Difference Between Nationalism & Democracy It is often claimed that nationalism and democracy are the chief competing ideologies of the contemporary world. What this claim overlooks id that they share a common historical and ideological origin in the principal of the French Revolution that all political authority stems from the people.
The Nationalist belief in the self-determination of peoples, each within its own state, is closely akin to the democratic principal that the people of a country should be self-determining in their own affairs. If the people are to rule, then who constitutes the people becomes a pressing political question.
Nationalism and Exclusivity
However, this is not the end of the matter. Whereas democracy is a universalistic doctrine, emphasizing the common human capacity for self-determination, which all share despite their differences, nationalism is particularization, emphasizing, the differences between peoples, and the value of a nation’s distinctive culture, tradition and ways of living.
Nationalism tends to be exclusive whereas democracy is inclusive. And this exclusivity becomes profoundly undemocratic when it leads to the denial of citizenship rights to settled residents of territory simple because they do not share the language, religion or ethnic origins of the most numerous national group.
If all states coincided neatly with a single homogeneous people or nation there would be no problem. In practice, however, centuries or migration and conquest have so intermingled the peoples of the world that the concept of the nation-state as the home of a single national or ethnic grouping is nowhere to be realized.
Nationalism and Democratic Rights
Although national demands for self-determination can therefore be seen as consistent with democratic principal, the denial of equal political rights to settled residents or the refusal to grant any autonomy to minority peoples within view of the manifest potential of such denials to disrupt the peace, both within and between states, they cannot simply be regarded as an internal matter, to be decided by the country is question.
Basic democratic rights, as a part of human rights, are now regarded as a common property and legitimate aspiration of all mankind, and their denial a proper ground for concern and even, where appropriate, for sanction on the part of the international community. The particular-ism of nationhood and ethnicity, in other words, can now only be legitimately asserted on the basis of acknowledgment our common humanity, and not at its expense.
Can Any Country Attain Democratic Government?
The nineteenth-century liberal philosopher J.S. Mill argued that democratic government required an advanced level of civilization. Non-western countries were incapable of self-government, he believed, and required a benevolent despotism to rule them, preferably administered by the West.
This racist judgment was characteristic of even the most enlightened thinkers of the period. Although having an educated population is certainly advantageous for a democracy, because it diminishes the gulf between rules and ruled, there no evidence that the lack of a formal education renders people incapable of understanding and discussing the issues that affect them, or of taking responsibility for their own affairs. And the track record of despotism, whether imperial or domestic, is anything but benevolent.
The historical record indicates that the democracy is rarely established without widespread popular struggle and mobilization, sometimes over a lengthy period and at considerable personal cost.
Ordinary people have to be convinced of the necessity of democratic government to the realization of their basic aspirations, and must organize to demand it. It other words democracy does not come handed down from above.
Traditional rulers, military dictator’s communist apparatchiks, life presidents, foreign occupiers-none of them give up power voluntarily, but only when their regimes have become widely discredited and popular mobilization has convinced them that their continuation in power can only provoke deepening disorder and ungovernbility.
Support from democracies abroad can certainly assist in victory for democratic forces and the attainment of democratic constitution. During the Cold War, however, Western democracies were interested more in limiting the spread of communism in other countries than in encouraging democracy, and to this end they helped sustain some highly under democratic regimes in power.
Since the end of the Cold War the balance international activity has shifted decisively towards supporting democratic movements and governments. Although such support is important, it can be no substitute for a people’s own struggle against authoritarian rule.
After all, there is something self-contradictory about a country’s having self-government imposed upon it from outside; and in any case such a regime is unlikely to last for long.