The Importance of National Identity in Social Relations – Humanities Essay
As a result of this case another issue should be raised, that of the intensification of negative prejudice toward an ethnic out-group, stemming from the regular contact
between two different national groups (Campbell cited ??????? p. 211). More specifically, a big number of Albanians came to Greece over the last decades as financial immigrant, legal or not. Their increased presence in the Greek territory (and, consequently the labour market) has led to the development or the aggravation of some Greeks’ negative attitude towards them and the raise of related stereotypes: “Albanians” are dangerous, dirty, deceitful, ungrateful and so on. The Albanian student mentioned above was the victim of the groundless rage of people who perceived of his bearing the flag as an injury to their national identity. This attitude is an example of self-identification and identification of the other, based on vague and fictitious criteria: not sharing the same history, coming from a different country, having different religion, customs and so on. When taking into consideration the extent of emphasis placed on the event and the cost for the student, it is difficult to overlook the importance of national identity in social relations.
It has often been claimed that the idea of the nation is a construction that serves political or other interests. Hutchinson and Smith (1994 p. 48) quote Eric Hobsbaum who claims that “the nation was one of many traditions ‘invented’ by political elites in order to legitimise their power in a century of revolution and democratisation”. Later in the same book Benedict Anderson (1994, p. 89) characterises modern nation as “an imagined political community”.
A fundamental constituent of a nation and a common element that functions as a unifying factor is its shared traditions. There seem to be two categories of tradition; the first includes ‘pure’ ones, those that their roots lie in the past and have been preserved in time, interwoven with the nation’s habits, norms, values and practices and that are an integral part of people’s national identity. The second category refers to the traditions which are invented. These are artificial outwardly ‘imposed’ to the nation and might serve political or other purposes, functioning as a unifying factor or a factor enhancing faithfulness to the nation. Eric Hobsbaum distinguishes between three types of tradition. The first includes traditions that reflect the social cohesion of a nation, the second includes traditions that operate for the interest of the ruling classes and the third the medium for implanting or ‘enforcing’ ideals, values or rituals. The two latter types are examples of invented traditions.
The negative element of invented traditions is that when called for the manipulation of the masses can function as a covert way of fanatising people, cultivating racism and prejudice and intolerance for every out-group. Similar feelings of national pride or faithfulness to the national group were exploited by the Second-World-War Nazi authorities in order to bring about the Jewish holocaust as part of an “ultimate mission”. The symbols of the Nazi invented traditions were their anthem, the swastika, the formal military salute and many other which helped the representatives of the “Arean Nation” to establish the sense of uniqueness and superiority and to strengthen the sense of unity and solidarity.
POINT: Religious faith is in important constituent of national identity. The intensity of identification with a religion is iften positively correlated with the strength of one’s national identity. However, it seems religion itself is something obscure and indefinite, not to mention every individual’s perception of his religion and his interpretation of what religious faithfulness means. Baumsteer “Meanings of Life 187-189 approaches the issue critically noting that in many instances in the past religion has “cheated” its “pure” character by serving political interests. He adds that religion often becomes rigid (one example being Catholicism), thus not satisfying people’s emotional needs as they evolve along with social changes in time (Religions are rigid becase they cannot follow sociocultural changes in time, thus they cannot satisfy people’s evolving emotional needs.
By comparing national identity with the religious, as Baumeister analyses it, one could detect the function and ‘usefulness’ of the former for the individual (pp. 190-196). Apart from constituting a source of life meaning, the construction of national identity provides a link with the past – a kind of “collective memory” of the common national origin one wants to consider him/herself a member of. Additionally, it provides an orientation for the future; it inspires a sense of aspiration, or an ideal. One function of this orientation for the future might be the rationalisation of labour and production as a bestowal to the nation and, accordingly, the production of children as a way of contributing to its preservation and expansion.
Erikson’s psychosocial theory stressed the importance of identity in the individual’s developmental course of life. He consedered identity to be the person’s way of defining him/herself and, as such, to crucial for his / her mental and cognitive development as well as a way of interacting with the surrounding world. Adolescence is a significant period because it signifies, among other things, the transition to the adulthood. During adolescence one is confronted with roles, relationships, values, some of which s/he adopts and othhers s/he questions in order to circumscribe his / her identity. This is why the identity is individualised and difficult to define. It might encompass the person’s way of experiencing his / her gender, socioeconomic status, ideology, nationality, religion as well as the (significant) others’ reflections on the above factors.
