John Hutchinson. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Krishan Kumar. Sage Publications. 2006.
This chapter examines nation-formation as a dynamic and potentially reversible process. Scholars tend to view national-formation as a teleological development in which there is first a romantic nationalism of intellectuals that gives way to the routinized ‘banal’ identities of sovereign national states as rival class, regional and religious formations are incorporated by political and economic processes into solidary nations. In this view the national state was a late nineteenth-century institution, constructed from above by the progressive integration of the masses into a national society that is unitary and sovereign.
I shall reject such accounts as mythical. Throughout the modern period nations and national states have been beset by class, regional and religious conflicts, and national states have never been sovereign actors. Although nations have increasingly taken on a mass character in European countries, national identities arise from civil society rather than state, co-exist with other identities, and vary in salience between countries and over times. I suggest the co-formation of two types of nationalism: a ‘hot’ transformational movement produced by a sense of crisis and a ‘banal nationalism’ that people consume as part of giving meaning to the experiences of everyday life. In seeking to explain fluctuations in the salience of national identities, I will identify unpredictable factors such as warfare, famines and large-scale migrations of populations in triggering movements from below for and against the nation and national state.
The Rise of the Mass Nation
For many scholars a shift from elite to mass nationalisms derives from industrializing states struggling for survival within a competitive inter-state system. The rise of the modern national state was a consequence of ideological, administrative, economic and military transformations.
First, the secular Enlightenment legitimized politics rather than religion as the means of human salvation. As a political consciousness spread, excluded social classes organized to demand citizenship and thereby participate in the state. The extension of citizenship in its various forms, civil, social and political, bound broader sections of the population to the state. Andreas Wimmer (2002: ch. 3) argues that the provision of social welfare (social citizenship) nationalized the working classes, driving them to construct boundaries against foreign migrants who threatened to dilute their new rights.
Secondly, the administrative reach of the state over its territory and population was intensified by revolutions in communications that enabled regular censuses and surveys, improved monitoring, taxing, policing and the provision of social welfare. As state and society became intermeshed so the former required the psychological bond supplied by nationalism (Giddens 1985: 116-21). The national state is, in Anthony Giddens’s words, ‘a bounded power container’.
Thirdly, the state was an enabler of industrial capitalism through its legal protection of property, regulation of internal and external trade, supervision of the money supply, tax structures and later macro-economic policies to facilitate ‘full employment’. The rise of territorial currencies in Europe, North America and Japan from the mid-nineteenth century, made possible by new industrial techniques to produce standardized currencies (notes and coins) in mass quantities, increased the capacity of states to create national collectives (Helleiner 2003: chs 3, 5). State currencies and common interest rates harmonized populations into a single economic cycle (Helleiner 2003: 11).
Finally, military revolutions encouraged the rise of large, efficient and homogeneous national states able to maintain standing armies and mobilize their populations in defence of the territory. Charles Tilly (1995: 196-7) argues that the European states, faced with intensified military competition from their neighbours, needed to extract ever greater resources from reluctant populations. This led to policies of circumscription (the control over contiguous and sharply defined boundaries) and centralization as rulers substituted direct top-to-bottom government for the indirect rule of tribute-bearing intermediaries, allying with the middle classes to develop a national solidarity and promoting cultural homogenization through the educational system.
Most date the mass nation in Western Europe to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Connor 1990; Hobsbawm 1990). Eugene Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen (1976) examines the formation of the exemplary modern nation. Even in 1870 much of France was regional rather than national in its consciousness, speaking local patois rather than French. A French nation formed only after the humiliating defeat by the Prussian-led German Confederation, when the Third Republic, from 1871 to 1914, instituted a secondary education that inculcated a patriotic historical consciousness, military conscription and a network of communications connecting the regions to the centre and forming a territory-wide economy. The nation as mass phenomenon came late, and for much of Europe formed during World War I, which mobilized the whole population.
