Ethnicity and ethnic conflicts
Debates over the origins of racism often suffer from a lack of clarity over the term. Many use the term "racism" to refer to more general phenomena, such as xenophobia and ethnocentrism, although scholars attempt to clearly distinguish those phenomena from racism as an ideology or from scientific racism, which has little to do with ordinary xenophobia. Others conflate recent forms of racism with earlier forms of ethnic and national conflict. In most cases, ethno-national conflict seems to owe itself to conflict over land and strategic resources. In some cases, ethnicity and nationalism were harnessed in order to rally combatants in wars between great religious empires (for example, the Muslim Turks and the Catholic Austro-Hungarians).
Notions of race and racism have often played central roles in ethnic conflicts. Throughout history, when an adversary is identified as "other" based on notions of race or ethnicity (in particular when "other" is interpreted to mean "inferior"), the means employed by the self-presumed "superior" party to appropriate territory, human chattel, or material wealth often have been more ruthless, more brutal, and less constrained by moral or ethical considerations. According to historian Daniel Richter, Pontiac's Rebellion saw the emergence on both sides of the conflict of "the novel idea that all Native people were 'Indians,' that all Euro-Americans were 'Whites,' and that all on one side must unite to destroy the other". Basil Davidson states in his documentary, Africa: Different but Equal, that racism, in fact, only just recently surfaced as late as the 19th century, due to the need for a justification for slavery in the Americas.
Historically, racism was a major driving force behind the Transatlantic slave trade. It was also a major force behind racial segregation, especially in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and South Africa under apartheid; 19th and 20th century racism in the Western world is particularly well documented and constitutes a reference point in studies and discourses about racism. Racism has played a role in genocides such as the Armenian genocide, and the Holocaust, and colonial projects like the European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Indigenous peoples have been – and are – often subject to racist attitudes. Practices and ideologies of racism are condemned by the United Nations in the Declaration of Human Rights.
Ethnic and racial nationalism
After the Napoleonic Wars, Europe was confronted with the new "nationalities question", leading to reconfigurations of the European map, on which the frontiers between the states had been delineated during the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Nationalism had made its first appearance with the invention of the levée en masse by the French Revolutionaries, thus inventing mass conscription in order to be able to defend the newly founded Republic against the Ancien Régime order represented by the European monarchies. This led to the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) and then to the conquests of Napoleon, and to the subsequent European-wide debates on the concepts and realities of nations, and in particular of nation-states. The Westphalia Treaty had divided Europe into various empires and kingdoms (such as the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Swedish Empire, the Kingdom of France, etc.), and for centuries wars were waged between princes (Kabinettskriege in German).
Modern nation-states appeared in the wake of the French Revolution, with the formation of patriotic sentiments for the first time in Spain during the Peninsula War (1808–1813, known in Spain as the Independence War). Despite the restoration of the previous order with the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the "nationalities question" became the main problem of Europe during the Industrial Era, leading in particular to the 1848 Revolutions, the Italian unification completed during the 1871 Franco-Prussian War, which itself culminated in the proclamation of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, thus achieving the German unification.
Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire, the "sick man of Europe", was confronted with endless nationalist movements, which, along with the dissolving of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, would lead to the creation, after World War I, of the various nation-states of the Balkans, with "national minorities" in their borders.
Ethnic nationalism, which advocated the belief in a hereditary membership of the nation, made its appearance in the historical context surrounding the creation of the modern nation-states.
One of its main influences was the Romantic nationalist movement at the turn of the 19th century, represented by figures such as Johann Herder (1744–1803), Johan Fichte (1762–1814) in the Addresses to the German Nation (1808), Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), or also, in France, Jules Michelet (1798–1874). It was opposed to liberal nationalism, represented by authors such as Ernest Renan (1823–1892), who conceived of the nation as a community, which, instead of being based on the Volk ethnic group and on a specific, common language, was founded on the subjective will to live together ("the nation is a daily plebiscite", 1882) or also John Stuart Mill (1806–1873).
Ethnic nationalism blended with scientific racist discourses, as well as with "continental imperialist" (Hannah Arendt, 1951) discourses, for example in the pan-Germanism discourses, which postulated the racial superiority of the German Volk (people/folk). The Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband), created in 1891, promoted German imperialism and "racial hygiene", and was opposed to intermarriage with Jews. Another popular current, the Völkisch movement, was also an important proponent of the German ethnic nationalist discourse, and it combined Pan-Germanism with modern racial antisemitism. Members of the Völkisch movement, in particular the Thule Society, would participate in the founding of the German Workers' Party (DAP) in Munich in 1918, the predecessor of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP; commonly known in English as the Nazi party). Pan-Germanism played a decisive role in the interwar period of the 1920s–1930s.
These currents began to associate the idea of the nation with the biological concept of a "master race" (often the "Aryan race" or the "Nordic race") issued from the scientific racist discourse. They conflated nationalities with ethnic groups, called "races", in a radical distinction from previous racial discourses that posited the existence of a "race struggle" inside the nation and the state itself. Furthermore, they believed that political boundaries should mirror these alleged racial and ethnic groups, thus justifying ethnic cleansing, in order to achieve "racial purity" and also to achieve ethnic homogeneity in the nation-state.
Such racist discourses, combined with nationalism, were not, however, limited to pan-Germanism. In France, the transition from Republican liberal nationalism, to ethnic nationalism, which made nationalism a characteristic of far-right movements in France, took place during the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century. During several years, a nationwide crisis affected French society, concerning the alleged treason of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish military officer. The country polarized itself into two opposite camps, one represented by Émile Zola, who wrote J'Accuse…! in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, and the other represented by the nationalist poet, Maurice Barrès (1862–1923), one of the founders of the ethnic nationalist discourse in France. At the same time, Charles Maurras (1868–1952), founder of the monarchist Action française movement, theorized the "anti-France", composed of the "four confederate states of Protestants, Jews, Freemasons and foreigners" (his actual word for the latter being the pejorative métèques). Indeed, to him the first three were all "internal foreigners", who threatened the ethnic unity of the French people.