The Significance of Nationalism

The new lifestyles of contemporary modernity are also reflected in the fast paced technological evolutions which characterise the spectacle of consumer society. The older generations in the first decades of the twenty-first century where born at a time when television did not exist. Their grandchildren can today access television on their cells phones. The constantly changing new means of organisation and communication participate in the generalised feeling of volatility associated with late modernity. In a deeper sense, they also contribute to the formation of new imaginings across and about the world. Since the 1990s, the most prominent of these means has certainly been the World Wide Web. To be connected through a seemingly endless network, and sending fluxes of information or capital with an unprecedented ease even from a home desk, it certainly seems as if no walls are being reproduced on the 'Web', that they are virtually gone. But even on what is certainly the most open of means of communication, symbolic walls are also represented. For example, most major free web-mail providers offer a localised service, or to be more precise, a nationalised service. The default offer provides the user with a national suffix to his or her email address. Other examples are online social networks or gaming websites, where one of the first pieces of information alongside a person's name or nickname is their geopolitical localisation in the form of a country's name or flag.11 This is of course harmless as such. In fact, it has certainly become the most basic information necessary to make sense of a globalised world where boundaries seem to have become liquid.12

This permeating national imaginary has for a time been considered to have been weakened by the recent economic liberalisation. But the widespread and frequent manifestations of nationalism since the end of the Cold War, some of which are the subject of this study, point to the ongoing fundamental significance of the national imaginary. As we read in Nietzsche's quote, nationalism was already a dominant ideology in the late nineteenth century which, decades before the rise of Nazism, and was already defined along lines of racial hatred and xenophobia. Nietzsche talks about its manifestation in Germany, but he could just as well have talked about any of the liberal democracies. Even if considered a less extreme form of nationalism in comparison to Nazism, nineteenth century liberal democracies appear in Nietzsche's mind to be breaking the cosmopolitan vision of a world perceived across lines of difference.13

State-centred nationalism, which is the main focus of this work, has continuously been reproduced in the processes of democratisation and liberalisation of the past two centuries. These corresponding significations, as it is implied in Harvey's explanation of the processes of neoliberalisation, provide a purpose for nationalism to be reproduced in the eyes of political and economic elites. This reproduction, or rather the promotion of state nationalism, also operates in a dialectical relationship to popular demands for political and symbolical recognition. This relationship does nevertheless not explain the historical reason of nationalism; it simply locates its significance in late modernity. As far as the history of nationalism is concerned, the historical invention or formation of nationalism, and its uses and abuses, suggest that nationalism breeds on the wider social and historical context of the various moments of late modernity. It is a fluctuating form between a political doctrine and a social imaginary. The spacial and temporal fluctuations of nationalism make it a discursive field par excellence. Nationalism was already a global discursive formation long before neoliberalism became significant.14 Yet, the contemporary significance of nationalism should not be interpreted as more (or less) important. Rather, if a recent discursive formation such as neoliberalism already presents us with a confusing complexity, the true extent of the significations of nationalism may consequently be unfathomable. This should nevertheless not prevent us from engaging with it to gain a critical perspective on one of the foundational threads of our contemporary imaginaries, keeping the limitations of our insights in mind.

The aim of the present study is to investigate nationalism by taking into consideration its transhistorical significance as a continuously reproduced dominant discursive formation of late modern social imaginaries. The structure of the work is elaborated around two epistemological angles. The first one is concerned with the elucidation of the critical and historically localised rationality about nationalism and contemporary social imaginaries in Europe. The second angle is concerned with the clarification of the modus operandi of nationalism as a social imaginary, through an exploration of historical and contemporary illustrations – or texts – drawn primarily from the discursive and actual spaces of Britain, France and Poland. Although these two angles are elaborated dialectically, the first two chapters focus on the elucidation and parallel elaboration of a logos to approach the interpretation of the fragments of the cosmos of national imaginaries analysed in the remaining two chapters.

Notes
11.

Once again, this a default setting of social and gaming websites which can be customised in certain instances.

12.

In reference to Zygmunt Bauman's famous metaphor for Post-Modernity. See Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge, Polity, 2000.

13.

The expression “across lines of difference” is borrowed from Craig Calhoun [ed.], Social Theory and the Politics of Identity, Oxford, Blackwell, 1994, p. 329.

14.

On an inquiry on the original development of nationalism outside Europe, see Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London. Verso. 1983. Otherwise, the formulation of colonies gaining independence in a process of national liberation suggests the further spread of nationalism around the globe and its discursive presupposition.