There are problems with these arguments. Statist pressures cannot explain by themselves why populations come to identify with a given polity as a national state. During the period 1870-1914 nationalism among European minorities intensified against a state homogenization that was perceived to be driven by the interests of dominant nationalities. Tilly admits that such pressures produced not just state-led but state-seeking nationalisms of minorities. This highlights the neglect of ethnicity as an active factor in the formation of mass national identities, particularly in multi-ethnic states.
Ethnic considerations shaped state military recruitment policies. Conscription did not necessarily mould populations into a common nationality, and was often viewed as a last resort by military planners, who mobilized the most costly and least reliable last and released them first. Russian Imperial armies in the nineteenth century tended to be drafted from Slavs in the west and only rarely from Asia (Enloe 1980: 65). Conscription could result in national differentiation rather than national state unity, when minorities would join up in the (false) expectation that their participation in war would give them greater political rights. The rise of state-territorial currencies and the bringing together of populations into a common economic space do not necessarily establish social solidarities. Economic policies, as we shall see, have always impacted unevenly on regions and where disparities are long term and are overlaid on ethnic differences, they can excite nationalist resentments.
But what of the state-led nationalisms of the dominant nationalities? Here again, when we are supposed to witness the formation of the solidary mass nation, we find many states subject to intense resistance from anti-imperial, religious, regional and class interests.
The German national state, unified from above by war in 1871, was hobbled from the start by Bismarck’s attempt to use nationalism to preserve from social revolution an Imperial Prussian, aristocratic and Lutheran ascendancy in a rapidly industrializing country. A cultural war developed with the Catholic minority in the southern German states. A hostile Marxian social democratic subculture formed amongst the German working class, unchecked by the combination of government repression of socialist activities and the introduction of welfare policies (Roberts 1967: 73, 203-7). In the French Third Republic the secular republican onslaught on the Church and the Dreyfus affair pitched republicans against royalists, Catholics and the army. On the left, anti-regime socialist ideologies took root among the urban working class, including the Second International and Syndicalist movements. The nationalizing drive of republican centralists fanned regionalist resistance in Alsace, Brittany, French Flanders, Provence and Languedoc (Gildea 1994:177-211).
If the idea of the unified mass nation is questionable, so too is that of the national state as sovereign power container, capable of circumscribing its populations and militarily autonomous against external foes. During the nineteenth century national states clearly lacked sovereignty according to many benchmarks. National state formation coincided with the expansion of transnational capitalism, and the permeability of state frontiers to the movement of goods, capital and people in the period 1870-1914 was not surpassed until after World War II (Milward 1997: 11). There was a shrinking of agricultural sectors in many countries, a loss of self-sufficiency in food production, and rural depopulation. The era of national states was marked by the largest emigration in European history (of some 40 million people between 1851 and 1920) (Woodruff 1973: 700-1). In military affairs, accelerating great power competition forced into alliances Britain and France and Imperial Russia, and Germany and the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires.
Although the European peoples rallied to the defence of the homeland at the outbreak of World War I, all countries were bedevilled by social unrest, and hardship and impending defeat led to the socialist November revolution of 1919 in Germany that overthrew the Kaiser. After the war all participant states were haunted by fears that the social order would be swept away by an international communist revolution inspired by the Bolshevik coup in 1917, fears intensified by the Depression. in short, the rise of a unitary and sovereign national society during the period 1870-1919 is something of a myth.
Nationalism from Below
Yet, in spite of social divisions, national sentiment intensified during the nineteenth century in many European countries. In the late nineteenth century an English cultural nationalism formed in defence of the shire against a London cosmopolitanism and materialism. Conservatives found there the country houses that bred the officers and gentry and yeomen who formed the core of the Empire; liberals and radicals, the fount of ancient English democratic liberties; and socialists, like William Morris, a model for the future communitarian socialist ideal (Wiener 1981: 59-60). In the German post-unification state a new wave of movements struggled to create a stronger emotional bond with the nation, and, in some cases, nationalize the Imperial state. They included Wandervogel, a pacific middle-class youth movement, and the Heimatschutz, whose goal was the historical preservation of homelands, nature conservation, ‘life reform’ and industrial design against the pressures of commercial development (Koshar 1998: 20-64).
