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Home > Tamilnation Library > Nations & Nationalism > National Identity (Ethnonationalism in Comparative Perspective) Anthony D Smith, 1991
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism
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From the Introduction
This book aims to provide a straightforward introduction to the nature, causes and consequences of national identity as a collective phenomenon. With the present resurgence of the tide of nationalism in many parts of the world, notably the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a synoptic account of the field of national phenomena is timely. As yet, there are only a few general accounts of the field that go beyond historical surveys of nationalism. At the same time the ethnic revival in the West has turned the attention of both the public and the academic community to the issues posed by ethnic nationalism and has led to important debates, intellectual as well as political, in this area. The allied study of ethnicity in North America has also stimulated interest in the problems of polyethnic states around the globe.
The present book is an attempt to provide an historical sociology of national identity and applies the concepts developed in my Ethnic Origins of Nations (1986) for the mainly pre-modern period to the modern world of nations and nationalism. Its underlying assumption is that we cannot understand nations and nationalism simply as an ideology or form of politics but must treat them as cultural phenomena as well. That is to say, nationalism, the ideology and movement, must be closely related to national identity, a multidimensional concept, and extended to include a specific language, sentiments and symbolism.
While for analytical purposes it is necessary to distinguish the ideological movement of nationalism from the wider phenomenon of national identity, we cannot begin to understand the power and appeal of nationalism as a political force without grounding our analysis in a wider perspective whose focus is national identity treated as a collective cultural phenomenon.
Such an approach requires in turn an historical sociology of the bases and formation of national identities. This means that we must first grasp the pre-modern antecedents of modern nations and relate national identity and nationalism to questions of ethnic identity and community.
Having treated some of these issues elsewhere, I have chosen instead to present my own view of the problem of continuity between pre-modern ethnie and modern nations and of the means by which the latter were formed and created. There is an extensive literature on rival approaches to ethnicity, which I have only touched on here (see especially the essays in Taylor and Yapp (1979) and in Stack (1986) as well as McKay (1982) and A. D. Smith (1988a)).
In this book I have focused on four main issues. The first is the characteristics of national as opposed to other kinds of collective cultural identification. The second is the role of different ethnic bases in the formation of modern nations and the ways in which they emerged in early modern Europe. The third is the nature of different kinds of nationalist ideology and symbolism and their impact on the formation of territorial and ethnic political identities. My final concern is the political consequences of different kinds of national identity, their potential for the proliferation of ethnic conflicts and the chances of superseding the identities and ideologies that give rise to such endemic instability.
Nationalism provides perhaps the most compelling identity myth in the modern world, but it comes in various forms. Myths of national identity typically refer to territory or ancestry (or both) as the basis of political community, and these differences furnish important, if often neglected, sources of instability and conflict in many parts of the world. It is no accident that many of the most bitter and protracted 'inter-national' conflicts derive from competing claims and conceptions of national identity. An understanding of these ideas and claims is vital if we are ever to ameliorate, let alone resolve, some of these conflicts and create a genuine international community (on which see the excellent treatment in Mayall (199o)).
These are the concerns that have shaped the argument and plan of this book. I start with a cursory examination of different kinds of collective cultural identity in order to highlight the special features of national identity. Chapter 2 looks at the ethnic bases of modern nations and identifies their features, dynamics and survival potential. Chapter 3 traces the two main ways in which nations were formed and asks why the first modern national states developed in the West. The contrast between the processes of bureaucratic incorporation of lower strata and outlying ethnic groups by strong states formed by aristocratic ethnic communities; and the mobilization of the 'people' by intellectuals and professionals in popular ethnic communities, is one first found in early-modern Europe. However, it appears soon afterwards in other continents, and it forms a constant motif in the culture and politics of the modern world.
Chapter 4 introduces the concept of nationalism as an ideology, language and sentiment, emphasizing the symbols, ceremonies and customs of national identity, and distinguishing territorial from ethnic varieties of nationalism. As an ideology and language, nationalism emerged in eighteenth-century Europe, and it is therefore necessary to explore briefly the cultural matrix and role of the intellectuals in its emergence.
Chapter 5 and 6 examine in turn the ways in which territorial and ethnic kinds of national identity are formed, and their impact on the politics of different parts of the world. Chapter 5 looks at the creation of territorial political communities out of former empires and colonies, and the way in which intelligentsias help to create `civic nations' by design. Chapter 6 traces the recurrent waves of popular 'ethno-nationalism' in nineteenth-century Eastern Europe and the Middle East, in twentieth-century Africa and Asia, and in Europe and the Soviet Union since the 1960s. In each case, a similar process of 'vernacular mobilization', mobilization of the people in and through their indigenous culture and history, challenged the existing system of states and prompted powerful movements of ethnic secession and irredentism, though the forms and timing have varied.
The final chapter looks at the possibilities of a new 'post-national' world, a world without nationalism and perhaps without nations. Given the current limitations imposed on multinational corporations, the erosion of power-blocs and the nationalization of global communications networks, the chances of imminent supersession of nationalism look bleak. Nevertheless, signs of regional associations under the cultural auspices of 'pan' nationalisms may herald a new stage in collective identifications, at least in some parts of the globe.
This will probably be a slow and uncertain process. All that we can say with some degree of certainty is that national identity and nationalism are likely to remain powerful and proliferating forces in the foreseeable future. Hence the urgent need to increase our understanding of so global a condition and so explosive a force.