Nationalism involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. Often, it is the belief that an ethnic group has a right to statehood, or that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic group, or that multinationality in a single state should necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities.
It can also include the belief that the state is of primary importance, or the belief that one state is naturally superior to all other states. It is also used to describe a movement to establish or protect a homeland (usually an autonomous state) for an ethnic group. In some cases the identification of a national culture is combined with a negative view of other races or cultures.
Conversely, nationalism might also be portrayed as collective identities towards imagined communities which are not naturally expressed in language, race or religion but rather socially constructed by the very individuals that belong to a given nation. Nationalism is sometimes reactionary, calling for a return to a national past, and sometimes for the expulsion of foreigners. Other forms of nationalism are revolutionary, calling for the establishment of an independent state as a homeland for an ethnic underclass.
Nationalism emphasizes collective identity - a 'people' must be autonomous, united, and express a single national culture. However, some nationalists stress individualism as an important part of their own national identity.
National flags, national anthems, and other symbols of national identity are often considered sacred, as if they were religious rather than political symbols. Deep emotions are aroused. Gellner and Breuilly, in Nations and Nationalism, contrast nationalism and patriotism. "If the nobler word 'patriotism' then replaced 'civic/Western nationalism', nationalism as a phenomenon had ceased to exist."
Before the development of nationalism, people were generally loyal to a city or to a particular leader rather than to their nation. Encyclopaedia Britannica identifies the movement's genesis with the late-18th century American Revolution and French Revolution; other historians point specifically to the ultra-nationalist party in France during the French Revolution.
The term nationalism was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder (nationalismus) during the late 1770s. Precisely where and when nationalism emerged is difficult to determine, but its development is closely related to that of the modern state and the push for popular sovereignty that came to a head with the French Revolution and the American Revolution in the late 18th century. Since that time, nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history, perhaps most notably as a major influence or postulate of World War I and especially World War II. Fascism is a form of authoritarian civic nationalism which stresses absolute loyalty and obedience to the state, whose purpose is to serve the interests of its nation alone.
Some nationalists exclude certain groups. They view people who are, in fact, citizens of their country, as being not really citizens, in some sense, and therefore not protected by the rights afforded "real" citizens. Sometimes a mythic homeland is more important for the national identity than the actual territory occupied by the nation.
Civic nationalism (also known as liberal nationalism) defines the nation as an association of people with equal and shared political rights, and allegiance to similar political procedures. According to the principles of civic nationalism the nation is not based on common ethnic ancestry, but is a political entity, whose core is not ethnicity. This civic concept of nationalism is exemplified by Ernest Renan in his lecture in 1882 "What is a Nation?", where he defined the nation as a "daily referendum" (frequently translated 'daily plebiscite") dependent on the will of its people to continue living together".
Liberal nationalism is a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. Ernest Renan and John Stuart Mill are often thought to be early liberal nationalists. Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that liberal democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly.
Liberal nationalism, also known as civic nationalism or civil nationalism, is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry (see popular sovereignty), from the degree to which it represents the "general will". It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract. Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary. Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France.
Liberal nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism. Membership of the civic nation is considered voluntary, as in Ernest Renan's "daily referendum" formulation in What is a Nation?. Civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France (see the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789).