Society & Us

Society & Us: Kinds of Nationalism

It is possible to draw a distinction between two kinds of nationalism. The first is civic, and the second ethnic.


Civic nationhood is meant to describe a political identity built around shared citizenship in a liberal-democratic state.

A “civic nation,” in this sense, need not be unified by commonalities of language or culture. It simply requires a disposition on the part of citizens to uphold their political institutions, and to accept the liberal principles on which they are based. Membership is open to anyone who shares these values. In a civic nation, the protection or promotion of one national culture over others is not a goal of the state.

Ethnic nationalists, on the other hand, conceive of the nation as a community of culture and history, with a bond of solidarity that resembles the familial bond.


Here, a myth of common ancestry replaces residence in an historic homeland as the criterion of national membership; genealogy rather than territory defines the ethnic nation. Similarly, vernacular cultures, notably language and customs, are more highly prized than legal equality, and popular mobilization than citizenship. Finally, in place of a civic, mass culture, ethnic nationalists extol native history and a more circumscribed ethnic culture.

Both kinds of nationalism may breed homogenizing policies and exclusive attitudes, but these are more marked in the case of ethnic nationalisms.

Some contrasts between civic & ethnic nationalism:

Civic Nationalists emphasize on: 

Ethnic Nationalists emphasize on:


Common roots



Rational attachment

Emotional attachment

Unity by consent

Unity by ascription

Democratic pluralism

Ethnic majority rules



Individual creates nation

Nation creates individual

Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 


  • Civic Nationalists Ethnic Nationalists. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2017, from
  • Stilz, A. (2009). Civic Nationalism and Language Policy. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 37(3), 257-292. doi:10.1111/j.1088-4963.2009.01160.x
  • Smith, A. D. (1994). Ethnic Nationalism and the Plight of Minorities. Journal of Refugee Studies, 7(2-3), 186-198. doi:10.1093/jrs/7.2-3.186

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1 reply »

  1. For the most part nationalism has a negative connotation because the concept is connected to war. Civic engagement is the term that is usually thought of as civic nationalism. Depending on how far people take the concepts both can be dangerous because the ethnic nationalism naturally leads to divisions and limiting civic nationalism to whatever “in” group makes most of the rules. If you could check out my blog and tell me what you think.


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