Nationalism Questions:
I've decided to provide an outline for this question because it is a good example of the types of questions about nationalism.
“Where does nationalism come from? Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of three prominent theories of nationalism.” (Spring 2009)
Theories of Nationalism:
Modernism: Nations are wholly modern constructs. They arose as a result modern state or aspects related to modernity. Scholars include: Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawn, John Breuilly, Ernest Gellner
Essentialism (Eddy's Note: While Steve includes ethno-symbolism under the larger heading “essentialism,” I think that you could easily make the case that it is its own distinct theory...on the other hand I'm not the one correcting the exam!)
· Ethno-symbolism: While nations are modern constructs, they are founded on pre-modern ethnies. Although constructed, nationalism requires concrete things, like myths and symbols, to build upon.
· Primordialism: This is almost a psychological view of nations. It views nations as a version of extended kinship. Mostly discredited, no major authors mentioned.
· Perennialism: Nations are founded on “blood” and language. Nations have always existed. Almost entirely discredited and banished from academia. No major authors mentioned.
Two other theories of nationalism mentioned by Steve, but not really covered in the readings or in class
Instrumentalists: Based on Rational Choice Theory
Greed and Grievance: Mostly dealing with attempts by nations to forge their own states. i.e. Rebel movements in Africa. These groups both have legitimate grievances but are also and interested in enriching themselves (or at least the leaders are). Authors: Paul Collier.
Eddy's strategy for answering this question:
First I would chose Primordialism or Perennialism as a straw-man argument. It is fun and easy to trash. Then I would spend most of my time comparing Smith's ethno-symbolism with modernism. For modernism I would focus mostly on Anderson (since we did him in class), but would throw in a few more modernists (like Hobsbawn) because Anderson is not a conventional modernist. You could also critique Anderson by using the arguments in Chattergy and Homi Baba, which see Anderson (and most of these other scholars) as almost entirely focused on Europe! They are especially interested in India.
MAJOR NATIONALISM THEORISTS
MODERNISM
Benedict Anderson (Marxist): I think because we all did a summary of his book this semester I can skip him here...
Eric Hobsbawn (Marxist): One of the most stalwart proponents of the modernist theory of the formation of nations. Not only does Hobsbawm reject the idea that pre-modern aspects played a significant role in shaping modern national identity, he also discounts culture as an influencing factor. In Hobsbawm’s view, the development of nationalism, which is intrinsically linked with the idea of the nation, was a strictly modern construct that first arose out of political movements unique to late eighteenth century Europe and North America. This political development of nationalism continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, evolving from what was a originally a liberal idea to one that, by the interwar years, often came to be associated with extreme right-wing ideologies. Although Hobsbawm considers the current manifestations of non-political forces, such as ethnicity and religion, as relevant to contemporary nationalism, he sees their historical role in the development of nations as minimal.
The basis of Hobsbawm’s dismissal of pre-modern influences on national formation is his conception of nationhood as being fundamentally contingent on the development of the modern, Westpahlian modelled state. While criterion for denoting the supposed homogeny of specific societies have existed throughout history — criterion that Hobsbawm terms ‘proto-nationalism’ — these have never provided a major impetus for national movement. Instead, the nation arose because the European experience of modernity was one that witnessed states play ever increasing role in the lives of their citizens. While much of this state involvement was quite benign, such as the registration of births and deaths, other aspects, like military conscription, proved extremely disruptive to the lives of the general populace.
Although Hobsbawm acknowledges that cultural factors were present in the formative stages of nations in the late eighteenth century, he views their influence as not being anywhere as profound as that of political forces. Hobsbawm’s general rejection of the idea that culture provided serious impetus for the formation of nations is best displayed in his attitude towards the role of language. While the development of national language is seen by many theorists, including other modernists, as crucial to the creation of nations, Hobsbawm discounts it as a product, rather than a facilitator of the initial stages of national development. This claim is evidenced by a number of historical European cases, including the fact that in 1789, only fifty percent of the population of France spoke French. While later nationalist causes, such as those associated with German unification, would make great use of common linguistic ties, Hobsbawm continues to view the state as the paramount component in the origins of nations.