This suggests that state activism does not so much construct homogeneous national identities as provoke countervailing romantic conceptions of community as a site of multiple diversities. Nonetheless, these communitarian nationalist revivals were minority projects. What is interesting is that national symbols and genres were eagerly consumed by an educated public so that they pervaded public and domestic life. As a new secular urban civil society formed oriented to consumption, so its public buildings, housing and leisure activities assumed a national character.
In England national emblems were of long standing. The greenwoods and their outlaws had long been a defiant symbol of English liberties against Norman despotism, represented in the legend of Robin Hood (Schama 1995: ch. 3). This national consciousness had broadened by the mid-eighteenth century to a middle-class cult of native landscape, particularly the Lake District, formed by guide books and better road communications, and was also expressed by the Gothic revival. Gothic styles pervaded the public and private architecture of the Victorians, including the rebuilt Houses of Parliament and Manchester Town Hall, shops and public houses. During the late nineteenth century a broader revival of English vernacular styles inspired new middle-class garden suburbs such as Bedford Park and Hampstead, and public housing estates in the 1930s period reflected a medieval nostalgia (Wiener 1981: 29-66). Everything from suburban gardens to domestic wallpaper was given an English vernacular character.
In Ireland the national revival of the early nineteenth century expanded the stock of national symbols as the round tower, Celtic cross, Hiberno-Romanesque styles of architecture, the illustrative manuscripts of the Book of Kells and historic monastic sites were added to the traditional symbols of shamrock, harp and wolfhound. Several leading Irish nationalists were topographical artists, and picturesque scenes in numerous guidebooks fed a tourist industry, sustained by improvements in literacy and in communications (Sheehy 1980: ch. 5). Hiberno-Romanesque styles were deployed from the 1840s by Protestant and Catholic churches as they competed to claim succession from St Patrick. Round towers appeared on the facades of public houses. Furniture establishments produced artefacts for the drawing room and boudoir with Celtic iconography, as did makers of porcelain and glass (Sheehy 1980: ch. 5).
In Germany too a national past was eagerly consumed by aspirant middle classes in the form of tourism, photography, and post cards (Koshar 1998: 20-64). Among the cherished monuments were medieval castles and churches and residential structures. After World War I, the sense of loss generated new democratic rituals and organizations similar to those in Britain and France: Germans saturated public buildings with crosses, plaques and insignia on church bells. Germans journeyed not just to war graves, but also, in response to the extreme political instabilities, travelled in unprecedented numbers to historic sites, especially in the Rhineland (Koshar 1998: 138-41).
If national myths and symbols were promoted by elites and used instrumentally by states, they were also appropriated and consumed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by many social groups. This suggests that there are two types of nationalism at work in national identity formation. One is the ‘hot’ didactic nationalism that instils the idea of the nation as a sacred and transcendent object of worship and sacrifice. This emerges in waves as a project that is self-conscious, systematic and prescriptive, providing exemplary forms of conduct in order to unify all the components (of class, region, religion and gender) of the nation. Revivalists find allies (and rivals) in political ideologues who use cultural nationalism to construct political communities, demarcated from others by multiple boundaries. The other is the informal or ‘banal’ nationalism of populations who ‘consume’ nationalism in a relatively unself-conscious manner as a guide to the conduct of everyday life as expressed in popular songs, political posters, stamps, banknotes, coinage and brand names of staple products. This seems to be a continuous phenomenon in the modern period.
This raises three issues. First, is a collective national consciousness a channeller or a product of political mobilisation? Secondly, what are the factors that trigger these waves of nationalist mobilisation? Thirdly, what is the relationship between ‘hot’ and ‘banal’ nationalism, and how is the emergence of national civil society compatible with the persistence of religious, class and regional identities?
Patterns of Mass Identification with the Nation
How do we explain the rise of mass nations? One has to understand the appeal of nationalism as a constructor of meaning that was able to trump attachments of family, class, region and religion. National identities were not constructed from above but consumed from below by an emerging civil society.
