"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a
rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more
nor less'. 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean
so many different things'. 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is
to be master - that's all'."
Lewis Carrol - Through the Looking Glass, c.vi
It is said that definitions come at the end of knowledge. That
is, perhaps, another way of saying that all definitions are incomplete and
"...reason cannot arrive at any final truth because it can
neither get to the root of things nor embrace their totality. It deals with
the finite, the separate and has no measure for the all and the infinite."
The Future Evolution
of Man - Sri Aurobindo
Ludwig Wittgenstein did not say something very different in the
*Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus -
"...all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit
nothing. To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of
all description, and thus the essence of the world. The limits of my
language mean the limits of my world..."
"...Explanation requires comparison; comparison requires
classification; classification requires the definition of those facts to be
classified, compared, and ultimately explained." -
Robert Alun Jones in Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works.
Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1986
But, to define is to elementalise and reduce - and there is no
finality to this process. To define is to separate - and
the separating line is never the line of zero thickness of Euclidean geometry.
The whole is never the static sum of the separate parts.
Why then attempt to define? It may be said that it is helpful to
let others know what one is talking about. But then, talk is not an end in
itself - not even for Humpty Dumpty.
Theory informs that which we do and that which we do helps to
refine our theory. The relationship between word and deed is intrinsic, not
extrinsic. It is dynamic, not static. Definitions are partial but they serve as
stepping stones in an
enfolding and unfolding process.
" .... reason has a legitimate function to fulfil, for which
it is perfectly adapted; and this is to justify and illumine for man his
various experiences and to give him faith and conviction in holding on to
the enlarging of his consciousness."
The Future Evolution of Man
- Sri Aurobindo
Theory is a practical thing. Theory and practice are the two
legs on which we walk.
definition of a nation can be devised...
Hugh Seton-Watson, after a life time devoted to the study of the
origin of nations and the politics of nationalism observed:
"I am driven to the conclusion that no 'scientific
definition' of a nation can be devised; yet the phenomenon has existed and
- Hugh Seton-Watson, Professor of Russian History at the
School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London:
Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977
Seton-Watson was right to insist that no
'scientific definition' of a nation can be devised. But he was wrong to imply
that this difficulty was peculiar to the definition of a nation. Again, the
certainty that he attributed to 'scientific' definitions may have applied with
some force to
science itself is compelled to live with the uncertainty enunciated by the
principle, where reality lies in the elusive interplay of space and time.
Our understanding of what is a nation is furthered by our
understanding of what is not a nation. A nation is not a state. A nation
an ethnic group. The attributes of a nation are both
subjective and objective. Words acquire meaning in context. Alan Watts was right
to point out:
"That for every outside there
is an inside, and for every inside there is an outside, and though they are
different, they go together." -
Om - Creative Meditations, Edited and Adapted by Judith Johnstone, 1980)
Every inside has an outside - and the relationship between the
two is intrinsic and not extrinsic. Reality may have to be grasped - not
simply analysed and 'reduced'. There is no end to the 'reduction' process.
attributes of a nation...
The oft quoted words of Rupert Emerson emphasised the subjective
attributes of a nation:
'The simplest statement that can be made about a nation is
that it is a body of people who feel that they are a nation; and it may be
that when all the fine spun analysis is concluded, this will be the ultimate
statement as well'. -
From Empire to Nation - The Rise to Self-Assertion of Asian and African
Seton-Watson echoed these words when he declared:
"All that I can find to say
is that a nation exists when a significant number of people in a community
consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one. It is
not necessary that the whole of the population should so feel, or so behave,
and it is not possible to lay down dogmatically a minimum percentage of a
population which must be so affected. When a significant group holds this
belief, it possesses 'national consciousness'."
- Hugh Seton-Watson, Professor of Russian History at the
School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London:*
Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977
However, he was careful to add 'common-sense', and remind us of
the power that flows through the barrel of the gun - and from the pen of the
"Commonsense suggests that if this group is
exceedingly small (let us say less than 1% of the population), and does not
possess great skill in propaganda, or a strong disciplined army to maintain
it until it has been able to spread national consciousness down into much
broader strata of the population, then the nationally conscious elite will
not succeed in creating a nation, and is unlikely to be able to indefinitely
remain in power on the basis of a fictitious nation."
is nature and nurture
- it is not either or, but both...
Achmed Sukarno, a nation was 'more real than you and I are, for it existed
in our fathers and will exist in our children'.
"But what is a nation? Many great thinkers have applied
their minds to this. Many answers have been given, often conflicting, and
usually confusing. One of the truest and most moving descriptions I know was
contained in a short essay by a little known professor of Ohio University.
