Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998


Hjerm, M. (1998) 'Reconstructing "Positive" Nationalism: Evidence from Norway and Sweden'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 2, <>

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Received: 5/3/98      Accepted: 2/6/98      Published: 30/6/98


This article sets out to compare nationalism or nationalist sentiment in the two neighboring countries of Norway and Sweden, since it has been claimed that nationalism differs both with respect to the degree of nationalism and the connotations it has in these two countries. In spite of the claimed differences between the two countries, this article shows that Norwegians and Swedes have to a similar extent nationalist sentiments and that xenophobia and protectionism follow in the footsteps of such attitudes in both the examined countries, indicating the negative sides of nationalism. Moreover, the two countries also show similar patterns regarding which groups in society that are most inclined to show nationalist sentiments.

Identity; Nationalism; Nationalist Sentiment; Norway; Social Transformation; Sweden; Xenophobia

Reconstructing 'Positive' Nationalism: Evidence from Norway and Sweden[1]

Nationalism has existed for the last two centuries, and still flourishes among people and nations around the world. It exists as an ideology, as nationalist movements, and as a sentiment, drawing its power from the ability to disguise itself and adapt to different historical and cultural contexts. Sometimes it has been used by political powerholders in order to improve their legitimacy. Sometimes it has emerged in grassroots opposition to political power. As we approach the third millennium, there are few signs that we will witness any decline in such nationalist movements as the Basques, the Kurds or the different groups in former Yugoslavia. Nor is it likely that nationalist sentiments that have infused people with pride since the birth of the nation-state will cease to be present in everyday life. This makes it important to try to better understand nationalism in practice. This article sets out to empirically analyze the nationalist sentiment, or nationalist attitudes that people living in a specific nation have. This is something that has clearly been neglected in previous research. Two neighboring countries, Norway and Sweden, will be compared in order to better understand the nationalist sentiment. There are, as we shall see, two reasons to use Norway and Sweden as empirical examples. First, it is often assumed that the two countries differ in their degree of nationalist sentiment, and second, that it has been assumed that we are dealing with different types of nationalist ideologies which have different effects on the nationalist sentiments in the two countries. Both assumptions will be called into question.

Knudsen (1997), in one of the few attempts to assess nationalism empirically, has shown that Norwegians are more xenophobic than Swedes and that there exists a positive and a negative national identity, with reference to the correlation with xenophobia. Knudsen's findings are interesting, but his understanding of national identity (or aspects of it) is somewhat misleading, since he confuses both nationalism and cultural pride with national identity. For example, pride in different political aspects of society cannot easily be translated into national identity, since it is possible to imagine that people have a civic national identity without being especially proud of the political aspects[2] that he uses to measure civic national identity.[3] Similar confusion arises when he tries to measure chauvinism, better stated as ethnic national identity. More important for our argument is that he also confuses national identity with nationalism. That people believe themselves to be better than others, or that they live in a better country than other people do, cannot be construed as their national identity, since this only defines a certain feeling towards one's own country as compared with others and not what comprises this feeling. Further empirical examinations of nationalism are clearly needed. After the theoretical framework has been set out and the data introduced we will examine three aspects of nationalist sentiment. First, we will examine whether there are quantitative differences in nationalist sentiment between Norway and Sweden. Quantitative refers in this case to the extent to which people in the two countries have nationalist sentiments. Second, we will examine whether there are qualitative differences between Norwegian and Swedish nationalist sentiments. Qualitative refers to the affect that nationalist sentiments have on other attitudes like xenophobia and protectionism. Third, we will examine whether different groups display nationalist sentiments to the same or to different extents in the two countries.

Nationalism and Nationalist Sentiment

Discussions of nationalism often embark on an effort to define the nation, which is not an easy task, given the lack of acceptance of any definition of nation. There is general agreement that there is a difference between state and nation, even if the two entities are closely related (eg. Connor, 1978; Gellner, 1983; Smith, 1991; Weber, 1948). Max Weber's classical conceptualization of the state, as '..a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory' (Weber, 1958: p. 78) has been criticized, but is at least useful as an embarkation point when trying to define the state. Nation, on the other hand, is considerably more problematic. There are at least two overarching difficulties when dealing with the concept of nation.

The first one is how to define it theoretically. There is a myriad definitions dealing with theoretical approaches to the nation, even if Renan's, by now classical, view of the nation as a morality sustained by a common historical consciousness is almost as widely referred to as Weber's concept of the state. There are almost as many definitions of nation as there are scientists studying the subject, but there seems at present to be some unity regarding the notion of nation as at least to some extent 'modern' and as constructed or imagined (Anderson, 1983; Gellner, 1983, 1988; Hobsbawm, 1990; Kedourie, 1993), as 'opposed' to primordial (see Geertz, 1963; Van den Berghe, 1981). The primordial understanding of nation hardly needs to be commented on or criticized since this view lacks proponents today. To criticize it would be comparable to taking Aristotle's understanding of nature and seriously putting it under scientific scrutiny. Smith (1991; 1994; 1996; see also Calhoun, 1997) has set out to criticize the modernist approach, even though his view is not so different from the views he tries to undermine. Smith admits that the nation is modern, while at the same time emphasizing the ethnic heritage upon which he claims it must rest. This is something that even Gellner realizes, in spite of being probably the strongest advocator of the modernist approach. Gellner states that; 'It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round. Admittedly, nationalism uses the pre-existing, historically inherited proliferation of cultures or cultural wealth, though it uses them selectively, and it most often transforms them radically' (Gellner, 1983: p. 55). It is obvious that Gellner understands that nationalism must operate on at least a minimum of pre-existing cultural or ethnic expressions. Karl Deutsch (1966), another proponent of the modernist understanding of nation and nationalism, also realizes that a nation needs some form of cohesiveness for its existence. So, even if Gellner, Deutsch and other modernists do not advocate the cultural or ethnic prerequisites for a nation to exist as strongly as Smith, they cannot be overlooked. This means that Smith, in fact, does not diverge as much from the modernists as he would like to believe.

