The concept of nation, nation-state, nationalism and national identity
The concept of nation, nation-state, nationalism and national identity
There has been a wide discourse regarding "nationalism", and several concepts are likewise being brought to the fore, such as the concepts of nation, nation-state and national identity.
According to Hans Khon (1944), nationalism is characterized principally by a feeling of a community among a people, based on common descent, language and religion. Before the 18th century, when nationalism emerged as a distinctive movement, states usually were based on religions or dynastic ties. Concerned with clan, tribe, village, or province, people rarely extended their interests nationwide. Most modern nations have developed gradually on the basis of common ties of descent, religion and language.
He sees nations as modern, dating back to the mid-eighteenth century. His major argument is that nations are first and foremost the result of history and as such modern nations have their roots in the distant past. He states that "Nationalism is first and foremost a state of mind, an act of consciousness, which since the French Revolution has been more and more common to mankind". Nations are constantly changing, making them exceptionally complex and difficult to define. He further states that groups become nationalized by the rise of print capitalism, public education systems, growth of population, increased influence of the masses, and new information and propaganda techniques.
Kohn, Hans. The Idea of Nationalism: A Study of Its Origins and Background. First ed. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1944.
In discussing about nationalism, David Miller for his part, refers to the ‘the principle of nationality’, a principle which he believes can offer a rational guidance when, as individuals or as citizens, we have to respond practically to some national question. Miller groups the questions of this kind into four main categories: (i) questions about boundaries, (ii) questions about national sovereignty, (iii) questions about nationality’s relation to states’ internal policies, and (iv) questions about the ethical weight that should be assigned to nationality. Note here that Miller is using the term "nationality" to denote the principle for which he will offer a "discriminating defense".
His idea of nationality encompasses what he refers to as "three interconnected propositions," videlicet: (i) a person’s identity may properly include belonging to a nation (this proposition subdivides into two: (a) that nations "really exist" and (b) that making our nationality an essential part of our identity is not "rationally indefensible"); (ii) nations are ethical communities; and (iii) national communities "have a good claim to political self-determination" (10-11, italics added).
Miller, David. On Nationality. Oxford, UK, Clarendon Press, 1995.
Nations vs. Nationalism
There are four core debates which permeate the study of nations and nationalism. First among these is the question of how to define the terms "nation" and "nationalism." Second, scholars argue about when nations first appeared. Academics have suggested a variety of time frames, including (but not limited to!) the following:
Nationalists argue that nations are timeless phenomena. When man climbed out of the primordial slime, he immediately set about creating nations.
The next major school of thought is that of the perennialists who argue that nations have been around for a very long time, though they take different shapes at different points in history.
While postmodernists and Marxists also play in the larger debates surrounding this topic, the modernization school is perhaps the most prevalent scholarly argument at the moment. These scholars see nations as entirely modern and constructed.
It should not be surprising that the third major debate centers on how nations and nationalism developed. If nations are naturally occurring, then there is little reason to explain the birth of nations. On the other hand, if one sees nations as constructed, then it is important to be able to explain why and how nations developed. Finally, many of the original "classic" texts on nationalism have focused on European nationalism at the expense of non-western experiences. This has sparked a debate about whether nationalism developed on its own in places like China, or whether it merely spread to non-western countries from Europe.
Theories on nationalism
There is a long-standing debate between what is being referred to as
‘ethno-symbolists’ and ‘modernists’. Modernist theories, such as those of
Gellner, John Breuilly, and Michael Mann, explain the rise of nationalism by a
unique configuration of modern social, political and economic forces. Despite
many important differences, what binds modernists together is their conviction
that, contrary to nationalists’ assertions, modern claims to nationhood are not
the product of long forgotten ways of life rooted in the consciousness of an
ethnic community. Instead, modernists hold fast to the belief that nationalist
scholars, intellectuals, politicians, among others, invent nations in an effort
to redress serious economic, political, cultural and social disparities that
result from major transformations in modern social conditions.
