In many ways, nationalism is inherently backward looking, because nations themselves are based on common history, traditions, customs and historically initiated identities. However, nationalism houses many characteristics that are progressive – anti-colonial nationalism, for example, quests for the independence and social development of a group of previously dominated and oppressed peoples. Some strains of nationalism have elements of both forwards and backwards-looking ideas, such as expansionist nationalism, which looks back on the ‘glory days’ of the nation in question and forwards with the intention of future expansion.
Some strains of nationalism look to the past, not to the future in the way that they view their nation’s past in a fond, nostalgic light with a longing to return to a specific past era. Expansionist nationalists particularly wish to return to their nation’s ‘golden age’ and justify their patriotic politics because of this. One form of Russian nationalism that takes on this premise is pan-Slavism. Pan-Slavism seeks to reunite the Slavic nations in Eastern Europe with Russia, as existed in the past. Russian pan-Slavic nationalists also view themselves as the historic leaders of the Slavs; this is why pan-Slavism is a popular idea in specifically Russian expansionist nationalism. Conservative nationalism also takes on this nostalgic longing to return to a past era of national glory through the use of traditional institutions as a basis for national identity. This is illustrated in Conservative nationalist political slogans such as Donald Trump’s ‘Make America great again!’ – a clear show of the favourability of times past.
Conservative nationalism can also be said to look to the past, not to the future, as it focuses on the danger of traditional national identity being lost to globalisation and modernisation. Issues such as immigration and supranationalism (transnational/global bodies with power over nation-states) are therefore at the forefront of conservative nationalist discussion. In Britain, we see the fear of loss of national identity seep into our politics through parties such as UKIP – who propose that ‘Britain is full’, in an attempt to prevent further immigration. Assimilation policies are also common in conservative nationalism as a fear of loss of historic identity due to immigration is paramount. In terms of the skepticism of supranational bodies, we see across Europe ‘eurosceptic’ parties such as UKIP and the Front Nationale in France – who propose (and have succeeded in) weaning away nation-states from the progressive European Union.
Both conservative and chauvinist/expansionist nationalism have a tendency to develop in already established nation-states – not nations that are in the process of regeneration or state building. This suggests that these branches of nationalism look to the past, as they only appear popular in nations that have existed in some form throughout history. For example, conservative nationalism, with its extensive value of tradition and nostalgia, would simply not apply to a newly formed nation-state with few existent traditional institutions, or is lacking in a shared national language/identity.
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