Difference Between Liberalism and Nationalism
One way to grasp the idea central to liberalism is to consider what liberalism is not. From a liberal point of view, slaves and serfs are the most miserable of humans—slaves because they are at the mercy of arbitrary despotism, and serfs because their lives are repressively regulated by customary rules and duties. Neither slaves nor serfs can exercise rational will. Despotism and feudalism are thus the twin enemies of liberalism.
The word “liberal” may be used to describe either a type of constitution or the tendency of a political party. A liberal constitution is characterized by the establishing of the rule of law, freedom of political organization, an independent judiciary, and a government responsive to public opinion. Within such a constitutional system, the word “liberal” generally describes the party or tendency that promotes change by constitutional means, as against the “conservative” tendency that generally opposes change and upholds inherited values.
Nationalism. The term nationalism refers to an ideology based on the notion that people who have a sense of homogeneity rooted in a conception of a shared history and a common ethnicity, cultural heritage, language, or religion should be united in a single nation-state free of “alien” political, economic, or cultural influence or domination. The “alien” may be internal, for example, the Russian immigrants who flooded into Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia during the five decades of Soviet occupation, or external, as in the case of Great Britain, Belgium, or Portugal in relation to their colonies. The consciousness of group identity and sense of the alien become nationalism, an ideology, when they are linked to political aspirations.
Partly because nationalism manifests itself in various guises and partly because the term is used for different purposes, it is an ambiguous concept. Scholars debate the meaning and role of nationalism; political leaders and regimes may use it as a means to influence and manipulate public opinion; and the general public may regard nationalism as an emotional attachment to a mythical identity. Compounding the difficulty of defining nationalism is the fact that the term has been applied to a variety of phenomena that may be related to but are distinct from nationalism: patriotism, chauvinism, xenophobia, racism, and popular sentiment. These concepts are more limited than nationalism or are extreme manifestations of some aspect of the concept. Nationalism is not simply a sentiment that focuses on group distinctions. Nor is it simply loyalty to the state. That concept is appropriately called patriotism. An excessive or belligerent form of patriotism based on a belief of superiority of one’s own nation or state is chauvinism, named after Nicolas Chauvin, a soldier in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. A fear and loathing of foreigners or other ethnic groups is xenophobia, not nationalism. Nor is racism, a belief that differences in human conduct and achievement are determined by race, equivalent to nationalism.
Finally, any analysis of nationalism is complicated by the impossibility of disentangling its role from that of other political, cultural, and economic influences. For example, it is difficult to determine what role nationalism played in the disintegration of the war-weakened Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires or, more recently, in the disintegration of the Soviet Union as it began a process of democratization that allowed a free rein to previously repressed nationalisms.