Notes on Nationalism

essay by George Orwell

Notes on Nationalism is a well-known essay written by George Orwell. Orwell wrote the essay in May 1945, in a journal called Polemic, after the Second World War had ended. In the essay, Orwell describes his idea of nationalism as:

... first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled 'good' or 'bad.' ... [and] the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.[1]

Here, he links nationalism to political power, influence and factionalism. He says nationalism is not the same as patriotism, as patriotism "is of its nature defensive.... Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable (hard to separate) from the desire for power."[1]

He says that it can be positive, i.e. for something, such as one's country. Orwell says Celtic nationalism and Zionism are examples of this sort of nationalism.[1] On the other hand, it can be negative, i.e. against something, such as another group. Orwell says Anti-Soviet Trotskyism ans Antisemitism are examples of this sort.[1]

Transferred nationalism is a third kind. This is identification and promotion of a different race, social class, or country to your own.[1]


Orwell's claim that only Scottish nationalists think that using the Lowland Scottish language is important[a] has been criticised by speakers of the language.[2]

Orwell's Notes on Nationalism have been used by people on the right-wing of Scottish politics (such as former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson) to argue against 'identity politics'.[3][4]


  1. Quote: "All nationalists consider it a duty to spread their own language to the detriment of rival languages, and among English-speakers this struggle reappears in subtler form as a struggle between dialects. Anglophobe Americans will refuse to use a slang phrase if they know it to be of British origin, and the conflict between Latinizers and Germanizers often has nationalist motives behind it. Scottish nationalists insist on the superiority of Lowland Scots, and Socialists whose nationalism takes the form of class hatred tirade against the B.B.C. accent and even the broad A."


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "What George Orwell Wrote About the Dangers of Nationalism". Literary Hub. 16 November 2017.
  2. Uri, Antonia (22 November 2018). "The Scots leid is for aa, nae jist for nationalists". The National (in Scots). Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  3. Unit, The Constitution (29 May 2017). "'Nationalism should not be confused with patriotism' – Ruth Davidson delivers the Orwell Prize Shortlist Lecture". The Constitution Unit Blog.
  4. "If Labour want help with patriotism, they should read Orwell - The Post". UnHerd.