Underlying nationalism was a secular revolution that eroded hegemonic religious ideologies and enabled nationalists to present the nation as the necessary base of an innovative modern culture. State modernization and economic development engendered a crisis of identity as newly educated middle and later working classes entered a society in transformation from rural to urban, religious to secular, and oral to literate. Aspiring educated groups found in nationalism an integrative vision of life that, combining a notion of human progress with a sense of rootedness, equipped them to engage with a world in transformation and conflict. They attempted both to preserve links with an ancient past (castles, medieval churches, village and city squares) being eroded by modern development and also to invest with authenticity a novel public and private life by pervading it with ‘ancient national symbols’. A national repertoire was adopted across the political and class spectrum as education and aspirations spread.
The capacity of national identities to suborn other loyalties depended on nationalists’ capacity to build on earlier ethno-cultural heritages that regulated identities of family, class and religion. National identities also varied according to whether they were oriented towards or against the culture and rituals of the state. In the case of England and France there was a strong identification with the state and its long-established ethno-historical core that for centuries were targets of aspiring individuals. Official England was based in the southern region of London (centre of the royal court and Parliament), Canterbury (historic centre of the Church of England) and the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Paris and its hinterland of cathedral cities, such as Reims, was still more important, from the thirteenth century dominating by virtue of its administration, universities, law courts and later royal court that defined the language and culture (Grillo 1989: ch. 8).
These centres were not unchallenged by the other regions. Nonetheless, London and Paris prevailed because historically they were the foci of aspiring individuals, and in the modern period their power increased as they became the centres of higher education, the mass media, government bureaucracies, the professions and business. When new classes from the provinces entered this environment, they were drawn to established symbols of identity. The new metropolitan-dominated print culture of newspapers, novels and self-help literature of all kinds can be seen as conduct manuals, instructing insecure individuals in national norms regulating large areas of life, from proper speech, required reading, sense of dress, the taking of holidays or leisure to national sites, sports and the organization of the suburban garden (see Mercer 1992).
Class incorporation into the nation was also shaped by ethnicity. The political and social struggles of modernity were articulated and legitimized by reference to older idioms, in some cases local and religious, but in others ethno-national. In France the struggle between the French bourgeoisie and the nobility was expressed in ethnic terms as a battle between Gauls and Franks. In England the drive for class power in the era of nationalism was articulated and legitimized through older ethnic traditions. The campaign of non-conformist middle classes for representation was justified by an Anglo-Saxonist Gallophobia focused on the national ‘betrayal’ by a Gallic Whig aristocracy at a time when the nation engaged in a long series of wars against France. Similarly, radical journalists such as William Cobbett activated English workers into a separate class consciousness, citing ideas of the rights of free-born Englishmen under the ‘ancient constitution’ to demand parliamentary reform (Thompson 1968: ch. 4).
This might suggest that nation-formation is an evolutionary process, but nationalism as an ideological movement is episodic, triggered by a periodic sense of crisis that the nation is in danger. Under such circumstances, nationalists seek to expand (and sometimes totalize) the sectors of life regulated by national norms as a means of redirecting all energies to the defence of the collectivity and insulating it from pollution and destruction. These resurgences are triggered by sudden threats to those primary goals identified by Smith, namely the autonomy, identity and territorial integrity of the nation (Smith 1991: 74). The rise and subsidence cannot be charted in linear terms because such threats are unpredictable. The nation is a process, and a nonlinear one, that is reversible (Connor 1990).
An identification with the nation is separable from an orientation to the national state. Although states are important protectors of nations in a world of competing states, they can be denationalizing since, in the pursuit of economic and social efficiency, they adopt the successful strategies of rival polities, intervening to restructure social institutions and exposing their populations to transnational tastes and perspectives. As national identities become blurred with the interests of state, they lose the capacity to energize populations in practice of their daily life. Economic success tends to make national ossification the norm. Mass nationalist mobilization depends on a sense of crisis.