Two institutions that play a significant role in the construction of a person’s national identity are the family that undertakes the primary role in the person’s socialisation and the school, which is the secondary socialisation institution. They both provide sources of historical information, national ideals, attitudes, values, emotions, that are transmitted to the individual and contribute to the formation of his / her national identity. For instance, the Greek educational system often adopts an “egocentric” approach in the teaching of history, placing emphasisi on historical moments when Geece exhibited courage and succeeded, or stressing glorious moments of ancient Greek history, like the Golden Era of Pericles, makin shorter reference to the contemporary slavery. This approach could contribute greatly to the students’ feelings of national pride and to the identification of the students with their ancestors in terms of national origin.
What the claim of the scholars might imply is that the content of the national identity is so wide, complex and fluctuating, that it cannot justify some people’s strength of beliefs and rigidity od attitudes as it happens in cases of negative nationalism (as opposed to liberal nationalism), racism, national stereotyping or chauvinism.
Whether national identity is a fictive characteristic or not, should be judged from the consequences on personality and communication. That is, however subjective, obscure and elusive national identity itself may be, it is more important to determine the ways in which it influences or even determines thought, emotion and behaviour. Especially when feelings of national pride and patriotism are manipulated by political and military authorities for the sake of imperialistic or other unethical purposes, it is crucial to examine it further. The fact that the content of national identity is something conventional, has been clearly illustrated by many scholars. All its constituents, traditions, borders, customs, cultural elements and so forth are “agreed” and established through repetition or preservation in time. What is more, national identity is, as mentioned above, completely subjective and idividualised; it cannot be circumscribed precisely. Two people may not share common history, land religion, race, customs, values or they may share some or all of the above in different degrees and combinations. Nevertheless, they serve a very important purpose, fundamental for the people’s emotional well-being: the sense of belonging, security, satisfaction of social needs (solidarity, production, undertaking of responsibility). Thus, we come to the conclusion that national identity is a powerful symolic link that connects people in place and time, and at the same time a dangerous “seed” that can be cultivated to cause dissention, disruption of the social order and alienation.
Salkind, N. (1985). Theories of Human Development. John Wiley and Sons Inc. POY??????
National identity, according to Parekh (People, Nation and State 1999, p.66) encompasses three components: a) a common constitution of a political community, including agreed rules, laws and norms, b) images of the nation, shared between members of a national community and c) a sense of personal commitment to the community. All the above are characterised by a degree of subjectivity and dynamism. That is, none of them can be precisely circumscribed or unanimously defined, nor can they remain static in place and time. With respect to the importance of the national identity in a person’s self-identification, it seems that the second and third element play a significant role and are related to fundamental psychological processes. To be more specific, as Parekh (1999, p. 67) observes, national identity is a form of “self-understanding. […] It reflects qualities [the British] like about themselves and wish to preserve. Since they define themselves in terms of these qualities , they seek to live up to them and feel or can be made to feel embarrassed and guilty when they do not […]. Images are not only self-projections, but also tools of self-creation”.
A relevant example that might illustrate Parekh’s point is the Greek term ‘????????’ This noun signifies a personality trait, a way of behaving, as well as a traditional Greek value. Greeks are proud because they consider this to be a “unique Greek characteristic” and they often substantiate this claim by the argument that there is no direct equivalent for the word in other languages. This compound word literally means “to love” (????-) “pride” or “honour” (-????). That is, to have a vivid sense of dignity and pride. Greeks often attach to the term meanings such as: “a kind of charisma”, “kindness”, “ethics”, “good will”, “consciousness”, “virtue”, “generosity” and “the idea of coming up to one’s responsibilities and fulfilling one’s duties” (Vassiliou V. & Vassiliou G. 1966, cited ??????? 1995, p. 115). “Filotimo” (????????) is one of the ideals that traditional nuclear Greek families aim to implant to the generations that follow. It is also frequently invoked when asking someone to come to his / her senses or to retract an undesirable attitude. Hence, in this example behaviours and interpersonal relationships may be influenced by a value system that is identified with national orientation. Similarly the – conscious or not – urge to prove worthy of the nationally praised characterization “philotimos” might function as a self-fulfilling prophecy. More specifically, the person might deal with particular situations in ways that confirm the family’s, friends’ or nation’s expectations from him /her. As far as commitment to the community – the third factor according to Parekh – is concerned, it is also subjective and difficult to determine. It involves a collective sense of belonging, shared emotions and symbols of the community like ceremonies, the flag, the national anthem and so on (Parekh 1999, p. 69). Loyalty to the nation, patriotism and a common sense of solidarity are some of the characteristic ways in which a member of the nation experiences his bond with it. A positive form of experiencing identification with the nation is the case of people’s reaction during the Olympic Games. When athletes win medals they are overwhelmed with national pride, among other emotions, and so are their fellow-countrymen. Greeks again could be a characteristic example, because they strongly view the Olympic ideal as a part of their national identity – a kind of a collective heritage. Especially at the award ceremony where the national anthem is being performed the athletes often burst into tears and kiss the flag as an expression of loyalty to the nation. What is more, leaving for a moment the commercialization of the Olympic Games aside, the Greek origin of the Olympic ideal seems to be a strong motive for many Greek athletes, government members and even simple citizens to avoid getting involved in any form of corruption. More specifically, any entanglement in events of doping or other kinds of unethical competition would be considered very shameful and humiliating, particularly because of a shared sense of responsibility towards the heavy national heritage. This worry is probably so intense not so much because of the political or financial interests involved, but more because of a concern to preserve the national ‘good reputation’. My interpretation of this attitude is that it represents a shared way of experiencing national identity. The function of this identity could be that it constitutes a unifying factor for the nation and that it could inspire collectivity, ethos and a sense of duty, that may be more influential than any external or imposed force (like laws, government guidelines and regulations introduced by international institutions).
