Definition of proto-nationalism

Updated April 17, 2017

Proto-nationalism, with suffix "proto" literally meaning "first," refers to the philosophy that one owes patriotism not to the government of the state he physically resides in, but rather to the tribe, race or sect with which he shares an ancestral origin.


The Back to Africa Movement is one of the clearest examples of proto-nationalism in our history. Feeling spited by institutional bigotry and inspired by a vision of a more idealistic heritage, many African-Americans sought to return to Africa.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Israel

Two prime examples of proto-national settlements are the African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, originally established for the sole purpose of hosting Africans who felt displaced by history. The idea for the nation of Israel, a homeland for the Judaic world, also sprang from a similar ethic.

Impact and Criticism

While many argue proto-nationalism has helped victimised ethnicities rediscover their unique cultural identities, others point to it as a divisive ideology that engenders segregation. The paradigm of the West in the 21st century is largely nationalist, and proto-nationalism thereby creates a competing patriotism.

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About the Author

Herbert Kanter has been writing professionally since 2001. His fiction has been published in "Novelletum" and in Polyphony Online. Kanter holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from St. Joseph's University and is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at the University of San Francisco.