What then are relevant catalysts? We find a clue in the connection, observed above, between a nationalization of emerging classes’ foreign threat and a sense of betrayal by a class establishment. Nations with or without states are regularly challenged by shifting military balances, new technologies, religious movements and changes in demography and migration. In short, nations are far from being autonomous and when these challenges cannot be managed, they have stimulated a mass mobilization to nationalize the social world. The effects are not always one way: national identities may be attenuated by these experiences or profoundly modified as a consequence.
Warfare has required a continuous redefinition of populations with respect to each other. An ethnic nationalism has been stimulated by the invasion, overthrow and rise of states, the shifting of states into new geopolitical spaces, the turning of dominant groups into national minorities and vice versa, and large-scale transfers of population. Many scholars (Howard 1976; McNeill 1984; Mann 1993; Tilly 1995) have examined how state mobilization produced pressures that led to the extension of citizenship to formerly low status groups such as the working classes, women and ethnic minorities. But citizenship by itself is not a gauge of national identities, since ethnic minorities can use it to organize against the territorial state.
What is central is the relationship between warfare and the perception of the nation as a community of sacrifice. George Mosse (1990) relates the rise of nationalism to the quasi-religious cult of the fallen soldier from the time of the French Revolution, as celebrated in heroic poetry, monuments, commemorative ceremonies and military cemeteries (see also Smith 2003: ch. 9). This cult was linked to the idea of the soldier as ‘volunteer-citizen’ rather than peasant conscript and of a willed sacrifice for the nation. The resistance in German territories to Napoleon mythologized by such (initially middle-class) cults was directed against the existing German state structures.
Arguably, such guerrilla wars of liberation rather than inter-state wars have been more community-forming. These, although usually conducted by small minorities, are dependent on grassroots social support, giving them a demotic character that results in a greater penetration of nationalist sentiments—example being, the Vietnamese liberation struggle against the French and the Irish war of independence against the British. Such memories deeply institutionalized in popular culture are even more the possession of communities, out of reach of the state and difficult to change.
This is not to discount the nationalizing effects of the statist wars in early nineteenth-century Europe, the Franco-Prussian war and the twentieth-century’s World Wars. Michael Howard (1976: ch. 6) observes that by the time of the Franco-Prussian war national identifications were undoubtedly heightened and extended by the scale of modern warfare and the rise of the mass media that enabled the ‘home front’ to know and identify more directly with the fate of the fighting men. During the total wars of the twentieth century the whole population became in turn the target of military planners through blockades and bombing, and states regulated every aspect of life for national purposes.
Nonetheless, the diffusion of such identities was not so much a result of conscriptive processes but arose from populations turning to ethnic and national identities and often in reaction to state failure. The endurance of national states depended on their maintaining collective morale in adversity. Popular fervour was inspired by ethnic stereotypes: older images of France as the Catholic enemy of England were deployed in the wars against the revolution and Napoleon! In turn, the legends and heroes of these wars (Nelson and Napoleon) added to the deposit of national memories.
Whereas victory enhances the status of the national state, defeat focuses more attention on regenerating the nation, especially if it is accompanied by the loss of territories. The classic example of the former is Wilhelmine Germany created from above by the Prussian state victorious in war yet identified with an Imperial junker elite, and hence undermined by defeat in 1918. In contrast, Denmark’s traumatic loss of Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia in 1865 triggered the slogan ‘What has been lost externally will be regained internally’ and a programme of land reclamation and intensive cultivation (Yahil 1992).
Warfare does not necessarily enhance the mass internalization of national identities. It can produce a return to religious identities in the face of individual and collective destruction. Disillusion with the economic and social performance of a secular Arab elite combined with defeat in the Six Day War and the loss of holy places to Israel supported a radical Muslim critique of secular nationalism as a Western ideology, contrasting it with the glories of the older and authentic Islamic past (Hutchinson 1994: ch. 3).
