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The Concept of Nationalism

This research will examine the concept of nationalism, and then discuss how nationalism as a political theory can be applied to the United States. What must be understood first of all about the concept of nationalism is that it is not necessarily to be seen simply as the equivalent of a nation-state enclosed by fixed territorial boundaries, nor is it a simple concept per se. As Renan explains (41ff), nationalism seems to be a clear term but lends itself to dangerous misunderstandings. That is because it is complex in origin, implication, and application, a fact shown by historical example and by modern theory.

These factors make it difficult to define nationalism once and for all. As Smith points out (106-7), there is not universal agreement among experts about whether to conceive nationalism in political, social, or cultural terms. Smith's own definition of a nation (107) is helpful in constructing a definition of nationalism: "a named community of history and culture, possessing a settled territory, economy, mass education system and common legal rights." Nationalism, as a "back-formation" of this definition, would be defined at its most basic as the sense of belonging, identity, or community held by those who can credibly claim access or entitlement to the rights, education, and economic system, while also claiming physical protection within the boundaries of the territory.

But to form a definition of nationalism out of a definition of nation seems almost too easy an exercise. And of course the fact is that Smith, Renan, and others do a lot of explaining and discussing of the term as a concept. That is because the sense of belonging may be more of a desire than a fact of experience. It may not be enclosed within a specific territorial boundary, either. Smith gives the example of the Jews of the Diaspora (108), who kept their distinct identity for centuries even though until the twentieth century they had no nation of their own...

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The Concept of Nationalism. (2000, January 01). In Retrieved 13:04, January 20, 2017, from