About 40 years ago Professor Taylor wrote: Where and what is a nation ? Is
there such a thing ? You would answer that the nation exists only in the
minds and hearts of men. It is an idea. It is therefore more real than its
courts and armies; more real than its cities, its mines, its cattle; more
real than you and I are, for it existed in our fathers and will exist in our
children. It is an idea, it is an imagination, it is a spirit, it is human
art. Who will deny that the nation lives?" - Achmed Sukarno : Address to
The National Press Club - 1956 Department of State Bulletin.
primordial roots of a nation are to be found in kinship - in blood
relationship. In Tamil we say "udan pirapukal". 'It
existed in our fathers and will exist in our children'. At the same time,
a nation grows by a process of differentiation and opposition. It
is nature and nurture - it is not either or, but both.
"Nationalism ... is an act of consciousness .. the mental
life of man is as much dominated by an ego-consciousness as it is by a group
consciousness. Both are complex states of mind at which we arrive through
experiences of differentiation and opposition, of the ego and the
surrounding world, of the we group and those outside the group" -
Kohn - Idea of Nationalism - A Study of its Origins and
Background New York 1944
"... it has been repeatedly observed that the presence of an out group,
especially one evincing hostility, promotes the loyalty of people to their
own group.. For this reason, nationalistic movements among nationals living
under what they consider to be foreign or alien domination are likely to
when conditions are bad and
can be ascribed to the alien power.. Interference with a
people's language not only is a symbolic insult but also creates
difficulties of a realistic sort in simple communication.
Leonard W. Doob: Patriotism and Nationalism -Their Psychological Foundations
, Yale University Press, 1964
nation is not simply a cultural togetherness - it is a political
The roots of a nation are to be found in kinship, and a
nation grows by a process of differentiation and opposition - but
a nation is not simply a cultural togetherness. A nation is not simply an ethnic
group. Neither is a nation simply an economic togetherness. It is a political
togetherness. It is a political togetherness concerned both with the
structure and the exercise of power. A nation exists
together with other nations - and (in a sense) because other nations
exist. The inside and the outside go together.
A nation is a togetherness which gives expression to the shared aspirations
of a people for equality and freedom - and to establish, nurture and maintain
the institutions necessary for that purpose.
If democracy means rule of the people, by the people, for the
people, then it also follows that no one people may rule another. Free
institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nations
but which has one army.
"Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up
of different nationalities. An altogether different set of leaders have the
confidence of one part of the country and of another. Their mutual antipathies
are much stronger than their jealousy of the government... Above all, the grand
and only effectual security in the last resort against the despotism of the
government is in that case wanting: the sympathy of the army with the people.
Soldiers to whose feelings half or three fourths of the subjects of the same
government are foreigners, will have no more scruple in mowing them down, and no
more reason to ask the reason why, than they would have in doing the same thing
against declared enemies. *John
Stuart Mill: Considerations on Representative Government. London 1872
political togetherness consolidated by struggle and suffering...
A nation is a political togetherness consolidated by struggle and suffering.
Suffering is a great teacher and distress binds a people together.
".. to have suffered, worked, hoped together; that is worth
more than common taxes and frontiers conforming to ideas of strategy... I have
said 'having suffered together'; indeed, common suffering is greater than
happiness. In fact, national sorrows are more significant than triumphs because
they impose obligations and demand a common effort. .. A nation is a grand
solidarity constituted by the
sentiment of sacrifices which one has made and those that one
is disposed to make again. "
Que'est-ce qu'une Nation? Paris 1882
emergence of a martyr likewise facilitates patriotism and nationalism: if
people feel that someone with whom they identify themselves has been
killed, tortured, or otherwise deprived of some value, their indignation is
likely to be great and perhaps long enduring. -
Leonard W. Doob: Patriotism and Nationalism -Their Psychological Foundations
, Yale University Press, 1964
The cyanide capsule in the hands of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is evidence not of a simple minded
willingness to die but of a fierce determination that cries out: ''I will not
lose my freedom except with my life.'' It is this
thiyagam, this willingness to suffer, that has found an answering response
from millions of Tamils living in
A nation is a political togetherness which becomes real to the extent
that it finds expression not only in words but in tangible deed.
Aurobindo remarked bitingly of the early Indian National Congress in 1893:
"Popular orators, who carry the methods of the bar into politics, are very
fond of telling people that the Congress has habituated us to act together.
Well, that is not quite correct; there is not the slightest evidence to show
that we have at all learned to act together; the one lesson we have learned is
to talk together, and that is a rather different thing..."