The second problem with the concept of nation is often, but not always, a result of the first; how to empirically separate the concepts of state and nation. There are clearly theoretical reasons to separate them (eg. Oommen, 1997), but the two entities are often intertwined that it is very difficult in practice (Billig, 1995; Connor, 1978; Hammar, 1990), which is evident when dealing with two nation-states, like Norway and Sweden. Rogers Brubaker (1996) has in his intriguing book Nationalism Reframed set out to criticize the reification of nation when dealing with nationalism. He strongly criticizes the almost universally prevailing realist approach to understanding nation as an existing collective entity. Brubaker argues that we should not focus on what a nation is, rather on how nationhood is institutionalized in politics and culture and how nation works as a practical category and cognitive framework. Brubaker's view of nation boils down to some changing practices and institutionalized categories that everyone is in some sense aware of but cannot precisely pinpoint. Thus he leaves us in the same analytical vacuum as theoreticians that have set out to define the nation as a form of collective entity.[4] Nonetheless, his view is interesting, since it implies that nation and nationhood need a minimum form of political field for their existence and an awareness that one belongs to a specific nation, which is how we should understand the concept of nation. This does not imply that the concept of nation can be used interchangeably with the concept of state. For example, it is possible to talk about a Kurdish nation without the existence of any Kurdish state. However, we must bear in mind that even if we adopt Brubaker's (1996) understanding of nation as a form of discourse, or understand nation as a form of collective entity, as Smith (1991) and Gellner (1983) do, there must exist a minimum form of political field for us to be able to deal with nation and nationalism.

Even if there is some unity on how to understand nation, there is little unity on how to understand nationalism. There are two reasons for this. First, there are of course different and competing approaches to understanding how and why nationalism emerges. For example, Kedourie (1993) argues in favor of the importance of ideas in the formation of nationalism. Gellner (1983; 1988) enters into polemics with Kedourie and argues that nationalism is materialistic, in a sense that social conditions, and not ideas, provide the explanation for the emergence of nationalism. He also understands nationalism from a functionalistic perspective, that is, he stresses the role of nationalism in transforming agrarian societies into industrial ones. That competing theories such as these exist is natural and poses few problems.

The second reason why there is little unity in how to understand nationalism could, however, be problematic. This is namely that researchers cover partly different phenomena using the notion of nationalism. For example, Billig's (1995; see also Calhoun, 1997 for nationalism as a discourse) theory of banal nationalism refers to the ideological habits and discourse that help reproduce societies through everyday practices, which differs from Gellner's and Kedourie's understanding of nationalism. Treanor (1997) approaches nationalism from yet another perspective, and argues that it is a functional world order that minimizes the divergence within states and the number of states in the world. Even if Treanor sets out to approach nationalism differently from common practice, the minimization of difference within each state must by necessity include the particularization that Treanor rejects. Moreover, his view of nationalism as a global world order could, without stretching the understanding of concepts too far, be found in Smith's (1991; 1995) understanding of nationalist ideology. Still, that does not rule out that nationalism is being taken to mean quite different things. Nor is it to say that one understanding of nationalism is wrong and another is right. The different understandings of nationalism often boil down to the level of analysis, or the classical question of micro versus macro, which in this case also includes meso and meta level theories. Nationalism is a complex phenomenon and it is reasonable that we need different theories, depending on our level of analysis. This point is often neglected in recent approaches to nationalism, where different theoretical advocators try to sell their approach as the understanding of what nationalism really is.

The choice here has been to focus on the political or ideological side of nationalism and its relationship with nationalist sentiment. The latter refers to attitudes of nationalism that people, from a specific nation, have towards their nation or national belonging. Even if there are different ways to understand the political side of nationalism, one thing is clear; nationalism has its roots in historical experiences (eg. Calhoun, 1995, 1997; Smith, 1995). In other words, the history of a nation has had a large impact on how nationalism has come to be formed today. Calhoun (1997) divides the political side of nationalism into nationalism as evaluation and nationalism as project. Nationalism as evaluation is understood in terms of ideologies that strive towards political and cultural superiority, which includes both a unified morality of the members of the nation as well as Gellner's view of nationalism as the ideology of a coinciding nation and state. Nationalism as project is understood as social movements and state policies that strive towards national independence and self-determination. Delanty (1996) and Rex (1996a; 1996b) makes similar distinctions between old and new nationalism. The difference between the two concepts could be located along the lines of inclusion versus exclusion. That is, inclusion is understood in terms of the will to include as many members as possible in the nation 'against' other nations. Exclusion is understood as a desire, expressed mainly by the ethnic majority in a country, to differentiate oneself 'against' other ethnic groups in the same society. Old nationalism is thus taken to be infused from above and connected to the nation-state project. New nationalism, on the other hand, is not based on the unity of nation and state, but on the preserving of cultural and social identities in opposition to the state in Delanty's version, and in opposition to immigration and supra-level national entities in Rex's version.