A negative form of identification and bonding with the nation could be the case where national pride takes the form of commonly shared and publicly expressed prejudice for the national out-group. A representative example comes again from the Greek context, where a couple of years ago Odise Cenaj, an Albanian high-school student participated in the student parade as a flag-bearer. The parade took place as part of the annual ceremony for the celebration of a national anniversary, the 28th of October.
A characteristic example of the relation between religion and national identity is the Greeks’ notion of their nationality. The majority – especially the older generations – tends to interweave the national element with the religious one, identifying ‘Greek’ with ‘Christian’ and in particular ‘orthodox’. Personal experience from the Greek sociocultural context has shown that the stronger the national identity is, the stronger is the identification with the orthodox faith. Especially in the case of this dogma, the etymology of the word reveals the deterministic view of its followers. The Greek compound word ‘Orthodox’ means ‘right’ (‘ortho’) – as opposed to ‘wrong’ – ‘belief’ (‘dox-a’, noun deriving from the verb ‘????’ which means to claim, to believe). It becomes obvious that, as far as religion is concerned, the doctrine’s name reflects the disputes or clashes between Christians – and often between Christians and other followers of other religions – and the urge to prove that one dogma is more ‘correct’ than the other.
There are cases where dimensions of the national identity of the person are so dominant in the person’s image that they determine his / her interaction with the world. For instance, an Afghani woman, who wears the burgha in a context outside her country, is as if she ‘introduces’ herself through her dress code, revealing her national origin before giving any other personal information, not even her external appearance. It becomes obvious that in such extreme cases a person’s national identity might play a catalytic role as far as social relations are concerned, as it denotes that a person is part of a particular social, political or religious system. This marker can often be very restricting not only regarding the person’s self – image, but also the way the (significant) others view the person and the extent to which the person can get involved in social relationships. As Roy (1999 p. 64) observes, there are often cases where the person who bears indicators of his / her national origin does not do so as a result of his / her free choice, but rather to show compliance with a ‘moral obligation’ (as in the case of Muslim women who wear a scarf an as well as outside the borders of their country) or an imposed law (as in Afghanistan). In such cases, the expression of national identity through linguistic, dress, dietary or other cultural codes reflects the identity’s rigid or static character and it might contribute to the person’s social alienation (Roy, 1999 pp. 58-59).
Prejudice and discrimination based on critiria od national origin might be an extreme case of what developmental psychology terms as ‘kin selection’ and ‘reciprocal altrouism’ (Goodhart 2004, p. ???, Ozkirimli 2000, p. 71). To be more specific, with respect to the incident with the Albanian student, the Greeks’ aggressivenes was inspired by the fact that their national identity was challenged and their sense of unity and homogeneity was at stake by the ‘intrusion’ of a foreigner, that provoked their national pride. It becomes obvious that the invocation of national identity was the unifying factor for the Greeks who opposed to the foreign student’s participation in the parade as a flag-bearer (something considered by many citizens to be a Greek ‘privilege’). Even though there was no obvious breaking of the law, there was a significant number of people who shared the same impressions and reacted in similar ways, providing no logical arguments. The politicians’ involvement and their attempts to calm down the annoyed citizens confirm the fact that they legitimised national prejudice in order to appear appealing to the public.
Finally, the student, after the unfavourable reaction of the public, declared that he did not feel Greek any more and he did not want to share the Greek identity. This confirms the subjectivity and flux of national identity. It also proves that this identity may be determined on the basis of what other perceive of the individual. Hence, its formation is the result of reciprocal determination. As Goodhart (2004, p.) observes, people with the same nationality may have a variety of other differences (religion, class, area of inhabitance), a fact that justifies national identity’s fictitious character. Nevertheless, the example above confirms that members of a national minority may become ‘second-class citizens’ because they do not share the same historic past.