In 1907, Aurobindo
expanded on the growth of an idea such as freedom:
"... The idea or sentiment is at first confined to a few men whom their
neighbours and fellow countrymen ridicule as lunatics or hare brained
enthusiasts. But it spreads and gathers adherents who catch the fire of the
first missionaries and creates its own preachers and then its workers who try to
carry out its teachings in circumstances of almost paralysing difficulty. The
attempt to work brings them into conflict with the established power which the
idea threatens and there is persecution.
The idea creates its martyrs. And in martyrdom there is an incalculable
spiritual magnetism which works miracles. A whole nation, a whole world catches
the fire which burned in a few hearts; the soil which has drunk the blood of the
martyr imbibes with it a sort of divine madness which it breathes into the heart
of all its children, until there is but one overmastering idea, one imperishable
resolution in the minds of all besides which all other hopes and interests fade
into significance and until it is fulfilled, there can be no peace or rest for
the land or its rulers.
It is at this moment that the idea creates its heroes and fighters, whose
numbers and courage defeat only multiplies and confirms until the idea militant
has become the idea triumphant. Such is the history of the idea, so invariable
in its broad outlines that it is evidently the working of a natural law."
A nation is a political togetherness but it is not a state...
A nation is a political togetherness but it is
not a state. "The belief that every state is a nation, or that all sovereign
states are national states, has done much to obfuscate human understanding of
"...States can exist without a nation, or with several
nations, among their subjects; and a nation can be coterminous with the
population of one state, or be included together with other nations within one
state, or be divided between several states. There were states long before
nations, and there are some nations that are much older than most states which
exist today. The belief that every state is a nation, or that all sovereign
states are national states, has done much to obfuscate human understanding of
political realities. A state is a legal and political organisation, with the
power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens. A nation is a
community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity,
a common culture, a national consciousness... - - Hugh
Seton-Watson, Professor of Russian History at the School of
Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London:
Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977
Though the circularity of Professor Seton-Watson's definition
is a community of people bound together by a national
consciousness) would not have escaped him, nevertheless, the distinction that he
has drawn between a nation and a state is an important one, more so because in
the English language the word 'nation' is sometimes used to mean a 'state' and
sometimes a 'community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of
solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness'. For example, the United
Nations Organisation is an organisation of states.
However, such conceptually confusing usage is not found in all
languages. The German language, for instance, appears to have retained the quite
separate Nation and Staat.
In Telegu, 'thesam' most closely approximates to the English
Scholar politician V. Kaliyanasundarar writing in 1929 in Tamil
Cholai, Volume 1, Madras 1954, urged that the correct English translation of
the Tamil word 'nadu' was nation and not land. But 'nadu' may be more
appropriately translated as 'country' or perhaps, 'state' and the context in
which Kaliyanasundarar made the suggestion supports this view. Today, Tamils use
'thesam' or 'thesiya inam' or 'thesiyam', as the equivalent to a 'nation' or an
A nation may be
amongst several states - a trans state nation...
A nation may be divided amongst several states. Such a nation
is a multi state nation - or, perhaps, more appropriately, a trans-state nation. The
Tamils today are a trans-state nation and their
'coherence and unity' is growing
and is directed to the establishment of an independent Tamil state. But
that independent Tamil state will not constitute the whole Tamil nation.
constitute a part but not the whole of the Tamil nation.
Jews too are a trans-state nation which has
successfully established Israel
as a Jewish state. But the Jews of Israel do not constitute the whole
Jewish nation - they are a part of it. The Jewish nation (and the Zionist
movement) encompasses Jews living across the globe.
Golda Meir's remarks to the
Council of Jewish Federations in Chicago,
about the Jews in Palestine have a general significance:
"I do not doubt that there are many young people among the
Jewish community in the United States who would do exactly what our young people
are doing in Palestine. We are not a better breed; we are not the best Jews of
the Jewish people. It so happened that we are there and you are here. I am
certain that if you were in Palestine and we were in the United States, you
would be doing what we are doing there, and you would ask us here to do what you
will have to do."
Golda Meir's speech to the
Council of Jewish Federations in Chicago, 1948
" ...(althougth ) there is a certain amount of truth in the claims that it
(Judaism) is a religion, a race, or an ethnic group, none of these descriptions
is entirely adequate to describe what connects Jews to other Jews... The best
explanation is the traditional one given in the Torah: that the Jews are a
nation. The Hebrew word, believe it or not, is "goy." We use the word "nation"
not in the modern sense meaning a territorial and political entity, but in the
ancient sense meaning a group of people with a common history, a common destiny,
and a sense that we are all connected to each other..."
