Ethnic Nationalism

What is ethnic nationalism? How is ethnic nationalism different from other forms of nationalism? What does it mean to be part of an ethnic group? This article will answer these questions and more as we examine the different types of ethnic nationalism and its history.

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    Ethnic Nationalism A pixel drawing of a man and a woman StudySmarterEthnicity, Flaticon

    Ethnic Nationalism Meaning

    In the 18th Century, nationalism became a political tool. During the French Revolution, nationalism united people from different classes to overthrow the monarchy and establish the French Republic. Nationalism was also used throughout the world as a means to fight for ethnic independence against vast, multi-ethnic empires. We call this form of nationalism ethnic nationalism.

    Ethnicity or ethnic group refers to membership in a group based on culture and geography. Members of ethnic groups usually identify with each other through common ancestry or genealogy.

    Ethnic nationalism holds that nations are defined by common ancestry, language, and beliefs.

    Ethnic nationalism is based on the idea that ethnic groups have the right to self-determination. Depending on how the right to self-determination is exercised, this can lead to a variety of different outcomes, from a sovereign state to the establishment of self-governing bodies within a society.

    The difference between nationality and ethnicity

    While ethnicity or ethnic group refers to belonging to a group based on culture and geography, nationality refers to a person’s membership in a country and describes their connection to the state politically. There are monoethnic countries where vast majority of the population belongs to a single ethnic group, and polyethnic countries where the population is made up of multiple ethnic groups. Examples of monoethnic countries include Japan, North Korea, and Morroco, while examples of polyethnic countries include the United States, Canada and Brazil.

    Nationalism and ethnic politics

    Ethnic nations have a strong sense of collective identity based on a real or fictitious sense of shared ethnic identity. Less than 10% of nation-states today consider themselves ethnic nations. In ethnic nations, there are fears of miscegenation.

    The term miscegenation is often used negatively, referring to the mixing of racially and ethnically different people; this often refers to the dilution of one’s race or ethnicity.

    Ethnic nations are also fearful of ‘melting pot’ societies because they fear they will lose national and personal identity.

    Ethnic nationalism example

    In the 19th Century, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful empires in the world, and the official language of the empire was Turkish. While the Turks led the Ottoman Empire, the empire was made up of many different ethnic groups, including Greeks, Arabs, Slavs, and Kurds. In the late 19th Century, Greeks under the Ottoman Empire began to see themselves as having their own identity, distinct from that of the Ottoman Empire, and they began to advance the idea that Greeks deserved their own state outside the rule of the Ottoman Empire, as they were a separate nation. This was an example of Greek ethnic nationalism, as the Greeks believed they had a common identity, culture, and roots that were distinct from those of other peoples in the empire.

    Greece was very multi-ethnic at the time, and in addition to Orthodox Christians, there were Muslims and Jews. However, within the ethnic nationalism that the Greeks espoused, there was the idea of establishing Greek independence with ‘pure’ forms of Greek identity. This meant that Orthodox Christianity would be the religion of Greece and Greek the national language. Greek ethnic nationalism even espoused the idea that Greeks had a specific appearance due to their common ancestry, and therefore those who looked Northern European or Turkish were not pure Greeks and were therefore often rejected. In 1830, Greece was successfully established as an independent state and liberated from the Ottoman Empire. This example also shows that ethnic nationalism is not all-encompassing: in this case, to be considered Greek, one had to possess specific physical characteristics, adopt the Greek language, and profess Orthodox Christianity.

    Civic and Ethnic Nationalism

    What is the difference between civic and ethnic nationalism?

    Ethnic nationalism is often contrasted with civic nationalism because it is exclusive and civic nationalism is inclusive.

    Civic nationalism is a form of nationalism based on civic rights and citizenship. Civic nationalism rests upon shared values amongst individuals and is characterised by liberal ideas such as tolerance, individual rights, and public participation.

    Civic nationalism requires loyalty to the nation. In a civic nation, citizens define themselves by their commitment to political institutions and principles. This often inspires patriotism, which refers to devotion to and vigorous support of one’s country. In a civic nation, one must identify with the constitution and political institutions instead of citizenship based on language, religion, or ethnicity.

    For example, in the United States of America, you are considered an American or a citizen of America regardless of your ethnicity. Therefore, the US is considered a ‘melting pot’ because of the large number of Latino Americans, Arab Americans, African Americans, Italian Americans, etc. As long as one adheres to the American Constitution, values and political institutions, one is theoretically considered an American.

    Ethnic nationalism, on the other hand, is exclusive. One cannot be a member of an ethnic nation unless one belongs to that ethnic group, regardless of whether one was born in that nation, speaks the same language, or follows the same religious practices. Ethnic nationalism creates a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’, whereas in civic nationalism, anyone can be part of the ‘us’ group.

    Nativism

    Nativism refers to a policy that seeks to promote the interests of a nation’s indigenous or 'native' population over those of immigrants.

    Nativism is a concept often discussed in the context of ethnic nationalism and is almost exclusively an American concept due to its origins in 19th century US politics. Although nativism originated in the United States, aspects of nativism also exist in other regions, such as Europe. However, in Europe, these discussions are often described with terms such as xenophobia, racism, and ultranationalism, rather than using the term nativism. Nativism can be understood as xenophobic nationalism. Xenophobia refers to a dislike, hatred, or fear of foreigners.