Delanty points at an important distinction that needs to be kept in mind when dealing with nationalism. However, he errs when arguing that new nationalism is based on cultural divergence and not on cultural superiority. That is, striving for differentiation cannot be understood if one's own culture is not regarded as superior in some sense. Delanty's (1996) and Rex's (1996a; 1996b) distinction of old and new nationalism come close to Calhoun's (1997) division of nationalism into the nationalist project and nationalism as evaluation, even if Delanty is less inclined than Calhoun to recognize the importance of the nation-state. The latter implies that Delanty's and Rex's arguments seem to connect to Hobsbawm's (1990) historical account of nationalism and an emphasis on ethnic nationalism, or new nationalism to use Delanty's and Rex conceptualization, as the prevailing form of nationalism in the 'Western World' today. Regardless of what notions we use, there is an understanding that there could be a positive, or at least not negative, side to political nationalism. This includes nationalism as a project, in Calhoun's terminology, or old nationalism in Delanty's and Rex terminology. Even if Calhoun realizes that the discourse of nationalism prevalent in modern Western democracies always has a violent history he also states that nationalism could have positive as well as negative sides. Thus, it is, suggested that there may be a positive side of nationalism.[5] When claiming that nationalism and democratic liberalism are highly dependent on each other it is clear that this is how liberal social scientists have come to understand nationalism (eg. MacCormick, 1996; Nodia, 1993). There are, however, three strong objections to this argument.

First, even if nationalism in one sense is necessary for the nation-state project, it does not mean that negative images of others do not follow in its footsteps by transforming a nation into the Nation. This is a side of nationalism that liberal thinkers have tended to underestimate or ignore (Giddens, 1987). This becomes acute when nationalistic attitudes are based not only on the abstract idea of the nation, but on the specific characterizations of one's nation. This means that denigration of others easily follows when these characterizations are seen as superior regardless of whether this is in relation to other nations or in relation to other nationalities living within the nation.

The second objection is that nationalism can only be positive if a separation between civic and ethnic were a fact, where nationalism could mainly be state nationalism. It is often argued that such a separation between civic and ethnic in society is desirable (Birnbaum, 1996; Castles and Miller, 1993; Habermas, 1992; 1995). No matter how enticing this thought is, it is afflicted with a pragmatic flaw; such a situation does not exist anywhere in the world today (cf. Gellner, 1983). As long as this distinction is not a fact, nationalism will continue to be drawn from political as well as ethno-cultural aspects.

The third objection, closely related to the second one, is that nationalism often tends to be conflated with both national pride and national identity, which may have both negative and positive effects, depending on where the pride and identity have their roots. This mistake, of confusing nationalism with something else, easily leads to conclusions indicating that nationalism could have clear-cut positive sides. Still, empirical proof of the clear-cut positive sides of liberal nationalism, or any other form of nationalism, remains to be seen.

Another important distinction that needs to be made when dealing with nationalism is between nationalism as an ideology and individual sentiments or attitudes. The former is here understood in terms of the nationalist project and nationalism as evaluation, to use Calhoun's (1997) terminology or old and new nationalism to use Delanty's (1996) and Rex's (1996a; 1996b) concepts. Nationalist sentiments are individual attitudes founded on a belief in national belonging and the superiority of the nation one belongs to. That these attitudes are based on national superiority does not rule out the possibility that they can be based on both nationalism as a project as well as nationalism as evaluation. The nationalist sentiment, understood as an attitude of national superiority, comes close to patriotism. A better term would be national pride, which, it is commonly argued, differs from nationalism (Billig, 1995; Kedourie, 1993; Smith, 1994). Billig for example, rightly argues against the quite common distinction between nationalism and patriotism/national pride, giving the former negative connotations and the latter positive connotations. National pride is individual sentiments towards the nation, whereas nationalist sentiment operates on different levels and should be seen as associated with both belonging to a nation as well as with views of national superiority. Two things separate the two concepts.

First, national pride need not be based on an ideology. It is doubtful whether nationalism as a sentiment could be considered clear-cut ideology. However, the imagined ethnic foundations and national self-determination which it rests upon, are comprised in the nationalist understanding of the nation. This is not the case with national pride, since it is not colored by ideology to the same extent.

The second aspect that separates the two concepts is the negative connotations of nationalism as a sentiment (cf. Keane, 1994; 1995; Nairn, 1988) that spring from its base in the ideology of unity among certain members of a society and, by the same token, exclusion of 'others' not defined as belonging to the nation, regardless whether those 'others' are situated within or without the state one belongs to. We do not automatically commit the mistake criticized by Billig, by stating that national pride does not automatically imply such negative connotations. We do not presuppose that national pride has clear-cut positive connotations; the positive or negative sides of national pride are instead dependent on the diversity of factors upon which it is based. Therefore, nationalism as a sentiment should be seen as a form of national pride and national belonging based in both political and ethno-cultural aspects, combined with a belief in the superiority of one's own nation. However, there is a possibility that the nationalist sentiment is based on different forms of nationalism in different countries. That is, it is possible that nationalist sentiment has different connotations dependent on what type of nationalism prevails in a country. For example, if the nationalist sentiment is grounded in nationalism as a project it is possible that the sentiment is less related to negative images of 'others' living within the state than if it is based in evaluational nationalism. Nationalism as a project, or old nationalism, first and foremost excludes other nations, whereas evaluational, or new nationalism, excludes non-nationals within the boundaries of the nation. Before we begin to examine this, let us introduce the data used in the empirical analysis.

