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Study Notes

Rational Nationalism

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 22 Jun 2020

The more inclusive strands of nationalism are firmly rooted within a rational view of human nature. They are based upon a belief that we can recognise the benefits of forging a kinship with others.

In doing so, we can best serve our own interest(s). This is implicit within the Lockean notion of a social contract in which the people accept the need for government to protect individual liberty and freedom. The journey away from a state of nature is thereby driven by an ingrained sense of rationalism.

In terms of the various strands of nationalism, liberal nationalism is based firmly upon a rational mindset. Liberal nationalism assumes that warfare and economic protectionism is contrary to the national interest. Instead, nations understand the need to maintain dialogue, peaceful co-existence and trading links with other countries. We also fully recognise the need to respect our neighbours’ borders and foster a sense of international co-operation. Taken together, this provides the basis for a stable world order. Conservative nationalism is also based upon a shared sense of common interest. However, the assumptions behind conservative nationalism do not belong within the rationalist mindset. Conservatives believe that a nation emerges on an organic basis rather than rational calculations.

Other strands of nationalism reject the rational view. They contend that nations are locked into a Darwinian struggle for survival in which only the strong survive and the weak go to the wall. Nations therefore have no choice but to compete with others over scarce resources. People are driven by their emotions and a primordial desire to preserve their gene pool (an observation which extends towards their own nation). The more exclusive forms of nationalism further to the right of the political spectrum adopt an unambiguously chauvinistic and imperialistic tone. Rather than respecting national borders, it is in the interests of stronger nations to conquer foreign lands to further their own political and economic interests.

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