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Nationalism and Humanity


People readily ascribe to the principle of nationalism, with a high level of political and moral pride in their national identity and citizenship. However, this emphasis on patriotic pride is morally dangerous and ultimately subversive of some of the noble objectives of patriotism (Nussbaum, 1996). Patriotism is supposed to promote national unity and devotion to moral ideals such as justice and equality. However, in a cosmopolitan world, nationalism falls short in guaranteeing such moral ideals, and the greater good can only be achieved through fidelity to humanity, with people having primary allegiance to humanity rather than nationalism and other divisive constructs (Crépeau and Sheppard, 2013).

Proponents of nationalism appeal to the emotion of national pride to create a sense of shared national identity (Pryke, 2009). They argue that is this the way to keep a nation united. Without a political approach based on patriotism and national identity, people are likely to practice the ‘politics of difference’, which is based on internal divisions such as race, ethnicity, religion and other sub-groups. However, this argument does not make any consideration of the international basis for human engagement. It essentially ignores the globalised nature of the world and how it is impacted by nationalistic approaches (Nussbaum, 1996).

National identity implies an inward-looking view, limited by national borders, while ignoring the ties and obligations that join a nation to the rest of the world. People across the world share certain rational and mutually-dependent ideals that cannot be excluded based on national identity (Crépeau and Sheppard, 2013. The ‘politics of nationalism’ may also not be that different from the’ politics of difference’ if nationalism is used to subvert justice to others who do not ascribe to the same nationality.

Nations in general pursue educational and political goals based on shared national values, but there is general agreement that they should all exercise a commitment to basic human rights, by inducing it in their national education systems (Lagoutte, 2007). This commitment unites many nations together and represents a practical approach in a world where nations have to interact on the basis of justice and mutual respect. Typically, students get to learn more about the history and current affairs of their nation more than the rest of the world. Nations use their education systems to promote nationalism as a way of uniting their diverse citizens (Nussbaum, 1996).

Nationalism has been the driving force behind the most destructive wars in human history (Lagoutte, 2007). The mobilisation preceding the two world wars was cloaked in nationalism while hiding the real imperialistic interests. The desire for a particular group to have their own nation state has also led to wars for independence and secession, which are usually resisted by the central state. In such cases, nationalistic groups within a larger state desire their own statehood and are ready to fight for it. This can lead to smaller divisions and conflicts as was seen in Eastern Europe after the fall of the U.S.S.R (Pryke, 2009).

Political and perceptual factors of nationalism directly and indirectly create conditions within communities that can lead to conflict (Crépeau and Sheppard, 2013. Cultural identity is a powerful tool for creating a coherent nationalist grouping, thus the likelihood of conflict is increased if there is a greater divide between cultural groups. Historical differences between national or ethnic groups also increase the likelihood of conflict. Disagreements over mutual history often lead to one or both sides feeling aggrieved by the other, and these feelings can be exploited through nationalistic mobilisation to cause conflicts (Lagoutte, 2007).

Where nationalism is the reason behind a conflict, people tend to view their enemies as less human and less deserving of any rights or decency (Pryke, 2009). This is the reason why wars are characterised by the worst possible atrocities against humanity. Human beings are capable of performing the worst form of cruelty against others they perceive not to belong to their nationality. The global community has tried to impose a certain level of humanity even in situations of conflict through conventions such as universal declaration of human rights and the international humanitarian law. However, these efforts have not been imposed adequately and atrocities against humanity continue to be perpetuated in conflict areas (Lagoutte, 2007).

Despite the existence of borders, people are able to travel and interact across the world. There is greater recognition of the need to respect diversity as different groups learn more about each other (Clark, 2010). Globalisation has made nations more prosperous than they were a few decades ago. As nations grow prosperous, their values typically change in certain ways. As they industrialise, they tend to move away from traditional values, dictated by religion and culture, towards secular rational values that espouse change and progress.

Globalisation has led to the establishment of multicultural societies, especially in the urban areas of most countries. In such societies, individuals from varying backgrounds meet and interact in a common environment and the consequences of such interactions are unpredictable (Clark, 2010). Political and historical occurrences are central forces in shaping the world’s current cultural diversity together with its challenges and problems. Movement of populations from various parts of the world led to increased presence in foreign lands where they met native cultural and racial groups. This explains the prevalence and sustenance of challenges and problems resulting from cultural diversity in many countries of the world. In order to avoid complex problems of multiculturalism, nations promote nationalism as a uniting factor, which they believe is achievable when individuals tolerate and respect their cultural and racial differences (Pryke, 2009).

Progressive societies emphasise individual rights and protections for everyone as a matter of principle. Societies that respect the rule of law and have functional institutions tend to become more tolerant and open (Clark, 2010). They are more exposed to the rest of the world through globalised content in the mass media and education, which helps them develop a more open attitude. Such people are more likely to view other human beings as ‘citizens of the world’. However, nationalism seeks to exclude the rest of the world from being seen as belonging to one group as the individual.

Attitude of tolerance remains the subject of many publications and debates that seek to comprehend, interpret, and direct the political and moral choices in a multicultural society (Crépeau and Sheppard, 2013. Tolerance is often flouted, as a means of defending an individual’s identity and guaranteeing that individuals live together in a community through common recognition of equal dignity of all members of the community. This is likely to cause conflict in multicultural societies that have brought together people from different parts of the world (Clark, 2010).

