As a Western construct, can nationalism satisfy non-Western movements? Does it then possess good or bad qualities?

Essay by ZingRUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, April 2004

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Nationalism cannot be seen as either 'good' 'bad', as the notion of 'good' 'bad' characteristics depends upon the position of the observer. Nationalism is a Western construct which has been variously justified and used for different purposes wherever it is found. It will be argued that nationalism, while possessing neither absolute 'good' nor 'bad' qualities, can never be completely progressive. Even in its anti-colonialist form it derives from, and perpetuates, Western ideology and institutions.

Nationalism is an ostensibly universal construct which emerged from Europe in the 17th century and established the nation state as the dominant order of territorial division. A nation state is easily defined, however the nationalism which drives it is intangible. Benedict Anderson finds it in terms of an 'imagined community,' where whole peoples are lead to believe that they have common goals and values, using mediums like print capitalism and education.

The conflicts sparked by nationalism are well documented.

The 20th century in particular has witnessed the worst wars in human history, driven primarily by nationalist tensions in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. In addition to wars between nation states, ethnic groups with national identities struggle to fulfill their nationalist sentiments. Anti-colonialist nationalism is a construct which colonised peoples can use to unite to overthrow their oppressors. Indian anti-colonial nationalism was argued as progressive nationalism, because of its emancipatory nature. However by adopting nationalism, a Western construct, a false sense of Indian nationalism was created by Indian intelligentsia. This is evident in most anti-colonial nationalist struggles and leads to contradictions and conflict within nationalist movements.

An important factor in the development of nationalism in the colonies were 'Creoles', people of direct colonialist descent but with a distinctly regional identity. Creoles formed the bureaucracy and in many cases the ruling elite, yet developed...