Nation? Nationalism? Not necessary anymore?

Ernest Gellner (1983) defined nationalism as follows. “”Nationalism is primarily a political principle that holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent”. He argues nation or nationalism was invented merely because of a sociological necessity created by the birth of industrialisation. Since industrial economies continually make and put into practice technical and organizational innovations, rulers need homogeneous workers who share the same culture acquired by uniform education.

Likewise, Benedict Anderson (2006) argues nationalism or the sense of belonging to nation is just imagined. Nation is merely an imagined community, where people can feel the sense of unity with someone whom they will never meet. Nation was imagined as the movement to abolish the ideas of divine rule and monarchy, as well as the emergence of the printing press under a system of capitalism.

I apologise if I misled their arguments or my English above doesn’t really make sense, but I could find those books only in Japanese. Anyways, the important thing here is to recognise that nation or nationality is a modern creation (invention, imagination), thus it is not universal at all. I totally agree with those arguments. In Edo period of Japan, for example, no one would have recognised themselves as Japanese.

Nation or nationalism has been under severe criticism for a long time, since it has created horrible conflict between nations. Scholars tend to regarded nationalism as an inclusion of the people of the same culture, at the same time, an exclusion of the “different” people. For me, nationalism is not the best idea to represent a diverse range of people living within “nations”. However, liberal form of nationalism is necessary to maintain our democratic states (especially the welfare states). David Miller (1995) criticises both what he calls “conservative nationalism” and “radical multi-culturalism” and insists on the necessity of liberal nationalism. He argues that nation is a community comprised of people who wish to be self-determined politically. Individual identity is plural. For instance, I can call myself a Japanese person, but at the same time I am an Asian, a male, a baseball fan, a beer lover or whatever I wish to be. Nation is only one of those plural identities. What makes nation different from the other sources of identity is its political will to be self-determined. I agree with him in that without nation and nationalism, it will be much harder to achieve social justice (mainly redistribution of wealth) and individual liberty and the base of rights. Who would be willing to share the burden without common sense of unity?

In conclusion, we don’t have to blindly admire nation or nationalism, since it is a modern creation, invention or imagination. However, I think it is necessary to maintain liberal form of nationalism to some extent for our own sake. Probably.

by Yuki Sugiyama

One thought on “Nation? Nationalism? Not necessary anymore?

  1. I’m sorry I didn’t add reference.

    Gellner, Ernest, 1983, “Nations and Nationalism” Basil Blackwell Oxford
    (=ゲルナー アーネスト 2000年『民族とナショナリズム』 加藤節 訳 岩波書店 東京)

    Anderson,Benrdict,1983, “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism”, Verso, London
    (=アンダーソン ベネディクト 1987年 『想像の共同体―ナショナリズムの起源と流行』白石 隆・白石さや 訳 NTT 出版 東京)

    Miller, David,1995, “On Nationality”, Oxford University press, Oxford
    (=ミラー デイビッド 宮沢 克・長谷川 一年・施 光恒・竹島 博之 訳 2007年『ナショナリティについて』 風行社 東京)

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