International Relations Essay


Here is the essay question:
Does globalization undermine nationalism?



Introduction. 2

Overview of nationalism.. 3

The impact of globalization on nationalism.. 3

Globalization, nationalism, and contemporary political economy. 6

The changing face of Nationalism in the age of globalization. 9

Conclusion. 10

References. 12


A nation may be defined as a group of people with a common culture, history, language, and ethnic origin, which possesses or is seeking its own system of government (Shaffer, 1972). The nation is viewed as a political entity with certain shared identities. In the concept of nationalism, the underlying idea is that the world is made up of many nations with diverse political identities and loyalties. This diversity leads members of different nations to seek national self-determination.

The modern concept of the nation-state was introduced during the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. However, in recent times, the most significant nationalist movements emerged between the World War I and World War II. During this interwar period, a wave of desire for self-determination by various nations swept across the world. Discourse on international relations dwelt primarily on nationalist movements. Consequently, efforts were made to equate state-boundaries with nation-boundaries.

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Today, the era of globalization has set in and most people are no longer enthusiastic about equating the boundaries of the state with those of the nation. In other words, the position of the nation-state as sovereign political entity has been questioned because of free and rapid movement of people, goods, and services across national borders. This turn of events has led some people to argue that globalization undermines nationalism, which is not the case. This paper discusses various aspects of globalization with the objective of demonstrating that it does not undermine nationalism.

Overview of nationalism

According to Breuilly (1982), nationalism manifests itself in two ways: state-strengthening nationalism and state-subverting nationalism. To begin with, state-strengthening nationalism is normally equated to civic nationalist ideology. In this type of nationalism, loyalty to the state is emphasized and it is equated with national identity. This creates the need for the state to be accorded legitimacy and top moral authority. This is the very idea that continues to empower all nation-states until the present time.

On the contrary, state-subverting nationalism entails the separation of an already established state to create a new one. In some instances, supporters of this type of nationalism seek to enjoy some form of monotony within the existing state. In many ways, it is characteristic of ethnic nationalist ideology simply because it drives attention to the various ethnic groups that constitute the nation-state. This way, the ethnic group is considered more important than the sovereign nation-state. Sometimes, state-subverting nationalism is also referred to as civic nationalism. The rationale for the choice of this name is that in most cases, the goal of nationalists is to establish their own units within the nation-state.

The impact of globalization on nationalism

Globalization is a complex process involving not only integration at the global scale but also localization. In the localization process, local identities are strengthened. Developments in information technology have made it possible for people to communicate on a regular basis at the global level. It has also facilitated the free movement of goods, services, people, and capital from one country to the other. In this globalized environment, the role of the nation-state has become less significant. The nation-state’s role in international relations is not as important as it used to be before the advent of globalization.

However, as far as nationalism is concerned, things have been completely different. Globalization is driven by the forces of both integration and localization. During the integration process, people come together on the global platform with the aim of pursuing the shared goal of prosperity and development. During the localization process, they demonstrate their desire to continue exhibiting their distinct identities and traditions. In the context of this analysis, it is evident that globalization does not undermine nationalism at all. In fact, globalization seems to do the exact opposite by reigniting nationalism with renewed vigor.

Prior to the advent of globalization, many non-state actors lacked an avenue for expressing their distinct identities and ethnic heritages. In most cases, these non-state actors tended to be minority ethnic groups. Globalization provided them with a great opportunity for expressing their nationalistic sentiments. Through publicity efforts, the global community has become aware of the existence of these minority groups. On the basis of this argument, globalization seems to have changed the way nationalism is manifested in the community. The nationalism of today is very different from that of the early twentieth century.

Those who argue that globalization undermines nationalism advance their arguments on the basis of the so-called “deterritorializing logic”. To understand this logic, it is imperative to understand the fundamental changes that globalization has brought to society since the 1980s. In vast globalization literature, attention is mostly on the idea that the world continues to become “smaller” and highly interconnected. In other words, the globalized world is characterized by greater use of new information technology as well as the internet.

Within this understanding, arguments in favor of the ability by globalization to undermine nationalism are based on two core ideas. In the first idea, it is pointed out that the ultimate objective of contemporary nationalism as well as state sovereignty becomes increasingly worthless because goods, services, people, and capital move freely without any obstruction, hindrance, or obstruction by nation-state authorities and boundaries. The nation-state loses the capacity to regulate people’s daily lives. The second idea is that identities that are based on geographical locations, for example national identity, are increasingly becoming unsustainable. The argument is that in the context of globalization, they are being replaced by “post-national” and transnational identities. Proponents of these two ideas argue that nationalism is consequently transformed into a defensive strategy in which opposition to cosmopolitanism is demonstrated (Smith, 1992; O’Leary, 1997; Mayall, 1992).