The data used in this article comes from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) (1995). ISSP is a program for international comparative attitude studies. One topic is examined in the same way each year in all participant countries, currently 29. Since the startup in 1985, different topics, such as the role of government, environment, religion and social inequality, have been surveyed.

The 1995 study, 'Aspects of National Identity', deals with such areas as national identity, nationalism, national pride, globalism and xenophobia. The ISSP studies are mainly to be used in international comparative studies, which means that there are certain limitations that can be troublesome when analyzing the material. Svallfors (1996) identifies two problems with comparative studies that are important to keep in mind when analyzing the data. The first one is that attitudes are context dependent, which means that certain questions can in practice not be neutrally phrased since they are going to be understood in different ways in different countries. This means that there is a risk that the questions asked are trivial in order to ensure that they have universal applicability. The second problem is related to the framing of the questions. It is possible that the entirety of the questionnaire will have an impact on the answers given by the respondents. The problem is always salient in attitude studies, but becomes even more acute in a comparative context when the framing can be interpreted differently in different countries. Both of these problems affect the kind of questions that it is possible to ask. These two problems, in combination with the large number of member countries, make it even more difficult to completely avoid trivial questions. Still, the material is quite comprehensive, which means that even if some questions are trivial and do not have a very high applicability to Norwegian or Swedish conditions, others do. It is also possible to aggregate questions to compounded indexes in order to strengthen different measures, which in combination with the truly comparative design of the survey renders very interesting data.

The response rates are quite similar in Norway and Sweden. The net sample is 1527 respondents in Norway and 1470 (weighted) in Sweden. More importantly, however, none of the samples show any substantial bias in the distribution of gender, age, income (for Sweden) or region (for Sweden). Hence, we can somewhat safely assume that the samples are representative for the two populations.

Nationalist Sentiment in Norway and Sweden

Norway and Sweden have a common history, but very different historical experiences. Sweden has a long history of national independence, which has not been threatened for centuries. Norway, on the other hand, had to 'fight' for national independence twice during the nineteenth century, and also more recently against the German occupation force during the Second World War. Such external threats have often been singled out as a major force behind nationalism (Daun, 1993). Furre (1992) states more pragmatically, that the Norwegian experience during the Second World War affected the Norwegians' conception of their own nation, and infused a sense of national belonging or solidarity amongst the people. Gellner (1983) also argues along these lines when defining nationalist sentiment as the feeling of anger aroused by a violation of its principle, defined as a congruence between the political and the national units. The most severe violation of this principle is a nation ruled by people who do not belong to the same nation as the majority of those being ruled. If we take this reasoning a step further we may assume that Norwegians should in a sense have a stronger nationalist sentiment than Swedes, since Swedes have not had the historical experiences that Norwegians have had. Another way of violating the nationalistic principle, according to Gellner, is when a nation includes a certain, unspecified, number of people who do not belong to the nation, or in other words, foreigners. If we are to take this claim seriously then Swedes could perhaps be expected to have a stronger nationalistic sentiment than Norwegians, since the proportion of foreign-born people is twice as high in Sweden (10%) as in Norway (5%) (SOPEMI, 1995). Nonetheless, there seem to be reasons to suspect that the degree of nationalist sentiment should be somewhat different in the two countries. Let us then examine whether there are quantitative differences in nationalism between Norway and Sweden. Quantitative refers in this case to the extent to which people in the two countries have nationalist sentiments.

Five statements have been used in order to operationalise the nationalist sentiment as a form of national pride and national belonging based in both political and ethno-cultural aspects, combined with a belief in the superiority of one's own nation.[6] The question and statements are as follows.

'How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?'

  • I would rather be a citizen of Norway/ Sweden than of any other country in the world.
  • The world would be a better place if people from other countries were more like the Norwegians/ Swedes.
  • Generally speaking, Norway/ Sweden is a better country than most other countries.
  • People should support their country even if the country is in the wrong.
  • When my country does well in international sports, it makes me proud to be Norwegian/ Swedish.

The possible responses vary from 'agree strongly' to 'disagree strongly' on a five graded scale. The statements seem to correspond well with the nationalist sentiment that we set out to measure. Moreover, the statements have been reliability tested with Crombach's Alpha scores. The results (0.66 for Norway and 0.67 for Sweden) indicate that the statements could be said to measure the same dimension i.e., nationalist sentiment, which is what we set out to measure.[7] It is of course difficult to operationalise nationalist sentiment. No matter how it is done it will, by definition, not cover the whole multidimensional spectrum of the nationalist sentiment. However, seen as a signifier of the latter, it can help us to better understand the nationalistic belief system.

Figure 1 shows the proportion of the respondents in Norway and Sweden that 'agreed strongly' or 'agreed' with the statements.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Proportion of people in Norway and Sweden that 'agree strongly' or 'agree' with the five nationalist statements (per cent).

The proportions of people that agree to some degree with the five statements are quite similar in the two countries except when it comes to the third one, which states that one's country is better than most other countries. Norwegians are clearly more positive than the Swedes in their responses to this statement. It is quite interesting that people from both of the countries are equally proud when the country does well in international sports, in spite of the images of Norwegians waving banners during different sporting events that were broadcasted around the world during the 1994 winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Using the Norwegian National holiday as an example when Norwegians with banners 'invade' the streets, it seems to be true that pride of one's nation expresses itself differently in the two countries. Swedes on the other hand celebrate midsummer just as fanatically even though the Swedish flag is not as commonly used. There are definite indicators here, as elsewhere that similar attitudes do not necessarily lead to similar actions.

