Global Politics

by Andrew Heywood

Chapter 7 Notes: The Nation in a Global Age

  • What is a nation? How is nationalism best understood?
  • How, and to what extent, has nationalism shaped world politics?
  • Is nationalism inherently aggressive and oppressive?
  • Why has international migration increased in recent years?
  • How has population movement affected world politics?
  • Why has nationalism resurfaced since the end of the Cold War?
  • Does contemporary nationalism differ from earlier forms of nationalism?

Nationalism has, arguably, been the most powerful force in world politics for over 200 years. It has contributed to the outbreak of wars and revolutions. It has been closely linked to the birth of new states, the disintegration of empires and the redrawing of borders; and it has been used to reshape existing regimes as well as to bolster them. The greatest achievement of nationalism has been to establish the nation as the key unit for political rule, meaning that the so-called nation-state has come to be accepted as the most basic – and, nationalists argue, the only legitimate – form of political organization. However, the character of nationalism and its implications for world politics are deeply contested. Has nationalism advanced the cause of political freedom, or has it simply legitimized aggression and expansion? Nevertheless, modern nations are under pressure perhaps as never before. Globalization is widely seen to have weakened nationalism as territorial nation-states have been enmeshed in global political, economic and cultural networks, and significantly increased international migration has led to the development of transnational communities, giving a growing number of societies a multicultural character. Is nationalism a political force in retreat? Can nationalism survive in a world on the move? Finally, despite frequent predictions to the contrary, there is evidence of the resurgence of nationalism. Since the end of the Cold War, new and often highly potent forms of nationalism have emerged, often linked to cultural, ethnic or religious self-assertion. Nationalism has also re-emerged as a reaction against the homogenizing impact of globalization and as a means of resisting immigration and multiculturalism. How can the revival of nationalism best be explained, and what forms has it taken?

  • Nationalism is a complex and deeply contested political phenomenon. This stems in part from the fact that all nations comprise a blend of cultural and political, and objective and subjective, characteristics. Nationalism has also been a cross-cutting ideology, associated with a wide range of doctrines, movements and causes.
  • From the perspective of primordialism, national identity has been seen to be rooted in a cultural heritage and language that may long predate statehood or the quest for independence. From the contrasting perspective of modernism, national identity is forged in response to changing social and historical circumstances, especially linked to industrialization.
  • The liberating 'face' of nationalism is reflected in the reconfiguration of the world into a collection of nation-states, based on the principle of self-determination. However, it oppressive 'face; is evident in a common link to the politics of aggression, militarism and war. While some argue that nationalism is inherently aggressive and oppressive, others suggest that there are 'good' and 'bad' nationalisms.
  • Nationalism in the modern world has been weakened by an upsurge in international migration which has led to the growth of hybridity and cultural mixing in most, if not all, societies. Migratory flows have led to the formation of transnational communities and the diasporas that some believe provide an alternative to conventional nations and stimulated sometimes passionate debate about the economic impact of migration.
  • Multiculturalism not only recognizes the fact of cultural diversity, but it holds that such differences should be respected and publicly affirmed. This, however, has created widespread debate, not least about the extent to which cultural diversity can be reconciled with political cohesion.
  • Nations and nationalism have demonstrated remarkable resilience. Indeed, nationalism has revived in that it has been used to underpin state self-assertion in a 'de-ideologized' post-Cold War period. It has also re-emerged in the forms of cultural and ethnic nationalism, and it has provided a vehicle through which the transformations brought about through globalization can be challenged and resisted.