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Contemporary Wales
Contemporary Wales

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6.3 Nationalism

Nationalism is an ideology whose origins can be found in the processes of state building in Europe from the eighteenth century onwards. This ideology sees the world as naturally and rightly divided into nations, whose members share a national identity by virtue of such attributes as common history, language, religion and other cultural characteristics. Nationalism proclaims the right of every nation to its own political institutions, that is, each state ideally should contain only one national grouping.

Why did nationalism appear when and where it did in human history? And how did national cultures and a consciousness of national identities arise? Most who have tried to answer these questions have seen nations not as something natural about human society, simply waiting to be discovered. Instead, they were created as the response to a specific set of requirements, the needs of emerging industrial capitalism for a homogeneous and mobile labour force. Ernest Gellner (1983) argued that states introduced mass education to produce such a labour force. The content of this education was created by building on an arbitrarily selected local ‘folk’ culture. This became the national ‘high’ culture and the basis of national identity, and in the process it displaced the variety of different ‘folk’ cultures that existed within the state’s boundaries. Thus, as Gellner (1983, p. 55) remarked, ‘It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round’.