Factors or Roots of Nationalism

Factors or Roots of Nationalism:

We have just seen the origin and development of nationalism. Now the question arises as to what accounts for the origin and development of nationalism? There are numerous factors that cause it to grow. These can be discussed as under-

(1) Human Nature- Man cannot live without food and shelter. These are his biological deeds. Besides this man has many other desires over and above those necessary for his physical existence. In him, there is a tendency to develop group loyalties, love of his country, or patriotism. As such, these manifestations are necessary for nationalism. But they do not in themselves constitute it. Schleicher is right when he remarks, “Nationalism is neither a biological nor a psychological necessity, but there are certain human characteristics which, under proper conditions, are conducive to, or at least do not prevent its development”.

(2) Geography- Geographical factors promote the development of nationalism as they unite a particular group and isolate it from other groups.

Ramsay Muir writes, “Undoubtedly the most clearly marked nations have enjoyed a geographical unity, and have owed their nation-hood in parts to this fact”.

“Geographical factors largely influence nationalism through their effect on transportation and communication of goods, people, armies, and ideas. It may be argued, therefore, that modern invention- the radio, television, the telegraph, aeroplane etc.- reduce the significance of physical barriers and will eventually serve to unite a divided world. Undoubtedly they have affected and will continue to affect nationalism”.

(3) Language- Language has played the most important part in the development of nationalism. Ramsay Muir maintains, “There is indeed nothing that will so readily give unity to divergent races as the use of a common tongue, and in very many cases unity of language and the community of ideas which it brings, have proved the main binding force in a nation. Carton Hayes regards it as the most important factor. He even goes so far as to contend. “the use of the English language in the United States tends to link American thought and action to that of England and at the same time to obstruct the growth of an absolutely separate American nationality”. On similar grounds, he denies that there is a Swiss nation.

(4) Economics- In many ways, economic factors play a great role in the development of nationalism. According to Marxists, the middle class encourages the development of nationalism in order to maintain its power and to cloak its economic motives in the garb of patriotism.

Richard Cotton who made a study of Iranian nationalism wrote as follows-

My study of nationalism in Iran leads me to believe that it is definitely a middle-class movement. There is growing support of the nationalist cause among the urban masses in Teheran and much less so in the provincial cities. But it is not orthodox nationalism they (the masses) believe in. They are stimulated by religious leaders who favour a reaction away from secularism, and secularism and nationalism have too much in common for either to live by themselves.

(5) Democracy- With the growth of democracy individual loyalty was transferred, from them….to the collective nation. Thus the growth of popular sovereignty served to promote nationalism.

(6) Social Disintegration and Individual Insecurity- Prof. Hans J. Morgenthau has regarded this factor as the basic explanation of modern nationalism. According to him, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the emancipation of the individual from the ties of tradition, especially in the form of religion, of the increased rationalization of life and work, and of cyclical economic crisis. The insecurity of the groups affected by those factors found an emotional outlet in fixed and emotionally accentuated nationalistic identification.

(7) Tools and Instruments of Nationalism-We have just seen different factors or roots of origin and development of nationalism. Now the question arises as to how it is possible for an individual to feel a personal tie with a large group of people with whom his individual dealings are non-existent. This question is answered through the use of instruments and symbols. Among the most important instruments and symbols of nationalism are the flag, schools, the press and radio. An international group that conducted a study of international cultural relations reported:

“The rise of nationalism has been accompanied by the development of national education systems, an ordinary function of which is education in the national culture and for the national interest. Cultural bodies have been established under the national charters, each nation cherishes its own literature and political outlook. In self-protection and self-conscious growth, many nations regulate in some measure, wisely or unwisely, the flow of cultural as well as commercial materials across their boundaries. The very degree of intensity of nationalism which has arisen leads towards forms of censorship and control, towards public assistance to movements regarded as in the national interest many such movements are governmental, others private and voluntary, but all are within national patterns”.

According to Organski, “Flags make excellent national symbols, for they can be carried into battle and thus share in the glory of victory or the nobility of defeat, and they are all just alike so that any single flag can be made to stand for all the other flags of the same pattern that have been associated with the glorious events in the nation’s past. One knows, after all, that the young recruit marching by has not yet participated in any action more glorious than basic training, and that even veteran has found it in only one or two-wars, but the flag has been shared in all the wars and all the glory”.

Now nationalistic propaganda is found in most of the school and college textbooks. But as Charles Marirras writes, “When honest efforts are made to secure objectivity in history textbooks writing, they meet with stiff resistance from powerful interest groups in most national communities. Under the guise of patriotism, such groups exert pressure upon ministries of education, boards and teachers in order to prevent a balanced treatment of the nation’s relations with other countries”.

Besides this means of communication, the newspaper, radio, television and the flag play their role in developing nationalism.


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