    Some ethnic groups are native to certain nations and regions.

    For example, Native Americans are native to the United States of America. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that nativism in America is based on protecting native Americans from immigrants. However, this is not the case. In the American application of nativism, the term 'natives' refers to those descended from the Thirteen Colonies, or more loosely, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). The Thirteen Colonies were British colonies in North America that fought for American independence in the American Revolution. The rise of nativism was an attempt to counteract the large influx of immigrants. A particular focus of nativists in America was the rejection of Irish Catholic immigration. This was because the nativists were Protestant and therefore saw Catholicism as a threat to native American culture.

    Nativism in the United States

    Nativism has been very prominent in the history of the United States. Here we see some examples of how nativism has developed historically in the United States.

    • The 1870s and 1880s: nativism in America was originally associated with the anti-Catholic sentiment but often evolved as the question of who could and could not be considered a native changed. The 1870s and 80s also saw the rise of anti-Chinese nativism, which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. This act banned the immigration of all Chinese workers. It remains the only law that has prevented all members of any ethnic group from immigrating to the United States.
    • 19171918: following US involvement in World War I, a rise in nativism led to the suppression of German cultural activities in the US. German churches were forced to change their services to English, and German Americans were forced to buy war bonds to show their patriotism.
    • 20162017: former US President Donald Trump is labelled a nativist. In his election campaign, Trump advocated limiting Mexican immigration to the United States while building a physical border wall between the United States and Mexico to keep Mexicans out. Trump’s supporters supported this plan because they felt a sense of cultural disorientation due to the impact of migrants on ‘native’ American culture. During his presidency, Trump also issued Executive Order 1376, commonly referred to as the ‘Muslim ban’. This ban indefinitely suspended the entry of Syrian refugees and prohibited passport holders from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States.Ethnic Nationalism An illustration of US former President Donald Trump holding the USA flag StudySmarterFormer US President Donald Trump is considered a nativist, Flaticon

    While the United States is not described as an ethnic nation but rather a civic one, we can see from the historical adoption of nativism that there appears to be an American ethnic identity. This American identity is often prioritised in the political sphere.

    Ethnic Nationalism - Key Takeaways

    • In the 18th Century, we witnessed the emergence of nationalism as a political instrument.
    • Ethnic nationalism holds that nations are defined by common ancestry, language, and religion.
    • Ethnic nations have a strong sense of collective identity based on a real or fictitious sense of shared ethnic identity.
    • In the late 19th Century, many Greeks under the Ottoman Empire began to view themselves as having a separate identity from the Ottoman Empire. They espoused the idea that Greeks deserved their own state.
    • Civic nationalism rested upon shared values among individuals and was shaped by liberal ideas such as tolerance, individual rights, and public participation.
    • Ethnic nationalism is often contrasted with civic nationalism because it is exclusive and civic nationalism is inclusive.
    • Nativism refers to policies that seek to advance the interests of a nation’s native population over those of immigrants.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Ethnic Nationalism

    What is the difference between civic and ethnic nationalism?

    Civic nationalism is an inclusive form of nationalism based on civic rights and citizenship. Civic nationalism rests upon shared values amongst individuals and has been shaped by liberal ideas like that of tolerance, individual rights and public participation. Ethnic nationalism on the other hand is exclusive. One cannot be a member of ethnic nations if they do not belong to that ethnic group regardless of whether they were born in the nation, speak the same language or follow the same religious practices.

    What is the difference between nationality and ethnicity?

    Ethnicity or ethnic group refers to belonging to a group based on culture and geography. Members of these groups usually identify with one another through a shared ancestry or genealogy. Nationality refers to a person’s membership in a country and describes their connection to the state politically. There are instances of overlap between ethnicity and nationality.

    What is ethnic nationalism?

    Ethnic nationalism holds that nations are defined by common ancestry, language, and beliefs. It relies on the idea that ethnic groups have the right to self-determination.

    What is an example of ethnic nationalism?

    Greece in the 19th Century, which was very multi-ethnic at the time: in addition to Orthodox Christians, there were Muslims and Jews.


    However, within the ethnic nationalism that the Greeks espoused, there was the idea of establishing Greek independence with ‘pure’ forms of Greek identity. This meant that Orthodox Christianity would be the religion of Greece and the Greek language. Greek ethnic nationalism even espoused the idea that Greeks had a specific appearance due to their common ancestry, and therefore those who looked Northern European or Turkish were not pure Greeks and were therefore under attack. In 1830, Greece was successfully established as an independent state and liberated from the Ottoman Empire. 

    What is ethnic nationalism based on?

    Ethnic nationalism is based on the idea that ethnic groups have the right to self-determination. Depending on how the right to self-determination is exercised, this can lead to a variety of different outcomes, from a sovereign state to the establishment of self-governing bodies within a society.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What percentage of nations view themselves as ethnic nations?

    When did Greece gain independence from the Ottoman Empire?

    Who enacted the ‘Muslim ban’? 

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