Nationalism, Its Characteristics, History, and Examples

Is Nationalism Back in Vogue?

Wall on Mexico border
••• Aurelia Lopez and her daughter Antonia overlook construction of border wall prototypes on October 5, 2017 in Tijuana, Mexico. Prototypes of the border wall propopsed by President Donald Trump are being built just north of the U.S.- Mexico border, where competitors who are hoping to gain approval to build the wall have until the first of next month to complete their work. Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Image

Nationalism is a system created by people who believe their nation is superior to all others. It's most often based on a shared ethnicity. It can also be based on a shared language, religion, culture, or set of social values. The nation emphasizes shared symbols, folklore, and mythology. Shared music, literature, and sports further strengthen nationalism.

Nationalists demand to be independent from other countries.

If the people are part of a country, they want freedom and their own state. If they are already have their own nation, they do not want to join global organizations or collaborate with other countries on joint efforts.

Because they believe their shared attribute is superior, nationalists can easily stereotype different ethnic, religious, or cultural groups. The resultant prejudice keeps their nation unified. Prejudice can lead to a desire to rid the nation of those deemed as "other." In an extreme form, it can lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Nationalists work toward a self-governing state. Their government controls aspects of the economy to promote the nation’s self-interest.  It sets policies that strengthen the domestic entities that own the factors of production. The four factors are entrepreneurship, capital goodsnatural resources, and labor. Nationalists don’t care whether the government or private businesses own the factors, as long as they make the nation stronger.

They believe their shared interests supersede all other individual or group interests. They oppose globalism and empires. They are also against any philosophy, such as religion, that supersedes national loyalties. They are not necessarily militaristic but quickly become so if threatened. 

Nationalists' feeling of superiority is what differentiates nationalism from patriotism.

The latter is pride in one's country and a willingness to defend it. Nationalism extends that to arrogance and potential military aggression. Nationalists believe they have a right to extend power over another nation because they are superior. They feel they are doing the conquered a favor. 


Nationalism didn't arise until the seventeenth century. Before that, people focused on their local town, kingdom, or even religion. The nation-state began in 1658 with the Treaty of Westphalia. It ended the 30 Years War between the Holy Roman Empire and various German groups.

Industrialization and capitalism strengthened the need for a self-governing nation to protect business rights. Merchants partnered with national governments to help them beat foreign competitors. The government supported this mercantilism because the merchants paid them in gold. The steam-powered printing press enable nations to promote unity within and prejudice against outsiders.

In the late 18th century, the American and French revolutions formalized large nations free of monarchy. They ruled by democracy and endorsed capitalism. In 1871, Otto von Bismarck created the nation of Germany from disparate tribes. By the 20th century, the entire American and European continents were governed by sovereign nations.

The Great Depression created economic conditions so harsh that most countries adopted nationalism as a defense. Fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy used nationalism  to override individual self-interest. They subjugated the welfare of the general population to achieve social goals. Nationalism under fascism works within existing social structures, instead of destroying them. It focuses on "internal cleansing and external expansion," according to Professor Robert Paxton in  "The Anatomy of Fascism." That justifies violence as a way to rid society of minorities and opponents.

World War II convinced the Allied nations to endorse global cooperation. The World Bank, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization were just three of many global groups. In the 1990s, Europe's nations formed the European Union.

Nationalism became dangerous, and globalism was salvation.

In the 21st century, nationalism returned after the Great Recession. In 2014, India elected Hindu nationalist Nahrendra Modi. In 2015, Vladimir Putin rallied Russians to invade Ukraine to "save" ethnic Russians. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to Brexit, the British exit from the EU.

In 2016, the United States elected populist Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump's policies follow a type of "half-baked, spurious nationalism," according to Senator John McCain, R-AZ. Trump and his former adviser Steve Bannon advocate economic nationalism.

Economic Nationalism

Economic nationalism is a form of nationalism that specifically prioritizes domestic businesses. It seeks to defend them against multinational corporations that benefit from globalism. It advocates protectionism and other trade policies that protect domestic industries. President Trump espoused economic nationalism when he announced tariffs on steel and Chinese imports.

Economic nationalism also prefers bilateral trade agreements between two countries. It says that multilateral agreements benefit corporations at the expense of individual nations. It even would adopt unilateral agreements where the stronger nation forces a weaker nation to adopt trade policies that favor the stronger nation.

The policies were proven to fail during the Great Depression. After the stock market crash of 1929, countries began adopting protectionist measures in a desperate attempt to save jobs. Instead, it sent world down plummeting down 65 percent. As a result, it prolonged the depression

To compensate for less trade, economic nationalism advocates increased fiscal policies to help businesses. It includes increased government spending on infrastructure. It also includes tax cuts for businesses.

Economic nationalism opposes immigration on the grounds that it takes jobs away from domestic workers .Trump's immigration policies followed nationalism when he promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico