Nationalism and the Power of Ideology

Siniša Maleševic. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Krishan Kumar. 2006. Sage Publishing.

Since the publication of the Dominant Ideology Thesis (1980) by Abercrombie, Hill and Turner, it has become a commonplace to accept the view that there is not, and never has been, such a thing as ‘the dominant ideology.’ Their well-documented study was taken as proof that ideological unity did not exist in the past, nor was it essential to the smooth operation of contemporary societies. While one can easily accept many of the criticisms levelled against traditional Marxist and functionalist accounts of the dominant ideology thesis it would be too hasty to completely discard the notion of dominant ideology from the sociological vocabulary. In this chapter I argue that the concept remains sociologically indispensable when attempting to deal with the dominant ideological narrative of modernity—nationalism. The chapter is organized around the argument that nationalism, in all its diverse forms, remains an essential source and the principal glue of state legitimacy. However, to fully comprehend its ideological power one needs to dissect a given society’s ideological make-up at the two main levels—normative and operative. The potency of nationalism comes from its ability to adapt and metamorphose so as to dovetail with distinct and often contradictory official doctrines. In other words, while normative ideologies may be transient and ephemeral, and may change or proliferate in different directions, operative ideologies, in the age of modernity, tend to remain stable and endure couched in the dominant narrative of nationalism. To substantiate this argument the chapter conducts a comparative analysis of three very diverse cases—post-revolutionary Iran, Cold War Yugoslavia and contemporary Britain. By looking at the form and content of dominant ideologies in these three societies it aims to demonstrate that despite their mutually exclusive official doctrines all three cases show a great deal of similarity at the operative level where differently articulated nationalism remains a dominant ideology.

Nationalism, Ideology, and Modernity

As most macro-sociologists and socially minded historians now agree, nationalism is a modern phenomenon (Gellner 1983; Smith 1991; Breuilly 1993). The pre-modern world was politically, economically and most of all socially too hierarchical and too stratified to allow for any significant degree of congruence between polity and culture. Before the era of Enlightenment and the French Revolution the social realm was clearly divided between a small nobility concerned with status and prone to warfare, and the masses of illiterate agricultural producers who were both socially and geographically immobile. This separated the world of ‘high Latin-speaking culture, concerned with recovering the glory of the Roman Empire under the guise of Christianity, from the ocean of ‘low’ oral cultures of the peasant populations, who communicated through thousands of unstandardized and often mutually incomprehensible vernaculars. This was also the world of empires, fiefdoms and city-states all underpinned by a shared belief in the monarch’s right to rule on the basis of blood and ‘divine origins.’ Although there existed notions of France, England or Russia, very few among the general population would conceive of themselves as French, English or Russian, identifying instead with a particular family, clan, religious group or village. In other words, for nations to happen it was necessary that an overwhelming majority of the population become transformed ‘from peasants into Frenchmen’ (Weber 1976). So the individual sense of nationhood goes hand in hand with dramatic structural transformations—the birth of the modern bureaucratic rationalistic state, the introduction and expansion of mass public education conducted through a single standardized vernacular, the corresponding growth of literacy rates and the democratization and secularization of the public space. Nationalism is born in and expands with modernity: initially the preserve of political and cultural elites, excluded intelligentsia, disappointed revolutionaries and a few literate others, through the nineteenth century it gradually captured the hearts and minds of the middle classes in Europe and America (Mann 1988). With the extension of the franchise and other citizenship rights to manual workers, peasants, women and minorities after the two World Wars, nationalism has cemented itself as the dominant ideology in the northern hemisphere. The steady erosion of colonial rule from the 1950s and the establishment of new independent states worldwide further extended nationalism, from a largely European or Northern phenomenon into a truly global and dominant ideology of modernity.

Since its power and mass appeal have expanded simultaneously with the proliferation of modern bureaucratic state structures and its corresponding mechanisms of integration such as civil, political and social rights (Marshal 1992 [1948]; Mann 1988), welfare provisions, economic growth and coercive apparatuses, the development of nationalism and of the modern state is a deeply intertwined process.

Breuilly (1993) and Mann (1995) have both argued convincingly, as well as demonstrated empirically, that one of the key reasons why nationalism and the modern state became so entangled lies in the big rupture caused by the arrival of modernity, or the relation between the newly emerging arenas of the civil society and the sovereign state. The expansion of ruthless capitalism, the development of a centralizing administrative apparatus under the authority of a territorially bound and often war-prone state, the secularization of society and increasing literacy rates among the general population, have all created a fundamental tension between the public, rational and often absolutist state on the one hand and the expanding private sphere of civil society on the other. All modern ideologies such as liberalism, socialism and conservatism emerged in this period, all offering a coherent, plausible and relatively certain answer on how to reconcile the conflict between the (often dehumanizing) realm of the public and the (emotional) realm of the private.

