Expansionist Nationalism

What is expansionist nationalism? How does expansionist nationalism differ from other forms of nationalism? What does it mean to be chauvinistic? Expansionist nationalism is a branch of nationalism you will encounter in your political studies. Explore in this article what the definition of Expansionist Nationalism is, what types exist and learn more about it with some examples!

Expansionist Nationalism Expansionist Nationalism

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Table of contents

    Expansionist Nationalism definition

    The definition of Expansionist nationalism is it is a radical form of nationalism. This is because it

    takes core nationalistic ideas of the nation-state, self-determination, and culturalism and integrates them with ideas of national chauvinism, expansionism, and militarism. Expansionist nationalism is generally seen as regressive and racist.

    The expansionist nationalism definition also focuses on expanding territory or recovering its own formerly owned territories. In order to expand their territories, expansionist nationalists rely heavily on militaristic approaches, and therefore militarism is often an important aspect of expansionist nationalism.

    Militarism refers to the adoption of militaristic values or ideas in everyday society. It may also include the idea that a nation should have and maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to deploy this military to aggressively protect, defend or promote national interests.

    Expansionist nationalism differs from liberal nationalism through its advocacy and use of national chauvinism and racialism. As such, it forwards the belief in the superiority of one's own nation over others and seeks exclusive rights to self-determination.

    National chauvinism is aggressive patriotism and the unreasonable belief in the dominance of one's own nation.

    Liberal nationalism, on the other hand, has respect for the sovereignty of all nation-states and their right to self-determination. Self-determination is a key element of nationalism and the creation of nation-states; however, not all nations are granted self-determination under expansionist nationalism. There is, in fact, a belief among expansionist nationalists that some states possess characteristics or qualities that make them superior. This superiority serves as the justification for a state to expand its borders at the expense of its neighbours.

    Expansionist Nationalism types

    Expansionist nationalism manifests in many different forms. Below is a table exploring some of these different types. You may notice that different expansionist nationalism types often overlap.

    Form of Nationalism



    An approach to nationalism dedicated to unifying disparate people through political union and expansionism. We see many iterations of pan nationalism throughout history, such as Pan-Germanism, Pan-Arabism, and Pan-Slavism.

    Racial Conquest

    Racial conquest stems from the belief in the superiority of one's race over others which fosters a strong sense of entitlement to territory and land regardless of whether this territory is already inhabited. This was an important component of Nazism.


    Imperialism is the expansion of power over state borders, often accomplished by forming empires. Military expansion and racial and nationalist ideologies are often pillars of imperialism.


    Militarism is one of the most prevalent forms of expansionist nationalism and is based on adopting the military in civilian life.


    Chauvinism refers to an exaggerated sense of patriotism in which the nation is believed to be superior to others.

    Expansionist Nationalism thinkers

    While there have been several important thinkers, arguably the most important expansionist nationalism thinker was Charles Maurras (1868-1952). Maurras is most widely known as being the founder of what he called integral nationalism. Integral nationalism promotes aggressive expansionism and calls for the total submission of one's self to their nation. It is an extremely chauvinistic and regressive concept.

    These ideas emerged in response to the French Revolution, which according to Maurras, led to the decline of the French state. Maurras believed that the removal of the monarchy and the formation of a republic, which occurred as a result of the revolution, had led to a loss of the essence of the French nation. He believed in the presence of a strong state and the restoration of laws and order, this could be achieved through a strong military, and the ideology supported the idea that nations should retain a prevalent military ethos. These ideas heavily influenced expansionist nationalism.

    Expansionist Nationalism Portrait of Charles Maurras StudySmarterPortrait of Charles Maurras, Studio Harcourt, CC0-1.0, commons.wikimedia.org

    Maurras is famously a raging antisemite, and his ideas also strongly influenced Fascism.

    The Legend of Nicolas Chauvin

    Legend has it that French soldier Nicolas Chauvin was wounded terribly in the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), and, despite his wounds, he only received a pitiful pension in compensation. Despite the unpopularity of his Bonapartist view under the Bourbon Restoration, Chauvin maintained his fanatical belief in the divine mission of Imperial France even after Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated. Despite being ignored and harassed by his military faction and its enemies, the term chauvinism was attributed to Nicholas Chauvin's blind devotion to his cause.

    Expansionist Nationalism example

    Expansionist nationalism is most often used in reference to the militaristic governments of the 20th century. The events in Nazi Germany are the most famous expansionist nationalism example, though the term actually emerged in the late 19th century during the 'scramble for Africa'.

