrumah was initially welcomed as Ghana’s first president after independence, mismanagement and corruption under his rule led eventually to a tightening of power by Nkrumah and to very unwelcome restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association within the country. Courting support from the Soviet Union, Nkrumah took Ghana in increasingly socialist and authoritarian directions. In 1964 Nkrumah made Ghana a one-party state, led by his own CPP. His increasingly dictatorial style coupled with his failure to deliver on the economic and social benefits he had promised Ghanaians led to Nkrumah’s loss of power in a bloodless coup while he was visiting China in 1966. Nkrumah returned to West Africa to live in exile in Guinea until his death in 1972, serving as a co-head of state for Ghana during that time. One year after his death, Nkrumah’s reputation as one of the great political leaders of the period of African independence was restored.

Nkrumah believed that only a pan-African union of solidarity could ensure Africans true financial, social, and political independence and security. For this reason, Nkrumah led the way for the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after a conference involving thirteen African states and nineteen African colonies soon to become independent. Greatly respected and admired by many of his fellow Ghanaians and by countless other Africans, Nkrumah sought to achieve economic self-sufficiency for the newly independent African nation-states through cooperative understanding and the creation of a genuine brotherhood of nations across Africa. Although his dream to unite Africans through a pan-African union was not realized in his day, Nkrumah’s contributions to the liberation movements that transformed Africa in the wake of World War II were arguably unparalleled. The twenty-first century may yet see a rejuvenation of interest in the pan-Africanism Nkrumah envisioned as common solutions are sought for such problems as interethnic violence, poverty, HIV/AIDS and other epidemics, and the lack of adequate infrastructure marking the sub-Saharan region. A newer, more-inclusive concept of nationhood encompassing the wide range of ethnic communities living in African states—inspired by Nkrumah’s past efforts and achievements and by the more-recent accomplishments of his fellow Ghanaian, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan— may in fact be part of the solution to the challenges facing this important region of the world.

Analysis and Critical Response

Despite the reticence of some theorists to admit that nationalism is an appropriate subject for theoretical study, plenty of evidence exists—and scholarly arguments as well—that indicate national identity, nation-building, and nationalism are all suitable topics for theoretical analysis. Yael Tamir argued in his article, “Theoretical Difficulties in the Study of Nationalism,” that theories of nationalism are necessary for several reasons. In order for a respectful discourse to take place on nationalism and national movements and in order for the members of different nations to be able to appreciate and respect the differences in their concepts of national identity, the world needs theories of nationalism. This becomes especially evident when we examine some of the challenges presented by nationalism and the adherents of particular conceptualizations of what it means to be a nation.

As noted in the Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001, “While it was hoped that nationalism would make for peace, in practice it has often resulted in xenophobia, rivalry, oppression of ethnic minorities, and war.” Unfortunately, nationalism in both theory and action has produced both negative as well as positive conceptualizations and realities for countless individuals and groups throughout the world. In part, this is due to the nature of nationalist claims, which tend to be exclusionary. Additionally, early nationalist theories may have failed to account for or to predict the rise in ultra-nationalist movements and violent sentiments that would appear on the world scene as national fervor developed to a heightened pitch or overzealous or misguided political leaders took the stage to direct domestic and international affairs in ways Herder, Fichte, and Renan perhaps never anticipated.


Some scholars see the tendency to divide theories of nationalism into “ethnic” versus “civic” categories as a serious problem, claiming that this dichotomous depiction is inaccurate and lacks thoroughness. Others note that in discussing the “civic” nature of certain theories of nationalism, “civic” has erroneously been seen as synonymous with “liberal democratic.” While some scholars have argued that Hitler’s racist campaign to rebuild German national identity cannot properly be labeled “nationalist” because of Hitler’s sharp departure from democratic values, others point out that Hitler nonetheless did construct a view of national identity around a particular conception of nationhood—however distasteful and deadly that conception proved to be. Not all shared political values reflect liberal democratic notions.

Additionally, nationalism in many ways presumes certain conditions that perhaps no longer fit the reality of social and political life in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries, both in the developed world and in economically developing regions. For example, questions concerning the possible irrelevance, inapplicability, or imperfect agreement of nationalism to multicultural societies are being considered by a number of theorists in the new millennium. Third-World scholars, too, have found fault with nationalist theories’ tendency to overemphasize the perspective of Western scholars and to downplay the differences in national development that have occurred in developing regions. The Indian concept of nation has been attuned to the importance of both spiritual and material aspects, according to Partha Chatterjee and a concept of Indian cultural identity allegedly developed before Indians attempted to cast off English dominance and political control. However, many Western scholars have tended to view liberation movements in the developing world and the simultaneous development of national identities among colonized peoples purely as reactions to imperial control, not as independently constructed movements.

Several scholars also have remarked upon the somewhat questionable relevance of many nationalist theories in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries to the needs and interests of indigenous and stateless nations. Seeking to broaden definitions of the nation and interpretations of national movements and claims, these scholars have remarked on the tendency of many theorists of nationalism to focus on the typical course of development followed by Western nations, while ignoring the differential paths of Fourth-World and stateless nations. To construct their own national identities and negotiate relationships with those who colonized them and set their territorial boundaries, generally without their consent, indigenous and developing nations deserve appropriate theoretical analyses that illuminate the specific conditions of their existence and development and the alternative notions of national identity that distinguish them from the dominant cultural majority.

Gender Politics

Gender politics and their relation to national identity-building and nationalist movements also has been a neglected area of scholarship in this field. Although concepts of the nation have typically stemmed from notions of a patrie(fatherland) and its associated heritage, theorists of nationalism generally have failed to adequately question whether the conceptualization of a nation has a particularly male thrust. Few theorists have taken up the question of whether and how gender relations come into play in the creation of national identities and the waging of nationalist campaigns. Whereas women and men have both played key roles in pursuing the course of their nations’ development throughout the world, assuming indirect as well as direct roles in forging national identities and laying claims to state power, very few twentieth century writers in the field of nationalism have addressed how gender relates to nationalism.

As Ernest Renan remarked toward the close of his 1882 lecture at the Sorbonne, “Man is a slave neither of his race nor his language, nor of his religion, nor of the course of rivers nor of the direction taken by mountain chains. A large aggregate of men, healthy in mind and warm of heart, creates the kind of moral conscience which we call a nation.” Presumably, Renan also meant to include women in this discussion, although he neglected to say this directly. The implication is that men rather than women have built nations—a rather indefensible claim, considering the number of women over the centuries who have sacrificed sons, husbands, brothers, and friends to the violence involved in most nation-building efforts and the number of women who themselves have assumed key roles as political activists, social reformers, and educators of the members of new nations.