However, despite the obvious successes of socialism, conservatism and liberalism, it is nationalism in its many guises that proved to be the most potent and popular ideology of modernity. Both historically and geographically one finds nationalist movements and doctrines spreading with equal vigour on the right, center and left of the political spectrum—from the Flemish Block and BJP, to Kuomitang and Peronism, to Sinn Feinn or the Socialist Party of Serbia. Nationalism comes to prominence in times of economic crisis just as in times of unprecedented economic boom (Connor 1994). The ascendancy and vigour of nationalist discourse is to be found today in the most globalized areas of the world, such as North America or Europe, as much as in the most isolated and sanction-ridden states such as North Korea or Myanmar (Burma). Whether acute or dormant, or to use Billig’s (1995) terminology, whether hot or cold/banal, nationalism remains the most potent ideology of modernity. More than any other ideology, nationalism was able to articulate a narrative bent on reconciling the public and the private, the institutional and the communal, the political and the cultural, utilizing the most egalitarian and democratic expression—‘we the nation.’ As Gellner (1997: 74) succinctly phrases it: ‘nationalism is a phenomenon of Gesellschaft using the idiom of Gemeinschaft: a mobile anonymous society simulating a closed cosy community.’

The success of nationalist narrative has a lot to do with its ability to offer a solution to the problem of personal oblivion in a secular age, thus providing a modern equivalent of religious belief (Kedourie 1960; Smith 2003). It also owes much to the ability of political elites to ‘invent traditions’ in times of dramatic social change as well as to the changing nature of geopolitics and wars fought in the post-feudal period (Mann 1988; Giddens 1985). We now have some answers as to why nationalism has become such a prevalent discourse in modern times but we still know very little about the workings of nationalist ideology. We know that in the modern age the two main pillars of political legitimacy are the ability to generate economic growth and nationalism (Gellner 1997: 25), but we lack a coherent account of the machinery of nationalism—its inner workings and logics. To do that one has to look more closely at the structure, form and content of the various modalities that nationalist ideology can take. As I have argued elsewhere (Maleševic 2002a, 2002b), it is fruitful to analyse conceptual segments of ideological narratives such as the statements and practices relating to the prospective organization of a particular society (economy, politics, culture and the image of the nation), dominant actors as depicted in the narratives, type of language used, as well as the portrayal of principal counter-ideologies. But to understand the potency of ideological appeal it is essential to dissect the two principal layers through which political ideologies operate, that is, the realm of the normative and that of the operative.

The domain of the normative is articulated in ideal-typical terms. It is built around principles outlining fundamental goals and values as well as providing a blueprint for the realization of these goals. The normative realm contains a strong kernel of utopian thinking as conceptualized by Mannheim (1936), a set of ideas that ‘transcend the present’ and are geared towards the future. This realm is formulated to espouse key tenets of a particular Weltanschauung, providing well elaborated statements and diagnoses regarding the structure and organization of the past, the present and the future of an entire society. It is in the normative domain where ideas concerning actual and possible relationships between individuals and groups are clearly spelled out and the assessment of their present or future direction is provided. More than anything, the normative realm presents a relatively clear and uncompromising set of ethical prescriptions which are in large part derived from concrete knowledge claims or ‘given’ moral absolutes. In this respect the normative realm is articulated in a way that is predominantly universalist. It may explicitly or implicitly address humanity as a whole by speaking with the voice of moral or cognitive (or both) authority. Its focus can be on individuals or a specific group (that is, workers, women, citizens, etc.) but its message generally remains within the confines of rationality, ethical universality or the combination of both. Even when aimed at a very particular collectivity it still operates through a logic and language that resonate beyond the borders of that particular community. The realm of the normative defines itself through reason and ethics and is most likely to challenge other weltanschauun-gen by pinpointing faults in their ethics and reasoning. The normative layer of ideology is most often deduced from authoritative texts and scriptures such as religious ‘holy books’ (Bible, Qur’an, Talmud, Vedas, etc.), the influential publications of mystics, philosophers, prophets, scientists, or documents with powerful legal, ethical or semi-sacred status (Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Magna Charta, Geneva Convention, etc.), the constitutions of sovereign states, political and party manifestos, and so on.

