National Myth

A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation’s past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic. A considerable amount of related material is at civil religion. A national myth may be a legend or fictionalized narrative, which has been elevated to serious mythological, symbolical and esteemed level so as to be true to the nation.

It might simply over-dramatize true incidents, omit important historical details, or add details for which there is no evidence; or it might simply be a fictional story that no one takes to be true literally, but contains a symbolic meaning for the nation. The national folklore of many nations includes a founding myth, which may involve a struggle against colonialism or a war of independence. In some cases, the meaning of the national myth may become disputed among different parts of the population.

In some places, the national myth may be spiritual in tone and refer to stories of the nation’s founding at the hands of God, the gods, leaders favored by gods, and other supernatural beings. National myths serve many social and political purposes. In totalitarian dictatorships, national myths often exist only for the purpose of state-sponsored propaganda. The leader might be given, for example, a mythical supernatural life history in order to make him or her seem god-like and supra-powerful. However, national myths exist in every society. In liberal regimes they can serve the purpose of inspiring civic virtue and self-sacrifice (see Miller 1995), or of shoring up the power of dominant groups and legitimizing their rule.

Besides their social background, nationalist myths have also a psychological explanation which is connected with nationalist myth of stable homeland community. The complexity of relations with the modern external world and incoherence of the inner psychological world can result with anxiety which is reduced by static self-labelling and self-construction and gaining an imaginary emotion of stability. Two of nationalism’s primary myths are connected with beliefs in: community’s permanence (the myth of the eternal nation), based on its national character, territory and institutions and on its continuity across many generations, and community’s common ancestry (myth of the common ancestry). Nationalist myths sometimes have a tendency to stimulate conflicts between the nations, to magnify distinctive characteristics of the national group and to overstate the threat to the nation posed by other groups propagating militant fulfillment of the their goals.

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