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Nationalism has been present in the world societies for centuries, ever since the development of the independent nations has begun. It is named to be one of the most powerful vehicles of social change and is an indispensable part of almost every nation’s path to independence and identity. As a historical, cultural and political phenomenon, it finds its different representations and variants according to a number of factors such as location, period, society, etc. Naturally, similar to any other social phenomenon, nationalism has caused the emergence of various anti-movements known as anti-nationalist movements. The opposition between the two continues up until this day, with many historians and analysts making attempts to interpret the role and the significance of these opposing movements in the development of the modern society. Anti-nationalist movements in the United States and China serve as a lucrative ground of comparison in terms of social order of the two countries, and this paper attempts to do so on the basis of the anti-nationalist movements existing in New York and Hong Kong.
Nationalism as a social movement has emerged at the end of the nineteenth century and has persisted ever since. As demonstrated by historians, it is by far the most powerful movement which has no efficient alternatives, since it has been “the principal vehicle both for aspiration and for ruling ideology”(Goodman, James) in the society throughout the whole period of its existence. The various nationalist movements which exist at a certain point in the history of different nations have both common features and certain distinctive elements which make these movements different or even completely opposite to other nationalist movements. According to Goodman, the notion of nationalism should be regarded through the prism of its plurality, seeing as nationalism can reemerge as a totally different phenomenon according to the historical and social setting. As it is, the feature that sets apart nationalist movements from any other social movements is the central role which nationalism attributes to the notions of nation and national identity. As Goodman states, nationalism sets out to divide all the people in the world into different nations which exist in their own geographical, cultural, political, and social dimension, and establish nation above any other social factor which may play a role in the life of an individual in the society. Namely, national identity is given priority over such social divisions as gender, class, ethnicity, etc. (Goodman, James). Hence, it is unsurprising that in the modern world which historians and sociologists have come to define with the help of the notions of pluralism and multimodality, nationalist agenda, aimed to distinguish different nations and their identity, is given so much importance.
Rather than a permanent feature, many world societies have seen nationalism as a passing stage in their social and historical development (Goodman, James). Especially it was true for the nations previously under the regimes of colonial and communist orders. Postcolonial and post-communist nationalist movements have emerged in the wake of the newly established independent countries, for which nationalism presented the ideological framework to resuscitate, develop, and maintain the social, cultural and historical role and importance of the nation and its people, as well as place them as respectable players on the international arena. In this regard, the United States has been mainly viewed as a post-nationalist community (Goodman, James). The rise of globalization has caused the nationalism perspective to subside and lose its hold on the American society, and Goodman claims this most recent change is connected with the complex political contexts and the newly-emergent social and religious movements which operated on the transnational level.
In the current-world perspective, nationalism in the United States is mainly identified in combination or within another certain social movement. In view of the recent events in the social and political life of the country, there is a specific movement which can be named as an example of the modern-day nationalism. Namely, the notion of white nationalism has been actively circulating the media ever since the United States presidential election of 2016. According to The New York Times, the movement is motivated and draws its inspiration from the ideology of racial and ethnic supremacy (Taub, Amanda). Namely, states Taub, it shares its common nature with white supremacy and racism, which are among the social phenomena which have been present, albeit distinctly frowned upon in the modern-day democratic society of the United States. And yet, the notion of white nationalism has been given much scrutiny over the recent period. Especially ever since the self-proclaimed followers of the social movement have taken to claiming that victory of Donald Trump as a new president-elect of the United States translates into the triumph and the advancement of political and social agenda of the white nationalists (Taub, Amanda). According to the research of the New York Times, white nationalism has been defined by politics and social studies specialists as “the belief that national identity should be built around white identity” (Taub, Amanda) with the white Americans as the population given the most prevalence and importance in the society demographically, socially and culturally.
Due to the distinctly traceable idea of racial or ethnic predominance rooted in the ideology of current-day nationalist movements such as white nationalism, they are mostly regarded as a threat to the views of diversity and equality which the U.S. democracy is built upon. However, in view of the recent changes and tendencies in the social and political sphere of the country as demonstrated by the presidential elections of 2016, American nationalism is identified by many as a serious problem, which undermines the melting pot nature of American society (Gaddie, Keith, and Kirby Goidel). According to Peter Bloom of The Open University, nationalist movements have experienced success in the recent years due to the range of problems which the nations have been confronting, brought about by the failure of anti-globalization politics. Nationalism, he states, seems like the only effective way to maintain the identity and independence of a nation against the force of internationalism (Bloom, Peter). As such, the operation of such movements persists, and in view of the strong associations they have with racism and arguably dangerous for the U.S. democracy radical right ideas, they can be considered as a set back in the development of the American community.
