Essay on Nationalism and the Development of the Modern State

Free 780 Words essay on Nationalism and the Development of the Modern State for school and college students.

Over the last five-hundred years, nationalism has been the primary force in the development of the modern state.  In combination with other factors, it has produced profound changes, such as the remaking of the commercial and social worlds during the rise of Protestantism and the decline of hereditary monarchies.  Nationalism brought wondrous technological advances, which enabled industrialized nation-states to achieve political and economic dominance, which in turn have brought wealth and global hegemony to them, especially over the past century.

essay on Nationalism and the Development of the Modern State

The advantages of the dynamism of nationalism, at least to Western nations, have been numerous.  For example, the tiny island nation of England grew in five-hundred years from a weak nonentity to the master of the greatest empire the world has ever known.  Nationalism fueled this rise, which began with Henry VIII and accelerated after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Before and during Great Britains rise to global dominance, the European nations of Spain, Holland, and Portugal each established themselves as arbiters of world affairs because of nationalism, initially through sea power.  These European nations rose to prominence beginning five-hundred years ago because the Renaissance and the Reformation unleashed secular and humanistic forces which had been dormant for more than a millennium.  (Greaves)

These forces led to political, religious, economic, and cultural changes which energized an entire continent, and sent Western explorers to every far corner of the world in search of wealth and power for their sovereign and their nation.  Freed of ancient superstitions and rigid religious orthodoxy, armed with new technologies, new philosophies, new optimism, new confidence, and an unyielding determination to accomplish the goals they set for themselves, Western European nations sent bold mariners across the once-feared seas, established global empires, conquered and converted other less-advanced peoples, and made themselves the absolute rulers of the world.

Nationalism not only won empires, it meant material progress in the form of improved transportation through sailing ships, then steamships, railroads, automobiles, airplanes, and space flight.  Nationalism revolutionized communications as the form and means of transport changed from hand-written letters, books, or newspapers carried by horse or sailing ship, to mass produced books printed on a press and distributed by rail or steamship.  Wireless telegraph followed, to be succeeded by radio, television, and computers, which connected people all over the world to one another instantly through earth-orbiting satellites or cyberspace.

In addition to positive progress in many fields because of nationalism, it has also brought disadvantages, especially for non-Western nations and peoples.  The racism and intolerance manifested by advanced Western nations has led to great injustices, and  imperialism has subjugated millions and led to the deaths of other countless millions in wars and revolutions incited by nationalist fervor.  (Boucher)

In addition to these political consequences, nationalism has led to a very materialistic culture, spread around the world by the powerful influence of Western Europe and the United States in the twentieth century.  As global economic and military powers, Western nations dominated the last century and remain the most influential nations on earth today. Western corporations control entire countries, while American culture in the form of movies, television, and music influence world tastes in entertainment to an unprecedented degree.

Whether for good or evil, many historians feel that nationalism has moved through various phases of ascendancy, and as the years passed certain trends such as racial and gender emancipation developed, but some historians have argued that those trends, and Western culture as well, are now pretty much played out.  They feel that nationalism has been in a state of decline since the outbreak of the First World War, and is being challenged today by the rise of globalization.  (Greaves)

They argue that what the West calls technological progress, religious emancipation, cultural diversity, and social reform are in fact negative developments.  What the West sees as technological progress, others see as an abandonment of traditional ways of life.  What the West sees as religious emancipation, others see as heresy.  What the West sees as cultural diversity, others see as dangerous chaos.

It remains to be seen who is right, but most historians agree that nationalism has been the dominant force in the world over the past few centuries, and will likely continue to be in the foreseeable future.  In the final analysis, the rise, development, and fall of nation-states can never be truly understood from a short term perspective.  Future historians will render the ultimate verdict on nationalism, just as modern historians rendered the ultimate verdict on feudalism.


Boucher, David. (ed).  Political Theories of International Relations: From Thucydides to the Present.  Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Greaves, Richard L.  Civilizations of the World: The Human Adventure.  New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *