The concept of nationalism like the concept of nation has two quite distinct meanings. Common to both definitions is the idea that it is the nation which provides people with their primary form of belonging and that these nations should be self-governing. People of the world are thus located within nations, identify with these nation states and political activity is organized around these nation states.
A nation is a stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, history, ethnicity, or psychological make-up with a common culture. Some nations are ethnic nations and some are not, like in civic nationalism and multiculturalism. A nation is more overtly political than an ethnic group.
Nation has been described by Eller as a fully mobilized or institutionalized ethnic group. Eller, Jack David (1997). Humans are divided into groups called nations. Nationhood is an ethical and philosophical doctrine and forms the ideology of Nationalism.
Nation is similar to society in that it includes all those persons who share common descent, language and history and close association with each other. In the U.S. State Department's list of recognized nations including Taiwan, there are 196 countries in the world. But there are 15,000 nations in the second sense of the word.
Michael Ignatieff distinguishes two forms of nationalism. Civic nationalism, meaning that all citizens within a nation state are treated as equal and share political values. Within this sense of nationalism one would find pluralistic communities acting as one and treating citizens with equality. It is this sense of nationalism which many thought was emerging after narrow religious and ethnic struggles of the 19th and early 20th century. Nationalism also revolves around the equation of people with the nation state.
In this formulation the nation or the people exists prior to the state and in a sense creates the state. In these communities then the nation and sense of national identification flows from a common characteristic and thus excludes others. This form of nationalism may be less tolerant of difference and can be found in the German nation state where citizenship continues to be defined in terms of ethnicity.