Instead of over-interpreting single statements it is possible to combine them into an index that can measure nationalist sentiment. Scores on the resulting index can vary between 0 and 20; the higher the value the more nationalistic the attitude. The average index value is 12.4 in Norway and 11.6 in Sweden. There is a small but statistically significant difference between the two countries in that Norwegians could be considered to have a slightly stronger nationalist sentiment than Swedes. This difference, however, is explained mainly by the difference in the 'better country' statement.[8] Hence, the emphasis must be on the similarities between the two countries and not on the marginal difference. There seems, in fact, to be little support for the assumption that Norwegians have a considerably stronger nationalist sentiment than Swedes. That is not to say that nationalist sentiments cannot be expressed differently in the two countries. Nationalistic expressions, as with other expressions, are clearly filtered through cultural practices.

Norway has, as we have seen, had to fight for their national independence in recent times. This is not the case for Sweden, where national independence has a long tradition. We have seen that this difference has not promoted any major difference in the extent of nationalist sentiment between the two countries. However, it is possible to assume that the historic development has contributed to a situation were nationalist sentiment affects how one views 'others' differently in the two countries. Moreover, Østerud (1990; 1994) claims that Norwegian and Swedish nationalism evolved from very different starting points. In Norway, nationalism evolved as a progressive democratic force for political independence from Sweden, and against cultural interdependency from the Danes (see also Kaartvedt, 1980). Østerud claims, in other words, that Norwegian nationalism has liberal political roots, whereas Swedish nationalism has more conservative ones. That is, Norwegian nationalism comes close to what Calhoun refers to as nationalism as a project of self- determination and independence. Nationalism is, in other words, claimed to be in relationship with other nations and nation-states outside of the national boundaries. In Sweden, on the other hand, nationalism evolved historically as a regressive national- romantic right-wing force. Moreover, Sweden has a long history of being an ethnically very homogenous nation-state, which has dramatically changed in recent times when the country has come to be a large immigration country with numerous ethnic minorities represented within the country. If we combine this with the serious economic recession of the 1990s, we have a situation in which nationalism in Sweden has primarily come to relate to 'others' living within the national boundaries and not so much to other nations, since national independence is taken so much for granted. It is an evaluational or new nationalism. This understanding of nationalism across the two countries implies two things; first, that nationalism in the two countries differs, and second, that Norwegian nationalism is to some extent more positive than the Swedish counterpart as Norwegian nationalism is based in nationalism as a project and not as an evaluation as in Sweden. Smith (1991; 1995) hints to the contrary, that Norwegian nationalism is based in ethnicity and the belief in an ethnically homogenous nation-state. Nationalism in Norway is, according to Smith, due to the 'anxiety about the impact, economic, political and cultural, of a European Community led by Germany and FranceŠ' (Smith, 1995: p. 45). However, the anxiety of economic, political and cultural impact that Smith describes is more likely to be derived from the nationalism project of independence in Norway than the evaluational form of nationalism. This is ultimately expressed in the Norwegian repudiation of the European Union, which can be seen in terms of nationalism as a project of self-determination.

We seem to have reason to assume that the nationalist sentiment in Norway is not related to negative images of 'others' since nationalism in Norway is based in the nationalist project, or national self- determination and independence. In Sweden on the other hand it seems possible to assume that the nationalist sentiment is related to negative images of 'others', since nationalism in Sweden takes the form of an evaluational or new nationalism, or is more internally related to people living within the Swedish society. Therefore, we not only need to examine the extent of the nationalist sentiment in Norway and Sweden, or the quantitative side. We also need to examine whether there are qualitative differences in the nationalist sentiment between Norway and Sweden. The notion of qualitative differences refers to the effects that nationalist sentiment have on how one comes to view 'others' living within the nation as well as other nations and people from them. More specifically, does having a nationalist sentiment affect other attitudes, such as xenophobia and protectionism, differently depending on which of the two countries people live in?

It was claimed above that the nationalist sentiment is a politically and ethno-culturally based national pride and sense of national belonging, combined with a belief in the superiority of one's nation-state. In order to believe that one's own nation or nation-state is superior it must be compared with something else, ie. other nations or people from such, and the entities used as comparison must be viewed as inferior. Thus, there is reason to assume that nationalist sentiments go hand in hand with xenophobia. The latter will be defined as a negative attitude or fear towards individuals or groups of individuals who are in some sense different (real or imagined) from oneself or the group(s) one belongs to. In this case we will limit xenophobia to only attitudes toward immigrants. In order to measure xenophobia, four statements about immigrants have been combined into an index. These, or very similar, statements have in previous empirical surveys been shown to have high applicability in assessing xenophobia (Jensen, 1993; Lange and Westin, 1993). The question and statements were phrased as follows.

'There are different opinions about immigrants from other countries living in Norway/Sweden. (By 'immigrants' we mean people who come to settle in Norway/Sweden) How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?'
  • Immigrants increase crime rates.
  • Immigrants are generally good for Norway's/Sweden's economy.
  • Immigrants take jobs away from people who were born in Norway/Sweden.
  • Immigrants make Norway/Sweden more open to new ideas and cultures.[9]

The answers vary from 'agree strongly' to 'disagree strongly' on a five graded scale, which, when combined, result in an index from 0 to 16 (16 being the most xenophobic).

