Imagined Communities: An Analysis of Anderson’s Conclusions
The contemporary salience of Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities discussing the classic origins and spread of nationalism can not be overstated in its contemporary salience. Undoubtedly there is neither any end in sight, nor many plausible political solutions for peaceably resolving today’s seemingly inextinguishable conflagrations of worldwide collective national movements for self-determination and for full colonial liberation. Anderson’s concept of the Imagined Community, is the conduit through which the modern nation-state building process progresses via the conduit of nationalism. Anderson is undoubtedly is correct and therefore his works have a grave theoretical, political, and sociological global significance in their dimension. Anderson’s work with respect to nationalism is well articulated.
With respect to nationalism in the 20th century, I consider the father of nationalism to be none other than former United States President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson put forth the concept of self-determination post World War I during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Wilson strongly argued the suppression of national identity was both undemocratic, and also that nothing could possibly be more democratic than to give a voice to all the formerly suppressed peoples of Europe. Wilson believed the suppression of national identity was a primary cause for the first world war hence Wilson promoted the ideological belief of collective nationalist struggles for self-determination. Ironically, the primary point for Wilson’s prescription for world peace in his renown, Fourteen Points, was none other than promotion of extreme nationalism. It was only later that Wilson recanted his stance in a testimony in front of a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Treaty of Versailles stating:
“When I gave utterance to those words [“that all nations had a right to self-determination”], I said them without the knowledge that nationalities existed, which are still coming to us day after day…You do not know and cannot appreciate the anxieties I have experienced as, the result of millions of people having their hopes raised by what I have said…”(Holtsi: 1996)#
One cannot help but wonder when the last time a United States president either read Wilson’s aforementioned words or felt anxieties as is clearly manifest by the Clinton Administration’s new doctrine of humanitarian intervention to assist struggles for collective national self-determination from Kosovo Srbija to indonesian East Timor. Anderson positions the classic origins of nationalism as emerging from variant measurable mixtures of:
Vernacularizing various previously spoken sacred “religious” languages such as Church Slavonic, Hebrew, Arabic and others.
Print capitalism emerging and spreading standardized social, political, and economic “norms” amongst other information regarding trade and shipping which led to the Industrial Revolution, modern day capitalism, and class division in a Marxist sense.
Other predominant reasons Anderson presents for the pervasive spread of nationalism have been through new inventing ideal-types of nationalistic symbols and other idioms such as lexicological terms which exclude, stereotype, and stress human differences in lieu bridging human ideological gaps. Anderson refers to this syndrome as stressing a “them” relative to “us”.
Anderson also gives ideology, culture, and religious beliefs an important role in understanding the origins of nationalism. A point especially salient today as we witness one once a great empire after another being torn apart, such as the former Yugoslavia which was once comprised of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Currently in regions such as Africa, Iran, Iraq, and Kosovo, Croatia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, and Bosnia, the fact that secular political leaders use negative religious nationalism to mobilize their citizenry cannot be negated when discussing the far reaching implications thereof. These implications often end in ethnic and genocidal civil and tribal warfare such as in Uganda. Undoubtedly Anderson’s imagined Community is significant on a global dimension.
Anderson correctly correlates and explains the centrifugal and centripetal forces that construct and deconstruct nations, states, and national identities in his conceptualization of the, Imagined Community. Anderson’s imagined Community has its deep roots planted in the past where once upon a time world leaders used the various rituals of nationalism to consolidate their personal power for constructing a nation-state where none existed prior. Both the United States and Great Britain are two Imperialist centered states which are exemplary of Anderson’s concept of the, Imagined Community. Henceforth I use America to explain Anderson’s concept, Imagined Community. The United States of America is a true imagined community. Imagined in the sense that the adhesive glue which continues, at least for the present time, to bond American citizens and its other residents together, only exists in the far stretching imaginations and gullible minds of the uneducated masses residing in the country. Nations, states, nation-states, and the people residing within the political boundaries and social spaces of America as Anderson posits do not at all share many, if any, common beliefs. If all citizenry of any state in our world shared a genuine national identity would we have ever witnessed either the French or Russian Revolutions. I believe that neither the United States of America nor any other state genuinely possesses a true, national identity. I claim this owing to the historical axiom of whereby many states and nations have been as easily deconstructed as constructed since their national social bonding adhesive consists of nothing more than Anderson’s, Imagined Community.
If this is true as Anderson posits, the world is endangered by possible political messiahs arising such as Hitler was during World War II and Lenin during the Cold War with Communist Russia; there are and have been many others. The correct combination of particular social solvents are capable of dissolving the “nation-ness” bonding the peoples of any imagined community and then allowing a political leader to construct a new nation state using nationalism. Besides, the state according to Anderson, and I am in agreement as conceived as only an Imagined Community, never really existed to begin with accept in our imaginations. Anderson’s instruments of nationalism are and not limited to flags, anthems, maps, museums which exoticize people and cultures considered inferior to the white European emphasis on “human male species”, holidays, dress codes, social norms, language, news media coverage, revisionist historians, and others.