The operative realm functions rather differently. It is an arena of everyday life with all its complexities, contingencies and ideational flux. The concepts, ideas, values and practices present in this realm can never be ultimate, final or uncompromising. This is a domain of existential ambiguity and a constant value dynamism where different images of the world and different diagnoses of reality compete for the ‘souls’ of each and all. The operative realm is expressed in institutional as well as extra-institutional arenas of individual and social life. It is the way that ideas and values, often evident in socio-cultural practices and rituals, operate in the routine circumstances of daily life in any given society. The dominant beliefs and values in this domain can be composed of different concepts and ideas, some of which can be intentionally formulated with the aim of justifying a particular course of action (or inaction), or to legitimize or delegitimize particular policies. The realm of the operative is the realm of the mundane. However, unlike in Durkheim’s (1964 [1937]) understanding, the mundane does not always equal the profane. On the contrary, the operative realm can be articulated and visualized by majorities as the area of the sacred, just as much, if not more, as the normative realm can be. Since the operative realm has to address, in one or another way the majority of the population in any given society, it is bound to rely on simplified concepts, language and images with popular appeal. It is also more likely to use emotional and instrumental discourse when making an appeal to the public. The general message, and in particular the key principles and ideas employed in this realm are more likely to be personalized in the image of concrete individuals so as to be recognizable and acceptable to the mass public. Most of all, the operative layer of ideology is more likely to address individuals and groups as members of very specific interest and emotion bound groups using a narrow particularist discourse. The language of the operative realm is most often the language of affect and individual or collective self-interest. To dissect the dominant operative ideas and values of a particular collectivity or society one can analyse such sources as school textbooks, tabloid newspapers, mainstream news programmes on the TV, specific Internet websites, political or commercial adverts, speeches of political leaders, and so on.

The relationship between the normative and operative realms, that is, between the two layers of ideology, is always a question of empirical evidence. They can overlap, express similar or even identical values and ideas but more often than not they tend to be composed of differently articulated concepts. For example, analysing dominant normative and operative layers of ideology in the cases of communist Yugoslavia and post-communist Serbia and Croatia, I have attempted to demonstrate how, despite sharp differences on the normative level, all three cases exhibit a great deal of similarity on the level of operative ideology. Whereas normative ideology may be as different as self-management and reformed democratic socialism or Christian democracy, in all three cases the operative ideology was found to be staunchly nationalist (Maleševic 2002a). The subtle analysis of the inner workings of normative and operative layers of ideology can bring us much closer to understanding the complexities of nationalist appeal. To achieve this it is essential to recognize that nationalism is not only a dominant ideology of modernity (as seen from the West or North), as rightly argued by Gellner, Mann, Smith and other leading historical sociologists, but more precisely that it is a dominant operative ideology of modern times. Whether democratic or authoritarian, left-wing or right-wing, religious or secularist, radical or moderate, at the end of the day modern political orders tend predominantly to legitimize their rule or to delegitimize the rule of others in nationalist terms. In other words, the rulers of any modern nation-state may formulate their official doctrine or normative ideology as liberal, socialist, Islamist, or environmentalist, but their operative ideologies are more likely to supplement those normative ideals with an extensive dose of nationalism. Regardless of the official pronouncements made by various governments and oppositional groups representing or attempting to represent a particular nation-state, which are regularly couched in universalist terms, it is nationalism, in all its forms, which remains the dominant operative ideology of the modern age. To illustrate this argument I provide a brief analysis of three very diverse case studies often considered to be the epitome of ideological difference: Islamic Iran, communist Yugoslavia and the liberal democratic UK. The argument is that despite sharp and irreconcilable differences in their normative ideologies there is a great deal of congruence between their respective operative ideologies, with all three articulated in strict nationalist terms. The analysis of the normative level of ideology will focus on the state constitutions as they most succinctly articulate the dominant official doctrine of any modern nation-state. The operative ideology will be decoded from key speeches of the respective leaders, as well as from school textbooks as they most effectively reflect the dominant values of the operative realm.

The Layers of Ideology: Nationalism in Practice

Islamic Iran

The contours of the dominant normative ideology in the Iranian case can be extracted from the 1979 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CIRI). This document states that Shia Islam of the Twelver Ja’fari sect is the state’s official religion and ideology. According to the Constitution this view is sanctioned ‘by the people of Iran on the basis of their longstanding belief in the sovereignty of truth and Qur’anic justice’ (CIRI 1979: Article 1). This revolutionary republican Shia doctrine is grounded in a belief ‘in One God (as stated in the phrase “There is no god except Allah”), His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands’ (CIRI, 1979: Article 2.1). In other words, absolute sovereignty over the world and man belongs to God and not to the people. The Constitution stipulates that all laws in the state have to be ‘based on Islamic criteria’ (CIRI 1979: Article 4). One of the central ethical goals of the Republic is fostering the conditions ‘for the growth of moral virtues based on faith and piety and the struggle against all forms of vice and corruption’ (CIRI 1979: Article 3.1). This is clearly a normative realm formulated as a set of uncompromising and universalistic moral prescriptions.