However, those who support the idea of the ability by globalization to undermine nationalism fail to appreciate the fact that nationalism is a highly complex phenomenon. For instance, in most Western countries, where globalization has brought about far-reaching changes, nationalism is still alive. Examples include the current debates on sovereignty in Scotland and the long history of ethnic-territorial strife in the Caucasus (Hassner, 1993).

Those who argue that globalization undermines nationalism also point out to the fact that currently, there is growing economic and cultural uniformity in spheres of life across the world (Haas, 1993; Alonso, 1995). The American mass culture has been adopted in virtually all parts of the world. Moreover, the English language is poised to become “the global language” (Alonso, 1995). Other aspects of globalization include computerization of information technology, the emergence of visual mass media, and the rise of pop culture (Alonso, 1995). This trend is expected to continue being entrenched in all societies in the foreseeable future.

However, it is also true that in most cases, these practices seem to constitute a fad. They have no stable basis in terms of historical heritage. This means that people will not hold onto them forever. They are not founded on any tradition and they do not represent any specific values. Instead, most people prefer cultural values, ideals, rituals, symbols, and traditions that are irreplaceable (Periwal, 1995). Most importantly, the traditional practices are considered irreplaceable because there is overwhelming real-life evidence of people who lived through them.

Some scholars, particularly during the 1990s, sought to be more realistic about the ability by globalization to undermine globalization (Mason, 1992). According to (Mason, 1992), these scholars chose to emphasize on the various opportunities provided by globalization. These opportunities are available to regional political units, sub-states, as well as historic nations that have never been recognized as states. In a way, these scholars seemed to be arguing that all these entities could continue deriving the benefits of globalization without abandoning their quest for nationalism.

Globalization, nationalism, and contemporary political economy

In recent times, various perspectives have been adopted in efforts to determine whether globalization undermines nationalism. One of them is the globalization of the contemporary political economy (Kedourie, 2013). The reason for adopting this perspective is that changes in the economic organization of nation-states seem to constitute the core dynamic behind the globalization phenomenon (Kedourie, 2013). Moreover, the political economy always translates into direct impacts as far as the function of the nation-state is concerned. Similarly, in nationalism, economic issues are regularly alluded to in the process of political mobilization (Kedourie, 2013).

From an economic perspective, globalization tends to “deterritorialize” nation-states with the objective of advancing the goal of capitalist accumulation. From this perspective, globalization is viewed as a manifestation of the crisis of over-accumulation, which is always a recurring problem in a capitalist society. On the basis of this view, the last two decades may be said to have witnessed the emergence of expansive networks through which goods and services are produced, distributed, marketed, and consumed on a global scale.

During this process, the prevailing fixed nature of the territory has not been altered, meaning that nationalism has not been undermined. Similarly, the need for people to exercise power within specific bounds of geographical space has not been eroded. However, this argument is based on the assumption that different nations are always bound up intimately with their respective territories. Nevertheless, it is on this basis that some scholars argue in favor of the ability by globalization to undermine nationalism (Gellner, 2008). The position taken in this regard is that capitalist accumulation efforts lead to the emergence of increasingly global networks that transcend all existing territorial configurations of identity and power.

In this argument, the biggest mistake arises from efforts to discuss aspects of capital accumulation and state territoriality using the same logic. Since the current nation-states have actively contributed to the contemporary phenomenon of globalization, it would be inaccurate to expect the same nation-states to preside over a process of “deterritorialization” (Breuilly, 1982). On the contrary, nation-states continue to maintain their relevance as actors in the process of political mobilization. In this process, the ultimate aim is to ensure that any process of deterritorializing the state is accompanied by a “reterritorialization” process (Breuilly, 1982). In the “reterritorialized” world, the nation-state is always able to maintain crucial aspects of nationalism in the increasingly globalized world (Breuilly, 1982).

Moreover, the globalization and nationalism phenomena tend to portray subtle elements of interdependence. This is best illustrated through a historical analysis of these two phenomena. Capitalism dates back to the nineteenth century. Based on the historical perspective, the argument made is that the rise of capitalism during the late nineteenth century led to the decline of the capitalist development cycle that was British-dominated (Snyder, 1968). The British-dominated cycle was replaced by the US-dominated capitalist cycle. This perspective equates this nineteenth phenomenon to what has been happening in the contemporary world since the 1980s. Since the 1980s, the US cycle has been declining and the world has witnessed the potential rise of the East Asian and Japanese capitalist cycle. In this discussion, it is evident that globalization and nationalism are interdependent phenomena that can exist alongside each other without one undermining the other.