What is Judaism? Is it a Religion? - Is it a Race? - Is it a
Culture? - It is a Nation
It is not
necessarily a state in waiting...
Peter Alter, concerned with the extreme
difficulty of finding a valid definition of 'nation', attempted to specify the
'substance' of the concept.
"... it is extremely difficult to arrive at a
generally valid definition of nation. But this does not absolve us from the need
to specify the substance of a concept that will be frequently employed in the
following.... a nation will be understood here as a social group... which,
because of a variety of historically evolved relations of a linguistic,
cultural, religious or political nature, has become conscious of its coherence,
unity and particular interests.... A nation is constituted by the social group's
(the people's) consciousness of being a nation or of wanting to be one and by
their demand for political self determination."
Alter, Professor of Modern History in the University of Cologne: Nationalism,
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989.
Alter was right to emphasise that a nation is 'constituted by
the social group's consciousness of being a nation or of wanting to be one' but
his further requirement that this should go together with 'their'
demand for political self determination may require some clarification..
'A social group because of a variety of historically evolved
relations of a linguistic, cultural, religious or political nature', may become
conscious of its 'coherence and unity' even though it lives in many lands and
across distant seas. That coherence and unity may reflect in the demand for an
independent state but it is not necessary that the entirety of
that social group should itself aspire to become a part of that state. A
nation is a political togetherness but not necessarily a state-in-waiting.
institutions not unrelated to material conditions of existence...
The institutions that a people establish to secure their
shared political aspirations for equality and freedom are not unrelated to
their material conditions of existence. Technological change and societal change
go hand in hand.
It was with the agricultural revolution that settled
communities came into existence. Unsurprisingly therefore, feelings
of togetherness, in the vast majority of cases points to a deep, almost
spiritual connection between land and people.
"Modern nationalism in the vast majority of cases points to a deep, almost
spiritual connection between land and people. This can be related to the basic
psychological needs of man in terms of the need for security and a sense of
group identity... the concern for the preservation of habitat exists as a
passionate reflex in all human communities. Territory is the physical aspect of
the life of the community and therefore reflects and conditions the identity of
that community." *Malcolm
Shaw: Title to Territory in Africa - International Legal Issues
However, that is not to say that nationalism is chiefly a
product of physical geography.
"Nationalism is not chiefly a product of physical geography,
but rests on traditions, on politics, religion, language, wars, invasion,
conquests, economics, and society, which have been fashioned by peculiar and
often fortuitous circumstances and which have been preserved and synthesised by
great writers and other intellectuals"
J.H.Hayes: France - A Nation of Patriots, New York 1930
Again, the second wave of the industrial revolution broke down
the limiting structures of a feudal society rooted in land as the principal
means of production. The printing press and the steam engine helped to
extend frontiers in more ways than one. And the new
bourgeoisie were in the fore front of the struggle to find expanding markets for
the products of the industrial age.
Economics and culture fused in a new togetherness.
effort in 1913, continues to stand today as the classic attempt at a
definition of a nation in the age of the industrial revolution:
"A nation is a historically evolved, stable community of
language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a
community of culture. It is only when all these characteristics are
present that we have a nation.
It might appear that 'national character' is not one of
the characteristics but the only essential characteristic of a nation,
and that all the other characteristics are only factors in the development of a
nation, rather than its characteristics... (this) point of view, which
identifies a nation with its national character, divorces the nation from its
soil and converts it into an invisible self contained force. The result is not a
living and active nation, but something mystical, intangible and supernatural."
Stalin: Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, Lawrence Wishart,
Stalin was right to point out that a nation is a historically
evolved community of people and direct attention to the influence of the
material conditions of existence of a people on the growth of their group
But, in placing objective characteristics such as language,
territory and economic life on the same footing as the subjective characteristic
of 'psychological makeup' he effectively objectified the latter as well - and
ended with a static definition which ignored the dynamic interplay between the
objective and subjective. He dismissed the 'ideal' as 'something mystical,
intangible and supernatural'. He failed to grasp that the ideal and the material
go together - and neither has primacy.
