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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism

  • * Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History (Key Concepts)

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    "....The ideology of nationalism has been defined in many ways but most of the definitions overlap and reveal common themes. The main theme, of course, is an overriding concern with the nation. Nationalism is an ideology that places the nation at the centre of its concerns and seeks to promote its well-being. But this is rather vague. We need to go further and isolate the main goals under whose headings nationalism seeks to promote the nation's well-being. These generic goal: are three: national autonomy, national unity and national identity, and, for nationalists, a nation cannot survive without a sufficient degree of all three. This suggests the following working definition of nationalism: 'An ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity for a population which some of its member deem to constitute an actual or potential "nation".' p9

    From the Introduction

    Nationalism - Anthony D Smith"This short book (182 pages) aims to introduce the concept of nationalism to readers and students for whom the field is unfamiliar. It focuses on nationalism primarily as an ideology, but also as a social movement and symbolic language, and explores its meanings, varieties and sources. Inevitably, this entails a consideration of related concepts, such as the nation, national identity and the national state. As a result, the scope of this work is broad and necessarily interdisciplinary: in particular, it draws on the disciplines of history, sociology, political science, international relations and, to a certain extent, Anthropology. The latter is included because some attention needs to be given to the cognate field of ethnicity; for, as I hope to show, ethnic identities and communities constitute a large part of the historical and social background of nations and nationalism.

    The significance of this topic should not be in doubt to anyone even mildly familiar with events since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Few of the many international political crises of the last decade or so have not involved a strong component of ethnic sentiment and nationalist aspiration, while some of them � notably those in the former Yugoslavia, the

    Caucasus, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East �have been triggered, and even defined, by such sentiments and aspirations. These have proved to be the most bitter and intractable conflicts, the most costly in terms of lives and resources, the most resistant to the efforts of governments and others to accommodate the interests of the respective parties, and the most impervious to the blandishments and threats of friend and foe.

    But, beyond the headlines, with their descriptions of the conflict and violence of 'hot' nationalisms, we encounter a more stable and taken-for-granted structure of 'international' relations, which shape and channel the processes and events of the modern world. This is something which is often referred to as 'a world of nations'. By such a phrase is meant not some essentialist reification of nations or nation-states, but, rather, a political map and institutional and emotional framework in and through which personalities, events and wider processes of change leave their mark and contribute to the transformations that have forged, and continue to shape, the contemporary world. Michael Billig (1995) refers to this map and framework in terms of an everyday, `banal' nationalism, one that is habitually `enhabited' in society � ingrained into the very texture of our lives and politics, ever-present, if barely visible, like `unwaved flags'.

    But the significance of nationalism is not confined to the world of politics. It is also cultural and intellectual, for 'the world of nations' structures our global outlooks and symbolic systems. I am not claiming for nationalism any significant degree of intellectual coherence, let alone the tradition of philosophical engagement characteristic of other modern political traditions such as liberalism or socialism. Nevertheless, even if it lacked great thinkers, nationalism � or perhaps we should say, the concept of the nation � has attracted considerable numbers of influential intellectuals � writers, artists, composers, historians, philologists, educators � who have devoted their energies to discovering and representing the identities and images of their respective nations, from Herder, Burke and Rousseau to Dostoevskii, Sibelius, Diego Rivera and Iqbal.

    The cultural and psychological importance of the nation, and hence of nationalism, is even more profound. The ubiquity of nationalism, the hold it exerts over millions of people in every continent today, attests to its ability to inspire and resonate among 'the people' in ways that only religions had previously been able to encompass. This suggests theneed to pay close attention to the role of symbolic elements in the language and ideology of nationalism, and to the moral, ritual and emotional aspects of the discourse and action of the nation. It is not enough to link a particular national(ist) discourse to specific political actors or social groups, let alone read off the former from the social position and characteristics of the latter. Nationalism has its own rules, rhythms and memories, which shape the interests of its bearers even more than they shape its contours, endowing them with a recognizably 'nationalist' political shape and directing them to familiar national goals.

    It is these rules, rhythms and memories of nationalism with which I shall be particularly concerned here, for they provide a bridge from the outer world of power politics and social interests to the inner world of the nation and its characteristic concepts, symbols and emotions. This concern in turn shapes the way in which I have structured the argument of this book. That argument revolves around the major, underlying 'paradigms' of understanding in the field, and the political, historiographical and sociological debates which they have fuelled. These debates are diffuse and wide-ranging. They concern not only competing ideologies of nationalism, nor even just the clash of particular theories. They involve radical disagreements over definitions of key terms, widely divergent histories of the nation and rival accounts of the `shape of things to come'.

    Each of these debates and differences requires separate consideration. I start, therefore, with terms and concepts, outlining the main differences in approach to the definition of key concepts such as 'ethnic.', 'nation', 'nationalism' and `national state', and offering my own route through this minefield. Next I consider the ideology, or ideologies, of nationalism, notably the debate between 'organic' and 'voluntarist' approaches, as well as the vexed question of a 'core doctrine' of nationalism.

    Chapter 3 turns to questions of explanation, and discusses the basic divide between 'modernist' and other approaches. It then outlines the key features of the four main paradigms of explanation � modernism, primordialism, perennialism and ethno-symbolism � revealing their theoretical interrelations. Chapter 4 continues this discussion by showing how

    the key theoretical debates in the field over the role of ideology, rational choice, the modern state and social construction in the genesis of nations and nationalism derive from these four paradigms and reveal their respective strengths and limitations.

    The fifth chapter relates different 'histories of the nation' � modern, medieval and ancient � to particular theories and their master-paradigms, and then argues for an 'ethnosymbolic' reading which links modern nations to premodern ethnies through myth, symbol, memory, value and tradition. A final chapter considers the prospects for nations and nationalism in a 'postmodern' epoch of ethnic revival, globalization and increasingly hybridized identity � as well as the utility of postmodernist and constructionist understandings and cultural ethno-symbolic interpretations of the future of nations and nationalism.

    My aim throughout is twofold: in the first place, to outline the key debates in the field as clearly as possible, and, second, to offer my own ethno-symbolic account. This is clearly no easy task. Though I outline (and defend) such an approach at various points, I am conscious of the need to give as much coverage as possible within the constraints of space to alternative theories and readings, to provide readers with the necessary information and argument to allow them to make up their own minds. Similarly, while aiming for clarity throughout, I am concerned to reveal the full extent of scholarly divisions and disagreements about the phenomena of nations and nationalism. There are no easy solutions in this much-disputed field of study, and it would be idle to pretend that we are on the verge of some general consensus. At the same time, we possess today much more information about specific cases and the role of various factors on which to base our discussions and disagreements; and that in itself allows a clearer view of the field and its problems, and hence of the tasks ahead. It is in this spirit that I offer this brief introduction for those new to the field."




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