NATIONALISM: a permanent political force that once again needs to be harnessed for better democratic ends!

Political ideologies are believed to have their roots in human nature. Human nature influences human behavior, human behavior influences human needs and the human needs in certain country influences the choice of political ideologies in that country, because the purpose of having system of ideas (ideologies) is to get answers for human needs/questions.

Generally speaking, human beings are believed to have three major needs that emanates from the nature of human soul. These are (1) desire - needs to fulfill the basic necessities like food, shelter & clothing; (2) reason - the need to know and explain things around us and (3) dignity or judgment of worth - the need to be recognized the way we want to be recognized.

These needs received different attentions in different parts of the world. The third need however is generally less recognized and remained the most critical, contentious and consequential political question since the 18th century.

There is still unresolved debate as to how to recognize human beings since the French Revolution. There are two major factions in relation to this topic: those advocating for individualized recognition and those that advocate for collective or group recognitions.

The first group believe human beings should be recognized at individual level. They argue once we answer all individual questions i.e. fulfilling individuals desire, satisfy their reasoning and recognize them at individual level, there will be no unanswered question. Recognizing each and every person is the lasting solution.

The second group on the other hand argued the origin of individual’s question by itself is their group. Therefore, answering questions at individual level is not enough. Group is not equivalent to the sum of its individual member either, therefore we have to fulfill desires, satisfy inquisitive reasonings and recognize people as a group. They believe answering at collective level is answering from the root.

The difference between these two factions and reasonings has been growing wider overtime and the former developed into a political ideology known as liberalism/Neoliberalism while the latter has become what is known as nationalism today.

In the 20th century, the west believed that liberalism is an ideology to die for and they fought two world wars (WWI & WWII) to defeat nationalism; an ideology that they thought was primordial, troubling and evil at the time.

But nationalism remained far from both being primordial and evil force, it rather proved itself to be a permanent and indefeasible political force.



After a century long experience of mischaracterization as deeply troubling political force and opening covert and overt wars against nationalism, western scholars started to pit nationalism against globalism - the foster child of neoliberalism and publicly acknowledged their preference for the former. They argue nationalism was wrongly pictured as deeply troubling and evil force because populist politicians are exploiting it for authoritarian, chauvinistic, racist & xenophobic purposes; reinforcing the views that it is fundamentally reactionary & antidemocratic.

The western scholars went to the extent of arguing that nationalism can even undo the evils of neoliberalism. They believe it can answer many of the problems caused by neoliberalism & hyperglobalism and is essential to democracy at its best. The power of nationalism lies in its ability to empower individuals and answer basic human question. Therefore, they are suggesting that the left-wing liberals should act fast to safe nationalism from the right-wing chauvinists, harness it and make it the ally of democracy.


Some people think these scholars are supporters of the Trumpian politics. But there are also a possibility of making cases that these scholars are equally working against Trumpian politics as they are suggesting that it is important than ever before for the left to recognize the qualities of nationalism and to reclaim it from the right-wing Trumpian extremists.  

In fact, if the west scholars who have been mischaracterizing nationalism as primordial, evil and deeply troubling political force are now acknowledging its participatory, creative & egalitarian virtues and describe it as permanent political force that needs to be harnessed for liberal ends, I would suggest Francis Fukuyama to edit his book the end of history to nationalism. And with this trend it is almost certain that we are all going to live in a world where everybody is the same as a nationalist, i.e. nationalism will only be a common denominator for humanity.


Also, since most of the new nationalists are people who have wide experience with liberalism and hyperglobalism - there is a chance that nationalism will be free from the major threat it has been posing – exclusion, although some Trumpian nationalists are still suggesting for strict exclusion to the extent of building walls.

Generally, (hyper) globalism is forcing the west back to the cage of nationalism. And that will make nationalism the common global ideology (marking the end of history) and the base of alliance rather than exclusion. Therefore, nationalism the covert permanent political force is probably going to be acknowledged as an overt permanent political force that needs to be harnessed for better democratic ends.

Read 2358 times Last modified on Wednesday, 23 September 2020 15:44

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EAPRI aims to fill the gap between research, policy and practice not only by providing objective policy research that influence policy agenda and choices but also by strengthening capacity in policy evidence utilization and political commitment for its implementation. 

At EAPRI, we believe in the power of critical information in building a brighter future. Our focus is on the opportunities and challenges of attaining the development visions and goals of the nations of East Africa region. Currently having our East African Office located in Addis Ababa, we are collaborating with governmental and non-governmental organizations to provide evidences that influence policy in the region. In Ethiopia, we are currently working on, among others, urban social reconstruction, youth development and employment, dialogue and reconciliation, and rural development and food safety.