What nationalism is, and how it came to exist, are topics of some significance today. One reason for this is practical: that a suitable answer to these questions would justify some states, sure of their own right to nationalism, in suppressing national claims by minority or neighbour populations. There are other, more intellectually respectable, reasons. We have to look critically at our own assumptions, of which national feeling is one, to understand, and perhaps govern, our behaviour. So long as nationalism is used as a reason for political or terrorist activities it is important to be able to understand just what it entails. Why do some groups of people claim to be nations while others, with perhaps as clearly formed a culture and even as clearly marked linguistic boundaries, do not? Why does national identity in some cultures require the repression of its manifestations in others? When does what we recognise as national consciousness become manifest, and can we draw any general conclusions about the settings in which this happens on which to base a theory of causation? How artificial must inevitably be the sense of cohesion and the vision of the national past which sustain nationalism?
LRB 17 September 1987 | PDF Download