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August 22, 2007


Noah Castro

Anderson oversimplifies the concept of nationalism. He only differentiates between two types of nationalism: an initial type that is spawned by revolutionary movements themselves and an elite driven type that is fabricated to curb revolutionary movements and maintain social hierarchies ("official nationalism"). His argument does not acknowledge the unifying affects that come from repression or violence towards a particular population. Such affects can be brought on by a wide range of circumstances: wars, oppressive colonial regimes, genocide, trade relations, and all the other actions that inspire fear and disdain to consolidate a population mass towards a common enemy. Anderson says that our contemporary sense of nationalism is derived from the development of European nationalism as an integral part of the modern state. This modern European nationalism had much more to do with the intraregional wars of the middle ages than Anderson’s theory that it rose from the decline of religious prominence.

To some extent I agree with his view of “official nationalism” because nationalism can be a way for elites to command a loyal population, but he implies that nationalism in general is created by elites and that “official nationalism” is the most widespread form of nationalism, both of which are false. “Official nationalism” is a synthetic nationalism fabricated by elites to manipulate the “imagery” or true nationalism of a given population. On a fundamental level nationalism is the instinctual reaction of a group banding together to overcome a common obstacle, threat, or enemy. Therefore, I believe that in the face of adversity, as in the context of decolonization or genocide, nationalism can be a very positive force.

Vladislav Andreyev

Benedict Anderson’s book is a precise, pedantic research filled with magnificent citations and reminiscences. Anderson's research is devoted to pervasiveness of nationalism to the modern world. Anderson’s original take on key concepts of "nation" and "nationalism" is based on deep socially-anthropological approach to their analysis. Thus, the author takes into consideration the social-political and historical context formations of the phenomenon of nationalism. It is interesting to me, why Anderson named the book “Imagined” Communities. One of the reasons could be because even though one can never get acquainted with all the people of an entire nation, he or she can at the same time feel as a part of that nation’s community.
It can be argued that it was not the perils of Capitalism or the lost of Communism that led USSR into mass poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. It is the residue of Communism that led to such tragic events for the country. The Communist system was rotten with corruption and power struggle in the 1980s, and it is plausible to say that any system that would supercede it would bring the country’s problems into light. However, it is not the fault of the superceding system – it is merely the fault of the rotten system that was slowly but surely reaching its collapse. The people of Russia and post-soviet republics may feel nostalgic about the earlier Soviet times, but it is not necessarily because of the “equity” and “justice” that those times brought. It is because of the relative stability of a power in decline. And the problems that arose in the late 1980s were the result of that Soviet regime, they were just hidden in the relative stability of the times (which we now know was not stability at all, but a very gradual and sure decline of the system). It is the fault of USSR’s Communist system (and its inability to provide the true equity and justice for the people) that Gorbachev’s reforms took place. And those reforms just accelerated Communism’s downfall. Hence, while the 60s, 70s, and 80s did look somewhat stable, the corruption bred in those years (especially in Brezhnev’s last years) led to the glaring problems following Gorbachev’s reforms.
Thus, it is not the fault of Capitalism. One can argue that it was the rapid transition to capitalism (unlike the gradual transition that China is currently undergoing). However, this transition was so rapid purely because of the system’s glaring inability to provide that true justice and equity for the society. Hence, I fully agree with Djilas in that Communism’s contradictions have helped its downfall (in USSR, at least). And just because on a comparative basis Communist regime provided some stability, it does not mean that the system followed up on its promises. The contrary happened, and the eventual fall of the regime clearly showed its inefficiencies and flaws in their full light.

Christina J. Adranly

I agree with previous posters that Anderson lays out an intelligible, comprehensive argument that barely necessitates objection. He compellingly explains that nationalism arises from perceived ‘communities,’ and that this nationalism has a negative impact because it leads citizens to blindly fight on behalf of the state. In defining nationalism, Anderson notes that nationalism is limited by political boundaries, which I tend to disagree with. Citizens can have loyalties to an entity beyond their respective state (i.e. pervasive pan-Arab nationalism) as well as entities within the state (i.e. Catalans and Basques in Spain); in both cases, loyalty to the central state is subordinated to the alternate ‘nationalism,’ thus demonstrating that the boundaries of nationalism are more malleable than Anderson believes.

