Social Science Interpretations of Nationalism and of Nation Formation in the ‘Third World’

  • Bassam Tibi


Kohn has come to the conclusion after years of research that while nationalism at the time of the French Revolution was an expression of aspirations towards individual liberty and democracy, it has developed in advanced bourgeois society into a notion which not only seeks to restrict liberty but even claims superiority over it. ‘It is different in “underdeveloped” countries, where nationalism still contains elements of human progress, as it once did in the West.’2 This thesis is accepted by numerous social scientists and historians. Emerson, an expert on national movements in colonial countries, agrees that ‘in the large, nationalism in Asia and Africa, as at least in its initial phases in Europe and America, is a forward looking and not a reactionary force, a spur to revolution and not a bulwark of the status quo’.3 As the present discussion will show, this thesis needs modification to the extent that while nationalism in the ‘Third World’ does indeed express the desire of oppressed people for emancipation, it cannot of itself bring about emancipation. Furthermore, nationalism in colonial and semi-colonial countries is not sui generis connected with the process of nation formation, since nationalism is not always based on a clearly defined notion of nationality.


National State Nation Formation Underdeveloped Country National Consciousness National Question 
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© Suhrkamp-Verlag, Frankfurt/Main 1971

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  • Bassam Tibi

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