How The Nationalist Imagination Works Essay, Research Paper
4. Where Gellner describes how [the nationalist] imagination works , Anderson describes not only the how of imagination, but what is imagined (Marcus Banks 1996:127). Clarify and critically review the respective merits of the approaches to the study of nationalism essayed by Gellner and Anderson.
Nationalism as a concept first emerged in the late eighteenth century. It was a structural change, fundamental in the transformation in the way of thinking of entire nations. Or as Benedict Anderson would say, in the imaginations of the people of nations. Born with this transformation and new way of thinking was a change in structure and in fact it seems progress was being made. Named the century of enlightenment by Anderson, the dawn of nationalism was produced by the erosion of religious certainties. (Anderson 1983:19) However, it is difficult to articulate that imagined communities somehow merely grew out of and substituted religious groups and communities.
Nationalism is defined as a sentiment based on common cultural characteristics that binds a population and often produces a policy of national independence. (Collins English dictionary 1995:757) Therefore it can be said that nationalism is a devotion to the interests or culture of a particular nation. However, I do not think it is possible to give a single definition to what constitutes nationalism, no single, universal theory of nationalism is possible, its historical records are so diverse, that so too must be our concepts. This paper aspires to both highlight and distinguish the concepts and theories of both Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner, while at the same time aiming to point out any restrictions in their arguments.
Anderson characterises nationalism as an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. (Anderson 1983:15) He goes on to say that It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. (Anderson 1983:15) This concept of an imagined community itself is an extremely interesting idea in coming to identify nationalism. It can be said that members of the same nation feel a certain patriotism towards their nation, it is not something that can be explained in words, but it is nonetheless a cross culturally occurring phenomenon.
Anderson defines the nation as imagined in three ways. First, he says that it is imagined as limited because no matter how large a nation, and no matter how many people subsist with in a nation, it has finite if elastic boundaries, beyond which exist other nations. Secondly, it is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. (Anderson 1983:16) Hence, the two concepts, religion and enlightenment were in opposition with each other, and the idea of the nation being free was the center of this sovereign position. Thirdly, Anderson states the nation is imagined as a community because the nation and its people is always considered as possessing a great amount of comradeship, so deep that it is this imagined community that has made it possible for so many people to willingly die for their country. (Anderson 1983:16)
Anderson s argument is concerned with How a nation goes through processes by which it comes to be imagined, and once imagined, modeled, adapted and transformed. (Anderson 1983: 129) Therefore, it is involved with social change. Anderson holds firm with his argument a solid belief that print technology has enabled people to imagine large linked communities to their own imagined community. Communities that were not until that time connected to them in any way, and did not affect them in any way suddenly became important to the way they perceived themselves, and in the way that they viewed themselves as a nation. The way that print media would do this was to connect nations by giving the people the same news on the same subject matter on the same day, and by doing so it is said that the nations were given an incredible advantage of association.
Gellner on the other hand gives a different definition of nationalism he states that Nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent. (Gellner 1983:1) Opposed to Anderson, Gellner does not believe in communities, suggesting that communities are somewhat of a myth. He does put forward the idea however, that What do exist are cultures, often subtly grouped, shading into each other, overlapping, intertwined; and there exist, usually but not always, political units of all shapes and sizes. (Gellner 1983:49) In my opinion, Gellner is more interested in culture and what the culture consists of, if the culture is strong then nationalism will be strong also. He states will and culture as being candidates for the construction of a theory of nationality. (Gellner 1983:53) Of course, these two candidates do not hold enough power in themselves to constitute a positive definition for nationalism, or what it takes for a nation to possess strong nationalism. But two generic agents or catalysts of group formation and maintenance are obviously crucial: will, voluntary adherence and identification, loyalty, solidarity, on the one hand; and fear, coercion, compulsion, on the other. (Gellner 1983:53) Hence, Gellner delivers an array of components, which define nations as groups.
Gellner agrees with Anderson on the point that nationalism is a form of modernization. However, that is where the agreement ends. Gellner states that nationalism was part of a transition from agrarian society to that of an industrial society. It was through this industrialized society that nationalism was fashioned. Anderson on the other hand, ascertains that the main reasons for the progress of nationalism as being the deterioration of sacred communities, texts and languages and an increase in the amount of available literate material, of which the industrial revolution was the foremost mechanism for its decline. In a sense then, it can be said that the creation of nationalism was a principle of modernity, and therefore nationalism is to a degree invented in this modern manner.
Gellner also argues that nationalism has developed from modern society s need for homogeneity. (Gellner 1983:35) This need for homogeneity calls for a society that requires its people to be literate in the standard national language, Hence Gellner s emphasis on education. Homogenisation then gets furthered by the deterioration of pre-modern folk cultures ( the general imposition of a high culture on society, where previously low cultures had taken up the lives of the majority, and in some cases of the totality of the population. (Gellner 1983:57)
Both Anderson s and Gellner s models are very persuasive in their own ways. However, they often shade each other leaving gaps in their arguments. I would decline Gellner s suggestion of culturally homogenous nations. To do so it is necessary to express how people of a nation adopt the idea of a nation. This can take place in many ways remaining with the idea of national homogeneity; by nations acknowledging myths of a nation it is possible to create an impression of nationalism. In my opinion, all the people of a nation never all come together at the same time. There may be certain occasions, celebrated on specific days in a nations calendar, for example ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, and Independence Day on July fourth in the United States of America, where nations stop to celebrate and honor the idea of their national identity. However, these are not celebrated by all, for most it is another holiday and it goes by just as other days do. Therefore, this is an example of myth making, even when people of a nation are apparently bound in unity.
Therefore, it is my view that there are many ways in which people come to know their nation. However, these ways only adhere in the sense that each person pledges to the idea of nationalism, mostly through the making of the myths that exist within the nation. Anderson s idea that a nation is an imagined community is in accordance with the myth making concept in that its people can only perceive the nation by the image they have manufactured in their minds.
In conclusion, I believe it is fair to say that both Gellner s and Anderson s theories of nationalism are able to hold their own, they are both credible in their arguments. However, I think it is reasonable to conclude that further work can be done in this area to fill the gaps that both have left behind.BIBLIOGRAPHY
Anderson, B. 1983 Imagined communities London: British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Collins English Dictionary, 1995. HarperCollins Publishers
Gellner, E. 1983 Nations and Nationalism Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd
Gellner, E 1994 Encounters with Nationalism Blackwell Publishers