Overall, it is evident that globalization is characterized by increased economic activities on the transnational scale. However, this phenomenon does not in any force nation-states to act by serving only the interests of these transnational capitalist networks. Nationalism continues to thrive even in the context of globalization. As long as economic issues continue to be among the favorite topics for nationalists, it will always be wrong to argue that state sovereignty is losing its socio-economic dimension because of globalization.

In essence, globalization has created a situation where nationalism has taken a new course. Today, the main area of concern for nationalists is the rapid increase in the mobility of people, goods, services and capital. This creates a problem because of its power to tilt the scales as far as the ethnic and cultural identities of different peoples are concerned. Since this global mobility tends to be unbalanced, some nation-states derive numerous economic benefits while others remain poor. Under these circumstances, the best thing is to redefine nationalism in such a way that it promotes the so-called “zero-sum game” instead of promoting ethnic, racial, cultural, and regional differences (Hinsley, 1973).

The changing face of Nationalism in the age of globalization

On the basis of this discussion, it is evident that both globalization and nationalism are complex concepts. Globalization is characterized by the forces of both integration and localization. Although globalization continues to make national identity increasingly indistinct, it also makes people to become even more aware of their ethnic identities, thereby triggering a new wave of ethno-nationalism. In this scenario, it is correct to argue that globalization does not undermine nationalism; rather, it simply changes the way it is manifested. This is also evident when the analysis is done from a historical and political-economic perspective.

Today, one of the ways of explaining the rationale for an increase in the activities of numerous religious groups, ethnic groups, and ethno-language groups is by using the concept of nationalism. These groups feel that their position and role in the world has been radically changed in this era of globalization. They respond to this change by constantly searching for new ways of expressing their unique identities in order to gain recognition as well as to retain their status within the global village. This struggle is a manifestation of two opposing forces that take place side by side. The first force entails the push for the recognition of ethno-national identities. The second force is characterized by efforts by these ethno-national groups to be identified as part of the global culture.

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An assessment of underlying theoretical principles of nationalism reveals that nationalism is a complex concept. This complexity has been compounded by the emergence of globalization. It is therefore not surprising that there is contention on whether or not globalization undermines nationalism. Meanwhile, globalization has created a phenomenon where nationalism steps over nation-state boundaries, leading to the emergence of supra-nationalism. Both the forces of supra-nationalism and ethno-nationalism will continue to thrive as long as relations among nation-states are being shaped by globalization.

An in-depth analysis of these two forces shows that nationalism is not being undermined by globalization. On the contrary, globalization has created a phenomenon whereby the notion of independent nationhood is being redefined. In other words, those who continue to pursue nationalistic sentiments no longer need to restrict their struggle to the existing national borders. Globalization makes it easy for them to seek the support of other ethno-national and supra-national entities with similar aspirations in an environment where there is a possibility of the formation of economic and political blocs. For example, the European Union is an economic-political bloc that brings many European countries together to form one large sovereign bloc.


In conclusion, it is evident that globalization has had a significant impact on nationalism. Some people argue that globalization undermines nationalism. The position taken in the present paper was that nationalism is not in any way being undermined by globalization. However, it is true that nationalism is a complex concept, particularly when discussed in the context of globalization. Instead of undermining nationalism, globalization is simply changing the way nationalism is manifested in the contemporary society. In this case, the changing face of nationalism is characterized by the emergence of ethno-national and supra-national identities. This new phenomenon is demonstrated through the analysis of historical aspects of the nation-state dynamics as well as the political economy of today’s globalized world.


Alonso, W. (1995). Citizenship, Nationalism and Other Identities. Journal of International Affairs, Vol.48, No.2, pp. 102-173.

Breuilly, J. (1982). Nationalism and the State. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Gellner, E. (2008). Nations and Nationalism. Harvard University Press, Boston.

Haas, E. (1993). Nationalism: An Instrumental Social Construction. Millennium, Vol.22, No.3, pp. 205-237.

Hassner, P. (1993). Beyond Nationalism and Internationalism. Survival, Vol. 35, No.2, pp. 18-39.

Hinsley, F. (1973). Nationalism and the International System. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Kedourie, E. (2013). Nationalism. Nelson Publishers, Toronto.

Mason, D. (1992). Revolution in East-Central Europe: The Rise and Fall of Communism and the Cold War. Heinemann, London.

Mayall, J. (1992). Nationalism and International Security After the Cold War. Survival, Vol.34, No.1, pp. 2-73.

O’Leary, B. (1997). On the Nature of Nationalism. British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 109-135.

Periwal, S. (eds.) (1995). Notions of Nationalism. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Shaffer, B. (1972). Faces of Nationalism: New realities and old myths, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.

Smith, A. (1992). National Identity and the Idea of European Unity. International Affairs, Vol. 68, No.1, pp. 1-74.

Snyder, L. (1968). The Meaning of Nationalism. Greenwood Press, New York.

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