Therefore we can conceive of Anderson’s Imagined Community “state” as one in which is comprised of a large Imagined Community composed of fragmented communities scattered randomly within the geo-political borders and social spaces of any country. And these fragmented communities are being composed of human beings living in localities that although lie within close proximity to one another due to depersonalization of civil society itself, they actually never meet their neighbors. Moreover, it may be in their best interest these neighbors sharing the Imagined Community of State X never meet. The reason is the citizenry sharing our imagined national community share so very little in the way of common beliefs; if they ever did “get together” so to speak it could end up in an ethnic civil war not dissimilar to Kosovo today. This is not uncommon as is elucidated by many ethnically tense urban inner city areas within American today. For instance what do white supremacist groups in Louisiana share in common as a community with the blacks the claim to despise residing in the same town? The answer is nothing. What does a homosexual male or female share in common with his or her American neighbor the professing Roman Catholic priest? Again nothing! I am sure you can all understand wherefore Anderson posits a state is nothing more, than an Imagined Community.
America is not the only country today composed of divergent ethnic, cultural, social, political, economic, military, ideological, and innumerous other groupings who rarely share very much in common except for an outward superficial public appearance. Let us momentarily consider the diverse groups composing America’s Imagined Community: feminists, anti-abortionists, pro-life activists, communists, democrats, homosexuals, Christians, satanic cults, survivalists, police, organized crime syndicates, and a myriad of other exclusionary and inclusionary communities. The reality is that, America, is also a nationally crated and mythical community as Anderson posits.
Having had discussed at length the manner in which Anderson vindicates the verity that America and other state’s are nothing more than imagined communities, I’d now like to elevate the discourse regarding Anderson’s Imagined Community to a higher realm. To that of the realm of diplomatic and political international relations Imagined Communities. Automatically NATO, EU, IMF. And the World Bank should come to mind as global Imagined Communities. Is it realistic to believe that an international relations organ such as either the United Nations or NATO can bring greater peace to our world in the 21st century if also it also an imagined community? Both global organizations are comprised of bipolar mixtures of liberal, conservative, and other opposing ideological beliefs. Member states of such international Imagined Communities as the United Nations often only “put on” an outward appearance of liberalism and democracy for its powerful presumed to be liberal allies such as the United States and Great Britain. They do so to achieve world recognition and/or Int’l Monetary Fund bank loans.
In reality, the United Nations is constituted of member states which will never share one global universal international identity but will probably only continue to professes to be one. Therefore, I append both the United Nations and NATO to Anderson’s model, but globally as being an International Global Imagined Communities. To make myself more clear, what does the Muslim state, Umma, which in lieu of believing in political state boundaries on a map, believes a state to be a metaphysical unity of shared Muslim religious consciousness without geo-political demarcations have in common with liberal democratic republics? Again the answer is an obvious “nothing.” I suggest we all seriously consider whether imposing liberal national values on the unwilling subjects of illiberal states such as Chatterjee suggests through global Imperialism and the threat and military deployment of NATO force is truly necessary for achieving world peace? Such impositions of western values on the unwilling human subjects of Non-Western states is not wise as the recent proliferation of terrorism and the bombings of the Kenya and Tanzania U.S. Embassy bombings has made manifest. I doubt this manner of practicing international relations will ever bring us a forthcoming 21st century where international relations is more peaceable than the one past for our future posterity. Therefore, I predict future relations between states will continue to manifest itself in same manner of the Bosnia’s of 1990 and the Kosovo’s of today. For these reasons and others, countries are truly only models of Anderson’s, Imagined Community. One should also ask how long the United States will continue to last itself before perhaps dying the same death of ancient Rome, if it does not alter its present course and diplomacy.
No paper would be complete on Anderson without a few brief remarks regarding “Print-Capitalism”. Historical revisionism and standardization of a country’s educational textbooks so such text books can no longer tell the truth about history (i.e. Indian genocide) cannot be neglected in the study of nationalism. National poetry and literature is often written to ennoble one state or nation while positioning another as inferior. Powerful political interests in all countries to promote private political interests of certain powerful interest groups often back the national news and other media. In thinking about the relevance of language and print capitalism, I suggest we extend this mental excersize so that each of us think for a moment how we mentally respond when we see another person reading either a erotic magazine, an alien comic book, or a romantic novel. I’d suggest we all become as Professor Petievich mentioned last class, more ‘cognizant’ of our mental reactions when we hear or visualize certain dialects of languages which are foreign to our own. The American underclass speaks fragmented English that is very difficult for many teachers from middle and upper class American communities to understand. It is entirely true that language can exclude one group from another by isolating each group because the two groups cannot understand each another. As such, each group is only able to engage in inclusive national discourse, which of course excludes “others”. This fosters nationalism between different nations and groups. This is now occurring in Bosnia and Kosovo where my friends as refugees from Croation in the early 1990’s can no longer understand the new styled Bosniak and Croatian languages now spoken in regions of Bosnia, Croatia, and also Kosovo.
Further, when we hear curse words spoken by a person wearing jeans and reading the National Enquirer in America do we find ourselves saying, “this person must rank at the top of their college class”? I think that language and Anderson’s dominant idea of “print capitalism” and “class division” is also due analysis equally in conjunction with other elements of modern and models of past nationalism today in order to fully assess the moments and movements of state formation, civil ethnic war, and Nationalism. In ending I want to add that Anderson wisely elucidates whereby diffusion of national identities globally through social contacts such as intermarriage and trade has also been used as a mode of nationalism. I suppose since we all have hopefully had the opportunity to read portions of the book, I’ll stop here and leave the rest of any time, if permitted, open for further discussion and/or comments.
By Jill L Starr