I also believe that Anderson underestimates the value of nationalism in state-making and maintenance. He comments that one of the most negative repercussions of nationalism is that it fosters an obligation to fight for one’s country without questioning state leadership. It is here that Anderson misgauges nationalism’s potential by attributing it solely with negative consequences. Indeed, nationalism can be a unifying, constructive force when channeled appropriately. Nationalism can be used for example to effectively promote social welfare programs or to protect national security from domestic and international threat, both with the underlying ideology of ensuring the greater good above individual well-being.

A prime example of a peaceful exhibition of nationalism, and perhaps the arena in which nationalism is most prominently displayed, is the Olympic Games. Every two years, countries send delegations of athletes to compete in sport competitions against other countries. More importantly, though, the Olympic Games and Olympicism in general promote tolerance, brotherhood, and fair competition among all countries in the world. In this case, nationalism can be used as a unifying force within the state and as a tool to construct international solidarity and a respect for differences.

Hye Jin Lee

Anderson’s explanation of nationalism that struck out was that it “is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist (6).” Although I found many of his argument insightful, there seemed to be flaws in high argument. Even Anderson himself finds flaw in his argument. In his later chapter and states: "My short-sighted assumption then was that official nationalism in the colonized worlds of Asia and Africa was modeled directly on that of the dynastic states of nineteenth-century Europe (163)." This I found to be probably the most significant flaw that influenced the entire book thoroughly. His focus on parallelism and assumptions of countries being similar to each other in development of nationalism were too simple to be true. Every country has its own unique political and economical situations and history that affect its development of nationalism. It is simply illogical to coincide one country over another. It is as though he sees one and assumes another to be alike even though he has not seen the other. His mistake is similar to what he explains as serialization: “the assumption that the world was made up of replicable plurals. The particular always stood as a provisional representative of a series, and was to be handled in this light (183).”

His argument that creole nationalism is instructive parallels with Vera and Helen’s argument that nationalism being used as a “unifying force.” However, it should be more than that. I agree with Serena’s argument that nationalism should be broadened globally. Nationalism should not only be defined in the boundaries of language, religion, and culture but as the human beings as a whole. There is no reason to think of anyone as the “Other.” There is no “New” or “Old” Worlds. It is only in the minds of people and “imagined” and ingrained in our heads.

Norris Tran Duc

Nation according to Benedict Anderson is a socially constructed, “imagined political community [that is] imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” The people who claim to be part of that group will never have the chance to know every single member of the group, yet they are still connected in a certain way or form within the nation. He argues that the main causes of nationalism are threefold: 1) easier access to script and vernacular languages, 2) the decline of the dynastic system to a nation-state, and 3) the effects of “print-capitalism,” or the use of the printing press under capitalism.

From what I glean from Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Anderson depicts nationalism as a result of progress, in terms of the development of the printing press, or colonization, or the abolition of the divine rule or monarchy. He seems to argue that nationalism is a result of events trickling down from the Industrial Revolution, that it stems from a sign of modernity and technological development.

Yet I do not believe Anderson is antagonistic to the notion of nationalism, but rather values its importance and significance on the domestic level and the international scale. Rather, I believe that nationalism is turned into a negative force in the form of “official nationalism,” it is a nationalism “emanating from the state, and serving the interests of the state first and foremost.” (159) This form of nationalism is grasped at and exploited by revolutionaries or extremists in order to topple whatever system is in place.

Furthermore, “official nationalism” is a governmental expression and manipulation of basic nationalism. “No one imagines… that Khmer and Vietnamese peasants wanted wars between their peoples, or were consulted in the matter… Popular nationalism was mobilized largely after the fact and always in a language of self-defense.” (161)

I concede that nationalism can be used as a rallying mast for the Flag, but I believe that nationalism is more of an ideological formation of identity. That identity does not necessarily need to be of the form of “us” versus “them.” Rather, that identity can be based on a multitude of other factors. When you hear the term, “an Arab State,” it is much more than just a group of states united by a common language. “Soviet Union” has implications, not of Russian, or Czech, or Ukrainian, but rather “communism.”

Nationalism can stem from much more than just language, as Anderson continually invokes. Furthermore, I do not agree with Anderson that nationalism is necessarily a product of progress. I believe that nationalism has been inherent in mankind since the beginning of man’s place on Earth. The idea of nationalism, though, may have been given a name only recently, but even during hunter-gatherer societies, were there not a caste/group/conglomeration/set of people who united, with a common camaraderie in hunting and feeding? Although we may not call that a “nation,” as we define it today, the basic concept and idea of nationalism seems to still apply. Anderson even said: “Regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.” I believe that nationalism can be turned into a positive force; it just depends on the time and form we want to express it. Self-defense is too much of a realist approach. An expression of nationalism, in terms of a common humanity, can be used for the greater good as can be seen with humanitarian efforts worldwide.

