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Five Approaches to Nationalism

Drawing on the work of Kedourie, McLuhan, Gellner,


Anderson, and Kemper, one can point to various scholarly
explanations of nationalism:
Nationalism is borrowed from some other nation Elie Kedourie
"Elie Kedourie first made the argument that nationalism was essentially a
European phenomenon, carried around the world by colonial circumstances, and
when Benedict Anderson treats nationalism as a transportable, 'modular'
phenomenon, he follows in the tradition that sees nationalism as imitative"
(Kemper, 3).

Nationalism is the inevitable result of the Gutenberg Revolution


Marshall McLuhan, Benedict Anderson
Marshall McLuhan, later followed by Elizabeth Eisenstein and Benedict
Anderson, derive Nationalism from the introduction of printing technology into a
society. In other words, these thinkers claim that it was not some vague
"European" mode of thought but rather one particular aspect of European culture
the printing press and its associated social, economic, and cultural practices
produces nationalism. Acording to McLuhan and Eisenstein, the introduction
of print-based information technologies, whose economies of scale demand
homogeneous spelling, grammar, and vocabulary, inevitably produce a sense of
nationhood. Italy and Germany, both of which were geographical areas that
shared common languages before they became unified countries, began to
conceive themselves as nations after printing standardized their languages.
African postcolonial authors, one should note, often comment upon the intrusion
of writing and printing into oral, preliterate societies.
Kemper summarizes Anderson's version of this argument in the following way:
Nations had to be 'imagined communities'. Their size an complexity made the
possibility of citizens knowing one another in a face-to-face way quite ridiculous.
The spread of print technology made it possible for enormous numbers of people
to know of one another indirectly, for the printing press become the middleman to
the imagination of the community. . . .The very existence and regularity of
newspapers caused readers, and thus citizens-in-the-making, to imagine
themselves residing in a common time and place, united by a print language with
a league of anonymous equals. [Kemper 4]
According to Kemper, this emphasis upon "new technology and new forms of
social organization gives the impression that nationalism was a 'big bang.' Before
the bang there was no nation; after the bang, there was" (5). Is this criticism fair,

or because Kemper has concentrated on Anderson's version of the argument,


has he ignored the mechanisms of change provided by Eisenstein, McLuhan,
and other students of information technology?

Nationalism derives from cultural necessities Ernest Gellner


"Ernest Gellner points to a structural connection between nationalism and the
needs of modern, industrial society: nationalism creates the common culture and
social homogeneity needed for the complex and constantly changing division of
labor in modern societies. But he also assumes the imitative character of many
nationalist movements. In his words, nations do not so much create nationalism
as nationalism creates nations" (Kemper, 4).

Nationalism is a recrudescence of local ideas and interests Eric


Hobsbawm
"Other scholars see nationalism as . . . the work of traditional elites, trying to
protect their advantages and preserve customary practices. Hobsbawm
speculates that nationalist movements derive from 'middle peasants' seeking to
preserve a threatened way of life and their own advantage or that the state mass
produced tradition for the sake of its own legitimacy" (Kemper, 4).

Nationalism is a local response, employing local cultural forms, to


new circumstances Steven Kemper
Kemper differentiates his own view of the subject by emphasizing, in supposed
contradiction to others, the need to pay attention to culture, politics, and
consciousness of individual societies. He thus claims that the problem with
Anderson's and other conceptions of nationalism that
they do pay enough attention to it as "a political phenomenon" (6).
their stress upon its essential novelty within a particular society that cannot
explain "why citizens-in-the-making took these ideas seriously or how they
interacted with traditional conceptions of leadership, moral behavior, and identity"
(5).
Kemper does not so much reject the work of his predecessors as require that
one adds to it a much-finer grained local mechanism for individual cultures. "I
think," Kemper argues, "that nationalism needs to be seen as a conversation that
the present holds with the past. . . . We also need to recognize us that the
conversation includes several voices in the present arguing about exactly what
kind of past actually existed" (7),
The strength of nationalism as a political phenomenon is its ability to draw on
sentiments -- language, religion, family, culture -- that appear to be natural and
autochthonous. Their cultural expression required the emergence of a set of hew
and hardly autochthonous circumstances. This is the paradox of nationalism. Its
force depends on the capturing of primordial sentiments, even though the

drawing together of language, religion, or culture with the polity is generally a


modern phenomenon. . . . Nationalism builds the civil order by saying it was there
all the while. Of course it was not, but the instruments of nationalist practice were
there, . . . [such as] a political rhetoric of righteous, unifying leadership and
cultural forms such as the keeping of chronicles. [224]
Nationalism has been the subject of hundreds of analyses and dozens of
theories.