…to ‘Imagined Communities’.
I’ve been cleaning my room – an almighty endeavour that has taken me about three days, on and off – and finding all sorts of rubbish I wrote down the years. Here’s a couple of essays I penned for my Politics and Nationalism class. Well…technically-speaking I wrote them for myself, to help me remember for the exams. It totally worked.
An ‘imagined community’ is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson, which states that a nation is a social construct, ultimately imagined by the people who perceive themselves as being part of the group. Anderson, like Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm, falls in the modernist school of thought on nationalism, in that he posits that nations and nationalism are products of modernity, created as a means to political and economic ends. This opinion stands in opposition to the primordialist school of thought, exemplified by Anthony Smith, which believes that nations, if not nationalism, have existed since early human history. ‘Imagined Communities’ can be said to be a form of social constructivism.
Hobsbawm states that the nation is the product of nationalism, instead of nationalism being an effect of the nation’s mythical original existence. As Gellner put it;
“it is nationalism which engenders nations and not the other way round.”
In this theory, the modern nation was created by the unification of various people into a common society or community. This takes the 19th century nation-state form, forged out of institutions such as the school, army or factory.
According to Anderson, the main causes of nationalism derive from a reduction of privileged access to particular script languages (i.e. Latin) due to mass literacy, the movement to abolish ideas of rule by divine right, as well as the emergence of printing press media. These were all phenomena occurring with the start of the Industrial Revolution. The community is ‘imagined’ because;
“…members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members….yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”
The nation itself is limited because even the largest has finite boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nations imagine themselves as encompassing all mankind. Not even the most messianic nationalists dream of uniting all members of the human race under their banner, in the way that religion dreams of uniting ‘all God’s creations’, or the way certain political ideologies (i.e. Socialism) dream of uniting the masses within a common, egalitarian system.
The community is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which the Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of a hierarchical dynastic realm. The nation is imagined as a community because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in one, it is always conceived as a deep, unbreakable, horizontal comradeship. It is this fraternity that has allowed, in Benedict Anderson’s words;
“…so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to dies for such limited imaginings.”
Solidarity brothers & sisters…☭