The Constitution also explains that the economic system is divided between the state, co-operative and private sectors but all three are ‘to be based on systematic and sound planning.’ The system has to be ‘self-sufficient,’ ‘correct and just,’ cannot go ‘beyond the bounds of Islamic law,’ while the state itself reserves the right to administer and control ‘all large-scale and mother industries’ (CIRI 1979: Articles 3, 43, 44). The family is seen as ‘the fundamental unit of Islamic society’ (CIRI 1979: Article 10) and it is stated that ‘government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria’ (CIRI 1979: Article 21). Following specific verses from the Qur’an, the constitution specifies that ‘all Muslims form a single nation,’ which implies that the state ‘has the duty of formulating its general policies with a view to cultivating the friendship and unity of all Muslim peoples’; is committed to ‘the defence of the rights of all Muslims’; and ‘must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world’ (CIRI 1979: Articles 3.16, 11, 152).

The message given in the normative ideology is clearly a universalist one, making an appeal to the superior knowledge and the moral absolutes as formulated in a specific book—the Qur’an. The focus is on universal principles and ideas which go beyond the particularity of any single state, nation or political order. When the concept of nation is invoked it does not refer so much to Iran but rather to ‘all Muslims,’ which potentially can include any human being. The normative ideology legitimizes itself by invoking the discourse of morality and reason. It calls upon what is considered to be the ultimate form of ethics (Qur’anic justice) and the most rational and advanced form of social organization (an Islamic republic).

The operative level of ideology as discernible from school textbooks published in the post-revolutionary period, and the key speeches of the ‘founding father of the Republic,’ Ayatollah Khomeini, give us a very different picture of reality. While here too Islamic principles are emphasized in culture, politics, economy and the social sphere, there is a particular twist to it, that is, they are largely couched in nationalist terms.

So reading Khomeini’s speeches one encounters numerous references to ‘the noble Iranian nation,’ ‘our beloved country,’ ‘dear nation,’ ‘beloved Iran’ and so on (Khomeini 1985: 243-4). Instead of deriving legitimacy from the unquestionable doctrines of the Qur’an and the clergy’s exclusive ability to access these ultimate truths as stated in the constitution, in the speeches their superiority comes principally from loyalty to the nation. Hence one can read how ‘the noble Iranian nation, by supporting the genuine and committed Iranian clergy, who have always been the guardians and protectors of this country, will remit their debts to Islam and will cut off the hands of all of history’s oppressors of their country’ (Khomeini 1985: 247). The speaker rarely discusses the complexity of theological arguments but rather refers to the need to ‘defend your dignity and honour’ since ‘our dignity has been trampled underfoot; the dignity of Iran has been destroyed’ (Khomeini 1985:243,181). Instead of a universalistic appeal to brotherhood among all underprivileged people, and especially the unity of all Muslims around the world, the speeches devote far more attention to the glorification of the Iranian nation. Thus one finds references to the ‘noble Iranian Armed Forces,’ as Khomeini (1985: 244, 176) explains that ‘we know that the commanders of the great Iranian army … share our aims and are ready to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the dignity of Iran.’ One also learns how corrupt and servile rulers ‘have reduced the Iranian people to a level lower than that of an American dog,’ how ‘government has sold our independence, reduced us to the level of a colony’ (Khomeini 1985: 182). The focus of the speeches is again less on the universality of the moral message of Islam than on the particularist values of nationhood couched in terms of collective self-interest and emotions.

So the problem with the enemy is not so much that they stray from the true religion, but rather that the enemy constitutes a physical and tangible threat: Israel is ‘assaulting us, and assaulting you, the nation; it wishes to seize your economy, to destroy your trade and agriculture, to appropriate your wealth (Khomeini 1985: 177). The enemy is not only threatening in a material sense, it also assaults the nation’s dignity:

Iranian nation! Those among you who are thirty or forty years of age or more will remember how three foreign countries attacked us during WWII. The Soviet Union, Britain, and America invaded Iran and occupied our country The property of the people was exposed to danger and their honour was imperilled. (Khomeini 1985: 179)

Those who do not oppose foreign influence are not only branded un-Islamic as in the constitution, but as un-Iranian and treacherous. So Iran under the despised Shah regime ‘has sold itself to obtain dollars’ since when ‘you take the dollars and use them … we become slaves,’ and in this way the former leaders are said to ‘have committed treason against this country’ (Khomeini 1985: 187).

