Imagined Communities – A Critique

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 24 September 2016

Imagined Communities – A Critique

In my view, nationalism is not a new phenomenon. In most of my arguments in this paper, the afore-going statement serves as my point of departure as I largely disagree with most of Anderson’s positions on nationalism. While I agree that nations in many cases are imagined communities, this is not an inherent quality of nations, and neither are nations always sovereign, though they may be limited geographically. I posit that republicanism, rather than ‘print capitalism’, is the father of modern nations but at the same time, that nations are not products of modernity.

All the same, I do agree with a number of Anderson’s approaches, namely that nationalism does lead people to sacrifice even the ultimate price and force the same of opponents, that nationalism is not obsolete in a globalized world, and that access to knowledge is a key factor in modern nationalism. Overall, my thesis is that nations may be imagined communities but must be augured with homogeneity of bureaucracy for them to exist. Arguments against Anderson’s Thesis Nations do not Have to be Imagined Communities

Most modern states are built around a unified people sharing a common pride and heritage – they are ‘imagined communities’, as Anderson would put it. Some countries however, are not built around such, and a quick list comes to mind – Somalia, Iran, Zimbabwe, Georgia. These are nations whose citizens do not share a sense of belonging to the whole, yet remained unified by a variety of factors. In the case of Somalia and Iran, ethnicity is inherent, and every faction wants leadership of the nation without secession.

They come from radically different ideologies or are driven by the desire for resource or ideological control, leading to a situation where a nation, while remaining so, is nonetheless in a perpetual state of internal conflict with clear disunity of mind. These are some of the extreme cases, and in most of them the nation is held together by coercion and repression rather than as a result of an imagined community. As such, Anderson’s position that Nations are made so by “deep horizontal comradeship” (6-7pp. ) is wanting, and in my view, invalid.

Imagined Community is Simply a Quality of the Ideal Nation In further disputing the quality of an imagined community as the principal source of definition of a nation, I beg to point out that imagined communities also exist in virtually every sphere of life, sometimes bound within defined geographies, yet that does not make these communities nations. A case in point is in religion, where Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, etc can be defined as imagined communities, where adherents ascribe to a common doctrine and agree to be bound by it, recognizing fellow adherents as part of a family.

In the case of the Middle East, Islam is virtually ubiquitous, meaning that an imagined community of Muslims is confined within a geographical location; they are even governed respectively by very similar laws in most cases. Despite all these, the Middle East is not a nation but merely a region. This same argument could be applied to international socialism in Europe at the turn of the 20th century just as well as it could be applied to communism between the end of WWII and the fall of the Berlin wall.

Imagined communities within boundaries do not define nations. Print Capitalism is Not the Father of Nations or Nationalism Anderson posits that modern nations became possible only after the invention of mass printing; as text was published in local dialects, those who could read the language could essentially communicate amongst themselves, and with few else. This, Anderson states, explains why nations tend to have common dialects.

I admit that it is hard to discredit the author, particularly on this last point that tries to explain the homogeneity of national language. However, I still dispute the supremacy of print capitalism in defining nations; for the most part, these stratifications based on language existed before the rise of the nation-state – the French would mostly be found in France, just as the Spaniards would be found in Spain and the Caribbean’s and the English would be found in Britain and America.

Print media, therefore, merely catalyzed communications within already homogenized pockets of people. In my view, the creator of the nation and nationalism is Republicanism; the message that was propelled around by print capitalism (but which nonetheless existed exclusive from print) was one of self-determination, and this message defied language barriers as translations would be done quickly, bringing about a homogeneity of ideology from France to the U. S and even Haiti, all started by a small group of thinkers, an example being John Locke.

Having credited Republicanism with creating the modern nation state, I take from it the title of the father of nationalism overall because, in my view, republicanism is simply a repackaged brand of a very old idea, as old as the Greek nation state that practiced democracy and governance from which modern thought borrows almost entirely. Nations are not Always Sovereign My point in this argument is relatively weak, wholly dependent on questioning the definition of sovereignty in the modern state.

If the term means complete independence and self-determination, then the same does not apply to most poor countries today, which are virtually governed by Structural Adjustment Policies or other such instruments drawn up by foreign powers such as the IMF, the World Bank, the U. N and the United States. As an example, is Afghanistan sovereign today? Yet it is a nation. On the other hand, if the definition of sovereignty is simply ostensible self-governance, then most Nations are sovereign, although this quality remains more theoretical than practical. Where I Agree with Anderson Imagined Communities within Borders are Nations

While many nations are not imagined communities, there are those idyllic cases which are defined as nations by virtue of being imagined communities within boundaries. The classic example is of course Israel, though America, Britain and France also serve as good examples. I thus agree with Anderson only to that extent. Nations Strive to be Sovereign, and the Imagined Community Does Inspire Poor nations may not be sovereign, therefore failing Anderson’s criteria of a nation, but still sovereignty remains a long sort goal that strengthens the bond of unity and resolve of the people for self-determination.

Haiti, long a nation, has not been sovereign, long haunted by invasion, blackmail, and outright occupation over its distraught 2 century history, yet that has worked to make even more resolute the Haitians’ desire to become and remain independent. On sacrifice, without a doubt the imagined communities modeled around nationalism have citizenships that would die for it. We see this all the time during wars and international political or economic disputes. On this point, I totally concur with Anderson. Nationalism is not Obsolete in the Face of Globalization

Finally, I do concur with Anderson that in a globalizing world, nationalism is far from obsolete. Politics is not globalizing because ethnic conflicts remain prevalent across the globe, as nationalist sentiments rise. Somalia has been in the doldrums for two decades now, and no nation wants much to do with it, save for its neighbors who are directly affected by its squabbles. Immigration laws are also getting tighter, as developing countries make it harder for immigrants to find residence within their borders.

Decades of immigration have put a strain on national resources, locals have lost jobs to immigrants and wages have gone down because immigrants provide cheap labor. At the same time, terrorism is making movement for everyone a nightmare, if not impossible in some instances. Even if all these issues were resolved, fundamental political differences in respective jurisdictions would be an almost impossible hurdle; taking the example of health care, a single-payer system as is widely used in Canada, Denmark and other countries would be an utter abomination in America.

Conclusion In concluding, I would like to posit that imagined communities, sovereignty and boundaries are not all that make up a state, neither are they, save for boundaries, innate qualities in a nation. Instead, a nation is defined by a people in an organized bureaucracy and defined authority, whether or not such bureaucracy and authority sustains itself through the spirit of the shared ideals of the people or through coercion and repression.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 24 September 2016

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