Nationalism has played a crucial role in world history over the past centuries. It continues to do so today. For many, nationalism is indelibly associated with some of the worst aspects of modern history, such as the destructive confidence of the Napoleon’s army and the murderous pride of Nazi Germany. Large numbers of people, descent in their hearts, have carried out unbelievable atrocities for no better reason than their nation required them to. Authoritarian and totalitarian regime have crushed dissent, eliminated opposition, and trampled on civil liberties in the name of the nation.
These horrors caused by nationalism seem to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from the promising ideal of democracy. As Ghia Nodia pointed out, many analysts view nationalism as “fundamentally antidemocratic” (3). What these anti-nationalists fail to realize is that nationalism has also called force heroism and even sacrifice throughout history. Numerous people have risked their lives to restore democracy and civil rights in their nations, when they could easily have chosen comfortable exile elsewhere. Indeed, nationalism is the very basis of democratic government because it unites the citizens as “we the people”, supports the common political destiny, and nurtures trust toward the government.
The most important value of nationalism to democracy lies in the fact that it has the capacity to unite individual citizens into a single entity with shared beliefs. Democracy requires a definition of demos or who are included in the game and who are not (Nodia 6). Wherever the boundaries of the playing field are in dispute, democratic institutions (such as participation, representation, or cooperation) simply cannot function. Thus, for democracy to operate effectively, the existence of a united political community is critical. Nationalism is often the main reason why people identify with their respective political community. As the main source of national identity, nationalism “makes [people] feel connected not only to one another but also to the homeland itself” (Jusdanis 28). In the case of the American founding, when the delegates from respective states met to construct a more perfect union, they did not identify themselves as Virginians or New Yorkers. Instead, they defined themselves as “we the people of the United States” as it appears in the Preamble to the US constitution. The shared interest in liberty and freedom as well as the attachment to the land of their fathers made it possible for the vast population of the thirteen states to think of itself as a unified body despite their internal ethnic and cultural divide. By identifying themselves as a member of certain group, people will form a society with certain shared value, which ultimately can become the political units for a democratic government. Nationalism is essential for creating a cohesive political community.
In addition to defining the political units for democratic governance, nationalism can...