The Relationship between Nationalism and Internationalism

By Jackie Howell

When discussing nationalist or fascists movements, historians tend to fixate on the regional or national level. Analyzing nationalism through an international lens allows one to identify the interconnectedness of nationalist movements, thus creating a nationalist international against empire. Ironically, nationalism can function simultaneously with internationalism even though internationalism connotes everything nationalists hate. David Motadel highlights the international level of nationalism and fascism, focusing on anticolonial nationalists’ relationships with Nazi Germany. Ruth Ben-Ghiat briefly illustrates how fascist regimes utilize the same tools to further their agenda, as depicted in the cultural exchange network between Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain that rivalled the League of Nations’ cultural internationalism.

Motadel then draws a parallel to the present far-right populist or nationalist movements. As anticolonial nationalists connected over a desire for independence, similar trends are present in the Americas and Western Europe. Anticolonial nationalists saw independence movements as a global act of solidarity against outdated empires. Similarly, Trump supporters, Brexit “Leave” voters, and Europe’s far-right nationalists have morally supported each other’s views. Identifying the far-right as an international far-right fraternity united by nationalism, anti-minority, and anti-multiculturalism sentiment helps explain the modern spread of far-right movements. In the digital media era, an area that Motadel failed to explore, far-right nationalists have connected on various platforms (most notably Twitter and Facebook). There is no longer a strict need for physical transport to mobilize; nationalists can share ideas, strategies, and support with a post, a Tweet, or even by joining a Facebook group. The 21st century differs from the 20th century by providing more efficient means of communication and mobilization. During World War II, Nazi Germany was a financial and political supporter for anticolonial nationalists, creating a power dynamic that favoured the Germans over the nationalists. While far-right nationalists still require some assistance from more powerful states to increase their political agency, social media platforms provide nationalists and grassroots organizations the significant space that Berlin once provided for anticolonial nationalists.

Perhaps the most intriguing international aspect of nationalism is the level of cooperation among nationalist groups. Nationalist movements utilized their connections to further their cause. These relationships illustrate the motives of regimes and the lengths they will go for personal gain. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is most applicable in international nationalism.  It seems contradictory for Nazi Germany to host and interact with anticolonial leaders given Germany’s racist and uncompromising policies. However, the level of cooperation makes sense when one analyzes their motives and objectives. Nazi Germany utilized anticolonial nationalists to undermine their adversaries’ empires while anticolonial nationalists utilized Germany to further their cause for independence. While nationalist movements portray an image of solidarity, the movement is not homogenous. Tensions, divisions, and self-interests taint the cohesive image of far-right movements. The short-term nature of cooperation further proves the instability of an international nationalist movement, which eventually leads back to the rejection of internationalism.


Ben-Ghiat, R. (2004). Conquest or collaboration. In Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (pp. 123-130). University of California Press.

Motadel, D. (2019a). The global authoritarian moment: The revolt against empire. American Historical Review, 124(3): 843-877.

Motadel, D. (2019b). The far right says there’s nothing dirtier than internationalism – but they depend on it. The New York Times,

2 Replies to “The Relationship between Nationalism and Internationalism”

  1. Hi Jackie! I liked your comparison with Trump supporters, Brexit voters and Europe’s far right nationalists to put this international support tendency of the Nazis’s support of nationalism in colonies into a more modern context. Our time certainly makes it easier for groups to reach out and communicate, and trips to a city where a movement originate are no longer necessary to gain support and exchange ideas, but the use of common enemies against which common goals must be achieved is a timeless strategy, and it generates improbable associations, such as fascist Nazis with racist practices with Africans from French colonies.

  2. Hi Jackie, you make some excellent points. I particularly liked that you brought the nationalist movements into the present to help explain some of the factors that make up extreme nationalistic ideas. It’s definitely interesting how nationalism is against some of what internationalist movements stand for, and yet, they have common views with other nations, and are stronger working together; therefore participating in the international phenomenon.

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