Scholars have debated whether nationalism and racism are compatible as ideological doctrines because they are complex issues with multiple facets. Some people believe that there is a connection between nationalism and racism that reinforces them both. However, others argue that these two concepts are fundamentally different and should not be confused with one another. The advocacy for preserving and developing a specific nation is what nationalism promotes, while racism entails the conviction that certain races or ethnicities are superior to others. Modern societies have been significantly shaped by nationalism and racism, observable in various social and political domains. It is important to understand this issue thoroughly and explore whether these two ideological doctrines are compatible or fundamentally incompatible.
The intricate relationship between nationalism and racism has several layers. Providing a sense of shared identity and purpose to a country or community as a unifying force is one benefit of nationalism on the one hand. Geller (2008) asserts that nationalism can encourage a sense of commonality among citizens of a particular country and support in shaping a mutual objective for what lies ahead. Nationalism can result in a US versus them mentality and cause xenophobia and prejudice towards outsiders. In contrast, Solomos (2020) describes manifestations of racism as including discrimination, exclusion, and violence. Although racism is frequently based on ideas of biology and genetics, it can also arise from cultural or religious contrasts. No matter what form racism takes, it is a universally recognized destructive force that cannot exist in a just and equitable society.
Distinct in their objectives and outcomes are two ideologies—nationalism and racism. Despite being interchangeable, their compatibility is uncertain. Nationalism asserts the nation’s superiority over others, while racism does the same for race. If taken too far, both ideologies can cause destruction and division by analyzing the arguments in favour of and against the coexistence of nationalism and racism and the risks involved in this coexistence. This paper will argue that only when both ideological doctrines preserve equal rights for everyone can racism and nationalism exist harmoniously.
Arguments against the compatibility
The debate and controversy surrounding the relationship between nationalism and racism have been ongoing. Some believe there is an inherent association between these two concepts, where nationalist movements usually depend on language being discriminatory or racist. Some argue that specific ideological frameworks can reconcile these notions; however, Smith disagrees and sees them as fundamentally incompatible (2013).
The fundamental premise of nationalism as a political ideology is based on prioritizing preserving and advancing individual rights in addition to freedom and equality (Geller 2008). Discrimination is not tolerated without nationality, and discrimination treatment is emphasized for all individuals. The value of unfettered expression and the freedom to associate with others is emphasized in nationalism. In addition, it strives for an equitable division of resources and opportunities among all members of society (Kohn, 1967). Racism’s ideology is based on the idea of one race or nation being superior and treating those considered inferior unfairly. The principles above conflict with this. If national identity is characterized by a fixed notion such as racism, according to Fukuyama (2021), nationalism contradicts the notions from which it is formed and violates equal dignity. Equal rights violation is conclusive evidence against the coexistence of nationalism and racism as political ideologies.
When a particular race is believed to possess inherent superiority, it creates prejudice and discrimination against individuals seen as inferior. The act being referred to contradicts the basic principles of nationalism and has inherent discriminatory nature. Contrarily nationalism focuses on collective national identity and cultural heritage (Geller 2008). The concept of nationalism frequently encompasses the conviction that one’s country is superior to others and a desire to maintain its autonomy and ability to govern itself. Racial discrimination is involved in racism, and it conflicts with liberalism’s principles since it gives priority to one race over others. The fundamental belief of inclusive nationalism is advocating for equal opportunities for all parties regardless of race or ethnicity and rejecting the unification of racial and liberal nationalist ideologies.
The history and development of many countries worldwide have been shaped by nationalism, a significant feature of modern politics. Dedication to protecting and promoting a particular nation takes various forms, such as cultural, social, and political movements, at its core, nationalism. On the other hand, nationalism may lead to division and strife, especially if it relies on exclusionary or ethno-nationalist beliefs that determine membership in the country based on race or ethnicity. Nationalist movements can foster xenophobia, prejudice, and discrimination. Believing that certain races or ethnic groups are inherently superior or inferior to others involves racism. Having taken various forms over time, it has a long and complex history. Racism has been closely linked to colonialism, imperialism, and other exploitative nationalism in contemporary times. The Indian independence movement and other successful nationalist movements achieved their objectives without using racist or exclusionary language.