Jessica Chu

I think it’s interesting how Djilas portrays a Communist government. Like Zach said before me, Djilas states that the “new class” created under the Communist government has to maintain a cultural, as well as economic and political monopoly over its people. Without this totalitarian mindset, rapid industrialization seems implausible because the revolutionary party has so little solid support starting out. Unlike other revolutions, Communist revolutions “did not come to power to complete a new economic order but establish its own, and in doing so, establish its power over society” (38). It has to force the population to accept its ideology by providing no other options. Getting back to the point, Communist governments force rapid industrialization on their countries and in doing so increase the standard of living. True, as Djilas said, the “new class” takes the lion’s share of the profit, but in general, when looking at the development of other countries, even though a class takes a large portion of wealth accumulated through economic prosperity, economic prosperity in itself seems to raise the standard of living of the general population. Communist depends on the subjection of its citizens and keeping them in ignorance. Knowledge brings about dissent and dissent brings about a violent retaliation from the “new class.” However, industrial modernization is a product of educating at least a portion of the population (which Stalin did when he came to power). In educating the masses, the government seems to be sewing the seeds of its own demise. The government can continue to crush dissent, but it can’t keep waging war on its own people. Eventually the population won’t be so open to subjugation by the “new class” and overturn the government. If this is really the way in which all Communist governments work, then how does anyone expect to have any of them last? Or was Djilas being too general? The only flaw that I can find in him is his over-generalization. He claims that all Communist governments work the same way, but if that were true, then wouldn’t others have learned from the mistakes of others?
Regarding Danelle’s question, nothing is impossible. Communist and/or socialism can take root in America. However, as Djilas said, a Communist revolution is possible only under extraordinarily circumstances. America is flourishing under economic prosperity and the general public is relatively content with the current government. Communist seems to take root in countries that are industrially backwards and in chaos politically. Also, one of the reasons that France didn’t fall into the clutches of communism after WWI even though it was economically, politically and physically in ruins was partially because democracy and capitalism were so deeply rooted in France that reform rather than revolution was the solution agreed upon by most citizens.

Yelena Bakman

I would like to start out with my take on the chapters that we read. I think that Anderson brings up one of the key things that many people look over—the power of the written word. In our day and age, we take for granted that we can go to most places in the world and not be completely lost and confused because even if we don’t know the language of the place we are visiting, more likely than not someone there will know ours. Because of the power of the media, our written word has spread. And with it, close behind, came some form of the spoken word. In many ways, Anderson is very right in the sense that capitalism led to the spread of print and print led to a more potent capital system. With the ability to communicate, and leave a permanent record that was done relatively cheaply, industry and contracts and laws could flourish. And as they flourished, so did the printing press. I believe that his devotion of a whole chapter to the written word hits the head of the nail.

On the other hand, Anderson seems to put a lot of emphasis on chance. For example, he seems to downplay Martin Luther’s choice of placing his protest in the vernacular. The reason for this choice was to bring nationalism, and what is correct for the German people in terms of religion to the forefront. By printing in the vernacular, he made that statement clear. The use of language is a way to separate the Self from the Other, which is the basis of Nationalism to start with. Anderson writes about the importance of the development of a unifying language, but he seems to dismiss it as well. He sees it as an inevitable course of history. When one thinks about it, it seems that every step that every leader took in the process, going against the previous unification under the Church is remarkable since these people believed that their eternal soul was on the line. Each step every monarch took, with the help of his advisers, was towards increased power. Learning from the fall of the Roman empire due to its over stretching itself, the monarchs consolidated their power via language, and by extension, via nationalism.

Further on the point of language, I would like to expand on what Brendan said; I believe that Anderson misses how it connects a single individual to the rest of his countrymen since he knows they will be reading the same version of the news in the morning; in this way, he knows they are similar to him on some level and that is a comfort that many will fight to defend. I would also like to comment on Hye Jin Lee’s “Nationalism should not only be defined in the boundaries of language, religion, and culture but as the human beings as a whole…It is only in the minds of people and “imagined” and ingrained in our heads.” I think in a perfect would Hye Jin would be absolutely right. Sadly, we live in a world where everyone likes to differentiate themselves from their neighbor. To be special, we are taught we must be deferent and better than the one next to us. And in this way we build a Nationalism that always compares Us to Them or me to her, so on and so forth. As a result, since we live in a world full of vibrant contrasting and blinding color, we cannot all be expected to conform to a nice gray. I think the depth of Nationalism and the desire to belong to a nation is as deep as it is in our minds because it is a way to try to maintain that rainbow of individuals.

