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Did nationalism predate nation states?
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Feeling tribal loyalty to a group depends on social conditions

People often feel loyalty towards a group they are raised with; that isn't necessarily their own ethnic or cultural group, so nationalism is not inherent but taught.

The Argument

Although most people are brought up by people who belong to their own ethnic, cultural, or social group, many are not, and consequently do not feel what would traditionally be considered nationalism for their group of origin. For example, someone adopted from China as a baby by an American family is likely to have much more experience of American than Chinese life and culture, and would consequently consider themselves American. This suggests that nationalism is taught, not inherent, and is not necessarily based on one's group of origin but the group in which one is raised. In an increasingly globalised and multinational world, where more and more people emigrate, have children with someone from a different country, or consider themselves loyal to more than one group or nation, it is difficult to see nationalism as something people inherently feel to people of their own ethnic or cultural group. This suggests, then, that nation states are not formed specifically because of nationalism, but rather that nationalism develops based on people living together in a nation state.

Counter arguments

Although this is true, the majority of people are still raised in their own cultural or ethnic group and feel a loyalty towards them. Someone belonging to more than one culture or country does not mean they cannot feel loyal towards them both - nationalism does not have to be exclusive, and although it is to some extent taught, this is difficult to assert confidently when most people do still grow up with their own cultural group, meaning there is arguably not enough data to decide.



This argument has many historic examples, with figures in history and mythology developing loyalties to those who raised them rather than their own social or ethnic group. However, it does not necessarily disprove that nationalism existed before nation states, because it does not mean that nationalism is only taught, and not at all inherent.


People who are not brought up by members of their own social group feel loyalty towards those who raised them, not their group of origin. Therefore, nationalism is taught, not inherent.

Rejecting the premises

Most people are brought up by members of their own cultural or ethnic group.


This page was last edited on Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 21:22 UTC

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