Stalin's 1913 article refuted the view that the Jews were
nation. Forty five years later, the Jewish nation did establish the Jewish state
of Israel. The subjective determination and will of the Jewish people, rooted in
an ancient heritage and consolidated by suffering led to a growing togetherness,
a renaissance in the Hebrew language and eventually, to the promised land. In
Theodor Herzl, and not Stalin, was proved right:
"We are one people - our enemies have made us one.. Distress
binds us together, and, thus united, we suddenly discover our strength. Yes, we
are strong enough to form a state and a model state. We possess all human and
material resources for the purpose." - *Theodor
Herzl : The Jewish State, 1895 quoted in Wittamayer Baron - Modern
Nationalism and Religion, New York 1947
Einstein's comments in 1929
serve to reinforce Herzl's vision:
"...a communal purpose without which we can neither live nor die in this
hostile world can always be called (nationalism). In any case it is a
nationalism whose aim is not power but dignity and health. If we did not have to
live among intolerant,
narrow-minded, and violent people, I should be the first to throw over
all nationalism in favor of universal humanity. The objection that we Jews
cannot be proper citizens of the German state, for example, if we want to be a
"nation," is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the state which
springs from the intolerance of national majorities. Against that intolerance we
shall never be safe, whether we call ourselves a people (or nation) or not..."
But to Lenin, the
slogan of national culture was a 'bourgeois swindle'
"The slogan of national culture is a bourgeois fraud...
Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the
"most just", "purest", most refined and civilised brand. In place of all forms
of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism, the amalgamation of all
nations in the higher unity, a unity that is growing before our eyes with every
mile of railway line that is built, with every international trust, and every
workers' association that is formed (an association that is international in its
economic activities as well as in its ideas and aims). The
principle of nationality is historically inevitable in bourgeois society and,
taking this society into due account, the Marxist fully recognises the
historical legitimacy of national movements. But to prevent this recognition
from becoming an apologia of nationalism, it must be strictly limited to what is
progressive in such movements, in order that this recognition may not lead to
bourgeois ideology obscuring proletarian consciousness..."
Critical Remarks on the National Question,1913
And Lenin's support for 'national
self determination' was directed to wean the working class away from
'bourgeois nationalism' and was derived from the Marxist view that a nation was
not simply a historical category, but a historical category belonging to a
definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism.
"A nation is not merely a historical category , but a
historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising
capitalism." Stalin's formula appears in many ways close to the mark, but it
applies much better to the handful of original nation states in the West than to
their imitations further a field; it applies far less well still to the majority
of nationalist movements as distinct from nations.
Marxism has often slurred over the distinction between these
two things, and made modern nationalism, as well as the classical nation state,
an alter ego of capitalism... Like religion,.. or any other great emotive force,
nationalism is ambivalent, and can escape very completely from a prescribed
political channel. Even in its origins, it was a complex phenomenon, deriving
both from the solidarity and from the divisions of society. It would have
astonished Marx to see socialism owing so much to partnerships with nationalism
in Afro-Asia and in the Soviet Union during the second world war... " -
V.Kiernan - 'Nationalist Movements and Social Classes' in
nation is a political togetherness which cuts across the vertical divisions
amongst a people...
The political togetherness of a people is not unrelated to
their economic life. But a nation is a political togetherness which cuts across
the vertical divisions amongst a people, whether they be class or caste,
and reaches deep into the historic and cultural roots of a people. The
opposition to the outside over rides the divisions inside.
"Nationalism has proved an uncomfortable anomaly for Marxist
theory and precisely for that reason, has been largely elided, rather than
confronted. How else to account for the use, for over a century of the concept
of the 'national bourgeoisie' without any serious attempt to justify
theoretically the relevance of the adjective? Why is this segmentation of the
bourgeoisie - a world class in so far as it is defined in terms of the relations
of productions - theoretically significant?
A nation is an imagined political community... It is imagined
as a community, because regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation
that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal
comradeship. Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the
past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as
willingly to die for such limited imaginings.
These deaths bring us abruptly face to face with the central
problem posed by nationalism: what makes the shrunken imaginings
of recent history (scarcely more than two centuries) generate
such colossal sacrifices?
I believe that the beginnings of an answer lie in the cultural roots
Anderson: Imagined Communities - Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nations are as much
cultural as political forms
"Nation building is rightly, though at times excessively,
social processes. Yet, it is not
confined to national liberation movements, charismatic leaders and liberators,
wars of national independence, and the struggle of national entities to emerge
to independence from a position of relative powerlessness and subservience to a
dominant power. Nations are as much cultural as political forms, and the
creation of a unique high
culture of world significance is often central to their legitimation. True,
the effects of culture are not as clearly quantifiable as those of politics. The
Verdi, for example, on Italian nationalism is hardly as clear cut as that of
impact on German nationalism is amorphous alongside the concrete political
William Butler Yeats' influence on Irish nationalism is not as definable as
Collins or Eamon De Valera. The inspiration of
Chaim Nachman Bialik
on Jewish nationalism is diffuse in comparison with that of
Yet it may be argued justly that artists have equal
greater importance. They above all
express the nation's distinctiveness; their creativity is
part of the momentum to independence; they are themselves
symbols and icons of the nation's unique creative power;
their nation morally and speak for its heart and conscience." -
John Hutchinson, European Institute, London School of Economics and
David Aberbach, Department of Jewish Studies,
McGill University, Quebec, Canada in Nations & Nationalism, Volume 4, 1999
revolution is helping to forge anew the cultural, economic and
political togetherness of a people...
