Introduction and Spread of Nationalism. Overall Summary and Evolution


Benedict Anderson was an Irish
Professor on the political and historical sciences in Cornell University. He
was born in China in 1936, moved to California with his family then to Ireland.
He wrote his thesis in Indonesia about the revolution of 1945. Benedict had
witnessed numerous military conflicts between socialist revolutionary regimes
throughout the Cold War time of which justifications were drown from
nationalism. However, it has nothing to do with the most mysterious Marxist
theory that is about the deceptive national identity of working class and how
easy it is to outplay their class-consciousness, which is pivotal for any
socialist movement. It was for this reason Benedict abstained from traditional
point of view of social constructivism and Marxism in his book- Imagined
Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.

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Summary and Evolution of the book:

This work describe the historical
basis of national consciousness, nationalism and modern nations that emerged
from 18th century in Europe and America, and the spread of them
throughout 19th and 20th centuries. Benedict says that
nation is a new contemporary phenomenon. The 18th century saw the
end of previous forms of political forms like sacred language, sacred cosmology
and dynastic power. Material circumstances created the
structures where people could conceptualize themselves as part of an imagined
community. A community in which the members don’t know each other on
personal level. One contribution of Benedict in his book is the historical
argument regarding the fact that nationalism was not a political ideology such
the ones of Marxism and Liberalism, but rather it was a socially and culturally
created and it was combined with 18th century’s western political
developments, which later become the model of political movements. Moreover,
according to Benedict nations were ‘imagined’ because their identity and
language were designed and decided by human, not naturally existed.

In this book Benedict start with an
introduction and giving the motives of writing this book along with the
definition of nation. After that, he examine the historical beginning of
national consciousness in Europe and America. Things like print capitalism and
official journeys played important roles in the emergence of this
consciousness. When the French Revolution and American Revolution happened in
18th century, those political events were recorded in printed materials like
newspaper and transferred to different countries. In the following part he
start describing how the modeling happened wither it was as national movements
in Europe or as the political strategies of some European kings for getting
political legitimacy of their empire during the 19th century. In 18th and 19th
centuries, many different experiences were learned and used to organize
national independence movements in Africa and Asia after two World Wars. then
he start arguing that since nationality and its related social groups like
ethnicity were usually identify as naturally random and fixed, therefore
nationalism gave people a sense of generosity and justice, and hence could
easily mobilize patriotism and racism. Finally, the author finishes up by
explaining the reason why Marxist and revolutionary governments would cause war
on each other in the name of nations.

Benedict provide the most important
and critical social pre-conditions that made the imagination of nation
possible. For that, chapter 2 and 3 are theoretically important because he
explains the historical origin of national consciousness in them, along with
talking about modern conception of time and print capitalism theories. His
analysis of those theories influenced a wide verity of disciplines such as
sociology, media and cultural studies in the field of investigation of
nationalism. Benedict took two philosophical main ideas, which are messianic
time and homogeneous, empty time from a Marxist writer to differentiate
medieval and modern time conception. In the medieval messianic time, there was
no separation of past, present and future because people in that time thought
they were always near to the end of time. However, people in modern society
they used new tools to measure time like watches and calendar, which led them
to have a clear separation between present, past and future. This enable them
to imagine that some people are doing the same thing as they do in somewhere
else without seen them. Thus the imagination of other unknown community member
is possible. However, in 16th century in Europe this imagination was
brought into existence by print capitalism in a national manner. To make more
people read the printing materials and thus making more profit, they stat
printing using the prototype of national languages like vernaculars instead of Latin.
This help to united the different between spoken and written vernaculars that
could be shared by different people who could not communicate with each other
orally within a small region. On the other hand, print media like newspapers
gave the readers a sense of unified identity and community by reporting events
that happened at the same time but in different places within the region so
that people could have the imagination of unknown community members.


By describing the historical development
of nationalism, Anderson was able to show the arbitrariness and illusiveness of
national identity. However, he didn’t offer any solution that can be learned
from the past and used to overcome the fact that nationalism is still powerful
and in control of all the forces. Nationalism in our days can easily
disorganize the focus of other crucial social problems, such as economic
utilization… that’s why there is a call for more and more studies and
discussions in order to find a solution so that national identity can no longer
disturb real social oppressions as most Marxists suggest.


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