Table 1: Correlations between the nationalist sentiment index and the xenophobia variables in Norway and Sweden (Pearson's r)
Norway Sweden
Increase crime rates 0.430.38
Good for economy 0.230.35
Take jobs away 0.360.39
Make country more open to new ideas and cultures.0.390.39
Xenophobia index0.460.48
Note: The first and the third statements have been inverted in order for them to go in the same direction.

If we look at the correlations between nationalist sentiment and the variables measuring xenophobia, we see that there are strong correlations between the nationalist sentiment index and all of the xenophobia variables. Even more obvious are the correlations between the nationalist sentiment index and the xenophobia index, which is 0.46 in Norway and 0.48 in Sweden (using Pearson's correlation). The extreme strength of the correlations between the two attitudes indicates strong support for the assumption that nationalistic attitudes go hand in hand with xenophobia.

It is now clear that the more nationalist sentiment people have the higher the risk for being xenophobic. What is not shown in the correlations between nationalist sentiment and xenophobia are the actual levels of xenophobia. Norwegians are slightly more (statistically significant) xenophobic than Swedes with an average xenophobia index value of 8.7 compared to 7.6 for Sweden. In combination with the strong correlations between nationalism and xenophobia, give reason to be very skeptical about the presumed existence of a Norwegian nationalism that leads to positive nationalist sentiments. That is not to say that the nationalist sentiment is positive in Sweden. However, there seems to be little support for the notion that the nationalist sentiment in Norway should be 'better' than elsewhere in spite of the claimed difference in the type of nationalism prevalent in Norway.

Dowds and Young (1996)[10] state, rightly, that there is a difference between xenophobia on the one hand and cultural and economic protectionism on the other. An example of the latter is the fear that was expressed by certain Swedes during the Swedish EU-entry debate. The fear was that economically strong foreigners would buy up land in Sweden. The high import tolls on certain commodities within the European Union could also be seen as a form of protectionism, but on a supra national level. It is reasonable to assume that people with a strong nationalist sentiment tend to be more inclined to be economically and culturally protectionistic. Still, if we are to take the claims of a difference between Norwegian and Swedish nationalism seriously, it could be possible that nationalist sentiment in Norway relates stronger to protectionism than is the case in Sweden, since it is supposed to be framed in terms of external relationships towards other nations. In Sweden however, it is based on internal relationships with people being perceived as 'others' within the national boundaries.

Table 2: Proportion of people who 'agree strongly' or 'agree' with the protectionist statements (per cent), and nationalism index correlations with the same statements (Pearson's r).
Norway Sweden
%Nationalism correlation (Pearson's r)%Nationalism correlation (Pearson's r)
Norway/Sweden should limit imports to protect economy40.50.3441.40.42
Norway/Sweden should follow own interests even if it leads to conflict38.30.3944.60.37
Foreigners should not be allowed to buy land in Norway/Sweden39.30.3135.90.30
Television should give preference to Norwegian/ Swedish programs23.90.2322.20.41
Note: The statements have not been aggregated since they do not clearly measure the same dimension of protectionism. Alpha scores are around 0.6 in both countries.

Two things are evident in Table 2. The first is the almost perfect similarity between the two countries in the proportion of people who in some sense agree with the protectionistic statements. The second is the positive correlations between the nationalist sentiment and the four statements, which means that the more nationalist sentiment individuals have the higher the probability of agreeing with the protectionistic statements. There is a higher correlation in Sweden between nationalist sentiment and the first and fourth statements, but the correlations in Norway are still obvious, indicating little support for the idea that nationalist sentiment has different effects in the two countries.

Who are the People with a Nationalist Sentiment?

We have so far seen that the degree of nationalist sentiment is similar in Norway and Sweden, and that the degree of xenophobia and protectionism increases to the same extent that people have nationalist sentiments in both countries. Moreover, the Norwegians are more xenophobic than their eastern neighbors are. Who are the people with nationalist sentiments then, and are they the same groups in both countries? The degree of nationalist sentiment may vary due to different structural determinants, such as class, gender, education and age. Nonetheless, the same structural determinant may affect people in different ways in the two countries. Age, for example, may play different roles in the two countries. Norwegians who personally endured the German occupation are perhaps more inclined to have a nationalist sentiment than their Swedish counterparts, due to the different historical experiences they have had. Lange and Westin (1993) have taught us that characteristics such as age, class and education affect the risks of xenophobia, at least in Sweden. Keeping the high correlation between nationalist sentiment and xenophobia in mind, we clearly have reason to assume that these same characteristics will affect the nationalist sentiment.

Class can be assumed to affect nationalistic attitudes for a number of reasons. One is that people with 'higher' class have more international experience than other classes, and thus are less nationalistic than people from the working classes. In order to assess the effect of class on nationalism we need to converge occupational codings in the two countries. The basis for the convergence has been Goldthorpe's and his colleagues' class schema (Erikson and Goldthorpe, 1992). Their class schema distinguishes classes according to the work and market situations of different occupations.[11] There are different versions of this schema, but the version initially used here distinguishes between the following six classes: unskilled workers, skilled workers, routine non-manual employees, service class II (lower level controllers and administrators), service class I (higher level controllers and administrators) and finally, self-employed. The two service classes and the two working classes have been collapsed in the following analysis, which results in four classes, service I and II, routine non manual, skilled and unskilled working class, and self-employed. The reason for collapsing the classes is that the dividing line between them is somewhat blurred, especially regarding the working classes (Evans, 1992).