According to Mayall (1990), nationalism is inherently exclusionary as it creates an ‘other’ based on race or values that are not in line with the dominant nationalist ideologies. To tackle this problem, it is necessary to consider the historical background and the roots of nationalism and racism. In response to the challenges of modernity and the breakdown of traditional social structures (Synder, 2010), nationalism emerged after the French Revolution. Its goal was to unite individuals under a common national identity and objective. The idea of the nation-state, which defined a political entity by its membership in a particular nation, often served as the basis for nationalist movements. On the other hand, racism has a much longer history, closely linked to the development of colonialism and imperialism. The European colonization of the Americas led to racial hierarchies, which Europeans used to justify their domination and exploitation of indigenous populations. This can be traced back to the issue’s roots (Mosse 1995). Racism has become more complex over time, used to justify slavery, segregation, and other forms of discrimination and oppression. Nationalism and racism have different origins and trajectories, given this historical context. Although nationalism arose as a reaction to the trials of modernity, racism originates in the historical events of colonialism and imperialism. Although nationalism can promote unity and progress, racism is widely acknowledged as a lethal and harmful force that has no role in a fair and equitable society. Combining such ideologies conclusively is an idea destined to fail or suffer unrecognizable losses.
Yet it is also factual that nationalist movements frequently use racist and exclusive language to establish a feeling of shared identity. When nationalist movements are rooted in ethnic or cultural identity and aim to define national membership based on race, this holds particularly true. Nationalism may be used to promote policies that discriminate against and oppress certain groups within the nation when such events occur. Violence or even genocide can be a possible outcome of such extreme nationalism. In the 1990s, in the former Yugoslavia, ethnonationalism rose, which led to devastating conflicts and the displacement and killing of millions of people (John 2001). Ethnonationalism can lead to creating animosity and separation between different communities when one ethnic group’s benefits are given priority over others. Nationalist sentiments and the country’s disintegration led to ethnic conflict and violence in the former Yugoslavia.
Politicians can manipulate and worsen ethnic and national tensions for their benefit. This can result in further escalation of conflicts and devastating consequences. This is especially worrying in nations that lack strong democratic institutions because politicians can harness nationalist emotions to solidify their authority. The outcomes of extreme nationalism and ethnonationalism are not confined to their respective regions, as stated by Geller (2008). Ethnic conflict and violence can result in widespread ramifications such as population displacement and breakdown of social and economic structures leading to the spread of disease and poverty. Communities and governments should acknowledge the risks of extreme nationalism and strive to encourage inclusivity and diversity (Goober 2013). We can create more united societies that are better prepared to tackle modern challenges by promoting comprehension and appreciation for diverse cultures and identities. Racist nationalism is not the recommended approach to achieve cohesion in society.
Mosse (1995) cautions that ethnonationalism may result in the exclusion and mistreatment of minority groups, which deprives them of their fundamental human rights and chances. Suppressing other cultural or linguistic identities by promoting exclusive nationalism can cause a sense of alienation and division within society. Additionally, it could harm international relations. The outcome of this could be heightened tensions between countries leading to a potential conflict and resulting in economic sanctions or diplomatic isolation, which would further deteriorate the situation. Nationalism can turn into a dangerous force threatening peace and stability when it takes on an exclusionary and aggressive form.
Ethnic tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi populations in Rwanda in 1994 resulted in a genocide claiming an estimated 800000 lives (Yakti 2022). The role of the Hutu government’s promotion of nationalist ideology cannot be underestimated in fanning the flames of violence as they endeavoured to remove the Tutsi minority and establish their dominance. Unchecked nationalism can lead to dehumanizing others and promoting violence against them. This ethnic nationalist ideology emphasizes this danger. It’s crucial for individuals to have pride in their national identity and culture. However, we must also acknowledge the inherent value and dignity of every human being, no matter their nationality or ethnic background. Genocides are particularly high in countries with multiple racist groups. Despite being different only in their tribal affiliations, Rwanda faced the same issues.
Just like violent conflict and genocide, extreme nationalism too can lead to the exclusion and discrimination of minority groups within a society. In recent years there has been a rise in ethnonationalism movements worldwide. Social media growth and the spread of misinformation contribute to this phenomenon. In Smith’s (2013) view, these movements often assign blame to immigrants or religious minorities for social and economic difficulties while endorsing a narrow and exclusive understanding of national identity. The differentiation between healthy patriotism and poisonous nationalism is necessary. An attachment to their nation and a fondness for its people’s culture and values is what characterizes patriotism. The inspiration from it can foster positive actions like volunteering or voting, or serving in the military. Identity politics in the form of nationalism can be extremely dangerous as it places one’s nation above all else and frequently includes a sense of superiority and fear towards outsiders. My argument disapproves the feasibility of combining racism and nationality as it would promote extreme nationalism.
