What You Should Know About Nationalism

Nationalism, like all divisions, breeds conflict and in recent history has led directly to the deaths of millions.

nationalismThe world is full of divisions. They can come in many forms and, in some senses are normal reactions. To allow us to understand our place we develop simple dichotomies: us and them, Christian and Muslim, French and German, Texan and Louisianan, black and white.

With each of these mental differentiations we ally ourselves with a group of others, agreeing on certain fundamental shared ideas and norms. Things like language, foundation myths, heritage and cultural expectations draw people together into divisive groups. We often understand that certain divisions are harmful to society and seek to actively curtail their use, hence the development of sexism, racism and xenophobia as pejorative terms in many cultures.

Nationalism, on the other hand, has no such stigma and is often treated as a badge of honor by many. But why?

The belief that the nation of which you are a member is fundamentally good and superior to many others is very unusual when thought about abstractly. Our nationality is something that many of us received at birth with little choice or understanding, so why then do we cling so tightly to flags and myths, kings and constitutions?

Most nations are recent creations, no more than a few hundred years old; many became states through others, far away, drawing lines on a map to suit some grand plans of empire, so why are these arbitrary borders so fought over?

Nationalism, like all divisions, breeds conflict and in recent history as led directly to the deaths of millions. While such conflicts can breed remarkable technological breakthroughs I would argue that it acts as one of the greatest brakes on human development, second only to that of organised religion. It stops the flow of information, the sharing of ideas and knowledge and the transmission of that which is needed from those that have too much to those that have to little. I would argue that we must think of nationality not with arrogant pride but with an understanding that one day they may have served their purpose, if they ever had one.

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Samuel Bullen is an International Relations blogger with a focus on global culture, development and conflict. He is a postgraduate student in Conflict, Security and Development from Sussex University, UK and a BSc in International Politics and Strategic Studies from Aberystwyth University, UK.