Sweden: Society and Culture
Essay "nationalism" and "national identity"
Lecturer: Ragnar Byirk
"What is nationalism? It is a kind of patriotism that has lost its gentility!"1 These remarkable words from Albert Schweitzer represent an opinion that is accepted by many people in this world today. But when we speak about nationalism and national identity would not it be interesting what is behind these tradition-rich words? What is the meaning of nationalism and how has it changed in the last centuries? Another interesting point is how the people of today would conceive their national identity, maybe in Sweden and Germany. Are there similarities or even well-defined limits?
For answering all these questions, I would think that it might be important to give an explanation or definition of nationalism. Many pundits have thought about that, and they said for example, "Nationalism is an example for a cultural force which in many cases has overruled others"2. In a comparison to the mentioned quotation of Albert Schweitzer it is also important to say "that the wider concept of patriotism is based upon the love of God, King and Country by subjects of the state, whereas the idea of nationalism is based upon ideas about a 23olksgemeins chaft, a shared history and culture, a common destiny and an idea of equality [...]"3 To create and form a nation and to give her a kind of national feeling, it is not only necessary to have "a common language, a common past and future"4, there are so many symbols and tools to create nationalism. A country should have a gallery of common myths, heroes, pictures, texts — a whole set of symbols, including flag and anthem. This apprehensive faculty that nationalism comes not from anywhere makes a country to a nation. Furthermore, it is interesting that these tools and arenas were produced mainly during the nineteenth century, but elaborated during the twentieth.5 Also significant for a national thinking is, that people construct nations and not the other way round. But where is now the difference between nationalism and national identity? In my opinion, it is not so easy to draw a line between these two terms, because both own the same word: nation. That means that nationalism as well as national identity could not exist, if there would not be the same basis: people that make a nation to a strong and powerful authority. National identity is in a metaphorical sense like a little brother to nationalism, because even national identity could not exist, if there would not be the same basis.
1 Melzer, Gunther: website „zitate-online.de, http://www.zitate-online.de/sprue che/allgemein/16371/was-ist-nationalismus-das-ist-ein-patriotismus.html, date of access: 18.09.2008.
2 Löfgren, Orvar: The Nationalism of Culture, in: University of Copenhagen (ed.): Ethnologia Europaea XIX, p.5.
3 Ibid., p.7.
4 Ibid., p.9.
5 Cf. Ibid., p.9.