Nationalism Persistent and Untameable

10 posts

Bronze Age Pervert

A good article by Connor Cruise O'Brien on the primordial origins of nationalism. It is good for arguing against people who think it was invented in the 19th century.

Bronze Age Pervert



I only read half of the first post and got intellectually ill.

This concocted story simply doesn't cut it. Joan-the-Nationalist? Christ, if you label anyone, who fights for his his country against a foreign invasion as nationalist, than 'nationalism' is indeed eternal. Too bad, there was no concept of nation during Joan's times.

Arabia for arabians? Where the hell did this one come from? After the first conquests of Chaliphate, its capital was actually transferred out of the Arabia proper, to Iraq, and very soon foreign dynasties followed. Moreover, the first and only experiment with true nationalism was Saddam's Iraq. Nationalism never even reached Arab lands before the second half of the XXth Century.

Anyway, Benedict Anderson is quite correct in his general outlook: nation, being an imagined community, didn't really exist even within the minds of its members, other than as some hazy form of kinship (like Greek Ellada), which still didn't play any significant role, when compared with particularist loyalties of those days, which were much more real to the people of that epoch.

Its very well shown in Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, where one Russian princedom call onto tatars to conquer another Russian princedom. One of the defenders screams: "Stop, we are all Russians after all!" and gets a response: "Come here and I'll show you 'Russians' you Vladimir-city bastard!" That was real. The national identity was not.

Bob Dylan Roof

The real historical significance of nationalism consists in its imposition upon heterogeneous populations by absolutist governments. The transformation of Europe from a vast complex of interconnected private properties, across which an individual from any region could freely travel, to a collection of territorial nation-states signals an abrupt change in political association. The real historical significance is the conscious eradication of more localized and often overlapping forms of communal identities in favor of the creation of mass, territorially-defined artificial identities. I don't think it's useful to simply speak of a uniform "nationalism" throughout history without looking at the particular forces behind each instantiation.


That is a legal observation. Nationalism didn't just evolve, it was more or less imposed. The French, Russian, Spanish monarchs didn't want all these self-obsessed Gasconians, Parisians, Bourbonnais, Novgorodians, Vladimirians, Tverians, Castilians, Andalusians, Galicians to run around, since that required constantly to take particularist loyalties into account, and thus constantly having to watch their backs to make sure the country doesn't fall apart, if monarchy gets a moment of weakness.

Growing nationalism was an essential part of overall absolutist centralization of power versus pre-modern decentralization of regional identities.

What monarchs didn't forsee, was that these 'French', 'Russian' or 'German' Frankensteins, assembled from many different pieces of murdered regional identities, would eventually turn onto their masters, destroying the Empire itself, be it the French Empire, the Russian Empire, The German or the Austrian-Hungarian ones.


Just as nationalism is claimed to be a product of the 19th century, there seems to be a similar consensus among leftists that the concept of race has its roots in the intellectual atmosphere of the Enlightenment.


What does 'leftism' have to do with anything? I don't think, anyone here signs up to the leftist model.


I think they miss out on the essentially modern character of nationalism:
What I would assume William Pfaff referred to when discussing nationalism is a movement that looks back at the nation in its mythical quality. I havent read the book that is discussed but nationalism is widely accepted as a form of idealised and nostalgic perception of the nation as a historical current rather than as a political, social or economic entity. A country or a folk that fights back what is percieved as an intrusion is not nationalist it is merely saving itself from assimilation.
The case of Joan of Arc is quite symptomatic I think: although the mythical dimension of France was likely to be present in the doctrine professed by Joan, we are quite clearly way out of the modern era. Therefore the use and the recording of those mythological elements are not contrasted as fictitious against the backdrop of enlightened realism as it will be from the XIXth century on. Possibly one could argue that the question of nationalism is a historiographic one rather than a historical one.

The claim that nationalism is some kind of 19th/20th century aberration is often promoted by the left and serves a left-wing anti-nationalist agenda.