I define cultural nationalism as the mass re-assertion, in cultural rather than political forms, of a sense of national identity which is felt to be under threat. There isn't a leader or an ideology or a written mission statement, and if organizations exist at all, they're generally innocuous and more an effect that a cause. It starts among ordinary people and largely stays there. It can appeal to people who are uncomfortable with the often more aggressive and ideological character of political nationalism. It can, however, eventually lead to a later rise of political nationalism, as we'll see.
An example of a country where cultural nationalism has become important is the United Kingdom. People in the land of my ancestors have felt their sense of identity to be under attack for several decades due to three factors which are unprecedented in modern British history. One is large-scale immigration, especially Muslim immigration, which has introduced a radically-different culture into the country; Muslims are only 4.4% of the total population, but their presence has been highly visible and assertive. The second factor is the European Union, Europe's increasingly intrusive and unaccountable supra-national quasi-government. The third, perhaps most important in this context, is a sporadic tendency by the authorities to discourage symbols and practices which are felt to be potentially "offensive" to Muslims.
An example of the latter involves the English flag, not to be confused with the familiar British flag (The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but England has 85% of the population). The English flag is traditionally displayed on St. George's Day, England's national holiday, but because it resembles the flag used by the Crusaders, it was discouraged as potentially offensive (example here). In the last few years, though, the flag and other traditional St. George's Day practices have been resurgent. There isn't an obvious political component to all the dressing up and slaying of plastic-and-cloth dragons. It's just people re-asserting who they are and, perhaps, sticking it to the finger-wagging busybodies.
Again, there is nothing political here, but the appeal to reclaim identity is fervent and explicit. Show of Hands is enormously popular, having for example sold out the Royal Albert Hall (a huge venue) several times.
One striking thing about the re-assertion of cultural identity in Britain is that religion has been decisively rejected as a component of it, even though there is an official state religion. Rosa Rubicondior, a British blogger, discussed this last week, and I particularly note this chart based on a recurring survey of what British people themselves consider the most important components of their identity:
here.) Cultural nationalism in Europe is routinely smeared as racist (and racists certainly do exist there, as everywhere); there was no question about race in the survey, but note that having British ancestry also ranks much lower in importance than most of the other factors.
Cultural nationalism can presage a later rise of political nationalism; questions like intrusive international organizations, and the clash between religious "sensibilities" and free expression, have a political dimension. Establishment pundits were startled by the electoral victories of the explicitly nationalistic UK Independence Party, and similar parties in other European countries, last month. They shouldn't have been. But they need to start paying more attention to those fake-dragon slayers and sold-out folk-rock shows, and less attention to officious tie-wearing people pronouncing upon what is and isn't correct thought -- and that kind of thing doesn't come naturally to most pundits.
Cultural nationalism is asserting itself in many places, though it can sometimes be hard to recognize -- by its very nature, it takes somewhat different forms in each country. But for better or worse, it's a manifestation of something very important, and in many cases it tells us more about what the future has in store than the words of politicians, always deemed more newsworthy, ever can.