    Expansionist Nationalism The colonisation of Africa by European powers with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia StudySmarterThe colonisation of Africa by European Powers, DrRandom Factors, CC-1.0, Wikimedia Commons

    Example 1: The Scramble for Africa

    The 'scramble for Africa' refers to a period that began in the 1880s where European powers invaded, divided and colonised Africa. In 1870 European powers maintained control over 10% of Africa; however, after the 'scramble for Africa', by 1914, European powers had control over 90% of Africa.1

    In contrast to early periods of expansion, the 'scramble for Africa' was characterised by popular support for expansion from those who resided within the European nations. Expanding into Africa and acquiring more territory for European empires was seen as a status of the empire's prestige. There was vast public approval for expansionism, and within the United Kingdom under the British Empire, the concept of jingoism emerged.

    Similar to chauvinism, jingoism refers to the mood of nationalist enthusiasm and public celebration, which is provoked by military expansion.

    During the 'scramble for Africa', European powers positioned themselves as superior to African nations. They believed that the white people of Europe and North America were intellectually superior and more 'civilised' than Africans. Therefore, expansion was not posed solely as a way to gain more prestige but as a moral obligation in order to bring about the 'liberation' of Africans from 'barbarism'. Whilst the 'scramble for Africa' was largely an imperialist venture in which multiple European empires sought to expand their power, there were elements of other forms of expansionist nationalism as well, such as racial conquest and militarism.

    Whilst the term expansionist nationalism emerged from the 'scramble for Africa', it is useful to know some other historical applications of expansionist nationalism in order for you to get a more well-rounded understanding of what expansionist nationalism looks like in practice. The Nazi regime in Germany is a good example to use in your exams when discussing expansionist nationalism and demonstrates pan-nationalism with elements of racial conquest.

    Example 2: Germany and Lebensraum

    Expansionist Nationalism Map showing German expansionism during World War ll StudySmarterMap showing German expansionism during World War ll, Ianjameslyon, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

    Under the rule of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi regime in Germany between the years 1938 and 1945 began enacting an expansionist plan based on pan-nationalist ideas; in fact, this particular form of pan-nationalism is often referred to as pan-Germanism. This expansion can be seen in the map above. This expansion was based on the idea of 'lebensraum'.

    Lebensraum translates to 'living space'; these territories would provide Germans with adequate land in order to live sufficiently. Hitler's plan to expand did not stop there. Due to his initial military success and his successful invasions, Hitler's vision for expansionism grew beyond Eastern Europe. Hitler's new vision sought the expansion of Germany across Europe, Asia and Africa. Nazi Germany serves as an example of how under expansionist nationalism, there is a strong emphasis on militarism often paired with the desire to achieve self-determination of one's own nation at the expense of others.

    German expansion also had elements of racial conquest, in which Germans and the Aryan race were viewed as racially superior. Therefore they were entitled to claim the territory of others and restore Germany to its former glory.

    Expansionist nationalism - Key takeaways

    • Expansionist nationalism is a radical form of nationalism.
    • It combines core nationalist ideas with ideas of national chauvinism, expansionism, and militarism.
    • There are several different types of expansionist nationalism, for example, Pan-Nationalism, Racial Conquest, Imperialism, Militarism, and Chauvinism.
    • The thinker that has influenced expansionist nationalist theory the most is Charles Maurras.
    • The most famous examples of expansionist nationalism in history can be seen in the 'scramble for Africa' and Nazi Germany's ideas of lebensraum.


    1. Brilliant Maps, Colonial Africa On The Eve of World War I, accessed August 2022
    Frequently Asked Questions about Expansionist Nationalism

     What are the key features of expansionist nationalism?

    Along with nationalist ideas of the nation-state, self-determination, and culturalism, key features of expansionist nationalism are national chauvinism, expansionism, and militarism. 

    Explain expansionist nationalism.

    Expansionist nationalism is a radical form of nationalism and ethnic nationalism with focuses on the expansion of territory or the recovery of its own formerly owned territories. 

    What is an example of expansionist nationalism?

    The 'scramble of Africa' and Pan-Germanism under Nazi Germany are classic examples of expansionist nationalism in history. 

    How does expansionism relate to nationalism? 

    Expansionist nationalism combines the ideas of expansionist and nationalism to create an ideology that advocates both for the nation-state and self-determination, and for expansionism, and militarism 

    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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