The relationship between nationalism and gender has clearly been neglected in the literature on nationalism (Walby, 1992; Yuval-Davis, 1997), in spite of frequent implicit references to gender in nationalist discourse. Anderson (1983), for example, refers to nations in terms of a fraternity. Ehn et al (1993) claims that the national has a predisposition for the masculine as expressed in national images. There are elements of femininity in national images, but these are minor. Ehn et al's anthropological reasoning is limited to a more cultural aspect of the nation than our concept of nationalism, but possible gender differences need nonetheless to be taken into consideration.

It can perhaps be assumed that the awareness and understanding of other groups or nations increase with higher degrees of education, which may immunize people from possessing nationalistic attitudes and the negative connotations that we have seen follow in its footsteps. However, we must not forget that few, if any, nationalist movements exist without intellectuals in the lead. Education has been divided into three categories, primary school, secondary school and university.[12]

Age could be seen both in terms of cohort and life cycle effects. The former is plausible considering the changing meaning of nation, through which nation, or the feelings directed toward the nation, could have different meanings for different age groups, due to, for example, different historical experiences. Life-cycle effects arise from different experiences in different phases of life. One such experience could be the relative high unemployment among young people today, especially in Sweden. Even if cohort effects seem more plausible, we cannot be certain that any of the two possible explanatory factors is more important than the other.

Another important factor to include in the analysis, is whether a person has an immigrant background (operationalised as individuals with at least one parent born abroad). It could be assumed that people with an immigrant background do not have as strong nationalist sentiments as people without any such background. At the same time it is possible that people with an immigrant background have nationalist sentiments in order to comply with pressures from society or because the joy they feel as a result of becoming a member of a new country.

Multiple Classification Analysis (MCA) has been used in order to assess the possible effects that different structural determinants have on the risk of having nationalistic attitudes. This method is very suitable when dealing with categorical independent variables and dependent variables on at least the interval level. All included variables have first been tested in bivariat analyses and have been found to be statistically significant on at least a five percent level.

Table 3: Nationalist index for different groups in Norway and Sweden. Multiple classification analysis.
Adjusted means (Beta)
Adjusted means (Beta)
Grand mean12.411.6
Men 0.080.21
Women-0.08- 0.22
-29- 0.770.11
30-390.16- 0.51
40-49-0.30- 0.62
50-59-0.21- 0.31
Service I and II- 0.50-0.26
Routine non- manual0.13-0.08
Skilled and unskilled manual0.470.32
Self-employed0.27- 0.22
Education(0.19)*(0.24 )*
Secondary0.30- 0.01
University-0.91- 1.00
Background(0.07)*(0. 01)
Non- immigrant0.050.01
Immigrant-1.08- 0.14
*Significant on at least the five percent level. The numbers show the average deviation from the grand mean for every group, given that all other variables are held constant. A negative sign indicates that that group has a below average mean on the nationalist sentiment index. In other words, that group is less inclined to have nationalist sentiments. Numbers within brackets are multivariate correlations between the variable and nationalistic sentiment.

The two most important determinants of nationalism in both countries are clearly education and age. Even if there are some minor differences between the two countries it is clear that the elderly are more oriented towards the nationalistic spectrum of the index than other age groups. In terms of education, we can see that having attended university has the opposite effect. An interesting result is that being young (less than 29 years of age) in Norway results in a lower risk of having nationalist sentiments compared to other age groups, whereas the corresponding relationship is reversed in Sweden. A possible explanation for these attitudes amongst young Norwegians is that they express a generational revolt against the strong nationalistic expressions of their elders, which does not correspond to their image of the country they live in.

Class has a significant effect in both countries, but is somewhat more important in Norway. Even if class is more important as a determinant of the nationalist sentiment in Norway, there are similarities in which groups that tend to be oriented towards this sentiment. The working classes have a greater risk of being situated towards the nationalism end of the index than people belonging to the service classes have. There is a difference between self-employed in that being self-employed tends to increase the risk of having a nationalist sentiment in Norway and decrease that risk in Sweden. This could be explained by the fact that 12 per cent of the self-employed in Sweden have an immigrant background, whereas there is not a single individual with an immigrant background amongst the Norwegian self- employed in the ISSP-material.

There are not only similarities; there are, as we have seen, also differences between the two countries. One such difference is that having an immigrant background clearly decreases the risk of having a nationalist sentiment in Norway, but not in Sweden. Another difference is that women in Sweden tend to have a lower degree of nationalist sentiment than men, which is not the case in Norway. The actual effect of gender is quite low in Sweden. Even if there are small differences between the countries, it is the similarities that are noteworthy, indicating once again that the two countries are not very different when it comes to nationalist sentiment.

Concluding Discussion

People in Norway and Sweden have nationalist sentiments to almost the same extent, in spite of different historical experiences that are often assumed to shape nationalism. It is true that there is a small difference between Norwegians and Swedes, where people from the former country have a slightly stronger nationalist sentiment. However, the difference is not of a magnitude sufficient to attribute any significant importance to it, especially remembering that the difference is mainly explained by a difference in only one of the variables used to empirically measure nationalist sentiment. It is similarity that is clearly salient. Gellner's (1988) claim, that the new division of labor in the world paves the way for nationalism is perhaps worth considering, or at least, that it is a profoundly modern and universal phenomenon (see also Smith, 1991).