Today, the third wave, the
digital revolution, is
accelerating the process not only of globalisation but also of localisation and
helping to forge anew the cultural, economic and political togetherness
of a people - even where they are divided between different states. State
boundaries are becoming increasingly porous, not only to the market but also to
rights and political activism - and
deep rooted kinship ties are
finding fresh avenues for expression. In a thoughtful analysis, Scott Crawford &
Kekula Bray-Crawford commented in 1995:
"..The swiftly evolving information and communication technologies and
networking infrastructures are playing an expanding role in supporting the
self-determination of peoples and emergent nations. Internally, access to
information and facilitation of communication provides new and enhanced
opportunities for participation in the process of self-determination, with the
potential to accelerate political, economic, social, educational and cultural
advancement beyond the scope of traditional institutions and forms of
governance. Externally, regional and global information networks expand the
voice of emergent nations and peoples with electronic forums to focus
international attention and support toward specific self-determination issues
and efforts..." -
Crawford & Kekula Bray-Crawford, in Self Determination in the Information Age,
And Piet Bakker's comments in 2001 are equally
"..Although it is sometimes argued that the
nation state is becoming less important and we�re heading towards a global
village, evidence is also pointing the other way. Nationalism is flourishing �
almost every armed conflict in the modern world has nationalistic roots. One of
the most visible aspects of the new nationalism is the spread of
nationalistic online activities..."
- Piet Bakker
on New Nationalism: The Internet Crusade,2001
'objective' definitions and the tautological nature of 'subjective'
definitions of a nation...
Eric Hobsbawm was right to point out the failure of 'objective'
definitions and the tautological nature of 'subjective' definitions of a nation.
"Attempts to establish objective criteria for
nationhood, or to explain why certain groups have become 'nations' and others
not, have often been made, based on single criteria such as language or
ethnicity or a combination of criteria such as language, common territory,
common history, cultural traits or whatever else... All such objective
definitions have failed, for the obvious reason that, since only some members of
the large class of entities which fit such definitions can at any time be
described as 'nations', exceptions can always be found... How indeed could it be
otherwise, given that we are trying to fit historically novel, emerging,
changing, and, even today, far from universal entities into a framework of
permanence and universality?....
The alternative to an objective definition is a
subjective one... (These) are open to the objection that defining a nation by
its members' consciousness of belonging to it is tautological and provides only
an a posteriori guide to what a nation is. Moreover, it can lead the incautious
into extremes of voluntarism which suggests that all that is needed to be or to
create a nation is the will to be one.... - Eric Hobsbawm,
Emeretius Professor of Economic and Social History, Birkbeck College, University
and Nationalism Since 1780 - Programme, Myth, Reality - Cambridge University
But Hobsbawm errs, when he attributes the difficulty of defining
a nation to the attempt to fit 'historically novel, emerging, changing' entities
into a 'framework of permanence and universality' . The search for 'a framework
of permanence and universality' is a search for an ever receding mirage. History
never stands still. Hobsbwam fails to draw the conclusion that reality will
always lie in the dynamic interplay between the objective and the subjective -
and cannot be cast in a 'deterministic' mould.
Gellner was right to
separate the two elements of the attempted definition - the objective and the
Ernest Gellner, finding that 'the definition of a nation presented
difficulties greater than those attendant on the definition of the state" went
on, somewhat more cautiously than Hobsbwam:
"What then is this... idea of a nation? Discussion of
two very makeshift, temporary definitions will help to
1. Two men are of the same nation if and only if they share
the same culture, where culture in turn means a system of ideas and signs and
associations and ways of behaving and communicating.
2. Two men are of the same nation if and only if they
recognise each other as belonging to the same nation. In other words nations
maketh man; nations are the artefacts of men's convictions and loyalties and
solidarities. A mere category of persons (say occupants of a given territory, or
speakers of a given language, for example) becomes a nation if and when the
members of the category firmly recognise certain mutual rights and duties to
each other in virtue of their shared membership of it. It is their recognition
of each other as fellows of this kind which turns them into a nation, and not
the other shared attributes, whatever they might be, which separate that
category from non members."
Each of these provisional definitions, the cultural and the
voluntaristic, has some merit. Each of them singles out an element which is of
real importance in the understanding of nationalism. But neither is adequate."
