Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition. London: Verso, 1991.
In this classic book, Anderson works to trace the cultural, political, and technological conditions that gave rise to Nationalism in the late 18th century Europe and continue to make it such a resilient phenomenon today. Eschewing interpretations that it should be lumped in with other political “isms” such as Marxism or Liberalism, Anderson sees it more closely aligned with phenomena like religion and kinship. He begins by defining it as “an imagined political community–and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (6) that has cultural roots in the decline and territorialization of religion and sacred-script, the de-authorizing of monarchical centers as the natural way to organize political relations in space, and the delinking temporally of cosmology and history such that humans could now imagine themselves in a simultaneous, homogenous, calendrical time that connects folks who’ve never met. Such understanding of time, for Anderson, is epitomized in the development of the novel and the newspaper in print capitalism. He goes on to locate the origin of national consciousness at the intersection of capitalism, print, and the fatality of linguistic diversity engendered by the former two. He then traces their origins in practices from the Americas, both Spanish and Anglo, then their adaptations in linguistic nationalisms of Europe, official nationalisms in service of the imperial nation, and post-WWII ex-colonial nationalisms.
In Chapter 3, Anderson discusses the origins of national consciousness in the intersections between capitalism (as a system of production and productive relations), print (as a technology of communication), and what he calls the “fatality of human linguistic diversity” (wherein the myriad of spoken vernaculars was assembled into far fewer print vernaculars beyond the previous Latin hegemony) (43). This interplay led to print languages that, for Anderson, facilitated national consciousness in at least 3 ways:
- Created a unified mode of communication below Latin and above spoken vernaculars
- Print capitalism gave a new fixity to language previously unattainable in the era of copied manuscript
- Created languages-of-power in administrative vernaculars, which Anderson sees as first being a fortuitous alignment of capitalism, technology, and linguistic diversity, only later being manipulated or “exploited in a Machiavellian spirit” (45).
The former types of states, where the majority of the population speaks the official print language, he traces to the first republican nation-states in the Anglo and Spanish Americas (this, of course, ignores insights like Christa Olson’s about the majority of indios in Ecuador), and the latter wherein the majority of the population doesn’t speak or write in the official state language, which he points to ex-colonial states in Africa (46).
In Chapter 4, “Creole Pioneers,” Anderson asks and answers the questions why and how separate nationalisms grew from the Spanish-American Empire’s creole population, and a (nearly) unified nationalism grew in Anglo-American creoles (notwithstanding Canada, which always gets left out!). While Anderson notes the obvious economic factors, as well as the rise of liberalism and Enlightenment notions that challenged the primacy of ancien régimes while paving the way for republicanism in every case except Brazil, he actually credits the circumscribed journeys of accomplishment open to creoles in Spanish-America (if you were born in the colonies, the highest attainment of upward mobility open to you was the particular administrative center to which you were born…following Victor Turner’s theory of the journey, Anderson notes that Madrid thus ceases to be the new Mecca or Rome or Benares and, instead, Quito or Caracas), coupled with early iterations of print-capitalism’s reach through newspapers, as the prime mover for the development of a distinctly national consciousness for these creoles.
In Chapter 5, “Old Languages, New Models,” Anderson turns back to Europe for its burgeoning of nationalisms and nation-state movements from 1820-1920, arguing that struggle over the print vernacular and piracy of the newly minted concept of the “nation”–largely from the USA and France–played hugely decisive roles in these movements. Thus, the literate producers of vernacular language grammars, dictionaries, and literatures–as well as their literate, emerging bourgeoisie reading public–become the prime movers of national movements. In borrowing freely (Anderson’s “piracy”) from the republican models recently minted in the Americas and France, these language workers and proto-nationalist middle-classes also made these populist overtures to create a nation for all to participate, and Anderson says this is largely due to the models provided that solidified a sense of what the “nation” should be.