We have argued against the existence of any clear-cut positive or 'good' nationalism. In fact, the signifying mark of nationalism is its negative, or even pathological, connotations. We have also seen empirical evidence supporting the notion that nationalist sentiment, both in Norway and Sweden, goes hand in hand with xenophobia and protectionism, despite the fact that nationalism is to some extent claimed to differ between the two countries. Norwegian nationalism is grounded in the nationalist project and Swedish nationalism in the evaluational form of nationalism. When considering the magnitude of the correlation between nationalism and xenophobia, we see that they are highly dependent on each other. The relationship between nationalist sentiment and protectionism is almost as strong and in social science terms, the correlations are very strong. The liberal idea of sovereign but collaborating nation-states, where nationalistic people respect other people with different nationalities seems hopeful in theory, but much less so in practice. There are clearly reasons to be skeptical towards all expressions of nationalism. It is difficult to believe that nationalism does not promote views of 'others' as being inferior. Moreover, whether nationalism in one country is based predominantly on national independence in relation to other nations and nation-states or on internal differences between the ethnic majority and minorities is irrelevant for two reasons. First, even if nationalism is based on national independence the reason for this independence often boils down to that the people of one nation imagine that there is a difference between themselves and some other people and that in the long run they are better off with their own nation-state. Therefore, they in some sense are superior to other peoples and nations. It is difficult to see how 'others' or immigrants to that nation could ever be viewed in a non-derogatory way. Second, the recognition of difference is not primarily based on political or democratic difference, but in perceived traditions, myths and cultural differences. This implies that nationalism can never be free from its dependency on imagined ethnic and cultural differences. Moreover, whether or not the ethnic part of nationalism is imagined is unimportant since it is so often viewed as being primordial. So, even if there are different forms of political nationalism, they seem to result in the same nationalist sentiment. It is a sentiment that derogates people who are not perceived as belonging to the nation. Nationalism has infiltrated the nations of the world, disguised as 'innocent' images, to such an extent that it is often not recognizable for what it really is (cf. Billig, 1995).

Even if the existence of nationalism is something universal, it is clear that different groups of people are more or less inclined to have a nationalist sentiment. We have seen that education and age are the two main determinants of having nationalist sentiments. Having only an elementary level education and being elderly are two factors that greatly increase the risk of being situated towards the nationalistic end of the spectrum in both Norway and Sweden. In both countries, it is people from the working class that are the foremost bearers of nationalist sentiment compared to other classes. There are two differences between the countries regarding what structural determinants influence the risk of having nationalist sentiments. The first is that gender has an effect in Sweden but not in Norway, and the second is that having an immigrant background is statistically significant in Norway but not in Sweden. Granted, there are differences; however they are minor and should not be overemphasised. If we instead focus on the similarities that exist between the two countries we realize, once again, that these nationalist sentiments are not as country- specific as they sometimes have been claimed to be.

The empirical data used has been drawn from only two Scandinavian countries, which means that it is difficult to generalize both the quantitative part of the nationalist sentiment and the structural cleavages, to other countries. However, we can at least dismiss claims about the existence of large differences in nationalist sentiments between the examined countries. On the other hand, the qualitative side of nationalism, or the effects of having nationalist sentiments, is something that does not seem to be limited to these two countries. That is, in spite of different forms of nationalism in the two countries, nationalist sentiment includes negative images of 'others' living within the nation's boundaries in both countries as well as protectionistic attitudes towards other nations and nationalities. This is why the presumed existence of clear- cut positive forms of nationalism needs to be reconsidered.


1 This research has been sponsored by the Swedish Council for Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities (HSFR).

2 The aspects used by Knudsen are pride in the democracy, the social security system and equal treatment of different groups in society.

3 He calls it regime legitimacy, but from his theoretical argumentation it is possible to imply the notion of civic instead.

4 Billig (1995) also argues that everyone is aware of their national belonging, but that this is not the same thing as nation is something that is easily acounted for.

5 Hutchinson (1987) claims that cultural nationalism could be seen as a positive form of nationalism. It is positive in its importance for the transformation of belief systems of communities, and the modernization of the latter. Hutchinson argues that cultural nationalism is the unifier of traditional (conservative) and 'modern' values. However, this form of nationalism is still always put in relation to others, in this case culture. Hence, the first objection above, against the existence of any positive nationalism, is clearly salient. Hylland-Eriksen (1996) has for instance little positive to say about Norwegian cultural nationalism .

6 There is a sixth statement included in the questionnaire. However it was excluded since it did not measure the same dimension as the other five when tested with Crombach's alpha.

7 The statements also produce a one factor solution in both the examined countries.

8 If that statement is excluded the difference in average falls to only 0.3 units.

9 The first and third statements have been inverted in order to make the statements go in the same direction.

10 Dowds and Young use the ISSP material for Britain to examine national identity and nationalism in Britain. Even if their findings are interesting, they do not really have clear concepts of the two notions which results in a somewhat dubious distinction between them, if such exists at all.

11 Ganzeboom and Treiman (1994) have made it possible to recode the ISCO68 into Goldthorpe classes, which has proved to be very helpful.

12 Secondary school originally consisted of two categories in the two countries, but they are not totally compatible and have, therefore, been collapsed into one category to make them comparable. The university category originally consisted of incomplete university and completed university, but have here been collapsed into one category.


Thanks go to Ian Jarvie and Stefan Svallfors for useful comments. The author is also grateful to the anonymous referees for helpful comments.


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