What Nationalism really is (and why it matters) and 5 types of nationalism

Alex Nowrasteh of Cato Institute in this must read piece writes on one of the major global themes: rise of nationalism and cries of making their country great again.

From President Donald Trump to the rise of new nationalist political parties in Europe to a general resurgence of the term in recent years, nationalism seems to be on the march.

Nationalism is a political movement that has made major inroads in recent years while preaching a message of immigration restrictionism, trade protectionism, and a stronger government devoted to defending citizens from (mostly) imaginary harms. But besides some policy positions and a style of governance, there is no good working definition of nationalism widely used in popular discourse, with almost no attempt to distinguish it from patriotism.

Most research on nationalism is terrible.  My base assumption was that nationalism must be something more than crude jingoistic tribalism, but few ventured beyond that. Those reasons prompted me to read several thousand pages on the topic – and I learned quite a bit. Below are some lessons I learned and a useful taxonomy of different types of nationalism.

He points to five kinds of nationalism:

The third thing I learned is that there are at least five types of nationalism. Obviously, the nationalism of Edmund Burke or George Washington is different from the blood-worshipping nationalism of Adolf Hitler, but only the late American historian Carlton J.H. Hayes divides these types of nationalism into a useful five-part taxonomy:

  1. Humanitarian Nationalism: An outgrowth of Enlightenment philosophy influenced by Henry BolingbrokeJean-Jacque Rousseau, and Johann Gottfried Herder, who all emphasized local self-rule through democratic forms of government based on the peculiar characteristics of each nation (body of people), as opposed to the large multi-ethnic empires that then dominated Europe.
  2. Jacobin Nationalism: A state ideology adopted by the revolutionary French government to solidify its hold on power. Its four characteristics were suspicion and intolerance of internal dissent, heavy reliance on force and militarism to attain government goals, fanatical support for the state, and a missionary zeal to spread their nation.
  3. Traditional Nationalism: A brief nationalist reaction to the Jacobins in favor of the status quo ante bellum. This is the most conservative type of nationalism. Edmund BurkeFriedrich von Schlegel, and Klemens von Metternich were the most well-known supporters of this brief style of nationalism. This form of nationalism did not survive long, as the cultural changes begun by the Industrial Revolution undermined it.
  4. Liberal Nationalism: This style of nationalism is midway between the Jacobin and Traditional varieties. It emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of the national state but, in seeming contradiction, also seeks to limit the power of the government to interfere with individual liberty by proclaiming the goal of the state to be to protect individual liberty and provide public goods. If you have ever taken an economics class, the ideal of liberal nationalism comes closest to what economists think of as the proper role of the state. If you also see the tensions between absolute sovereignty and the protection of individual liberties, then the next phase of nationalism should be unsurprising.
  5. Integral Nationalism: This stage of nationalism centers the nation and its state in the life of all citizens. Instead of a state being committed to supplying public goods to citizens, this form of nationalism emphasizes individual sacrifice for the benefit of the nation and its government. It also frequently embraces blood-worship (the Latin root of nationalism is natio, meaning tribe, ethnic group, or division by birth) and seeks to expand the state to include all co-ethnics living in other territories. Hayes summarized this form of nationalism as intensely “anti-individualistic and anti-democratic”, where all other loyalties are absorbed into loyalty to the national state and a right-makes-right ideology.


Differentiates between patriotism and nationalism:

The second thing I learned is that there is no simple division between patriotism and nationalism, but George Orwell’s division probably comes the closest to one when he wrote:

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

In other words, patriotism is a love of country while nationalism is the love of country combined with a dislike of other countries, their peoples, or their cultures. Nationalism also extends to the dislike of fellow citizens who are different, which is why nationalists frequently support nation-building campaigns of government schooling to assimilate citizens to a state-determined norm, national languages, and other means of creating ethnic, religious, or other forms of uniformity.


He says nationalism is the second deadliest political ideology:

The sixth thing I learned is that nationalism is the second deadliest political ideology of the 20th century after communism. The late political scientist RJ Rummel estimated the number of people killed by different governments over time. Communist governments killed about 150 million people in his estimation. Nationalists killed about 92 million. Those 92 million include those killed by the Chinese Nationalists, Japanese Nationalists, Turkish Nationalists, and by the European Nationalists in the colonial era. I excluded slaughters committed by pre-communist Russians, Mexicans, and Pakistanis as they were less outwardly nationalistic than the other regimes.

In the end:

Nationalism is a simple and relativist political ideology that holds tremendous sway with millions of voters and many governments. Nationalism’s adaptability to most local conditions allows it to thrive, especially when supported by a government intent on expanding its own power domestically and internationally. It’s an attractive ideology for political leaders, as it provides a ready-made and widely-believed justification for increased political power in order to Make the Nation Great Again.

People should be very very careful when governments try and sway beliefs (read votes) using ideology of Nationalism . But most of the times we remain gullible and get swayed only to repent later. And the cycle continues..

One Response to “What Nationalism really is (and why it matters) and 5 types of nationalism”

  1. vikramml Says:

    He is a pro-immigration activist. Obviously he will spin any theory to argue for open borders. On the other hand, a five year old can tell you that having open borders is stupid, having open immigration without regard to economic or security circumstances is stupid.

    When you are faced with such a scenario, you have to spin elaborate theories to confuse the issue, around why protecting borders is a bad idea. You do that by labeling anyone even a little skeptical of immigration as a “bad nationalist” or a “racist”. This is how the obfuscation is done. It fits in with the corrupt globalist agenda because immigration is a lucrative business. Cheap labor is good for big business and republicans who are lobbied by big business and minorities are good for democrats as they can play vote bank politics.

    Meanwhile violent crime by immigration is high and rising every year in Europe and US but apparently this doofus can’t see any of that in his statistics. Ugh, such people really piss me off.

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