The extent to which national identity is dominant in a person’s self-description may depend on whether it is being challenged or not. Depending on the circumstance a person finds him/herself in and the need to protect ot stand up for his/her identity, s/he will do so be it gener, religious, national or other identity. Therefore, its importance may vary according to the social context (Searle 2001, p. 3).
The manipulation of national identity for political or military purposes wsa evident in World War II. German Nazis and Italian fascism are such examples. In both cases a ‘charismatic’ leader misled the military forces and the public opinion by cultivating ???????????? and racist feelings. All thei arguments were groundless, superficial and completely lacked rational base. Both leaders aimed at unifying the nation and winning its ?????? by stressing its superiority over other nations.
The appeal of this false ideology might be partly explained by social identity theory, which explains that people’s self-esteem is raised by the idea that they belong to a (social, racial, national or other) group that is ‘superior’ than others. Thus the leaders manipulated this emotional vulnerability (New Zealand…….).
Gellner (Nationalism 55) attempts to define nationalism based on poltical criteria. He places emphasis on education as an important factor in the formation of national identity. He observes that “men do not in general become nationalists from sentiment or sentimentality, atavistic or not, well-based or myth-founded: they becomenationalists through genuine, objective, practical necessity, however obscurely recognised” (Gellner 1994, p. 56). Hence, it seems that regardless of whether the roots of a person’s nationalism are emotional or rational, it is still difficult to specify the exact content of the idea of the nation. Moreover, the ‘fictive’ nature of national identiy can be deduced by the process of elimination: people may share the same national identity, without speaking the same language (as in the case of second, or third generation immigrants, who feel they belong to the nation of their ancestors, even though they might hardly speak their language). The same stands for people who live in the same country, work, vote, join the army but have different religious beliefs and customs. In terms of racial characteristics the given fact of ‘mixed marriages’ has eliminated any possibility of a pure, homogenous nation, proving Hitler’s aspirations to be not only extreme, but also utopian (Crouch 1999, p. 283; Ozkirimli 2000, p. 76). Finally, with respect to shared land and common borders, they seem to be the most fluctuating and less important factors in the subjective perception of national identity. In the case of Greece, Thessaloniki, the second largest city, was under the Turks’ domination until 1912 and it was not taken by the Bulgarian army, thanks to a successful Greek military and political operation of the last moment. Similarly, the islands of the South-East Aegean Sea were finally acknowledged as Greek territory after the end of World War II. During the above period and even from the ancient times, there no question regarding the inhabitants’ Greek identity, either in their consciousness or in the consciousness of the people who lived in the mainland; there was a reciprocally agreed national determination which greatly enhanced shared feelings of solidarity and patriotism.
An alternative way of approaching the relativity of national identity would be by viewing the emerging of European Union, which may contribute to the formation of another, wider notion of nationality. It seems that the new form of national identity has expanded to encompass all residents of the European union. This is evident in the way civil rights (i.e. work permissions) are shared throughout European countries, creating a sense of commonness and solidarity and a new kind of cultural community. An example of how a new form of border may be invented and all the implications: no need for a passport to travel within the European Union, bank account). This gives the impression of a shared trust, appreciation and privileges.
To conclude, Parekh’s definition of national identity captures accurately its inconsistency: “national identity, then, is a matter of moral and emotional identification with a particular community based on a shared loyalty to its constitutive principles and participation in its collective self-understanding” (Parekh 1000, p. 69).
Anderson, B. (1994). ‘Imagined Communities’. In J. Hutchinson & D. Smith (eds), Nationalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 89-96.
Baumeister, R.F. (1991). Meanings of Life. New York: Guilford Press.
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Crouch, C. (1999). Social Change in Western Europe. Oxford: Blackwell.
Goodhart, D. (2004). ‘Too Diverse?’ Prospect, 95,
Hobsbaum, E. & Ranger, T. (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hutchinson, J. & Smith, A.D. (1994). ‘Nationalism’. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kedourie, E. (1994). ‘Nationalism and Self-determination’. In J. Hutchinson & D. Smith (eds), Nationalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 49-55.
Ozkirimli, U. (2000). Theories of Nationalism. New York: ST. MARTIN’S PRESS, INC.
Parekh, B. (1999). ‘Defining National Identity in a Multicultural Society’. In E. Mortimer & R. Fine (eds), People, Nation and State, London: IB Tauris Publishers, pp 66-74.
Roy, O. (1999). ‘The Elusive Cultural Community’. In E. Mortimer & R. Fine (eds), People, Nation and State, London: IB Tauris Publishers, pp 56-65.
Salkind, N. (
oxi to New Zealand!!!!!!!!!
Vassiliou, V. & Vassiliou, G. (1966). ‘The Implicative Meaning of the Greek Concept of Philotimo’. Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, 4, 326-341. In ??????? ?. ????????? ?????????