‘Nationalism is a Recipe for Peace and International Order.’ Discuss

‘Nationalism is a Recipe for Peace and International Order.’ Discuss

Note: One of my duties in the various places where I teach is to show students how to write essays – something most young people are not nowadays taught to do. What I like to do in class is to choose a question at random, discuss possible approaches, and then dictate an answer one paragraph at a time. Some of these answers are very short. Some are just notes. Some amount to small dissertations. In this latter case, the students take turns at looking on-line for the information we decide is needed. It they cannot find it, I show them how to change the structure of what has already been written, or to strike out in a new direction.

It is a “writing masterclass” approach that makes use of my own strengths, and is often a welcome alternative to formal teaching. It fills up a long morning session. Everyone learns something, and the more attentive will improve their final grades by at least one step.

Here is an example of the finished product. Do not take it as a statement of personal opinion. It is an answer produced for a specific question, and it bears in mind what a possibly unknown examiner will appreciate, and what can be written to incorporate the sources found in class. SIG

PS – If anyone wants to engage my services as a teacher of these skills, please click on the image to the left. Though they are my niche subjects, Greek and Latin are not my exclusive focus as a teacher. I do much else besides.


Introduction: Short answer is possibly yes and very often no. Depends on which kind of nationalism under discussion. Minimal definition: Belief that different groups of human beings exist – shared race/religion/language/history etc – and that each group should have assured territory and control of state machinery. Minimal definition says nothing about peace or war, international order or disorder.

Main Body:

Point 1: Liberals have often been nationalists – eg, Garibaldi, Woodrow Wilson, et al. Idea that multinational empires – Austria-Hungary, Russia, etc – aggressive and unstable. Better replaced by democratic nation states living at peace with each other within assured borders. Liberal institutions at home guarantee freedom and bring about stable, high-trust societies with enlightened foreign policy. Membership of multi-national organisations – eg, League of Nations, United Nations etc – further ensure international peace and order.

Examples of successful liberal nationalism – Swiss, Norwegian, Italian, etc. Also, examples of peaceful separation of groups followed by greater friendship – Britain/Ireland after 1922, Czech/Slovak split 1993.

Point 2: Problem with this approach is that national and state boundaries often conflict. Usually impossible to draw clean borders. All nation states have national minorities. These often persecuted in various ways, or made excuse for intervention by neighbours. Before 1945, German minorities all over Eastern Europe. Today, ethnic and state map of Africa no correspondence. Ditto Yugoslavia. Hardly any example of borders adjusted by consent. In practice, establishment of nation states often involves ethnic cleansing – Greece/Turkey 1922; Irish Republic; Former Yugoslavia. Also, forced assimilation – Lusatian Sorbs in Germany, Basques in France and Spain, Welsh in United Kingdom. Or expulsion – Germans all over Eastern Europe in 1945 – or genocide. Looked at in detail, liberal nationalism is usually not very liberal.

Point 3: Even liberal nationalism is problematic. However, aggressive nationalism certainly not good for peace or international order. Germany 1933-45. Hitler had arguable case in liberal nationalism for union with Austria and taking of Sudentenland in 1938. But wanted Lebensraum for German people – believed in German racial supremacy. Result was invasions of Poland and Russia and terrible atrocities. Russian expansion into Eastern Europe after 1944 owed something to idea of spreading Communism, but much to a paranoid Russian nationalism that wanted buffer states to the west. In 19th century, European notions of racial supremacy led to conquest of most of world and organisation into unwilling colonial empires. American idea of Manifest Destiny involved annexation of half Mexico and genocide of Red Indians.

Conclusion: Human beings can be seen as pack animals. Have preference for living among their own. But facts on ground may not easily allow this. Regions may be too mixed to allow nation states to emerge. Or national territory may be thought insufficient. Whether liberal or aggressive, nationalism has poor record of keeping international peace. Though they have problems, and always established by violence, most stable state groupings may be dynastic multinational empires like Byzantine, Ottoman and Austrian.