The school textbooks give us a very similar picture. Here too Islamic principles are regularly couched in nationalist terms. The Iranian nation is depicted in a primordialist sense as an ancient phenomenon emanating a sense of eternity, existing before and often beyond Islam. So one can read how ‘the people of our country … have been involved in sports since times immemorial. At the very same time the Greeks inaugurated the Olympic games, the ancient Iranians taught their children horse-riding, archery and the game of polo’ (Ram 2000: 79). The Iranian nation is glorified by the heroes and martyrs who regularly made sacrifices for their country. The Mongol invasion was stopped only because Iranians were in possession of these noble qualities: ‘in this barbarous attack the valiant people of Iran did not disdain from any display of manliness and sacrifice. Men, women, the old and the young … excelled in the defence of the country, not accepting the disgrace of foreign rule’ (Ram 2000: 81). It is Iran and not Islam that elicits the special emotions of devotion and uniqueness, as in the following excerpt from a poem which is given prominence in the school textbooks:

O Iran, O my splendours house! I love you. The laughter of your children, the clamour of your youth, the [battle] cries of your men, I love them all. O splendours house. I hold dear your pure soil, which is coloured with the blood of the martyrs.(Ram 2000: 85)

Unlike the normative level of ideology which speaks principally in the voice of universality rationality and superior ethics, that is in the name of Universal Islam, the operative layer of ideology is for the most part particularistic and appeals to affect and group self-interest among a specific and exceptional social entity—the Iranian nation.

Communist Yugoslavia

The 1974 Constitution of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (CSFRY) provides the skeleton of a dominant normative ideology often referred to as socialist self-management. Its first article defines the state as a federal voluntary association ‘based on the power of and self-management by the working class and all working people’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 1). The central focus of the Constitution is work relations, workers and the economic system and it is emphasized that the state is based ‘on freely associated labour and socially-owned means of production, and on self-management by the working people’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 10). In such a system the means of production are the property of the society and ‘no one may gain any material or other benefits, directly or indirectly, by exploiting the labour of others’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 11). The document also refers to the authority of science (including economics) in planning the social development of society as a whole. So one is informed that ‘workers in basic and other organisations of associated labour … shall have the right and duty, by relying on scientific achievements … and by taking into account economic laws, independently to adopt working and development plans and programmes for their organisations and communities …’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 69). Social planning is seen as an essential normative principle both in the economic and the social spheres: ‘workers in organisations of associated labour and working people in other self-managing organisations and communities … shall be responsible for the fulfilment of the working and development plans of their organisations and communities’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 74). Hence, as in the case of Iranian normative ideology, the central principles are derived from a realm of superior knowledge (Marxist science with rational social planning) and universal ethics (the equality of all working people and the gradual disappearance of classes).

The political system is also founded on the principle of devolving a decisive role to workers: ‘power and management of social affairs shall be vested in the working class and all working people’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 88). To fully participate in decision-making ‘working people’ were to organize themselves ‘on a self-management basis in organisations of associated labour, local communities, [and] self-managing communities of interest’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 90). As a multi-ethnic federal state Yugoslavia was devised as a state where all its ‘nations and nationalities … shall have equal rights’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 245). These rights are defined in terms of ‘the freedoms, rights and duties of man and the citizen’ which are to be ‘realised through solidarity among people and through the fulfilment of duties and responsibilities of everyone towards all and of all towards everyone’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 153). In addition to standard citizenship rights (freedom of thought and opinion, freedom of the press, profession of religion, freedom of movement, etc.), the Constitution also invokes the right to self-management where ‘each individual shall be responsible for self-management decision-making and the implementation of decisions’ (CSFRY 1974: Article 155).

All the ideas expressed in the normative realm refer either to the authority of science (as the most efficient and most rational course of action), or to the authority of universal ethical principles (invoking a sense of justice for all). Again, similar to the Iranian case, though this time cast in the image of the socialist worker rather than the pious universal Muslim, normative ideology appeals to general values of relevance to humanity as a whole. Socialism is presented as the most progressive and most virtuous doctrine, which is open to all human beings. There is little reference to particularistic identities or closed group memberships. This is a transcendental realm of fundamental values and ethical absolutes.