In everyday life, people face gigantic tasks and responsibilities, and tolerance is indispensible in controlling personal desires, interests, and prejudices that overshadow others. It is not difficult to associate intolerance with value judgments and prejudices, which is the main reason for conflicts and disagreements between cultures (Pryke, 2009). Prejudices and value judgments lead to a negative attitude about a particular cultural group, but tolerance is inevitable in eliminating conflicts and other major challenges in a multicultural society. Tolerance prevents cultural and racial groups from forming negative attitudes based on skin colour, talking, depressing, and other unique norms and practices (Crépeau and Sheppard, 2013. This changes individual perceptions about differences, as mistakes because of others non-conformity to a particular norm and practice.

Many nations are dominated by one or two racial or ethnic groups, such that nationalistic mobilisation takes the path of racial and ethnic exclusion (Pryke, 2009). Other races and ethnicities are perceived as outsiders in the national fabric in such places. Conflict is a prevalent challenge and problem in multicultural societies, but tolerance is an appropriate approach to solve this problem (Lagoutte, 2007). It eliminates conflicting values between cultural groups. Consequently, it reduces social marginalization that characterizes multicultural societies because it exposes the irrational nature of prejudices. In the case of value judgments, tolerance is associated with distaste of an action or practice, which others consider wrong. It is apparent society does to insist on tolerating things that it approves, but differences in society are inevitable due to value judgments. Different cultural norms and practices lead to value judgments, but tolerance is important to harmonize these differences to avoid problems. Living in a multicultural society needs differentiated integration, which contrasts America’s melting pot approach to multiculturalism (Pryke, 2009). Even though a multicultural society is prone to challenges and problems, it is apparent tolerance eliminates these differences by promoting the existence of many truths, which encourages expression of different cultures.

Consequently, tolerance is closely linked to equal dignity of ideas and people irrespective of their cultural backgrounds. This contrasts historical and political events, which have continuously sharpened cultural and racial differences in society, especially in European and American societies (Pryke, 2009). Today, many countries continue to embrace globalization while many more continue to criticize it. This is an explanation for sustained global conflicts and tensions, as nations struggle to promote and sustain their cultures in the world (Clark, 2010). However, an attitude of tolerance and respect for cultural differences amongst many nations of the world is responsible for postponing, or at least averting major global conflicts. The need to promote global peace and security is prompting nations of the world to compromise on tolerating and respecting the cultural differences characterizing the world.

In places where nationalism has taken racial overtones, the dominant groups of the society are forced to spend a lot of money and time in order to maintain the barriers that are used to deny other groups full participation in the society (Pryke, 2009). In extreme cases racial prejudice affects diplomacy and friendly relations between different countries. Furthermore, it leads to disrespect of law enforcement agencies and makes the resolution of disputes difficult. Racism has negative connotations for both dominant and subordinate groups, even though the subordinate groups suffer more. When racism is allowed to get out of hand, there will be disorder in the society and everyone will be affected (Crépeau and Sheppard, 2013.

Labelling is used to exclude people from activities and opportunities for which they are qualified. When applied by people in power, it leads to serious negative consequences for people in the groups that have been identified falsely. In any society, the dominant group enjoys the prerogative to define societal values (Lagoutte, 2007). These negative stereotypes influence how people view situations. For example, a white person may feel insecure walking in an alley with only a young black man in sight as compared to if there was only an old woman in sight. False stereotypes created through racial prejudice have serious social consequences in the society. Sometimes victims of these negative stereotypes act on them through what is called ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’ thus leading to validation of the initial false claims. When a person or group is ascribed particular characteristics, he begins to display those negative traits attributed to him.

It is characteristic of all societies for members to have unequal amounts of power, wealth and prestige (Clark, 2010). There are cases in which entire groups may be allocated more or less of what the society values. This leads to stratification; a form of structured ranking that facilitates the unequal rewards and power dynamics in a society. Whenever there is classification, moving from one class to another is not easy. Members of subordinate groups find it especially difficult to move into higher classes because they face lifelong discrimination and prejudice. They are thus denied opportunities that can give them that desired social mobility (Lagoutte, 2007).

Humanity presents the best hope of overcoming all these differences that cause divisions and lead to conflict between groups in society. A fundamental belief that all people are equal and are entitled to equal human rights is the best approach in today’s multicultural society. Each individual would be treated with respect and there would be no blanket condemnation of whole groups. If all society believed in humanity, no one would be denied opportunities or be discriminated against based on constructs such as race, ethnicity, gender, or place of origin. Humanity would not allow for a member of society to be oppressed while the rest just watch or ignore; they would come out against the oppression and safeguard the victim’s rights.



Clark, A. (2010). The ABCs of human survival: A paradigm for global citizenship. Edmonton: AU Press.

Crépeau, F., & Sheppard, C. (2013). Human Rights and Diverse Societies: Challenges and Possibilities. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Lagoutte, S. (2007). Human rights in Turmoil: Facing threats, consolidating achievements. Leiden [u.a.: Nijhoff.

Nussbaum, M. (1996). For Love of Country; Debating the Limits of Patriotism. Beacon Press, Boston.

Pryke, S. (2009). Nationalism in a Global World. Palgrave Macmillan.








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