National myth  

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In "What is a Nation?" Ernest Renan states what has become one of the most famous and enduring ideas of nationalism. "Forgetfulness, and I would even say historical error, are essential in the creation of a nation."

This page National myth is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
This page National myth is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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 or be incorporated into a civil religion. A group of related myths about a nation may be referred to as the national mythos from μῦθος the original Greek word for "myth".

A national myth is a legend or fictionalized narrative which has been elevated to a serious mythological, symbolic, 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 many cases, the meaning of the national myth is 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 a God, several gods, leaders favored by gods, and other supernatural beings.

National myths serve many social and political purposes. National myths often exist only for the purpose of state-sponsored propaganda. In totalitarian dictatorships, 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 (see also cult of personality). However, national myths exist in every society. In liberal regimes they can serve the purpose of inspiring civic virtue and self-sacrifice (Miller 1995), or of consolidating the power of dominant groups and legitimizing their rule.



National myths have been created and propagated by national intellectuals, who have used them as instruments of political mobilization on demographic bases such as ethnicity.

Social background

The concept of national identity is inescapably connected with myths. A complex of myths is at the core of every ethnic identity.

All modern national identities were preceded by nationalist movements. Although the term "nation" was used in the Middle Ages, it had totally different meaning than in the age of nationalism, where it was linked to the efforts aimed to creation of the nation-states.

Psychological background

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.

Primary myths

Two of nationalism's primary myths are connected with beliefs in:

  1. 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
  2. community's common ancestry (myth of the common ancestry).

The nationalist myths portray the nation as sleeping and waiting to be awakened, but scholarly discourse avoids such images because national identity either exists or not and can not be asleep and awakened.


Nationalist myths sometimes have a tendency to stimulate conflicts between nations, to magnify distinctive characteristics of the national group and to overstate the threat to the nation posed by other groups propagating militant fulfilment of their goals.


see also Category:Nationalism by country or region

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "National myth" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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