However, when one examines the articulation of this at the level of operative ideology it is possible to see, just as in the case of Iran, a certain synergy of socialist self-management rhetoric with explicit reliance on nationalist discourse. One can discern this by examining excerpts from the Yugoslav leader Tito’s speeches and the content of school textbooks. Tito, as with Khomeini, addresses his public in nationalist (albeit state nationalist) rather than socialist terms. The authority of scientific central planning and ethical universality is displaced by the argument that ‘We have spilt an ocean of blood for fraternity and unity of our peoples—and we shall not allow anyone to touch this or destroy it from inside, to break this fraternity and unity …’ (Tito 1975: 2). There is less by way of reference to proletarians and workers of the world than to our ‘Croatian mothers,’ ‘brothers and sisters,’ to Croatian ‘sons and sisters who fought together with Serbs, Slovenes, Bosnians, Montenegrins and Macedonians to clear your Croatian name,’ or to injustices that ‘were washed with the blood of the best sons of all peoples of Yugoslavia’ (Tito 1945a: 1). Instead of socialist self-management of the workers the speaker invokes the idea of ‘brotherhood and unity of peoples of Yugoslavia who fought against superior enemy force in terrible conditions and won’ (Tito 1945a: 1). Instead of appealing to the Soviet Union as a fellow socialist state sharing the goal of emancipating labour and establishing proletarian internationalism, one encounters reference to ‘our big Slavic brother’ whose cooperation with ‘us’ was ‘signed by the blood of our best sons’ (Tito 1945b: 1). Even the defeated enemy is not delegitimized on the grounds of inferior or unethical political ideology (i.e. Nazism) but rather by reference to ethno-national origins: ‘we are entering a historical moment of unification of Slavs in the Balkans and if internally divided by quarrels we can easily become a booty of the greatest enemy of all Slavs—German conquerors’ (Tito 1945a: 1). Thus what is emphasized as essential in the process of creating a new socialist Yugoslavia is less economic equality or worker solidarity, but rather the mythical and sacred experience of fighting and dying together for the new state. This precious state, argues Tito, ‘was liberated with the blood and lives of the sons of all peoples of Yugoslavia’ (Tito 1945a: 1). That is why this new state is our ‘shared house’ built on the human sacrifices by ‘spilling a sea of blood.’ And most of all it is made clear that ‘these sacrifices are holy, they will be remembered by our descendants for thousands of years’ (Tito 1975: 2). As such, ‘they have to be preserved as a pupil of one’s eye’ (Tito 1966: 1).

School textbooks exhibit a similar discourse. The focus is less on socio-economic issues than on the idea of Yugoslav ‘brotherhood and unity’ which are continually defined and legitimized in relation to a common struggle against a common enemy. So one is informed that ‘the brotherhood and unity of Serbs and Croats has been built by the struggle’ and that ‘the struggle of our peoples against a superior enemy was difficult and bloody.’ (Teodosic et al. 1946:97). Here again, while making explicit reference to countries of the socialist bloc and to the USSR in particular, there is an appeal to Slavic unity instead of universal socialism. So the Soviet Union is described as our Slavic brother, ‘our hope and tower of light’ and its army as a ‘mighty brotherly Red Army’ (Culinovic 1959: 54; Teodosic et al. 1946: 62). The leadership of the Communist party of Yugoslavia is not legitimized through its capacity to bring about socialist revolution but almost exclusively as liberators of the nation:

when fascist conquerors enslaved our country in 1941, they started to destroy, rob and kill our people. Peoples of Yugoslavia have raised the uprising under the leadership of the Communist party and its spearhead comrade Tito against German, Italian and Hungarian fascists and their collaborators. (Teodosic et al. 1946: 62)

The ideological enemies are rarely depicted as espousing different ‘recipes’ of social development (i.e. liberalism, monarchism, etc.) but again are delegitimized in nationalist terms as traitors who are ‘rotten,’ who have ‘openly collaborated with occupiers,’ and who have ‘poured poison and acid between the peoples of Yugoslavia’ and are now ‘whispering from [their] holes’ (Culinovic 1959: 57-81).

Thus, one finds here a very similar pattern to the one identified in the Iranian case. The lofty normative message of progress and justice for all, or the appeal to humanity as a whole, has been largely transformed into an emotional and ethnocentric battle cry within the operative realm, aimed not at the world proletariat and ‘the wretched of the world,’ but at a very specific and ideologically privileged group of people—the Yugoslavs.

Liberal democratic United Kingdom

Although the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland does not have a formal Constitution as such, it has a number of legal documents such as the Acts of Government, the Bill of Rights (1689), Common Law and the Human Rights Act 1998 that clearly spell out key ideas and principles that constitute the dominant normative ideology of the state. This social and political order is termed liberal democracy and is defined as ‘a system of representative and responsible government in which voters elect the members of a representative institution, the House of Commons, and the government is accountable to the House and ultimately to the electorate’ (Turpin 2002: 20). The system is underpinned by the notion of parliamentary sovereignty, which establishes the legislative supremacy of the Parliament. This is historically ‘assured by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which established the primacy of statute over prerogative’ so as that the ‘statutes enacted by Parliament must be enforced, and must be given priority over rules of common law, [and] international law’ (Turpin 2002: 23). The state is built on the principle of a separation of powers, so that the relation between the legislative, executive and judiciary establishes a set of checks and balances that guarantee the rule of law. Again, as with the other two cases, the realm of normative ideology is articulated by principles that transcend the particular. In this case legitimacy comes from the legislative supremacy of a system of government which is founded on reason and grounded in the tripartite division of powers thus providing the most righteous system for the organization of social life. The ultimate principle invoked is one of parliamentary sovereignty which codifies the universal principle that all individuals are of equal moral worth and equal before the law.

