Tokyo Olympic: Idea of Nation and Nationalism

Sense of competition exists between every nation and nationalism in every sphere; the Olympics is not an exception.

Each nation is cheering for sportsmen/women of their nation in the Tokyo Olympics and expecting them to bring glory and pride to their respective nation.

The terms of nation, nationalism and patriotism, look similar for many, but they have differences and a great sense of debate in the academic world.

Nationalism and patriotism have a similar kind of logic and motivation, where nationalism reflects loyalty and love towards a nation as a positive feeling where competition is nature (sense of better than the rest), whereas patriotism is associated with love for the country and pride of it for what it does, but not necessarily competitive.

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In simple terms, patriotism is a love of country, while nationalism is a belief that one’s country is superior to all others. Some believe nationalism is a kind of excessive, aggressive patriotism. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the concepts of nation and nationalism, that are discussed in this article.

Nationalism: Primordialism and Modernization

Different paradigms of nationalism exist, beginning from primordialism scholars believe that nationality is an inherent character of people that existed from the beginning based on irrational attachments like blood, language, region, religion, race etc., thus ethnic identity is deeply rooted in the historical experience of humans.

They believe nation as ‘forever there’ entitles that have been existed for many centuries, and especially ‘nations come before nationalism’; another theory is socio-biological that believes that nationalism is the outcome of the extension of kin selection from common descent that includes both elements of rational and irrational concepts.

Modernization theories relate nationalism with modernism, democracy, industrialisation, urbanization and capitalism, that nations are not the fundamentally natural or biological inclination. Nationalism emerged as a modern phenomenon as a consequence of the shift from traditional to modern society.

Nation and Nationalism

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Ernest Gellner (1925-1995)’s work Nation and Nationalism (1983) stated “Nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent. Nationalism as a sentiment, or as a movement, can best be defined in terms of this principle.

Nationalist sentiment is the feeling of anger aroused by the violation of the principle or the feeling of satisfaction aroused by its fulfilment. A nationalist movement is one actuated by a sentiment of this kind” (Gellner, 1983). For him the nation general consist of the same ‘culture’ and ‘will’. He believes that ‘nations are made by nationalism’ (Gellner, 1983).

For him, nationalism is a product of Modernity, as this concept is continuously produced and re-established, and it creates a sense of ‘us’ belonging to a certain nation. This belief that modern nationalism is the result of western industrialisation in the 19th century, as human history can be believed to go through hunting history, agrarian and lastly industrial age.

He believed nationalism is imposed by high culture and society to replace low, local cultures, and society, as before industrialism consisted of mostly peasant farmers. Thus the peasants or farmers had no opportunity for economic mobility or social advancement and lack of standardised education.

Thus before industrialisation, there existed tight water compartments of communities and between classes. He believes nationalism is a product of a function of new material or economic forces. This industrial economy is bound to grow and dismantle the stability of the old order.  This old high culture and multiple local folk culture was replaced by a shared high culture.

Modern science and technology helped this new economy to replace the old order with new social order and that was based on culture. It also witnessed large scale mobility in terms of occupation and spatial, as people were moved from their own favourable settings to unfamiliar situations.

His idea states nation and nationalism are not natural because they are not a constant part of the human experience but arose only through a shift towards industrialisation. It led to the coming up of the industrial economy. Under industrialisation, society breaks the barriers between communities due to education that led to economic and social mobility.

Industrialisation does not spread equally among the communities within the state, where some are left behind in comparison to those who were in industrial society. The assimilation between these individuals may not take place due to differences in the language, culture or ethnicity, thus nationalism will develop as the excluded ethnicity will seek political sovereignty.

This new economy becomes large and is only managed by the state that needs the support and allegiance of the people. This state-society partnership can only work when the members belong to the same culture.

Therefore, nationalism strives for one culture or ethnicity under one state. An egalitarianism was established in this new modern economy that had eradicated the old traditional hierarchies and old community isolation. Thus, nationalism becomes a mandatory mechanism in the process of modernization.

That implies nationalism is not a feeling expressed by the pre-existing nations, but it creates nations where none previously existed. It is nationalism that gives rise to a nation, where nationalism tries to use historical-cultural wealth and transforms them.

Thus the revival of culture is claimed under the process of nationalism, but in fact, nationalism is a theory of political legitimacy, and it tries to assume legitimacy and claims authority over a territory.  ‘Nationalism is an ideology suffers from pervasive false consciousness’ (Gellner, 1983), national identity is essential in modern industrial society.


The theory of nationalism of Gellner fall short of implications concerning India and other colonies, primarily it did not explain the nationalist experience of colonial societies of Africa and Asia. Thus, blamed to be made on the basis of western European experiences. Scholars believed that nationalism did not emerge in industrialised European societies but in the colonial societies due to the capitalist transformation of the world and unequal development that happened due to capitalism. 

As capitalism is believed to create a system of imperialism and colonialism that was challenged through a form of resistance by the colonised world through a national struggle.


Sense of competition exists between every nation and nationalism in every sphere; the Olympics is not an exception. The concepts of nation and nationalism are Primordialism and Modernization construction. But competition is present in every scenario, in some prospects, it can be healthy, while in others, it can be competitive.

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science, College of Humanities and Education, Fiji National University.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com