Protracted warfare can create a popular disillusionment with national identities. The association between nationalism and war in the twentieth century combined with the threat of scientific warfare to the physical and social survival of peoples has resulted in a periodic weakening of identification with the national state. In much of Europe such disillusion was reflected after World War I in pacifist literature, memoirs and films and after 1945 in the rise of the European Union. This disillusionment, however, was more directed against the national state elites than the nation. As Mosse (1990: ch. 4) has argued, the need of individuals to find meaning in their terrible experiences produced its own transforming myths (of the comradeship of the trenches). After the World Wars, the annual commemorations and the large-scale pilgrimages to the shrines to the dead, although expressing a horror of mass death, reinforced the nation by commemorating the nobility of the sacrifice. The memory of sacrifice was carried into peacetime by permanent social institutions such as Returned Servicemen’s Leagues.
When members of the nations claim a commitment or mission to broader civilizational values, collusion in war crimes can, even more than defeat, delegitimize national identities. Since 1945 neither Germans nor Japanese have been able to sustain a ‘normal’ national state and have altered their constitution to forbid foreign military involvement.
The aftermaths of warfare have been a factor in the (re-)nationalization of populations. The Versailles Treaty consigned sections of formerly dominant groups to newly independent nations, determined thoroughly to nationalize their state and wreak revenge for previous injustices. A dynamic triangular pattern of interaction formed in which new nationalizing states, the politicized ethnic minorities within them, and the ‘homeland’ states of these minorities had to redefine the nature and scope of their nationality claims (Brubaker 1996: ch. 3). The resentments of once dominant minorities such as Germans in new states such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, and Hungarians, one-third of whom found themselves outside their national state in Romania, Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine, generated an irredentist nationalism that contributed to the outbreak of war in 1939 (Sharp 1996).
Economic revolutions have periodically instigated nationalist resurgences, particularly when they re-ignite older ethnic antagonisms. The feature of economic innovation is that it is uneven, emerging strongly in particular centres, and it has caused large-scale migrations from the countryside into the cities (Gellner 1964). In much of Eastern Europe cities were ‘alien citadels of the imperial (German) nationality which dominated business and the professions and were disproportionately Jewish. Such population movements, therefore, created intense competition on ethnic lines (Pearson 1983: 31-6).
In late nineteenth-century Europe international financial speculations contributed to a crisis of traditional economic sectors and provoked a racial anti-semitic nationalism that blamed Jews, prominent in banking and traditional ethnic scapegoats. Commodity prices collapsed with the emerging world agrarian market, made possible by speedier communications, and shook the European landed order, symbolically central to national identity, and caused mass migration from the country to the cities. A flight of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe into cities such as Vienna fanned a racial nationalism of both the right and the left. In 1911 two-thirds of German voters in the Austrian elections voted for anti-semitic parties (Roberts 1967: 67).
Because industrial progress became integral to military strength, changes in economic performance upset the power of states vis-à-vis each other and hence the nations they ‘protected’. German leadership of the ‘second industrial revolution’ of iron and steel intensified nationalist rivalries in the early twentieth century with France and also with Britain, which felt its traditional naval superiority threatened by Tirpitz’s development of an armoured battleship fleet.
Economic depressions, notably the Great Depression of the 1930s, encouraged both nationalist protectionism and the spread of internationalist socialist ideologies among the working classes, for whom the world nature of the capitalist crises demonstrated the irrelevance of national solutions.
Unexpected natural changes—shifts in population balances, famines, diseases and ecological disturbances, largely beyond the control of states—have destabilized relations between populations, heightening national tensions and conflict.
In Eastern Europe a century-long population explosion had by the late nineteenth century led to unprecedented competition for land (McNeill 1984: 310-12). Demographic growth was highest amongst less developed nations, causing the nationalist mobilization of the more developed Poles, Magyars and Czechs to claim territory and independence before they were overhauled by their minorities (Pearson 1983: 28). Changes in birth rates relative to ‘significant others’ have regularly created anxieties about the future of the nation and heightened tensions between rival states (between France and Germany during the inter-war period) and between ethnic populations within states (between Russians and the Central Asian peoples in the former USSR).
