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Nationalism and revolution: friends or foes?

Nations and Nationalism

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Nationalism and revolution have generally been held to go together. Many nation‐states have had their origins in revolution, from the Americans in the 18th century to a host of Third World nation‐states in the 20th century. Generally, both modern revolutions and modern nationalism have the same origins, in 18th century Enlightenment thought. But this paper argues that, despite this common origin, the principles of revolution and nationalism are divergent, and can set one against the other. Revolutions emphasise freedom and equality; nationalism emphasises integration and unification. These principles can clash, though not inevitably and not always. The paper examines the 1789 French Revolution, the 1848 revolutions and the 1917 Russian revolution. It shows that in the first two cases, revolutionary aspirations came up against and were eventually displaced by nationalist aims. In the case of 1917, revolution paradoxically, and unintentionally, institutionalised nationalism. These examples show that, though linked at some high level of modern thought, revolution and nationalism express different and at times divergent strands of modernity.