This is underlined in the Human Rights Act of 1998 which guarantees citizens the following rights: right to life, freedom from torture and slavery, right to liberty and security, fair trial, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression and information, assembly, association, freedom from discrimination, free elections and the peaceful enjoyment of possessions (Turpin 2002: 142). Although this particular document is recent, the idiom of universal human rights is understood as giving expression to the original Bill of Rights (1689), a document which not only established Parliament as the ultimate ruling body of the state by limiting royal powers, but it also asserted a number of mechanisms to secure democracy such as the freedom of speech and debate, a right to petition the sovereign and the free parliamentary elections. In other words the emphasis is on the universality of human rights, justice and equality before the law. While these principles and statutes make special provisions for the royal family, for example that it be referred to as the ‘Crown’ instead of the state, and that the members of government are nominally ‘servants of the Crown,’ the powers of the monarch are nonetheless limited to the symbolic realm.

Although clearly different in terms of content, the form which normative ideology takes in the British case corresponds to the Yugoslav and Iranian cases in the sense that it too speaks through the voice of higher reason and advanced ethics. While it discusses ideal-typical conditions in one concrete society, it also addresses humanity in its entirety by relying on a single and uncompromising value—the principle of human rights.

When turning to the level of operative ideology as formulated in school textbooks and speeches of leaders one again finds a shift from the universal message of liberal democratic values to more restricted and particularist expressions of dominant values grounded in the discourse of state-centred nationalism. Hence Tony Blair regularly addresses the public in state nationalist and even ethnocentric terms rather than solely in liberal democratic terms, declaring himself to be a British patriot who is ‘proud of my country and proud of the British people’ (Blair 1999a: 1). According to the British Prime Minister, one has to be proud of being British because Britain has produced, and continues to produce ‘some of the world’s finest scientists, authors, composers, artists, sports people, designers.’ But more than this is the unique British national character which constitutes a horizon of pride—‘what makes us different is our character: hard working, tolerant, understated, creative, courageous, generous’ (Blair 1999a: 1). And this is complemented by ‘our humour, our integrity, or what people know as basic British decency’ (Blair 1999a: 1). These unique British characteristics are ‘deep in the British character’ and are something that one should be ‘immensely proud’ of because ‘so much that is good in the world bears the stamp of Britain’ (Blair 1999a: 2).

Blair’s speeches often make reference to historical events such as wars and other collective tragedies where Britain and the British people are depicted as heroic martyrs who sacrifice themselves for the greater cause of the nation. So he argues: ‘I don’t believe there was a finer episode in this often glorious history than in the Second World War when Britain led the world in a crusade against dictatorship and barbarity’ (Blair 2000: 1). This was seen as a magnificent ‘victory over tyranny’ and again the people are instructed to ‘take pride’ in such emblems of ‘our country’s remarkable history and achievements’ (Blair 2000: 2). There is also a need to reflect that such victories were built on enormous ‘sacrifice and selflessness’ on the part of ordinary British men and women, and according to the prime minister, there is a moral obligation to ‘properly remember the efforts of all who ensured freedom and decency triumphed more than fifty years ago’ since ‘we have reaped the full rewards of this selfless sacrifice’ (Blair 2000: 2). In linking the experience of World War II to the more recent Kosovo war, Blair appeals to the unique British qualities: ‘the poor defenceless people [of Kosovo] are begging us to show strength and determination; we would have shown unpardonable weakness and dereliction. This is not the tradition of Britain’ (Blair 1999b: 2). For Blair the unity of British people is essential and he envisages ‘a one nation Britain coming together’ as people continue a ‘patriotic alliance that puts country before Party’ (Blair 1999a: 2, 1999c: 1).

A similar nation-centred discourse is also evident in school textbooks. As many analysts of British history and geography textbooks have documented (Crawford 2000; Hopkin 2001; Doyle 2002) most textbooks espouse direct or indirect ethnocentrism which conflicts with the official commitment to pluralism, cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism. The contents of the great majority of textbooks are focused on the positive portrayal of ‘British people’ and Britain (Robson 1993), glorifying its imperial past and overlooking the contributions of others. When discussing wars and other major historical events the narrative tends to represent the British nation as a unified actor which, standing alone and against impossible odds, achieves glorious victory through heroic sacrifice (Kallis 1999; Crawford 2000, 2001). For example, the events of World War II and especially the 1941 Blitz and the withdrawal of British troops from Dunkirk are discussed in many history textbooks in terms of the unique sacrifice and bravery of ‘British people’: ‘by June [1940] Britain stood completely alone’ and the Blitz ‘brought out the best in people’ (Lancaster and Lancaster 1995: 560, 67). The textbooks invoke and construct a ‘Dunkirk Spirit’—‘the feeling that even though Britain was alone, it would fight on until victory was done’ (Grey and Little 1997: 69). The unwavering unity and commitment to the national cause is self-evident given the fact that German air raids on the UK killed tens of thousands and destroyed millions of homes but ‘did not break the will of the people’ (Lancaster and Lancaster 1995: 83). What was essential in achieving such a glorious victory was the sense of national equality: ‘during the war, everyone was equal and there was a community spirit’ (Lancaster and Lancaster 1995: 69).