Walker Connor believes that an essential ethnic core lies at the heart of most nationalist movements. In his chapter he explores the power of ‘homeland psychology’ and links it to the emergence of several ethno-national movements. Homeland psychology is defined here as a strong emotional attachment to one’s home and is intimately connected to devotion to family and friends. Connor does not shy away from examining the darker side of homeland psychology by pointing to the many instances (world wars, wars of liberation, racism and xenophobia) in which homeland psychology has led to acts of social exclusion and in extreme cases to ethnic violence. John Hutchinson theory also falls squarely within the ethno-symbolist framework. He too maintains that nations need an ethnic base to survive and explores the various ways in which nationalists mobilize ethnic loyalties in new and innovative ways. Hutchinson, however, is much more positive in his assessment of ethno-national mobilization, describing the various benefits that result from such struggles.
Historian John Breuilly defends the modernist position in his chapter on the relationship between the state and nationalism. For Breuilly nationalism has very little to do with ethnic mobilization and everything to do with political mobilization. The rise of the modern state system provides the institutional context within which an ideology of nationalism is necessary. Breuilly argues that the process of state modernization provides an important key to understanding a variety of historical manifestations of nationalism. In a word, nationalism is a form of politics. Michael Mann also utilizes a state-centered approach and therefore falls within the modernist camp as well. Mann’s goal, however, is slightly different from Breuilly’s. Mann does not concentrate on nationalism per se but instead investigates what he calls ‘murderous ethnic cleansing’. For Mann the struggle over political sovereignty is the major motivating factor pushing those who have control over the state to use violence against certain ethnic groups. Mann provides an excellent typology with which to study incidents of nationalist violence, to which he adds a five-stage model for understanding the history of ethnic cleansing.
Peter Taylor (1989) epitomizes the world as seen by nationalists, at three levels (approximately the global, national and individual). The world is, for them, a mosaic of nations which find harmony when all are free nation states. Nations themselves are natural units with a cultural homogeneity based on common ancestry or history, each requiring its own sovereign state on its own inalienable territory. Individuals all belong to a nation, which requires their first loyalty, and in which they find freedom. This standard nationalist thought says more about nationalism than the immediate goals of any one nationalist group.
Another opposition recurrent in theory on nations is that between the national and the global (Arnason 1990). The nation state and national culture, it is often said, are being eroded by, for instance, global communication, that is, the Internet will dissolve nations. Much the same thing was said about satellite television, air travel, radio, the telegraph, and railways. Nation states are still here. Yet few people are skeptical about "globalization" (Cox 1992; Smith 1990), and in a sense there is no reason to be. There is no erosion of the national by the global, but only because there is nothing to erode. Nationalism is 100% global: a world order cannot logically be further globalized.
Although nationalism is often viewed as a kind of natural or primordial form of human self-identification, most experts on the subject have maintained that nations and nationalism are a fairly recent phenomenon, despite their call to history and origins.
Many experts, believe however, that nationalism has emerged out of the shift from agrarian to industrialized society. In agrarian society, there was a complex division of labor, with power located at the top, and an emphasis on informality and intimacy. With modernity, however, agrarian workers moved to urban centers and a universalized and impersonal culture replaced that of agrarian culture. Nationalism, according to these experts, occurs when the modernized peoples find their roots in the folk culture of the past, and draw upon the romantic stories of such a past to form the nation. Certainly, 19th century nationalism seems to reflect this model.
Some thinkers have suggested that the rise of nationalism is sometimes due to some form of political, social or economic crisis (whether real or imagined) and generally provides the impetus for people to respond to nationalistic sentiments. Meanwhile, other analysts surmise that capitalism, the engine of globalization, made democracy more ubiquitous, and the outgrowth of increased democratization has been an increase in the number of micronational movements and episodes of balkanization today. Yet other theorists state that nationalism must be understood as a long term historical process, which may be tied to capitalism, industrialization and modernization.
