This article is written by Michael Shriney from the Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology. This article explores liberal nationalism from all aspects including its characteristics, history, and critics and whether liberalism and nationalism can coexist is also covered, along with frequently asked questions.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Liberal nationalism is a commitment that deals with principles of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. Liberal nationalism stands for several things, including the inviolability of private property, individual freedom, equality before the law, representative government, and the Constitution. The right of all nations to self-determination is the most crucial component of liberal nationalism. The right to self-determination is embedded as a standard in the administration of every liberal democracy and a desire to choose one’s geographical limits continues to be an extremely powerful force in international affairs.

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Liberal and nationalist views are two different and distinct ways of understanding when politics and society are involved. If nationalism were to expand, liberalism would decline, and on the contrary motion, it would be true. Liberal nationalism acknowledges that culture and belongings are communal qualities that can only be fully appreciated in a community with people who share the same values. Thus, the right to culture includes the right to a public sphere where people may communicate in their native language, remembrance of their ancestors, honour their heroes, and lead full lives as citizens of their country. Liberal nationalists agree that choosing one’s national identity is necessary.

An overview of liberal nationalism

At beginning of the 19th century, liberal nationalism promoted individual freedom and racial equality. Liberal nationalism emphasized the idea of getting consent from the government but from a political perspective. Liberal nationalism is primarily intended for Europe’s middle class. Economic liberalism, which is demanded by the middle class, stands for independence of markets and the elimination of state limitations on the flow of commodities and capital.  

In the early 19th century, concepts of ideology and national unity were closely related to liberalism. According to a political declaration, each person is endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. The idea of liberal nationalism was based on people having inherent rights that are absolute and inherent. This liberalism supported the new middle class’s desire for independence, individualism, and equality. Since the French Revolution, liberalism has stood for the abolition of autocracy and clerical privileges, the establishment of a Constitution, and the establishment of representative government through parliament. Let’s discuss its history, importance, characteristics, and people engaged, as well as its critics and needs of liberal nationalism.

What does liberal nationalism stand for?

Liberal Nationalism is also known as civic nationalism or civil nationalism, a term used by political theorists who support an all-inclusive, non-ethnocentric nationalism. The Latin word ‘liber’, which means free, is a source of the word ‘liberalism.’ The term “nationalism” is commonly used to describe two phenomena: an attitude that members of a nation have when they think about their national identity and activities that people of a nation perform while attempting to achieve or retain self-determination. Equal protection under the law did not always ensure universal suffrage. Suffrage refers to the ‘right to vote’. In a liberal democracy, only males who owned property could vote and hold elective office before liberal nationalism. 

All women and men without property were denied to get political rights. Women and non-propertied men organized opposition groups throughout the nineteenth and early nineteenth centuries, seeking equal political rights. The rise of the middle classes made a strong demand for economic liberty during the nineteenth century. Professors, school teachers, clerks, and members of the commercial middle classes made up an educated middle-class aristocracy to which liberal nationalists belonged. 

Three spheres of liberalism

There are three spheres of liberalism, which are as follows-

  1. Social sphere
  2. Political sphere
  3. Economic sphere

Social sphere

In the social sphere, liberalism fought for individual freedom and equality before the law. Socially, they seek to help society with class biases and birthright. They also requested that bonded labour be abolished. This sphere is meant to solve economic and social challenges such as poverty, welfare, infrastructure, healthcare, education, and climate through government intervention while simultaneously emphasizing individual rights and autonomy. When it comes to liberalism and democracy, social sphere and Constitution are examined, which control economic well-being and social equality.

Political sphere

In the political sphere, liberalism stood for equality, freedom, establishment and operation of government by consensus. It primarily focused on the concept of government by consent. It is intended that middle-class liberals demand abolition of monarchy and establishment of a republic in which individuals can freely express themselves. It also refers to individuals having the ability to choose their government. Politically, they wanted a Constitution with national unification, a nation-state with a codified Constitution, and a parliamentary government.

Economic sphere 

Liberalism promoted free markets and restrictions on the elimination placed by the government on the flow of capital and goods in the economic sphere.  For each state, the Napoleonic regime established unique money, weights, measures, and customs fees. A single economic space was what liberals favoured. Nationalism was reinforced by economic nationalism and unity. In contrast to excessive government control, liberal nationalism places more emphasis on individual freedom. The political, economic, and social spheres all bore witness to it.

History of liberal nationalism

Monarchies ruled people in ancient times; there were no distinct states or governments. The French artist Frédéric Sorrieu created four prints in 1848 that depicted his idealised vision of a future with democratic and social republics. In his first print, individuals from America and Europe were seen marching in the direction of the statue of liberty, which is in form of a woman, carrying torches of enlightenment and the charter of the rights of man. In the form of broken pieces of symbols that were lying on the ground, he had also shown the destruction of monarchical rule. He also showed how individuals come from other nationalities and how they dress and display their flags. People from the United States and Switzerland crossed the Statue of Liberty, visualizing the development of those states into nation-states. In his perspective, France may also become a nation-state in his print. 

The French Revolution of 1789 was the first example of nationalism. Under the absolute monarch’s reign, France was a fully developed territorial state. The French monarchy’s authority was transferred to a body of French citizens as a result of political and constitutional reforms that followed the French revolution. The concepts of la Patrie (fatherhood) and le Citoyen (citizen) emphasized the idea of a united community having equal rights under the Constitution. On Prussia’s proposal, most of the German states joined Zollverein, or customs union, formed in 1834. Developing a railway network increased mobility and transformed economic interests to promote national unity. Zollverein’s mission was to economically unite the German people. 

