4.3 Nationalism and Ultranationalism

Should nations pursue national interests?

Big Ideas:

  • Are there positive and negative consequences to the pursuit of national interests?
  • What are the similarities and the differences between nationalism and ultranationalism?
  • What are the effects of nationalism and ultranationalism during conflict?

In our Unit 3 study of World War I, we discovered nations and their pursuit of national interest can be affected by nationalism and foreign policy, both of which shape international and domestic events. When nations are faced with the national self-interests of other nations, conflicts can rise. In the picture below, national interest, nationalism, and foreign policy are shown to all impact each other. Similarly, international and domestic events have far reaching effects, both globally and in a person's home nation.

It is important to understand nationalism can turn into ultranationalism, especially during times of conflict. It is also important to note nationalism and ultranationalism are on a spectrum. A nation's actions can have some characteristics of nationalism (to the left), but depending on circumstances and national self-interests, other actions by the same nation can reveal ultranationalistic tendencies (to the right). The differences between nationalism and ultranationalism are summarized in the chart below.


  • Strong sense of national identity
  • Respect for the national identity of other nations
  • Patriotism while still recognizing that one's own country, can, at times, be wrong
  • Avoids denying the rights of minority groups
  • Accepts all citizens and gives equal rights to all ethnic groups
  • Tends to avoid racism and fanatical devotion to country
  • Considers the impact of foreign policy actions on other nations
  • Seeks win-win solutions where conflict arises
  • National interest objectives reflect global sensitivities


  • Extreme sense of national identity
  • Little respect for the national identity of others
  • Extreme patriotism, and one's own country can never be wrong
  • Has no regard for minority group rights
  • Accepts only people from preferred ethnic group(s), and denies rights to all others
  • Tends to be racist and have a fanatical devotion to country
  • Foreign policy actions are taken without regard for the impact they have on other nations
  • Seeks to dominate where conflict arises
  • National interest has little or no consideration for global implications

As you can see, whether an action is nationalistic or ultranationalistic depends on a variety of factors, including differing perspectives, each nation's self-interests, and how each nation views or justifies certain actions. In World War I, we saw the development of nationalism (through the MAINE causes of war), and then actions that reflected ultranationalism, such as internment of citizens labelled as "enemy aliens", military aggression, and propaganda. Although the Treaty of Versailles was meant to prevent another war on such a large scale, national interests ultimately led to World War II.

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read pages 132 to 134. These pages will further your understanding of similarities and differences between nationalism and ultranationalism.

Download the 4.3 Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc) and take notes about what you have read. Review the tutorial How to Take Notes if needed. When you are done, return here to continue.