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What is a Nation? Show more Show less

Are nations ancient or modern? Are they natural or artificial? Are they a tool of liberation or coercion? Despite many predicting globalisation would make them obsolete, nations are now back in fashion in a world where leaders tout America First, the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People, and Hindutva. Understanding the nation now seems more important than ever.

Nations mean coercion Show more Show less

Nations are a tool for elites to control the population.
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Nationalism is imperialism

Nationalism is used to justify empires and imperialism. Even after decolonisation, the persistence of the nation as a model of political organisation means imperialism persists.

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While many anti-imperialists hoped to find liberty through national independence, others such as Rabindranath Tagore were critical of the idea of a nation, even if they supported independence. These thinkers observed that nationalism, which they believed went hand in hand with the nation, was often used to justify the imperialism they were fighting against. After decolonisation, thinkers who felt political independence had led to little actual change argued that this was because imperialism still persisted in the ways that the new nations acted and organised themselves.

The Argument

Nationalism means the exultation of one's nation over others. People praise their nation to the skies and ignore its flaws, believing their nation is inherently superior to all others. This justifies aggressive foreign policy which seeks to dominate other nations and groups who are believed to be inferior to others. As such, nationalism justifies imperialist conquest and domination of other people. Nationalist imperialism also limits the liberty of a nation's citizens. In learning to exult their own nation before all other's, people's ability to develop freely as human beings is limited. Similarly, internal diversity within the nation is stamped out as people are pushed, or even forced, to adopt an idealised "national culture" that destroys other types of culture that don't fit the official model in an act of internal colonisation. The fact that post-colonial nations have engaged in aggressive nationalism and promotion of official national culture, at the expense of minorities, is proof that imperialism still persists internally despite formal political independence.

Counter arguments

Nationalism isn't always synonymous with nations. Some writers such as George Orwell have attacked nationalism as aggressive and imperialistic while asserting the benefits of patriotism, where you love your country without wishing it to dominate all others. Others reject the view that nationalism is aggressive. Figures from Giuseppe Garibaldi to Benedict Anderson and Yoram Hazony, argue that nationalism is inherently opposed to imperialism as its fundamental principle is self-determination, i.e. people decide freely what state they want to live in. Others still maintain that the idea of a nation, and nationalism, can be used to justify aggressive imperialism or political liberation depending on circumstances. Finally, attributing all, or even most, coercion in post-colonial nations to the legacies of imperialism strips local people of agency. It pretends they aren't responsible for their own actions making them doomed to stay trapped in the past acting on the ideas of "the West". Also if we say that everything is imperialism the terms lose all meaning, becoming everything and nothing.


[P1] Nations and nationalism fuels imperialism. [P2] Post-colonial nations continue to enact imperialist policies against their own citizens.

Rejecting the premises

[P1] Nationalism isn't synonymous with nations. [P2] It is possible to love ones nation without believing its innate superiority to others. [P3] Nationalism is opposed to imperialism. [P4] Even if nationalism can be imperialistic it can also be liberating. [P5] Not all coercion by post-colonial nations can be simply attributed to the legacies of imperialism.


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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 3 Dec 2019 at 15:37 UTC