Nationalism Über Alles

A Study in Definition

There are probably as many theories of nationalism as there are nationalisms.  Quite apart from the often extremely complex typologies used to classify nationalism, there are two principal definitions worth noting.

In the first sense, nationalism is defined as a more or less voluntary aspiration of a people to establish itself as a nation, whether or not there is any objective foundation for it.  This aspiration, which most often takes shape when a group feels alienated from a larger group, is then presented as a movement of historical construction.  In the second sense, nationalism is the political doctrine that insists that a government must concern itself, above all, with the national interest.

The first form of nationalism often stems from, in the words of Carl Schmitt, the “state of exception”—that is, as a reaction to a threat, real or imagined, that would prevent the collective identity from being established.  For example, nationalism can manifest itself either in reaction to foreign occupation or colonization, or as part of the framework of exaggerated regionalism.  Its essence is, therefore, defined by conflict.  It requires an enemy, but this enemy can take on diverse forms.  Thus, various nationalisms have been both modern and antimodern, intellectual as well as popular, leftist and rightist.  (During the entire 19th century, nationalism...

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