- Ernest Gellner, Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge
and Nationalism - Basil Blackwell, 1983
Gellner was right to separate the two elements of the attempted definition -
the objective and the subjective - the 'shared attributes' of a group and the
voluntaristic recognition of 'each other as belonging to the same nation' and to
conclude that neither is adequate.
feelings of a people
are not uniquely determined by their material conditions of existence...
The short point is that the subjective feelings of a people are not unrelated
to their material conditions of existence.
At the same time, they
are not uniquely determined by such conditions. A people may change their
material conditions of existence by actions that their feelings may impel them
to take. Gellner's 'elusive' reality lies in the interplay.
John Stuart Mill, writing in 1872, a century before Gellner
drew attention to the subjective 'feeling' that a people have and the 'causes'
for that feeling.
"A portion of mankind may be said to constitute a nationality,
if they are united among themselves by common sympathies, which do not exist
between them and any others - which make them cooperate with each other more
willingly than with other people, desire to be under the same government...
...This feeling of nationality may have been generated by
various causes. Sometimes it is the effect of identity of race and descent.
Community of language, and community of religion greatly contribute to it.
Geographical limits are one of its causes. But the strongest of all is identity
of political antecedents; the possession of a national history, and consequent
community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and
regret, connected with the same incidents in the past."
Stuart Mill: Considerations on Representative Government. London 1872
But to the extent that humans are not animals, there will
always be space between stimulus and response and different peoples may respond
in different ways to the same 'stimulus'.
"Man is of less terrestrial mould than some would have him to be. He has an
element of the divine which the politician ignores. The practical politician
looks to the position at the moment and imagines that he has taken everything
into consideration. He has indeed studied the surface and the immediate
surroundings, but he has missed what lies beyond material vision. He has left
out of account the divine, the incalculable in man, that element which upsets
the calculations of the schemer and disconcerts the wisdom of the diplomat."
- Sri Aurobindo, in the
Morality of the Boycott - Collected Political Writings, Bande Mataram, 1907
Perhaps, it was the space between stimulus and response which
Ernest Renan to
declare with passion in 1882, that a nation was a 'spiritual principle'
rooted in a common legacy and the will to value that legacy - one was the past,
and the other was the present.
"A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Only two things,
constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the past, the other is
the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of remembrances;
the other is the actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to
continue to value the heritage which all hold in common...It supposes a past, it
renews itself especially in the present by tangible deed: the approval, the
desire, clearly expressed to continue the communal life. The existence of a
nation is an everyday plebiscite..." -
Que'est-ce qu'une Nation? Paris 1882
And to the past and the present, H.A.L.Fisher added common
aspirations as to the future:
"What is essential to the growth of the national spirit is a
common history - common sufferings, common triumphs, common achievements, common
memories, and, it may be added, common aspirations."
an important role in nation building...
Leaders play an important role in nation building.
"Leaders play such an important part in achieving and
sustaining loyalty...they contribute ideas and plans which lead to nationalism
and to its continuation and perpetuation. The beginnings of the growth of modern
nationalism in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, is usually traced to a
relatively small nucleus whose influence slowly spreads until it eventually
reaches millions of people"
This eminent company of intellectuals evidently expressed some
of the unexpressed aspirations of their time and consequently inspired many
contemporaries to strike out for independence.. Intellectuals, writers, and
artists have repeatedly been in the vanguard of national movements...
It seems likely that ordinary citizens, concentrating as they
must upon the normal challenges of their existence, have relatively little time
or inclination to conceive of nationalism or to dwell upon it after its
establishment unless they are induced or compelled to do so... research in the
West suggests that informal leaders who lack formal status in a society are
often the very people having greatest influence upon groups of followers....
The talent of such people, the unconventionality of their
creations, or their own frustrations force them into social positions different
from that of their provenance. By changing their status, they acquire knowledge
of another social group or class and they are able, consequently, to survey
society with greater perspective...They seek change for the society since they
themselves have been compelled to change....
For national leaders to function effectively certain optimal
conditions are essential: they seem to require an opportunity within their own
society to interact with one another, so that they can cooperate, produce new
ideas, and indeed provide the communication necessary for the formation and
maintenance of nationalism...
Leonard W. Doob: Patriotism and Nationalism - Their Psychological
Foundations , Yale University Press, 1964
Nations and the
Ofcourse, nations are not for all time.
