Communications

Publication Date01 June 1999
DOI10.1111/1467-9248.00206
SubjectCommunications
Communications
Michael Freeden, `Is nationalism a distinct ideology?', Political Studies
(1998), XLVI, 748±65.
Freeden answers his own question in the negative. Nationalism is neithera `full'
nor a `thin-centred' ideology. It is not a `full' ideology because it fails to provide
a `reasonably broad . .. range of answers to the political questions that societies
generate' (p. 750). Nationalism is notoriously theoretically thin, but Freeden's
test is problematic. The process of societal question generation surely re¯ects
ideological assumptions. Freeden's `thin-centred ideologies such as feminism
and green political thinking' (p. 758), prioritize dierent questions. Only from a
mainstream perspective do they involve a `shrinking of the political' (p. 750).
For Freeden, nationalism fails to qualify even as athin-c entred ideology, as it
lacks a conceptual core `unique to itself alone'. Its core concepts `are too
indeterminate to make sense on their own' so they have to be ®lled out with
`proximate concepts' borrowed from other ideologies (p. 754), producing
multiple forms of nationalism. Nationalist ideas thus do not normally constitute
a distinctive ideology but are commonly found in `host ideologies' and `re¯ect
the features of the host' (p. 759). Feminism (acknowledged by Freeden as a thin-
centred ideology) could be similarly described. It borrows concepts and involves
multiple hybrid forms such as liberal or Marxist feminism which likewise
`re¯ect the features of the host'. Yet feminism is distinctive because of the
priority attached to gender relations. For nationalists it is the nation which is
paramount.
There are instances, Freeden admits, `when nationality may become ``a para-
mount claim'' ' and thus qualify as a `thin-centred ideology', but only in the
`contingent and ephemeral circumstances of liberation from national oppression
or competition over a particular space'. Nationalism is thus `time speci®c'. Once
speci®c nationalist objectives are achieved the doctrine `has like a realized
utopia nowhere to go' and `becomes obsolete' (p. 759). The term `utopia' is an
apt one. A nation is an `imagined community', invariably with mythical and
idealized elements. As such, the nationalist utopia is no more easily realized
than other utopias. The struggle for statehood may be long and, once achieved,
hardly satisfy nationalist aspirations. Moreover, `competition over a particular
space' is seldom speedily resolved. It may only periodically erupt into crisis, but
continually fester, feeding nationalist sentiment.
Freeden's article marks how far `ideology' has lost its earlier pejorative con-
notations. Nationalism apparently lacks the theoretical substance for quali®ca-
tion. Yet Freeden's whole approach is over-intellectualized. One reason for
studying ideologies rather than traditional political theory is their presumed
greater relevance for political behaviour. Ideologies can be held at various levels
from the relatively sophisticated and philosophical to the popular, but it is their
resonance with the masses which substantially determines their signi®cance. The
last two centuries underline the importance of nationalism. Its `ideational
paucity' (p. 765) indeed may render it more potent. Its core values are easy to
#Political Studies Association 1999. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 CowleyRoad, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main
Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Political Studies (1999), XLVII, 379±380

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