Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Canto Classics) 2nd Edition
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'… never fails, great historian that he is, to supply the essential absorbing material.' Michael Foot, The Guardian
- Item Weight : 10.6 ounces
- Paperback : 212 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1107604621
- ISBN-13 : 978-1107604629
- Product Dimensions : 5.43 x 0.5 x 8.51 inches
- Publisher : Cambridge University Press; 2nd Edition (March 26, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #231,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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During the revolutionary period, nationalism was based on the common interest of a group of people seeking sovereignty in their political expression. However, as the idea of nation becomes more solidified, issues of heterogeneity may become problematic. Pressures emerge for "the people" to adopt a system of common norms. From this, emerges an idea of unifying citizenship.
Between 1830 and 1880, a number of nation-states emerge, particularly in Europe. In many regards, this emergence was in response to capitalism development. The nation-state "guaranteed the security of property and contracts" and ensured competition (28). Nation-states began to internalize their national economies, "...in any case nation implied national economy and its systematic fostering by the state, which in the 19th century meant protectionism" (29).
Up until about 1880, nationalism and "the nation" was a unifying concept; it brought various groups under one umbrella. After 1880, things began to change. The national sentiments of the common people became politically relevant. Thus we begin to see the rise of proto-nationalism. With the emergence of the modern state (an encompassing, institutionalized government ruling over a particular territory) issues of legitimacy emerged, particularly during modernization. Social structures were changing. Monarchical forms (dynastic lineages, or divine rule) were failing. As such, the state and ruling elites needed to create a "civic religion" or a sense of state-patriotism. Hobsbawm writes that patriotism relates to "the sovereign people" of a territory, regardless of language or ethnicity (86-7). One way state-patriotism is created in through the opening of the political process. Subjects are changed into citizens. As such, the citizens gain a "stake" in their state.
The state and ruling elites can create a concept of state-patriotism based upon commonalities between groups (real or imagined) between various nationalistic groups, thus creating one community. One way this unifying concept emerges is through a sense of protonationalism. Protonationalism refers to the ways in which nationalism is politicized. Holding with his premise that feelings of nationalism are socially constructed, Hobsbawm writes "states and national movements could mobilize certain variants of feelings of collective belonging which already existed and which could operate, as it were, potentially in the more macro-political scale which could fit in with modern states and nations" (46). Protonational bonds include religion, kinship, empire, and a sense of national consciousness.
Hobsbawm also illustrates the dynamism of nationalism in his discussion the emergence of ethnicity and language as requirement for national movements between 1880-1914. Hobsbawm argues that social, political and international changes led to the emergence of ethnic and linguistic nationalism. He contends that traditional groups may feel threatened by the emergence of a strong state and thus mobilize against it. Also, ethnic groups become urbanized which leads to a greater propensity for mobilization. Politically, the move towards democratization leads to the emergence of increasing number of interest groups, often based on ethnicity and language. Additionally, modernization increased the size of the middle class. This middle class felt pressures from both the lower and upper classes. In a bid for protection, the middle class moved towards the political right. In the international environment of the era, many states with imperial designs or national rivalries, welcomed the middle strata. By embracing right-wing causes, the middle class achieves a sense of identity.
The discussion is continued through the interwar years, and continues through the 1950s. Following WWI, the old, unifying nationalism gave way to the still "unredeemed minorities" who were rebelling against the new existing states, i.e. the Basques, Welsh, etc. "What was new was the emergence of such aspirations in nominally national, but actually pluri-national states of western Europe in a political rather than a primarily cultural form" (139). What we see during the interwar period "was the nationalism of established nation-states and their irredenta" (143).
During WWII and the post-war period, many national movements moved towards leftist ideologies, as opposed to the right-wing political movements of the WWI era. This was in part a response to the rise of fascism, and also a move towards decolonization (throw of the chains). In fact, during the war and slightly before it could be argued that a sense of "internationalism" existed. Nations joined forces to fight fascism, colonization, etc.
In regards to nationalism at present, Hobsbawm historically sees a rise and decline trajectory of nationalism's importance. He argues that nationalism at the end of the 20th century is declining in importance. In the Third World, we begin to see a different nationalism than was found in Europe. Hobsbawm argues that this leads to a "general skepticism about the universal applicability of the `national' concept" (152). Third World nationalism was not necessarily based on homogenous ethnicity, etc. When decolonization occurred, groups were "trapped in the state territories drawn by the colonizing powers. This leads to a lot of tension within the state. What we find in these states is not necessarily a move towards self-determination, but rather the groups are bargaining for their share of resources within the state. This is partly the result of modernization. Hobsbawm writes that the "massive and multifarious movements, migrations, and transfers of people [which] undermined the other basic nationalist assumption of territory inhabited essentially be an ethnically, culturally, and linguistically homogenous population" (157).
I believe that the nationalities and national feelings, important components of human identity and the driving force of many conflicts, are here to stay. The growth of clans into tribes and their subsequent merger into nations is not an invention of European cultural elites. It is a phenomena as old as written history. The Bible has many pages listing tribes begetting one another. The myths, legends and sagas of Greeks, Slavs and Norsemen are no different. The creators of native alphabets, founders of native schools or national newspapers, collectors of national folklore - in short, the cultural elites ¬- they all brought coherency to the national feelings of people they worked among, but they did not create nations.
The formation and birth of a nation is a natural process. We can think of it as akin to the appearance of new species in the natural world. The perpetual growth and reshuffling of humankind brings about the births of new and disappearance of worn-out nations. The multitude of competitive nations is needed to secure the existence of humanity in the never-ending process of creation. Humankind is advanced through ceaseless competition between different nations.
Professor Hobsbawm believes otherwise. He belongs to a vanishing tribe of Marxists Internationalists. True to Marxist ideology, whose goal is to create a classless and nation-less society, he believes in the eventual disappearance of nations. By Professor Hobsbawm own account (see his biography, Interesting times), the Communist movement was the only "family" he ever truly felt at home with. Marxist ideals shaped the worldview of Professor's Hobsbawm and he remains captive to them. His book is the product of Marxist thinking.
As if by mischief, the book front cover bears a reproduction of Breughel's "The Tower of Babel", which contradicts the "nation-less future" thesis of the book. The arrogant builders of the biblical Tower of Babel had to abandon the project punished by God, who, to thwart their plans, confused them by making them speak different languages. The Marxist vision of a class-less future without nations was abandoned too. The Marxist "tower" came crushing down. The front cover impishly symbolizes the futility and arrogance of the Marxist project.
It is a shame so much knowledge and wit of Professor Hobsbawm was spent propagating the ideas of misguided Marxist vision. Be as it may, the sheer amount of facts and stories on nation-building in 19th and 20th centuries makes the book "Nations and Nationalism since 1780" compelling reading for history buffs.