On the whole, Anderson’s account in Chapter 5 resonates generally with different eras of Irish Nationalism: the Young Ireland movement of the 1840’s was certainly the educated intelligentsia, and they made overtures to “the people” even though, as Brown puts it, they didn’t “know” the people. And the later movement of 1890s-1921, led by the cultural nationalisms of Yeats and a revived interest in both folklore and Gaelic, was also highly influenced by the women and men of letters. Yet, in Anderson’s only two mentions of Ireland in this chapter, both are puzzling: On 78, he claims that “the English elbowed Gaelic out of Ireland” as part of “a process which, at least in the beginning, was largely unplanned.” In a footnote he mentions the “military subjugation of the Gaeltacht,” but doesn’t note the systematic banning of Gaelic language instruction in schools, for instance, that might give someone pause in thinking the “process” “unplanned.” In a later section, while noting that the participation of the masses had much to do with their relationship to the “missionaries of nationalism,” he claims that “one might point to Ireland, where a Catholic priesthood drawn from the peasantry and close to it played a vital mediating role” (80). But these broad strokes beg for more detailed exposition, as the priests weren’t always the willing accessories to the often Protestant middle-class “missionaries of Nationalism.” In the Fenian era and prior, for instance, they often played a more obstructive role than a facilitative one. Quibbling yes, and especially given the scope of Anderson’s project, but also annoying (so I had to mention them).
Some of this can be accounted for by the next chapter (Ch. 6), wherein Anderson discusses the rise of official nationalisms–defined as the willed merger of nation and dynastic empire (86)–in lockstep with imperialism. To sketch the continuities of this ideology, itself made possible by and in reaction to the popular linguistic-nationalisms of the last chapter, he turns to comparisons among early Russian, English (in the Indian context and not the Irish), and Japanese official nationalisms, all of which turn to state policy to compel their colonial subjects to become more like the metropole. But, just like Spanish creoles in the Americas, these colonially-produced subjects can never rise above the administrative centers they came from. Anderson states,
“The reason for all this was not simply racism; it was also the fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging–Hungarian, English, and Japanese. And these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule” (111).
Yet, this logic seems to forget the very continuity of this feature to the earlier Spanish and English iterations of imperialism in the Americas. It seems that official nationalism becomes a strategy to contain or eradicate the threat of the colonial other–by assimilation or eradication. Anderson needs more postcolonial theory, methinks.
In Chapter 7, “The Last Wave,” he traces the rise post-WWII of what I would call postcolonial nation-states, and their genesis in the leadership of “lonely, bilingual intelligentsias unattached to sturdy local bourgeoisies” (140) that were educated in the “Russified” educational systems meant to produce large cadres of bilingual folks to administer the growing colonial state. As always, he notes that the territories of these future imagined communities are coterminous with the administrative centers of the colonial map that marked the apex of travel for these metropole-educated natives. So, the very education meant to produce willing servants of colonial empire also gave folks access to nationalist ideologies and histories that they would ultimately seek to wield against their oppressors.
In Chapter 8, “Patriotism and Racism,” Anderson returns to the primacy of language in facilitating national feeling, and also seeks to disprove that racism arises out of nationalism. To the contrary, Anderson rightly asserts, it arises out of class relations. Though he goes into other examples to prove his case, one need not go beyond the North American colonies, where laws against white-black miscegenation far pre-date nationalism but are meant to keep lower classes from banding together in solidarity.
In Ch. 9, “The Angel of History” we have the original conclusion reiterating the imagined quality of the nation, the spread and imminent pirate-ability of the phenomenon to new contexts through the facilitation of print capitalism and–later–colonial education systems, and the stubborn ways in which today’s revolutionary inherits the mantle of the old regimes and ends up wielding much similar tools of “official nationalisms” to bolster their version of the state.
In Ch. 10, “Census, Map, and Museum,” Anderson revises his argument from Ch. 7 about the rise of post-colonial nationalisms as direct descendants from European official nationalisms. He adds a sense of the local colonial state’s contribution through the interweaving technologies of census, map, and museum, both technologizing space and history in service of the officially imagined nation.
In Ch. 11