There were no tariffs and just two currencies in a Prussian customs union, to which several German states also joined. The development of a railroad network increased mobility and promoted national unification by attracting economic interest. A confederation of 39 states was formed by Napoleon’s administrative policies from countless small principalities. Each of these had different weights and measures for their money. A merchant was required to go through 11 customs checkpoints and pay tax at each one. An emerging commercial class, who campaigned for the establishment of a united economic region permitting unrestricted movement of products, people, and money, saw such circumstances as a barrier to economic trade and prosperity. The formation of a customs union resulted in removal of tariff barriers and a decrease in the number of currencies for more than thirty to two. 

Features of liberal nationalism 

  • The most significant aspect is that in the 19th century, liberalism and nationalism stood for the freedom of an individual and the equality of a nation.
  • In terms of politics, it must focus on the idea of consent-based government.
  • Liberal values, such as individual freedom and equality for everyone were important to the middle class in Europe.
  • In economic liberalism, the middle class desired to encourage market freedom and abolish state restrictions on the flow of capital and goods.
  • All equality before the law is expressed by liberal nationalism.
  • The rights over property and voting were mainly focused on.
  • The abolition of state-imposed restrictions on the movement of goods, as well as free trade and markets.
  • This is focused on the removal of autocracy, aristocratic privileges, and clerical privileges.
  • Political, economic, and social spheres were all important to liberal nationalism.
  • This rejects hereditary monarchy and supports democratic government.

What were the critics of liberal nationalism

  • An important target of liberal nationalist criticism was censorship laws that were intended to control the press.
  • Their other main concerns included maintaining a church, having a modern army, and having an effective bureaucracy.
  • The criticism came from liberal nationalism, which believes that the former was created specifically to oppose the latter.
  • The German country of early times was known for its internal schisms, particularism and provincialism, but he was led to believe that it could only be preserved by subordinating people or local units as a whole. The criticism came from liberal nationalism, which believes that the former was created specifically to oppose the latter.
  • Another criticism was directed towards an individualist tradition for failing to create acceptance criteria for determining membership in a state.

Why do we need liberal nationalism

Liberal nationalism should be accompanied by democracy to achieve its functions. Liberalism must perform efficiently and successfully in the presence of democratic institutions. When nation-state residents feel empowered to participate in civic life and have an impact on politics, the liberal nationalists’ goals can be achieved. In order to achieve the State’s goals, it must uphold minority, women and civil rights as well as acknowledge national identity as a force for societal cohesion. Giving people the freedom to live their life as their choice while enabling them to support themselves financially is the goal of this liberal nationalism. The core idea of liberal nationalism is the right of all nations to self-determination. The main objective is to establish a world community of independent nation-states.

Rise of liberal nationalism in Europe

The rise of nationalism as a political and intellectual force in Europe throughout the nineteenth century led to significant developments in both. In Europe, there were multinational dynastic empires, which led to the birth of nation-states. Ideals and practices of a modern state, which were evolving over a lengthy period of time in Europe, took place over the centralization of power exercised by sovereign authority over a clearly defined region. Under autocratic monarchs of eastern and central Europe, different people resided. There was no common identity among them. The area was populated by many individuals who spoke various languages and belonged to various ethnic groups. The loyalty of the people to a single monarch served to unify them. 

On the continent, aristocracy was a dominating class due to social and political factors. These class members had a common way of life that crossed geographic boundaries, binding them together. Industrial output and trade increased throughout western and portions of central Europe. Towns grew as a result, and new commercial classes appeared. The production of market served as a foundation for this new class’s existence. There were new social groupings formed. It was thought that the monarchs of Europe might be strengthened by the development of a modern army, effective administration, a vibrant economy, and the elimination of serfdom and feudalism. In 1815, representatives from Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria met in Vienna to propose a settlement for Europe, which is known as the Treaty of Vienna.


Individual freedom, equality before the law, representative democracy, the rule of law, and the inalienable right over private property were just a few of many ideas that liberal nationalism fought for. There is market freedom by functioning liberal nationalism. The application will lead to an ideal situation where men and women live in peace with an understanding that they are one, and there is a feeling of community that surrounds that country. All states imposed limitations on the flow of capital and products which they aimed to abolish. Essentially, this is a political identity that is based on and shared by residents of the state. People need a sense of national identity in order to have a successful and independent life. Liberal nationalism relies on both political devotion and cultural unity. This idea understands a component of an ideal thought concerning state formation. However, it might be challenging to accomplish in the absence of control originating from a centralised authority.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who were called liberal nationalists?

Professors, school teachers, clerks, and members of the commercial middle classes were among the educated middle-class individuals that made up liberal nationalists. There were members of the new middle class who adhered to liberal principles.

How did liberal nationalism develop in Europe?

In many parts of Europe, such as Italy and Germany, as well as the provinces of Ottoman Europe, Ireland, and Poland, liberalism and nationalism were increasingly connected with revolution.  These revolutions were guided by educated middle-class liberal nationalists. The people believed in liberal nationalism and intended to fight for it.

What is the difference between liberal nationalism and national liberalism?

  • Liberal nationalism is similar to civic nationalism, which is based on ideas, freedom and culture that help to build national identity. But it is opposed to ethnic nationalism, which is based on racism and other reasons. 
  • National liberalism refers to the freedom of international unions and organisations. This is an idea of national freedom and sovereignty.

What is the other name for liberal nationalism?

Liberal nationalism, commonly known as civic nationalism, is characterised by classic liberal values such as freedom, tolerance, equality, individual rights, and absence of ethnic nationalism. It upholds the importance of national identity by stating that people require a national identity in order to function correctly.


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