For people to express nationalism it is first necessary for them to identify themselves as belonging to a nation, that is, a large group of people who have something in common. The rise of centralized monarchies, which placed people under one rule and eliminated feudalism, made this possible. The realization that they might possess a common history, religion, language, or race also aided people in forming a national identity. When both a common identity and a formal authority structure over a large territory (i.e., the state) exist, then nationalism becomes possible.
In its first powerful manifestation in the French Revolution, nationalism carried with it the notion of popular sovereignty, from which some have inferred that nationalism can occur only in democratic nations. However, this thesis is belied by the intense nationalism that characterized the German Empire and later Nazi Germany. Where nationalism arises, its specific form is the product of each particular nation's history.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.