Conversely, however, dissenting voices argue that nationalism is not simply a by-product of industrialization and capitalism, but the very essence of modernity; it is about creating social cohesion, which then engenders industrialization, societal improvements and economic progress. In this model, nationalism should be championed as an agent of emancipation and development for the less advanced and oppressed peoples of the world. This understanding of nationalism is quite distinct from the view that nationalism is the root of the violent episodes of balkanization and genocide, since it advances a modality of nationalism that is not defined by cultural, ethnic, linguistic or religious identities. Instead, in this civic model, nationalism – as a central feature of contemporary politics – acts as the mechanism that mobilizes the masses, and allows them to effectively deal with the ongoing transition into modernity.
Based on Khon's account, the tendency toward nationalism was historically fostered by various technological, cultural, political and economic advances. Improvement in communications extended the knowledge of people beyond their village or province. The spread of education in vernacular tongues to the lower income groups gave them the feeling of participation in a common cultural heritage. Through education, people learned of their common background and tradition and began to identify themselves with the historical continuity of the nation. The introduction of national Constitutions and the struggle for political rights gave people the sense of helping to determine their fate as a nation and of sharing responsibilities for the future well-being of that nation. At the same time the growth of trade and industry laid the basis for economic units larger than the traditional cities or provinces.
Theories of Anthony Smith
For Smith there is a high degree of continuity between certain historical ethnics and modern nations. He challenges the modernization school's assumption that nations are entirely modern. While Smith does not argue that nations are modern formations, he claims that modern nations are based on a longer development than many scholars are willing to admit. Smith argues that modern nations are based on much older cultural groups which he calls ethnic. According to Smith, ethnic define the boundaries within which modern nations can be formed. Ethnic are constructed of "more permanent cultural attributes" such as memory, value, myth and symbolism. The first half of the book focuses on the development of ethnic while the second half focuses on the development of nations from their pre-modern roots. Smith addresses memory to a greater degree than do most other scholars. He also provides an interesting discussion of the importance of landscape.
“The wave of industrialization also generated social conflicts in the swollen cities". Conflicts between the waves of newcomers and the urban old timers, between the urban employed in the city centers and the underemployed proletariat in their shantytowns on the edge of the cities”.
This concentrates heavily on the History of Nations, which are seen as stretching back for centuries. Nations could therefore be described as ancient and immemorial. The Perrenialist perspective “regarded national sentiments and consciousness as fundamental elements of historical phenomena”. Historians specializing in this theory would recall such events as the activities of past leaders in antiquity and the medieval era, the decline and rebirth of their nation, and the glorious future, when highlighting the importance of history within the framework of nationalism. It saw the Nation as a popular community that reflected the needs and the ideals of the people, and saw the nation as a seamless whole with “a single will and character”. Ancestral ties and culture were of huge importance to the advocates of this theory.
The main challenge to Perrenialism came in the form of Modernism, that tended to
concentrate upon the political aspects of Nations and Nationalism. The theorists
of Modernism included Deutsch, Foltz, Lerner, Bendix and Berner, among others.
These scholars often differed over the finer points of the theory, such as
social communication and political religion, but agreed on the fundamental idea
that the Nation was a Mass Participant Political Culture.
They felt that “Nations and Nationalism’s were social constructs and cultural creations of modernity, designed for an age of Revolution and mass mobilization, and central to the attempts to control these processes of social change”.
Mass education, employment and citizenship are all seen as key factors within a nation, as they are modern conditions available to all, no longer only available to the elite. Such modern factors would increase political participation, and in turn help define the Nation and Nationalism. “Only in a modern society was a high level of political participation by the masses possible”.
The Nation is viewed by Modernists as a creation of the Elite. Some theorist believed that this was an attempt to control and influence the thoughts and actions of the masses, in order to achieve their own ends. Unlike Perennialism, the Nation is also seen as divided. Different social groups representing religion, gender and class have different needs, and therefore split off into separate groupings.
Smith, Anthony D. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998 (1986).