Famine and disease may shatter for a time ‘primordial’ attachments to the homeland and lead to an inner religious retreat. In Ireland, to many contemporaries, the Great Famine was a judgement of God, and the very land seemed ‘cursed’ leading to continuous large-scale emigration. Constitutional nationalist organizations collapsed and a powerful religious revival led by the Catholic Church followed, but in the long term nationalist interpretations of the famine as a genocidal British conspiracy powerfully reinforced Irish nationalism (Beckett 1966: 344). The devastating earthquake in Armenia of 1988 heightened the disillusion of Armenians with the Soviet state. Climatic changes, including those from the greenhouse effect, are likely to increase tensions between states already locked in conflict over such natural resources as water, a major issue between Israel and Jordan and between India and Bangladesh.
Competing ideological movements arising from the heritage of the Enlightenment and religious counter-challenges, transmitted through transnational institutions such as churches, revolutionary internationals, diaspora groups and printed media, have fed nationalist antagonisms. Many ethnic and national identities defined themselves as custodians of distinctive religious principles, differentiating themselves against infidel neighbours.
A popular English national Protestantism had long viewed Catholic France as the threatening other, and this interpreted the radical republicanism of the French revolution as just another attempt to subvert national values, leading to the powerful nationalist evangelical revival focused on the crown (Colley 1992: 216-20). Papal ‘ultramontane’ rejection of secular nationalist principles, culminating in the Syllabus of Errors (1863) and the declaration of the Doctrine of Infallibility (1870), caused Protestant nationalist reactions in England and Germany and mobilized secular nationalists in France and Italy.
The Bolshevik revolution created a nationalist panic in Western and Eastern Europe among conservative middle-class groups, fearful not just of a large external enemy but also an internal enemy in the form of an internationalist working class. Pilsudski sought to provide the new Polish state with a national mission, reviving its heritage as an antemurale Christianitas, this time not against Russian orthodoxy but against godless Communism. The Russian Revolution provoked a xenophobic response in the USA, since the Bolsheviks in claiming to represent the vanguard of history, threatened to usurp America’s universal democratic mission (Pfaff 1993: 185). The growing power of the USA after 1945 and particularly since the Cold War has in turn provoked a culture war with France, as possessor of its own universal mission and protector of European civilization against American cultural imperialism (Cauthen 2004).
Outside Europe, the onslaught of Christian missions on native religions has stimulated indigenous nationalisms. Arab nationalists viewed first European expansion into the Middle East, then the establishment of Israel, as a continuation of the Christian crusades against Islam, and their leaders from Nasser to Arafat have assumed the mantle of Saladin.
The Legacy of Ideological Nationalism
All this illustrates the episodic nature of the modern challenges that result in the periodic expansion and contraction of national identities, both in terms of the spheres they regulate and also the social classes they penetrate. From time to time national loyalties are challenged by religious, class or familial loyalties; and at other times are reinforced by them. The reactions to these episodic challenges are shaped in part by older ethnic memories and images that are triggered into life. These periods of nationalist mobilization, sometimes prolonged, in turn deposit further layers of ‘experience’ into collective memory.
Warfare has left a legacy of inspirational leaders and military heroes, villainous others, climatic battles and memories of collective endurance, sacred sites in the mass war graves, and institutions such as the commemorative ceremonies and returned servicemen’s leagues. Economic mobilization has created myths of group discrimination by ethnic others, images of cheap foreign competition and swamping immigrants, subcultures of conspiracy myths (notably anti-semitic), many of which have been institutionalized in trade union and labour organizations as well as the conservative right. Demographic pressures have also re-inforced group antagonisms, fears of national decline in emigrant nations, and famines and natural disasters generated myths of the cruel indifference or malignity of others. Ideological struggles have sustained a sense of ethnic election as custodians of religious or secular values, as well as images of enemies within, and these have been institutionalized by churches and popular culture.
All this thickens the texture of a national culture, providing reference points both inspiring and shameful that orient the members of the nation in their everyday life.
