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Aggressive Nationalism – The Global Tsunami

“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” – Charles De Gaulle

As citizens, pride for our country and love for our people is a duty. However, in recent times, this love for one’s own has morphed into hatred for others- other nations, religions, ethnicities and races. This exclusionary and hateful mindset is known as aggressive nationalism.

Historically seen in the imperialist dynasties of Europe, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, this political ideology is located deep in the right-wing of the political spectrum. It operates on the defence of a unified national identity, from perceived threats. These threats could be immigrants, other countries, homosexuals or minorities within the nation itself, who are seen as enemies of the “true” values of the nation.

Lately, aggressive nationalism has surged, capturing the hearts, souls and passions of people across the world. This resurgence has manifested itself in violent forms, gnawing away at the fabric of our global society.

Every populated continent has witnessed dramatic rises in aggressive nationalist movements. In the USA, President Donald Trump’s (in)famous “America First” policies are the clearest embodiment of aggressive nationalism. Chile, Colombia and Brazil are also succumbing to this ideological wave, with Brazilian President Bolsonaro being a particularly outspoken proponent of xenophobic nationalism- hatred for other nations.

Within Asia, religious nationalism- the idea that a nation and its people are defined by a particular religion- is prevalent. This is seen in the waves of Hindu nationalism in India, Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar and Christian nationalism in the Philippines. In the Far East, Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s aggressively nationalist agenda is accused of promoting racism.1

Even Europe, a continent marred by wars caused by aggressive nationalism, has seen far-right parties make major inroads in recent national elections. Sebastian Kurz in Austria and Viktor Orban in Hungary have even managed to form governments. Brexit, a movement that smacks of nationalist ideology, has been in momentum for years now.

South Africa has seen distinctively contrasting nationalist movements. The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging seeks to return to Apartheid-era days of white domination. However, the Economic Freedom Fighters want to avenge decades of racial injustice by forming a nation run by the black population. 2

In modern times, aggressive nationalism is always born out of some sort of discontent. This discontent could be due to many different factors, like poor security. For instance, Islamic extremism in the Philippines led to nationalist tendencies, with President Duterte promising strong action against these extremists. In Europe, rising numbers of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremist groups like ISIS fuelled nationalist sentiments. People of color, especially Muslims, were discriminated against and attacked. 3

Discontent could be economic too. Nations with struggling economies, facing rising unemployment and job shortages, often saw the dawn of far-right ideologies. These targeted refugees, migrants and international trade – anything that consumed jobs or economic funds. This was seen most prominently in Europe, where a massive influx of Middle Eastern refugees combined with worsening economic conditions for lower-skilled workers to generate strong anti-refugee sentiments and extreme steps like Brexit.

There is also discontent with the changing cultures. Populations in many nations are unable to accept the transformation of their “conventional” culture brought out by internationalism, leading to hostility against minority groups. In the United States, for instance, a study found that Trump supporters felt more strongly that the “American way of life was changing”. 4

Aggressive nationalism has led to some of the worst atrocities in recent times. Religious nationalism in several nations has led to terrible tragedies. In India, for example, 90% of religious hate crimes in the last decade have been committed since the advent of the current Hindu nationalist administration. 5 Apart from individual crimes, more extreme acts like the Rohingya genocide – mass killings of the Muslim minority population in Myanmar – have taken place. This has caused a refugee crisis of unprecedented scales on the Indian subcontinent.

Racially motivated nationalism has led to the creation of extreme ideologies like white supremacy and neo-Nazism. Followers of these ideologies discriminate against people of color, foreigners and non-Christians (particularly Jews and Muslims). These white supremacists have been behind grotesque acts of terrorism like the Christchurch mosque shootings and the murder of Labor MP Jo Cox in the UK. In fact, in the United states, the FBI has designated racially driven domestic terrorism a bigger threat than Islamic extremism. 6

Even xenophobic sentiments have manifested themselves in severe ways. Brazilians have reportedly assaulted and shot Venezuelan refugees. 7 Congolese refugees in South Africa have been forced out of their homes and lynched. 8 Arsonists have burned down prospective homes for refugees in Germany. 9

All of these attacks convey an extreme apathy for human life, brought about by divisive ideologue. Aggressive nationalism has tainted people’s worldview, reducing the value of human life to its superficial and man-made identity tags. It has fostered brutality and hatred, causing multiple crises at an international level.


