Nationalism is an ideology that differs from nation to nation. It is the idea that molds nations into what they become. It’s the idea that helps define territories and places. The nations that will be most concentrated on in this paper will be from Southeastern Europe. Nationalism in these countries will then be compared to the definition of nationalism that Ernest Renan gives in his famous essay “What is a nation?”
Nationalism is a rather recent development in the human social formation. During the Enlightenment, nationalism was not known. Kings were given all the power and the rich were given land. The common people would be faithful to one king, which was of their religious affiliation. No one was looked at by their ethnicity, rather by their religion. They didn’t have unity. People started realizing that God may not be the most important thing to represent their country. They realized that the solar system was held in place by gravity, not by God. They started to believe in other kings, who were like agents working for God.1
Some scientific studies made people started worrying more about themselves. Laws would then be enforced to meet people’s needs, rather than thinking God would protect them. The people could have rights. But with a Divine-Monarch they couldn’t have these rights because there were too many people to serve. The land was divided into territories, and the people were determined by “their ardent love of the fatherland”. They were to love their new country; they were getting into smaller territories with less people as they wished. People began to learn other languages and develop a sense of individualism. This was inspired by the Romantic Philosophy. But some people knew many languages, which led to the question, what nation were they for? Even the minorities had a “class” to be defined in and had had a sense of nationalism. Some of them were being discriminated against, which led to their stronger feelings of being defined by their nation. This was the first development of nationalism, which defined all of Southeast Europe.2
The essay, by Ernest Renan suggests that nationalism consists of two ideas. “One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of remembrances, and the other is the actual consent, the desire to live together, they will to continue to value the heritage which all hold common (Renan, 17).
He thinks that the worship of ancestors is important because they have made the country what it is. He feels that the rules made for the country have been sacrifices made and should be honored. He also says that a country needs to look at their downfalls rather than their gains to strengthen the peoples “togetherness” and the will to succeed. The people have rights as individuals. He states that nations have a beginning and an end, and the people need to realize and not take it for granted. He feels that people should appreciate the guarantee for liberty and freedom. They should realize that this is a gift that could be lost, especially if a king or a dictator was in rule.3
His last thoughts of what makes a nation are that spirit, heart, and moral consciousness have a big part; more so than rules, so the people can exist in harmony. This differs from what happened in Southeast Europe because they didn’t appreciate the ancestors who dictated them. The people did gain nationalism, which gave them a reason to have individualism and a warm spirit for their community. They gained this when they got their way and broke up into communities, which gave them rights.4
In the United States, nationalism was formed in the same manner that Europe was. When the puritans and the other immigrants came over, they didn’t care about forming one nation, or being involved in rights. They were still apart of England, and did things based on religion. Communities were even based on religion. The idea that Renan had was not supported then. People didn’t care about heart and how they formed a union. Not until England started taxing and taking powers away, did the Colonists want to make a union among the colonies. This is where they needed heart, and had a desire to form unity. They had to be in harmony to win the war to gain their independence. That would be when the colonies had the second kind of nationalism that Renan described. The United States is very big on nationalism to this day, and is based on rights and values made from the 17th century. The idea of nationalism has spread throughout the world because of the people’s strong views.
In conclusion, one can see that the concept of nationalism is the same in every nation but that the way that they use it to bring them together as a whole can vary greatly. One can also conclude that without nationalism there would be no true nations.