Nationalism is a political state of mind in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due to the nation-state. The nation-state is regarded not only as the ideal, 'natural', or 'normal' form of political organization but also as the indispensable framework for all social, cultural, and economic activities. The main tenets of nationalism are: love of a common soil, race, language, or historical culture; desire for the political independence, security, and prestige of the nation; mystical devotion to a vague, sometimes even supernatural, social organism which, known as a nation or Volk, is more than the sum of its parts; the living of an individual exclusively for the nation, with the corollary that the nation is an end in itself; belief that the nation is or should be dominant among other nations and should take aggressive action to this end. Characteristics of nationalism are ideas of national superiority and national exclusiveness, which are developed to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the historical situation and the relations of a particular nation with other nations.
In addition to ethnic nationalism, there is statism where nationalist loyalties are focused on the state. Statism demands that all subjects obey and serve the state, as distinct from the nation or people, as the highest object of their allegiance. They are expected to pay taxes, serve in the armed forces, and whole-heartedly back the state's goals at home and abroad. These two forms of nationalism are frequently intermingled.
It was only at the end of the 18th century that, for the first time, civilization was considered to be determined by nationality and the principle was put forward that a man can be educated only in his own mother tongue, not in languages of other civilizations and other times. From the end of the 18th century on, the nationalization of education and public life went hand in hand with the nationalization of states and political loyalties. In many cases poets and scholars emphasized cultural nationalism first, preparing the foundations for the political claims for national statehood to be raised by people in whom they have kindled the spirit of nationalism.
National feeling was evident in certain groups at certain periods, especially periods of stress and conflict, before the 18th century. Its rise was prepared by a number of complex events: the creation of large, centralized states by the absolute monarchs, who destroyed the feudal allegiances and thus made possible the integration of all loyalties in one centre; the secularization of life and education which fostered the development of the vernacular languages and weakened the ties of religious or sectarian loyalties; the growing economic interdependence which demanded larger territorial units, which at the same time gave the necessary scope to the dynamic spirit of the rising middle classes and their capitalistic enterprise. Under the influence of the new theories of the sovereignty of the people and the rights of man, the people replaced the king as the centre of the nation. Nation and state became identified.
Nationalism is characterized by an extremely positive valuation of one's own nation, and is similar in form to that of a prejudice (that is, the development of positive reactions to symbols representative of one's own group and the rejection of alien groups). Some research suggests that nationalism forms the basis of further prejudices, such as anti-semitism and racism.
In 1993 the west European experiment was seen as faltering. Instead of greater union, there is a rise in separatism, chauvinism and petty nationalism. In eastern Europe, nations were breaking up with the rise of fratricidal warfare. Prior to its breakup the USSR had succeeded in bringing together some 100 nationalities on the premise that national differences were bound to wither away or at least be attenuated. It has become apparent that national feelings remained dormant, fraught with romantic yearnings and irrational utopianism. No "Soviet culture" had emerged.