Example with a context:

Putin is a nationalist, but it's ultimately a state nationalism, it's about the Russian federation.

Why do you think state nationalism in this situation is used with an article as though it's a thing that can be counted? Don't you think that if we get rid of the article completely, the sentence will sound grammatically better? As you know, nationalism, much like other forms of isms, is intrinsically not a countable thing, so how can you possibly place an article in front of it? Please help me clear things up a little bit here.


Yes, the sentence would work without the article, for the reasons you say.

But in English we sometimes count uncountable things. :-) In this case, he's saying that this is a specific example of nationalism. It's not just any nationalism, it's "a particular nationalism falling into this category".

We often do this when we attach an adjective to a (normally) uncountable noun. "She experienced happiness." "She experienced a short-lived happiness." "Happiness" is uncountable -- you can't have 2 or 3 happinesses. But "short-lived happiness" is a specific kind of happiness, and she had something that was an example of one of those.

Perhaps it would be more clear if there was a descriptive phrase instead of simply an adjective. Like, "This is not any nationalism; this is a nationalism attached to the state."


This could be rephrased as:

but it's ultimately a kind of state nationalism


but it's ultimately a state-related nationalism

The meaning is specific enough to justify using an article.

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