Does this not suggest after all the emergence of an enveloping national identity which is able to incorporate all sectors of the population? Is this not the picture of the settled national state so well described by Michael Billig (1995) in which a national identity is so deeply institutionalized in the rhetoric of politicians, the editorials and organization of newspapers, and marketing brands that we are scarcely aware of it all?
Only with qualifications. A nationalist mobilization may have denationalizing consequences (in the case of the Germans). It may result in class stigmatizations (of disloyal workers or aristocrats). Although in wartime crises nationalists may be able to organize the national members into rigidly bounded societies, after the crisis fades the demobilized individuals return to their multiple and competing loyalties of family, class, religion and region. Moreover, the myth of the nation as a unitary and autonomous society remains just that, a myth.
For much of the time, this gap between myth and reality is not a problem. Taking the nation for granted as a category means that there is little questioning of its meaning and coherence. Individuals, when times are stable, are normatively and socially integrated by their membership of the many other social institutions and usually have no need for overarching appeals to the nation (Mann 1975:280). There is no incongruity felt by most members of the nation in being national and in pursuing sectional interests. The use by most social groups of national symbols implies that a national identity is the ground on which other loyalties rest.
This is not to maintain that nations are fluid categories of self-ascription that are maintained by marking boundaries with ‘others’. Banal nationalists will become ‘hot’ in defending such elements as cultural distinctiveness, homeland integrity, economic power and political autonomy. But in most circumstances all nationalists are selective in interpreting what in practice is crucial to achievement of these goals, and this will differ from case to case.
Nations vary considerably in the social niches they wish to regulate and in that their salience fluctuates for individuals. Banton (1994) reasons that a switch from avowedly national to international class loyalties (for example industrial action against a co-national employer in support of foreign workers) may not indicate changes in the values attributed to national affiliations, but rather a changing conception of what relationships should be governed by national norms. An adherence to the nation may not fluctuate much despite apparent changes in behaviour. Here Banton is speaking at the level of individuals.
At the collective level national states, although focused on certain objectives, make strategic choices about how best to achieve them. National states have never been the autonomous actors sometimes portrayed and have always acknowledged the limitations of their sovereignty and pursued different strategies so as to achieve their national objectives. A successful state such as nineteenth-century Britain remained a world power in part because of its skill in mustering coalitions of states against the dominant great power on the European subcontinent. Periods of ‘splendid isolation’ when Britain would enjoy a relative autonomy as a global power have alternated with a pooling of sovereignty in the two World Wars. In the economic sphere states have employed different means to compete in transnational economic markets, depending on their relative strengths and the degree of ‘opennness’ of the world market itself. As the pioneering industrial society, Britain saw it as in its national interest to promote free trade, though it had to shift to protectionism after World War I destroyed the ‘golden age’ of liberal internationalism. By contrast, ‘latecomer’ Germany rejected liberal markets to pursue more protectionist policies that shifted into a territorial mercantilism by 1900 (Mann 1993: 298-301).
It is when these pragmatic arrangements to secure the primary goals of the nation fail that we see the resurgence of nationalist movements to develop new strategies, harness new energies and redraw boundaries.
There are at least two types of nationalism at work in national identity formation. One is the ‘hot’ didactic and transformative nationalism that aims to instil the idea of the nation as a sacred and transcendent object of worship for which people must sacrifice. This is an episodic phenomenon that is self-conscious, systematic and prescriptive, providing exemplary forms of conduct in order to unify all the components (of class, region, religion and gender) of the purported nation. This nationalism engaged in an intensive and extensive regulation of social boundaries. Of long-term significance was the appropriation of national myths, images and symbols by an increasingly educated public for whom they provided meaning, status and direction in the practice of everyday life. This is the informal or ‘banal’ nationalism of populations who ‘consume’ nationalism in a relatively unself-conscious manner in decorating their homes, constructing their gardens, expressing their allegiances in international sporting contests. Although there is a tendency to view them in linear terms, they operate together in an interactive relationship to form the identities of the mass nation; indeed, the latter may have preceded the era of ideological nationalism. This interaction continues into the contemporary period.