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Historical Manifestations, Theories Of Nationalism, Civic And Ethnic Nations, The Perennialists, The Modernists

Nationalism is one of the most significant political ideas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at the heart of worldwide and local conflicts penetrating every region of the globe. It can be defined simply as a political ideology that aims to bring about or to increase the political representation or power of "the nation" and has appeared in many forms in a wide variety of circumstances. It is first and foremost a theory of political legitimacy, which arose and developed in opposition to various theories that derived political legitimacy from other principles. Firstly, nationalism contested the absolutist claim to the divine right of kings that had supported the monarchies of the European ancien régime, claiming that "the nation" was a more legitimate source of power than a monarch. Secondly, nationalism can be seen in opposition to the Marxist theories that aristocratic or bourgeois supremacy should or will be replaced by the unification of the proletarian lower classes around the world, where class is held to be legitimate, rather than a nation. Marxist theories give economics precedence over culture and integrate the ideology of nationalism into a class-based understanding of the world by labeling it as a "bourgeois" theory of legitimacy. Thus nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be thought of as one theory of political legitimacy competing with others for acceptance.

In different historical contexts, nationalism has been compatible with a wide variety of other political positions, from nineteenth-century economic liberalism, to fascism in the early twentieth century, and indeed forms of Marxism in the postcolonial debate. It can be argued that much of its power as a mover of people comes from its flexibility and adaptability, which in turn can be attributed to the vagueness of the concept of the "nation" that underlies it. A nation is a group of people identified as sharing any number of real or perceived characteristics, such as common ancestry, language, religion, culture, specific institutions, historic traditions, or shared territory. The members of such a group can identify themselves and the others as belonging to the group, and who have the will or desire to remain as a group, united through some form of organization, most often political. Since no two nations need to be defined in the same way, many different combinations of characteristics may be used as the basis for a national identity at the foundation of a nationalist movement. Nationalism thus exists in a variety of forms, the common feature being the use of a culturally defined national identity in a quest for political representation, legitimacy, or power.

In order to understand the ideology of nationalism, it is helpful to examine several of the historical contexts in which nationalism has played a significant part, and then to turn to several theoretical approaches that have been used to classify and interpret nationalism, including areas of debate.

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