Theories of Ernest Gellner
This is Gellner's classic modernization argument explaining the origin of nations. He argues that nations are completely modern constructions borne of nationalism which is "primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent". Nations were the result of pressures created by the demands of the industrial revolution.
As soon as people from widely different backgrounds began to converge on cities, it was necessary to create some form of common identity for them. Perhaps more importantly, the demands of capitalism, specifically the need for constant retraining, demanded that there be a common language among workers. These demands were met by creating a common past, common culture (created by turning "low" folk cultures into "high" state cultures) and requiring a common language. With these common experiences as a motive, workers were more willing to work hard, not only for their own good, but for the good of their country.
Further, it became possible to quickly retrain and move workers around the nation - after all, whether in Paris or Nice, Berlin or Dresden, London or Liverpool, a common culture, language and history united the newly mobile workforce.
Gellner defines nation as a sharing of the same culture and artifacts of men's convictions and loyalties. In the question, "Why does nationalism arise? Gellner has two macro-theories 1) a theory of history/modernity 2) a theory of the structure of society.
According to Gellner, nations are mainly based on consent (consent is determined by the limited choice no other possibilities exist. What Gellner means when he qualifies nationalism as a weak force is that, not all potential nations/cultures become nation states.
He sees nationalism as an ideology and as a feeling felt by individuals. According to him, states and intellectuals mobilize campaigns of assimilation through public education and the culture industries. Nationalism occurred in the modern period because industrial societies, unlike agrarian ones, needed homogenous languages and cultures in order to work efficiently. Gellner's theory is quite controversial and it has been accused of being too one-sided. Some scientists say he should take into account political culture, identity and collective action as well and emphasize less the materialistic side of nationalism
The culture of Industrialization was a theory discovered by Ernest Gellner in the 7th chapter of “Thought and Change”. The idea is that as industrialization spread over the globe, it had a huge effect upon the spread of Nationalism. As people left their towns and villages to move into the developing cities, the traditional social roles held by communities were lost, along with many lifestyles and beliefs. Peasants in the new cities would often group together according to their cultural backgrounds and beliefs.
Class conflicts would arise between the propertied and educated and the illiterate and destitute masses. There was also much ethnic antagonism due to different languages and differing physical features. The different groups would then create their own communities, grouped together where they could live according to their own particular lifestyles, small Nations created through the spread of Nationalism.
Gellner therefore argued that, “Nations do not in fact create Nationalism, Rather Nationalist movements define and create Nations” .
Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983.
The beginnings of modern nationalism may be traced back to the disintegration, at the end of the middle ages of the social order in Europe and of the cultural unity of the various European states. The cultural life of Europe was based on a common inheritance of ideas and attitudes transmitted in the West through Latin, the language of the educated classes. All western Europeans adhered to a common religion, catholic Christianity. The breakup of feudalism, the prevailing social and economic system, was accompanied by the development of larger communities, wider social interrelations and dynasties that fostered feelings of nationality in order to win support for their role. National feeling was strengthened in various countries during the Reformation, when the adoption of either Catholicism or Protestantism as a national religious became an added force for national cohesion.
The great turning point in the history of nationalism in Europe was the French Revolution. National feeling in France until then had centered in the king. As a result of the revolution, loyalty to the king was replaced by loyalty to the country.
The rise of nationalism coincided generally with the spread of the industrial Revolution, which promoted national economic development, the growth of a middle class, and popular demand for representative government. National literatures arose to express common traditions and the common spirit of each people. New emphasis was given to nationalist symbols of all kinds; for example, new holidays were introduced to commemorate various events in national history.
The revolution of 1848 in central Europe marked the awakening of various people to national consciousness. In that year both the German and the Italians originated their movements for unification for the creation of nation-state. Although the attempts at revolution failed in 1848, the movements gathered strength in subsequent years. After much political agitation and several wars, an Italian kingdom was created in 1861 and a German empire in 1871. The events in Europe between1878 and 1918 were shaped largely by the nationalist aspirations of these people and their desire to form nation-states independent of the empire of which they had been participants.
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