"Nations are not something eternal. They have begun, they will
end... But such is not the law of the century in which we live. At the
present time, the existence of nations is a guarantee of liberty, which would be
lost if the world had only one law and only one master.... A great
aggregation of men, with a healthy spirit and warmth of heart, creates a moral
conscience which is called a nation. When this moral conscience proves its
strength by sacrifices that demand abdication of the individual for the benefit
of the community, it is legitimate, and it has the right to exist." -
Que'est-ce qu'une Nation? Paris 1882
"That the difference in poverty is so great, and that
the world's poorest people are so numerous, comprising as they do, more than one
half of mankind, these are perhaps the fundamental facts behind much of today's
nationalistic insistence on national separateness... not before the vast poverty
of Asia and Africa will have been reduced substantially by industrialisation,
and by gains in living standards and in education, not before then will the age
of nationalism and national diversity see the beginning of the end." -
Nationalism and Social Communication, New York 1953
Today, the so called third world (in truth, the majority
world), is approaching 80% of the world's population. And the
is emerging as a new force in international politics.
"Increasingly, the Fourth World is emerging as a new force in international
politics because in the common defence of their nations, many indigenous peoples
do not accept being mere subjects of international law and state sovereignty and
trusteeship bureaucracies. Instead, they are organising and exerting their own
participation and policies as sovereign peoples and nations." -Bernard
Q. Nietschmann: Fourth World nations, Conflicts and Alternatives, 1985
To those who advocate
internationalism for others, whilst holding fast to their own nation, the words
of Sun Yat Sen, written more than 80 years ago, will serve as a continuing
reminder of political reality - and the need to match words and deeds:
"At present, England and France are advocating a new idea
which is proposed by the intellectuals. What is that idea? It is an anti
nationalist idea which argues that nationalism is narrow and illiberal; it is
simply an idea of cosmopolitanism.. Cosmopolitanism will cause further decadence
if we leave the reality, nationalism, for the shadow, cosmopolitanism.... First
let us practise nationalism; cosmopolitanism will follow." -
The Triple Demism of Sun Yat Sen, 1924
A true trans-nationalism will emerge, not by the suppression of nations but
when nations flower and mature. To work for the flowering of nations is to
advance the emergence of a true trans-nationalism. It is true that no people are
an island unto themselves. But
nationalism is not chauvinism - it becomes so only when it takes exaggerated
forms and is directed to the subjugation of one nation by another.
"It is a fact often commented upon that this growth of
nationalism and of national sectionalisms happened at the very same time when
international relations, trade, and communications were developing as never
before; that local languages were raised to the dignity of literary and cultural
languages just at the time when it seemed most desirable to efface all
differences of language by the spread of world languages. This view overlooks
the fact that that very growth of nationalism all over the earth, with its
awakening of the masses to participation in political and cultural life,
prepared the way for the closer cultural contacts of all the civilisations of
mankind, at the same time separating and uniting them." - Hans Kohn:
of Nationalism - A Study of its Origins and Background,
Michael Lind writing in
Prospect Magazine in October 2000 is persuasive:
"...The ethnic nation can be broadly defined to include all people with a
common language or culture, or limited narrowly to people sharing a common
descent. But whether it is defined broadly, as in multiracial Brazil, Mexico or
the US, or narrowly, as in mono racial Japan or Sweden, the ethnic nation is the
largest community with which ordinary human beings can have an emotional
...The 19th century was a century of nationalism. The
20th century was also a century of nationalism. In all likelihood, the 21st
century will be a century of nationalism as well..."
What then is a nation
in an emerging one world?
What then is a nation in an
emerging one world?
"It is remarkable how much a thirty-second
pictogram of nationalism can reveal of one’s
understanding. I ask my students to
draw such a pictogram in the beginning of
the discussion (on nationalism). They
invariably draw flags and/or people with
guns. When I ask them for a pictogram of
nationalism at the end of the discussion,
the emblem changes completely: they draw a globe and
little unarmed people, who sometime say things like: "oh, my
identity!" For flags and guns do not even begin to express what is
central and most significant about nationalism..."
Nationalism and the Mind - Liah Greenfeld
A nation is a community of people rooted in kinship and which
has grown through a process of differentiation and opposition. It is not nature
or nurture - but, it is both. It is a togetherness rooted in a shared
heritage, language and culture and expressed in a determined will to live in
equality and in
freedom. It is a
political togetherness concerned both with the structure and the exercise
of power in an
inter-national frame. But
a nation is not a state. And it is not
necessarily a state in waiting. The
digital revolution is
helping to forge anew the togetherness of a people. State boundaries are
becoming increasingly porous, not only to the market but also to
human rights and
political activism - and deep rooted kinship ties are finding fresh avenues
All definitions are incomplete and partial. But, to the extent
that they serve to abstract human experience, they help to provide platforms for
action - and further growth.
We enfold and unfold.
Theory is a practical thing.