Difference Wiki

Nationalism vs. Imperialism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 6, 2024
Nationalism is a belief system centered on the collective identity and autonomy of a nation, while imperialism involves extending a country's power through colonization or military force.

Key Differences

Nationalism focuses on promoting the interests and culture of one's nation, often emphasizing sovereignty and self-governance, while imperialism seeks to expand a nation's influence or control over other territories or peoples.
Nationalism is driven by a sense of unity and pride within a nation, aiming to strengthen and preserve the nation's identity and values. Imperialism, in contrast, is characterized by the domination and exploitation of other countries for economic or strategic benefits.
Nationalism can lead to positive patriotism and democratic aspirations within a country, while imperialism often results in the subjugation and marginalization of other nations and cultures.
Nationalism can exist without imperial ambitions, focusing solely on internal solidarity and independence. Imperialism, however, inherently involves the outward projection of power and influence, often at the expense of others.
Nationalism sometimes emerges as a reaction to imperialism, as oppressed nations seek to assert their identity and independence against imperialist powers.

Comparison Chart


National identity, autonomy, and unity
Expansion of a nation's power and influence

Key Characteristics

Pride in one's nation, pursuit of sovereignty
Domination over other territories or people

Potential Outcomes

Patriotism, democratic aspirations
Subjugation, marginalization of other cultures

Internal/External Orientation

Primarily internal focus on national issues
External projection of power

Relation to Other Nations

Can coexist peacefully with other nations
Often involves conflict or control over others

Nationalism and Imperialism Definitions


The belief that a nation should act independently, rather than relying on outside influences.
Nationalism led them to reject foreign aid.


Domination of one country by another for economic or political gain.
Imperialism often leads to exploitation of natural resources.


A political ideology that emphasizes the interests and culture of one's nation.
Nationalism is often a key theme in political campaigns.


The policy of extending a country's power and influence through colonization or military force.
The 19th century was marked by European imperialism in Africa.


A sentiment that binds people together as a nation.
Nationalism unites diverse groups within the country.


The historical phenomenon where empires expand their territory and power.
The Roman Empire's growth was an early example of imperialism.


The pursuit of national sovereignty and self-governance.
The fight for civil rights was part of their broader nationalism.


A system where a powerful nation controls and exploits weaker territories.
Imperialism was a key factor in global conflicts.


Devotion to and vigorous support for one's country.
The independence movement was fueled by a strong sense of nationalism.


The practice of extending a nation's influence over other countries, often through force.
Military expansion was a tool of imperialism.


Devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.


The extension of a nation's authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political dominance over other nations.


The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.


A political doctrine or system promoting such extension of authority.


The policy of forcefully extending a nation's authority by territorial gain or by the establishment of economic and political dominance over other nations.


The power or character of an emperor; imperial authority; the spirit of empire.
Roman imperialism had divided the world.


The policy, practice, or advocacy of seeking, or acquiescing in, the extension of the control, dominion, or empire of a nation, as by the acquirement of new, esp. distant, territory or dependencies, or by the closer union of parts more or less independent of each other for operations of war, copyright, internal commerce, etc. The practise of building or extending an empire.
The tide of English opinion began to turn about 1870, and since then it has run with increasing force in the direction of what is called imperialism.


A policy of extending your rule over foreign countries


A political orientation that advocates imperial interests


Any instance of aggressive extension of authority


What is nationalism?

It's a belief in the unity and independence of a nation.

Is imperialism always negative?

It's often viewed negatively due to its exploitative and oppressive nature.

Does nationalism lead to imperialism?

Not necessarily; nationalism can exist without imperialist ambitions.

How does imperialism differ from nationalism?

Imperialism involves extending power over other nations, unlike nationalism.

Can nationalism be positive?

Yes, when it fosters unity and democratic values within a country.

How does nationalism affect international relations?

It can lead to both cooperation and conflict, depending on how it's expressed.

What drives imperialism?

The desire for economic, strategic, and political dominance.

Can nationalism cause conflict?

Yes, especially if it involves aggressive patriotism or xenophobia.

What is the goal of imperialism?

To expand a nation's power and control over other territories.

Are colonialism and imperialism the same?

Colonialism is a form of imperialism focused on settling and exploiting colonies.

Can a country practice imperialism today?

Yes, though it's less common and often more subtle than in the past.

What are examples of imperialism?

The British and French empires in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Is nationalism linked to sovereignty?

Yes, it often involves the pursuit of national sovereignty.

What are the effects of imperialism on colonies?

Often exploitation, cultural erosion, and economic dependence.

How does nationalism manifest in politics?

Through policies that prioritize national interests and identity.

What ended the era of traditional imperialism?

Decolonization movements and the changing international political landscape.

How do nations recover from imperialism?

Through self-determination, economic development, and healing cultural wounds.

How does nationalism impact culture?

It often promotes national culture and identity.

Can imperialism be economic?

Yes, through control over another country's resources and markets.

Does nationalism always involve exclusion?

Not always, but it can lead to exclusionary policies or attitudes.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons