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Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism Paperback – September 13, 2016
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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The defining best selling book on the history origins and development of nationalism What are the imagined communities that compel men to kill or to die for an idea of a nation This notion of nationhood had its origins in the founding of the Americas but was then adopted and transformed by populist movements in nineteenth century Europe It became the rallying cry for anti Imperialism as well as the abiding explanation for colonialism In this scintillating groundbreaking work of intellectual history Anderson explores how ideas are formed and reformulated at every level from high politics to popular culture and the way that they can make people do extraordinary things In the twenty first century these debates on the nature of the nation state are even more urgent As new nations rise vying for influence and old empires decline we must understand who we are as a community in the face of history and change The world famous work on the origins and development of nationalism The full magnitude of Benedict Anderson s intellectual achievement is still being appreciated and debated Imagined Communities remains the most influential book on the origins of nationalism filling the vacuum that previously existed in the traditions of Western thought Cited more often than any other single English language work in the human sciences it is read around the world in more than thirty translations Written with exemplary clarity this illuminating study traces the emergence of community as an idea to South America rather than to nineteenth century Europe Later this sense of belonging was formed and reformulated at every level from high politics to popular culture through print literature maps and museums Following the rise and conflict of nations and the decline of empires Anderson draws on examples from South East Asia Latin America and Europe s recent past to show how nationalism shaped the modern world What makes people love and die for nations as w
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For example, what unites millions of diverse individuals? What shared customs confirms their connectedness? Not daily prayers to God, but morning/evening mental unity with all fellow news readers/listeners. -
''The significance of this mass ceremony –Hegel observed that newspapers serve modern man as a substitute for morning prayers –is paradoxical. It is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull.''
How can this isolated, individual action produce unity?
'''Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion. Furthermore, this ceremony is incessantly repeated at daily or half-daily intervals throughout the calendar. What more vivid figure for the secular, historically clocked, imagined community can be envisioned?'' (33)
Each reader/listener knows exactly the thoughts of all! What connection. What unity!
2 Cultural Roots
3 The Origins of National Consciousness
4 Creole Pioneers
5 Old Languages, New Models
6 Official Nationalism and Imperialism
7 The Last Wave
8 Patriotism and Racism
9 The Angel of History
10 Census, Map, Museum
11 Memory and Forgetting Travel and Traffic: On the Geo-biography of Imagined Communities
Anderson is not sympathetic to nationalism. From the introduction -
''It is characteristic that even so sympathetic a student of nationalism as Tom Nairn can nonetheless write that: ‘ “Nationalism” is the pathology of modern developmental history, as inescapable as “neurosis” in the individual, with much the same essential ambiguity attaching to it, a similar built-in capacity for descent into dementia, rooted in the dilemmas of helplessness thrust upon most of the world (the equivalent of infantilism for societies) and largely incurable.’'
The connection/contrast of nationalism with religion surfaces consistently.
''The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind. The most messianic nationalists do not dream of a day when all the members of the human race will join their nation in the way that it was possible, in certain epochs, for, say, Christians to dream of a wholly Christian planet.''
This distinction is crucial for modern nationalism.
''It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. Coming to maturity at a stage of human history when even the most devout adherents of any universal religion were inescapably confronted with the living pluralism of such religions, and the allomorphism between each faith’s ontological claims and territorial stretch, nations dream of being free, and, if under God, directly so. The gage and emblem of this freedom is the sovereign state.''
Key idea. Nationalism is a recent invention due to the demise of Christendom.
Many other insights. Writing is not always smooth or clear. Sometimes feels like reader is thrown into the middle of a conversation without background. Some subjects seem to continue beyond what is needed. Examples so detailed that idea submerged.
Nevertheless, interesting and eye opening.
Benedict Anderson’s study suggests that nationalism rose around the world as a result of three main developments. First, the rise of print-capitalism allowed people to “imagine” themselves as part of a larger community. The process began with the “revolutionary vernacularizing thrust of capitalism,” which not only expanded the reading public but also led to the spread of vernacular languages as instruments of administrative centralization. “The convergence of capitalism and print technology on the fatal diversity of human language,” Anderson writes, “created the possibility of a new form of imagined community, which in its basic morphology set the stage for the modern nation.” The second development was the rise of what Anderson calls the “creole pioneers” – the elite classes who led movements in opposition to the colonial states, especially in the Americas. Here, print capitalism exceeds language itself in importance: New England and the Spanish colonies, for instance, created its own press and spread its own ideas, even though the language in which this process occurred remained the same as the metropole. Thus “pilgrim creole functionaries and provincial creole printmen played the decisive historic role” in the creation of nationalism.
The onset of nationalism in Europe closely followed the era of successful national liberation movements in the Americas. Anderson sees several key differences between nationalism in the Old World and the New World, however. First, “national print-languages” acquired importance in Europe that was almost entirely lacking in the Spanish- and English-speaking Americas. Second, the Old World nationalism drew on visible models provided by their predecessors in the Americas. These movements paralleled state centralization, and especially the rise of the bourgeoisie. The latter of these is especially important, for the bourgeoisie could not be a class in the same way as the aristocracy or the working-class. The bourgeoisie was, as Anderson writes, the first class “to achieve solidarities on an essentially imagined basis,” the consumers of a common print language that visualized imagined communities. Moreover, the rise to prominence of the bourgeoisie, in Europe and elsewhere, eroded the old loyalties to dynastic empires, monarchical institutions, absolutisms, nobilities, and so forth. This process led to what Anderson calls “official nationalism,” the response (or reaction) of dominant groups threatened by marginalization in an emerging nationally imagined community. Finally, Anderson locates the “last wave” of high dynasticism at the end of the First World War. By this stage nations “were now everywhere modularly imagined.” States adopted national languages, spread modern-style education, and created “national histories” in support of their aims. “Print-language,” Anderson writes, “is what invents nationalism, not a particular language per se.”
In Europe especially nationalism is inextricably associated with fascism and racism, yet Anderson’s broader view of nationalism as a worldwide historical force downplays the connection. “The dreams of racism,” he writes, “actually have their origin in ideologies of class, rather than in those of nation.” Racism was an outgrowth of “official nationalism,” the attempt by the upper classes to weld dynastic legitimacy with national community in terms of an innate, inherited superiority. It should be noted, too, that much of Anderson’s analysis has in mind the wars waged by communist states in the name of nationalism – China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, for instance. This helps explain Anderson’s focus on nationalism beyond Europe, especially in Southeast Asia (his area of specialty), where national wars by communist states demonstrated the preeminence of national consciousness over universalistic ideologies like Marxism. This broadly applied theory helps to explain the book’s massive global appeal, but it is also the main weakness of Anderson’s study. It emphasizes the common features of nationalism around the world, but largely fails to account for – ironically – “national” difference.