Apart from its impact on human life, aggressive nationalism has major economic consequences too. It promotes the welfare of a nation and its own citizens above all else, with complete disregard for the global community as a whole. So, nations often shape their economic policies in line with nationalist perspectives.

These include protectionist measures like tariffs and quotas. For example, the Trump administration has routinely imposed tariffs on imports of goods like steel, aluminum, and agri-products. The largest of these were $50 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, which led to strong retaliation and the eventual trade war between the two economic powerhouses, jeopardising the entire global economy.

Nations may also regulate the operation of foreign corporations within their borders to provide a competitive advantage to domestic firms. In 2016, the RSS, a Hindu nationalist group, successfully convinced the Indian government to introduce legislation that hampered e-commerce giants like Amazon from conducting business in India. 10 Countries also restrict foreign direct investment (FDI) – Philippines, for example, has the highest FDI restrictiveness in the world. 11

One of the greatest economic impacts of aggressive nationalism, however, is on immigration and asylum laws. Migrants and refugees are frequently viewed as competitors for limited jobs and their presence is believed to be a huge burden on government finances. This seemingly leads to an unfair reduction in state welfare and wages for actual citizens. 12

In response, nationalist governments have beefed up border security and imposed stricter controls on entrants into their nation. Spearheading this has been Austria, which believes that “Migration is not, and should not, become a human right.” 13 It has sealed almost all its borders to refugees, and withdrawn from a critical UN agreement on migration. The USA, Brazil, Hungary and India are amongst other nations taking a strong stance against migrants and refuge-seekers. All of these countries have received motivation from the protection of their own nationals at the cost of others.

Another important economic effect of aggressive nationalism is withdrawal from multinational agreements for domestic economic growth. Brexit remains the classic example of this, with Britain choosing to withdraw from the EU to protect its borders from immigrants and regain its economic sovereignty. Similarly, the United States also backed away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the last hour. This was slated to be the most powerful economic agreement in the world, with heavy focus on free trade. However, the US backed out due to concerns about loss of jobs to foreign nations like Vietnam. 14


The fundamental flaw in aggressive nationalism is the shallow view it takes of national identity. It believes that external characteristics, such as race, faith or ethnicity determine what a nation truly is. However, nationality is by nature subjective and based on belief. A true citizen is one who contributes gainfully to the growth, prosperity and well-being of the nation and its people.

It is this shallow view that drives restrictive immigration laws, which fail to account for the positive impact that refugees and migrants may have on a country. Despite demonstrated contributions by migrants towards employment, technological output and economic growth, 15 nations drive away dedicated minds from across the world under the sway of polarising vitriol.

It is this shallow view that makes nations embrace protectionism and champion domestic firms, whilst ignoring the obvious benefits that international trade can have. Nations would rather let inefficiency brew and prices inflate at the hands of domestic firms than introduce the quality and cost-effectiveness of international commodities into their markets.

Most importantly, it is this shallow view that destroys the interconnected society we have built over the last century. International trade, cooperation and harmony are the giants on whose shoulders human growth has stood on for decades and aggressive nationalism wishes to steal this away. It prioritises self-satisfaction over mutual growth, a path that has led to ruin in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Aggressive nationalism is not completely misguided. In the end, it is born out of the will to protect one’s nation. Moreover, there are undeniable economic benefits of nationalist policies to certain stakeholders. But is all of this really worth the dastardly acts of violence that this ideology invariably brings along? Is aggressive nationalism really the saving grace for struggling nations that it is believed to be, or simply an irrational expression of frustration and hatred?

By Ishaan Goel
Senior Secondary Student, Dhirubhai Ambani International School

















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