There is little evidence or information about the existing anti-nationalism movements in New York. As it is, the nationalist ideas taking hold in the recent years have attracted the attention of anti-racism and anti-fascism movements and organizations, which associate the supporters of nationalist ideas with white supremacy. Moreover, since the already mentioned white nationalists have given their support to Donald Trump’s presidency, the opposition to the modern nationalist movements is also represented by the radical “alt-left” movements such as Antifa (Gitlin, Todd). According to the New York Times, Antifa, mainly represented by locally organized groups across the country, aim to “confront, expose, shame – and sometimes convert – white supremacists” (Gitlin, Todd). All things considered, despite the laudable anti-Nazi claims, the efficiency of the movement’s radical and potentially violent methods is placed under question.
The existence of anti-nationalist movements in Hong Kong, China, proves to be a much more explainable phenomenon due to the fact that the city has been the center of ongoing debates concerning its controversy in terms of national identity (Han, Enze). On the line between the post-colonial mentality of those who found refuge in Hong Kong during the times of it being part of the British Empire and the communist regime of China with its totalitarian control over the society, the city has been caught in the never-ending progression of protests and clashes of opposing forces ever since the last few decades of the 20th century and going on still. As Enze Han writes in his post about the city’s predicament, all the historical and social factors at war have caused the Hong Kong citizens to develop a “strong local Hong Kong identity, one close to a full rejection of being Chinese at all” (Han, Enze). As a result, the activity of such social movements as Occupy Central, striving for the achievement of democracy for Hong Kong and even keep the mainland Chinese out of the city (Han, Enze) can be proof of the attraction of anti-nationalism as opposed to the order which places national identity above all. As stated in the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s radical localism is a potential threat to the city’s cosmopolitan values (Lam, Jeffie). The main difference as presented by the comparison of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central with the Antifa movement in New York, U.S. is that such protests are less politically fueled and place historical context as the main factor of their existence.
The presence of nationalist ideas in the modern-day United States is impossible to be ignored due to the growing influence the nationalist movements have attained in the recent years following the U.S. presidential elections of 2016. The so-called white nationalist movement has been gaining popularity and media coverage in connection with its association with Donald Trump’s presidency. Naturally, ideas of white supremacy and racial predominance do not sit well with the agents of democratic America and have caused a backlash in the form of continuous protests, many of which carry the anti-nationalist nature. Compared to those observed in the controversial community of Hong Kong, social movements in New York, supporting ideas against nationalism, prove to be radical in their method of operation, as well as politically driven. Historical perspective is attributed greater meaning in the context of Hong Kong’s localism due to the clash of two systems and the city’s colonial past. With that being said, the social movements which represent anti-nationalism in both cities share a common feature which is their radical disposition. Considering the claims of each party about the democratic principles at the forefront of their ideology, whether such movements could bring benefit or pose a threat to the multicultural and diversity values of the American society and the international status of Hong Kong remains to be seen.
Bloom, Peter. “As Anti-Globalisation Politics Fail, Nationalism Sweeps The World.” The Conversation, 2014, http://theconversation.com/as-anti-globalisation-politics-fail-nationalism-sweeps-the-world-33102.
Gaddie, Keith, and Kirby Goidel. “The American Nationalism Problem.” Huffpost, 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith-gaddie/the-american-nation-probl_b_8733102.html.
Gitlin, Todd. “Opinion | Who’S Afraid Of Antifa?.” Nytimes.Com, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/opinion/antifa-trump-charlottesville.html.
Goodman, James. “Nationalism As A Social Movement.” Internationalstudies.Oxfordre.Com, 2010, http://internationalstudies.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.001.0001/acrefore-9780190846626-e-267?rskey=5Yk0OV&result=9.
Han, Enze. “Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Care About Their Own Future, Not The Mainland’s.” The Conversation, 2014, https://theconversation.com/hong-kong-democracy-protesters-care-about-their-own-future-not-the-mainlands-32769.
Lam, Jeffie. “Is The Rise Of Localism A Threat To Hong Kong’s Cosmopolitan Values?” South China Morning Post, 2016, http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/1814676/rise-localism-threat-hong-kongs-cosmopolitan-values.
Taub, Amanda. “White Nationalism,’ Explained.” Nytimes.Com, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/world/americas/white-nationalism-explained.html.