Scottish nationalism presents an interesting case as it demonstrates the possibility of promoting nationalism without resorting to racist beliefs or practices. Scottish culture and identity have been the main focus of Scottish nationalism, according to Geller (2008), rather than the exclusion of other groups or promotion of a particular race or ethnicity. Although racism and nationalism could intersect with each other in some cases. The Scottish nationalist movement has mostly denounced any racist beliefs or practices. Geller has observed that nationalism could be demonstrated through means that are not linked to prejudice conduct. Scottish nationalists aim to promote Scottish independence while highlighting their cultural identity in a multicultural society. Scottish nationalism provides a gold standard of why combining racism and nationality might not be in the best political interests.
Dangers of Incorporating Nationalism and Racism into Political Discourse
Including nationalist and racist beliefs in political speeches can have serious consequences for both individuals and the wider society (Mayall 1990). Prejudicial treatment of marginalized communities has been rationalized using certain ideologies. Fundamental human entitlements and democratic values could potentially suffer from decline. Policies that discriminate against immigrants and refugees and individuals who fail to fully assimilate into the national identity can be rationalized by extreme nationalism, according to Snyder’s warning in 2010. Advocating a single national identity could potentially harm democratic values such as protecting minority rights and freedom of expression (Mayall 1990). This occurrence can bring about the domination of dissenting voices in politics and establish a single-pole political structure where the government’s welfare is put ahead of that of society.
Integrating racism into nationalism could potentially intensify the atmosphere from patriotism to toxic nationalism. Patriotism encompasses the feelings of attachment towards one’s country and love for its people, including their culture and values. Positive actions like volunteering or voting can be inspired by it. A military service is also an option. Snyder (2010) argues that nationalism is an extreme form of identity politics that prioritizes one’s nation over others and often exhibits feelings of superiority and fear towards outsiders. When combined with ethnicity, nationalism can lead to disproportionate treatment of the majority over other minority groups. The occurrence of dissent and opposition, along with the erosion of democratic values like the rule of law and free speech, could emerge from this.
Moreover, as per Goober (2013), the exhibition of racist nationalism might lead to the decline of oppressed groups and promotion of racial hierarchy. Minority groups can face discriminatory policies, including segregation and marginalization, that are rationalized by racism and may result in physical aggression. Eroding human rights can result from denying minority groups equal access to opportunities for resources and services. Marginalized communities may become targets of violence and hate crimes that are justified or even celebrated in a milieu created by this behaviour (Snyder 2010). Hate speech and discrimination can become normalized, leading to violence and oppression being considered acceptable modes of behavior.
Integrating nationalism and racism into political rhetoric could potentially harm global collaboration and diplomacy (Geller 2008). The advocacy of isolationist measures that prioritize the nation-state’s welfare over global collaboration and diplomacy can be a consequence of nationalism. The emergence of disputes and strains can be encouraged by this phenomenon which undermines worldwide stability. Moreover, the presence of racism can create strained relationships between separate countries and individuals, leading to possible hostility and armed conflict (Snyder 2010). If racism is used to validate aggressive and expansionist policies, it may create conflicts with adjacent nations and the global community. This damages worldwide stability and promotes an aggressive atmosphere which prolongs strife and aggression. Political ideologies cannot be compatible with racism and nationalism. These reasons demonstrate why.
The potential hazards of integrating nationalism and racism as ideological frameworks into political rhetoric have been examined in this paper. By acknowledging the historical and political context in which nationalist movements arose, we have come to understand nationalism and racism. Based on the research results, nationalism has been shown to promote cohesion and development by emphasizing collective political or social aspirations. However, it can also cause the exclusion and mistreatment of disadvantaged communities due to their cultural or ethnic identities. It is challenging to integrate racism into nationality since nationalism is founded on the notion of mutual identity and common values. Treating everyone with respect regardless of their background promotes inclusion, while racism fosters exclusion and discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Consequently, combining racism with nationalism can cause certain groups to become marginalized and undermine societal cohesion. Integration attempted in an inappropriate political environment will only bring about turmoil and warfare. Minority groups may be marginalized, and democratic values undermined by nationalism. In comparison to that, the possibility of both ideologies establishing an atmosphere where hate speech and discriminatory practices become usual can cause societal strife and fragmentation. By examining situations where racism and nationality can become compatible, we have identified fascism as bringing harmony between the two ideologies. Above everything else, it is necessary to disavow any ideology that endorses partiality or narrow-mindedness relating to race or citizenship and instead cultivate principles of diversity and inclusivity.
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