ETHNO-SYMBOLISM
Anthony Smith (Not a Marxist): In order to comprehend Smith’s ideas on the origin of nationhood, it is first important to examine the ethno-symbolist approach to the relationship between the nation and pre-modern ethnicities. A principal tenant of this theory is that, although nations are a modern construct, they are focussed around an historical ‘ethnic core’. While, unlike other essentialists, Smith does not posit the notion of a direct biological continuation from pre-modern kin groups to contemporary nationalities, he does view these pre-existing ethnic communities, or ‘ethnies’, as having played a crucial role in the formation of modern nations. Even in cases where the historical distance between an ethnicity and a modern nation was so vast as to make any empirical links highly tenuous, the use of ethnically based myths and symbols, even ‘reinvented’ ones, was critical to ‘nation building’. This fundamental connectedness between ethnies and the nation is evidenced by the important characteristics that the two share, such as the idea of ‘self definition, including a proper collective name’, and the acceptance of myths concerning the notion of a common origin.
The role of ethnically based kin groups in the formation of modern nations is directly related to the differing types of pre-modern ethnies, which Smith separates into a lateral and extensive variant, and a vertical, intensive one. While lateral ethnies are generally typified by aristocratic, pastoral societies, vertical, or demotic ethnies, coincide with either urban or tribally structured societies These types of ethnic groups, in turn, produced distinct ‘routes to nationhood’, whose characteristics correspond to the ethnies from which they derived. The first of Smith’s ‘routes to nationhood’, which he terms ‘bureaucratic incorporation’, occurred in lateral ethnies and was a top-down event that witnesses the gradual absorption of the general citizenry into the culture of the ruling elite. One of the clearest examples of this type of territorial national formation comes from late-mediaeval England, where the disparate ethnic Anglo-Saxon and Danish populations were eventually merged under a common Norman political structure. While Smith does not go so far as to propose the existence of a fully formed pre-modern English nation, his view, nevertheless, differs greatly from the modernist interpretations of the rise of British national identity.
Smith’s second, and contrasting ‘route to nationhood’, termed ‘vernacular mobilisation’, took place in demotic ethnies as a result of a ‘rediscovery’ of their ‘ethnic pasts’. A bottom-up process generally spearheaded by indigenous intellectuals, this method of national formation was most commonly found among minority groups within larger states. While Smith presents a number of historical examples of this second method, such as the ‘rebirth’ of the Greek nation in the 18th and 19th Centuries, he also as sees it a the principal means for nationalist mobilisation among aspirant nations in the present day. Although Smith only proposes two variants of pre-modern ethnies, he denotes a third ‘route to nationhood’ that, while not fitting as succinctly into his theory of a nation having an‘ethnic core’, is necessary to the understanding of the conceptions of national identity found in states such as Canada, the USA, and Australia. These nations, which arose from ‘frontier nationalism’, created a pluralistic society that ‘.... accepts, and even celebrates, ethnic and cultural diversity within an overarching political, legal and linguistic national identity’. What Smith fails to mention, however, is that these ostensibly inclusive nations were initially able to form because the territory that they occupied had been made vacant through policies of ethnic cleansing towards preexisting populations. Despite this particular omission, Smith’s three ‘routes to nationhood’ provide an important alternative to the modernist approach, by examining the role of pre-modern concepts, such as ethnicity and the collective cultural myths surrounding it, in the formation of modern nations.
Although the ethno-symbolist response suggests a more comprehensive conception of the nation and nationalism, it is not free from legitimate modernist criticism. One of the areas where Smith has been most vulnerable to recent academic challenge is his blending of definitions of nations and states. This equation of nations with political independence detracts from ethno-symbolism’s analysis of contemporary multi-nationality states, such as Canada, where the constitutional right of national self-determination has still not led to the formation of sovereign Québec. A second modernist critique of Smith, posited by Breuilly, views ethno-symbolism as assuming far too great a link between pre-modern ethnic identity and nations by downplaying the role modern political institutions. Smith, however, counters Breuilly’s charge by claiming a modernist bias towards the strictly modern features of national institutions, thus ignoring these institutions’ significance to pre-modern ethnicities.
Despite the common modernist criticism of ethno-symbolism that it greatly exaggerates the ties between ancient ethnicity and the modern nation, it is important to stress that Smith does examine a number of areas where ethnies and nations diverge, such as the latter’s ability to incorporate outsiders, an impossibility for ethnic groups. This dichotomous relationship between ethnicity and the nation is central to ethno-symbolist thought, as it gives nations a mantel of modernity, while at the same time, allowing them to retain an element of antiquity. By viewing the foundation of nations as a duality of both the ancient and the novel, ethno-symbolism is able to acquire, in Smith’s view, its ‘.... intermediate position ... that most adequately captures the often subtle relationships between modern nations and older ethnie ....’.