Joyce Amoah

According to Benedict Anderson, a nation is defined as an “imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (p.6). That a nation is imagined because –even- members of the smallest nation do not see or meet all their fellow members face to face neither do they hear them and that the only connection they have to their fellow nationals is their imagination of what binds them together as a one common group. He continues by saying that what actually binds these members of a political community together is not just the spoken language that they share but rather it is the print language (that they read) which bonds these members of a political community together. I might have to agree with Anderson only if we are applying this claim to Western Europe. According to European historians, until the fall of Latin, Italian as a regional vernacular in the 19th century was unheard of, and the Young Italy Movement led by Mazzini Giuseppe would not have given birth to nationalism in Italy and its surrounding Western European Countries. However, however, can we say the same of the role of print language in rural Africa in the 19th century?

I also agree with Brendan (while disagreeing with Anderson) that members of a political community need not have a physical contact with each other in order to have that bond of nationalism. A typical example is when a national soccer team is playing a match, the members of the community bond together to cheer their team.

All that said the problem I have with Anderson’s argument is that this imagined community which he defines as nationalism is unfortunately eroding very fast in this era of globalization. Nationalism as an imagined community is gradually making room for cosmopolitanism- citizens of the world- with the fast rising population of transnational migration, the shrinking of global space and time, the proliferation of technology and the fast development of global economy (Peter Singer 2004), this narrow concept of nationalism or xenophobia is not only becoming more complex, and vanishing with national geographical boundaries, it is actually becoming outmoded. Anderson needs to revise his definition of nationalism in order to be at par with globalization.

Thomas York

Helen's argumentation against Anderson's "imagined communities" forms the foundation of the flaw in Anderson's argumentation. It's true that Anderson simply can't justify why some would die for men they have never met.

A lot of Anderson's more strong argumentation derives from his comparisons of the "Nation" structure to both Religious and other organizations. Surely, it would be ridiculous to die for the American Medical Association or believe one's own Nation to be inherently superior to another simply by association with it?

I think that while the "nation" structure didn't exist until the decline of the belief of latin as inseparable from the truth, the decline of the divine monarch concept, and the decline of the notion of world and man's history as inseparable, a sense of "nationality" underlies the development of human history. While the "nation" was not created until only recently, a more primal sense of group ownership has existed throughout societal history. Although that sense may have been tied simply to a village, tribe, or clan, that sense is hardwire into our brains.

While the derivation of that sense into a pan-village, pan-state nationalist sense may have certain flaws and disadvantages, it surely isn't "unnatural."

I agree with Vera that a nationalist urge can be a positive force. A national and pervasive sense of responsibility for a nation can hold together a society.

Irina Zeylikovich

Anderson’s book had an intriguing start, for he claimed that nationalism, for a topic so commonly heard, was ‘notoriously difficult to define’, yet he attributed some very interesting phenomena to it, namely its universality (that ‘everyone can, should, will have a nationality, as he or she has a gender’) and its station as an imagined community. I had to agree with Anderson initially in his analysis of nationality as an artificial construction, but further in to the book I had some reservations about the forces he attributed to the rise of nationalism.
One of the factors that Anderson believes enabled the rise of nationalism was the printing press and the subsequent print-capitalism that distributed books to millions of households. He claims that this enabled the readers to ‘relate themselves to others’ without ever having met said others, thus laying the foundation of an imagined community via the idea of a shared history. I wonder what Anderson would think of the situation today, with the internet breaking down national boundaries and the development of communications acting as a unifying factor. It seems to me that the internet today and Anderson’s print capitalism actually act as a cohesive force and transcend nationalism; it seems odd to me that two such similar forces would result in such drastically different results.
Lastly, I think Anderson’s flaw is also in his constant claim that nationalism is xenophobic and ‘instinctively resistant to foreign rule.’ I think this can be a facet of nationalism, but it is not necessarily one. He examines the very negative aspects, without shedding light on the positive forces of nationalism, like when nationalist ideas lead to a desire for better education, more jobs, and safer conditions.

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