The layer of operative ideology again differs in many respects from its normative counterpart. Instead of universal human rights, the rule of law and the other general liberal democratic values articulated on the normative level, operative ideology resembles that of the other two cases. Again one notices a dramatic slip into particularism expressed in the self-adoration, instrumentality of collective egoism and intense emotional appeals. In place of the liberal, democratic and cosmopolitan citoyen one finds a chosen people with a unique and exceptional character—the British.

The Ideological Power of Nationalism

The argument that nationalism is the dominant operative ideology of modernity does not imply some unquestionable and uniform sense of societal cohesion as functionalists would have it. Ideological unity is never fully accomplished. Rather it is a messy, contested and unending struggle—a process which is shaped by social, political and historical contingencies. While this process is highly dependent on asymmetrical power relations, these are not reducible to the capitalist mode of production; they do not necessarily entail the ideological assimilation of one stratum by another, and nor are they always beneficial to the rulers. This much is true of Abercrombie et al.’s (1980) criticism of the dominant ideology thesis.

However, one cannot underestimate the simple fact that nearly all contemporary sociopolitical orders, whether described as liberal democratic, state socialist, Islamist, Buddhist, authoritarian or bureaucratic, have one thing in common—they all tend to legitimize their existence in nationalist terms. This is not to say that nationalist discourse is the only one present in the rhetoric of state leaders, school textbooks or tabloid newspapers. That is clearly not the case. What is argued here is that for normative principles to be acceptable and to resonate with the desires, projects and aspirations of the general public, it is necessary that they be articulated in a nation-centric way. The success of a particular normative doctrine lies in the process of its ‘translation’ into its operative counterpart. The world of abstract principles, complex and distant ideas, and grand vistas has to be transformed and concretized into accessible images, familiar personality traits, stark metaphors and the general language of everyday life. This can entail a conscious attempt at manipulation on the part of political entrepreneurs always happy to aid such an endeavour, but in most cases it is more a matter of habit and daily routine, as certain practices, beliefs, values and modes of conduct are simply taken for granted and often reproduced in a quite mechanical way. As Billig (1995: 37) rightly indicates, it is not easy to pinpoint and analyse these discursive practices because they seem so obvious, normal and natural: ‘One cannot step outside the world of nations, nor rid oneself of the assumptions and common-sense habits which come from living within that world.’ And this is precisely how every successful ideological project operates. It does not lie, for that would be amateurish and in the long term counterproductive. Instead, as Barthes (1993: 143) explains, it makes things seem innocent, natural, clear and apparent. The modern nation-state as a ‘bordered power-container’ (Giddens 1985) by its very design, largely created and institutionalized in the past two hundred years, provides clearly demarcated and delineated contours within which any successful attempt at self-legitimization has to be made. No serious power-seeker can dramatically amend these rules. Even a potential revolutionary cannot build the world from scratch, and every successful revolution since World War II ‘has defined itself in national terms’ (Anderson 1983: 12). Hence the dominance of the nationalist content of operative ideology may have less to do with the aims and actions of concrete individual power-holders but much more with the existing mechanisms, institutionalized routines and geopolitical arrangements that are already in place. One does not have to be particularly nationalistic when in power, one just has to implicitly or explicitly draw on and reproduce what is already there. In this sense the modern state is like a game of chess: there are thousands of combinations one can play (as a ruler), one can even at some point exchange a pawn for a queen, but one is extremely limited in altering the existing moves of the figures on the chessboard, or in changing the structure of the board.

The striking similarities between the three operative ideologies in the case studies discussed here illustrate this point. In the case of Iran, the former Yugoslavia and the UK, one encounters three extremely different and in many respects incommensurable normative ideologies, which is perhaps unsurprising given that they are drawn from three radically different cultural and geographical environments. Yet on the level of operative ideology all three cases exhibit a remarkable degree of similarity, invoking nearly identical images and metaphors of kinship and group solidarity. Unlike its normative counterpart, the operative domain is predominantly instrumental and emotional in its appeal, but more importantly the central principles of normative ideology are also transformed. Thus in all three cases the central values such as Islam, socialism or human rights do not stand on their own in operative ideology as the key principles around which society is/to be built, but rather become submerged and deduced from the central idea of the operative ideology which is the nation. In other words, while at the normative level all particularistic attachments are downplayed or subordinated to grand ethical or epistemic vistas, on the operative level it is the other way around where human rights, Islam or socialism are seen as valuable only insofar as they help to consolidate or contribute to the cause of the particular nation. So despite Abercrombie et al.’s authoritative attempt to demonstrate otherwise, there is something called dominant ideology. For the past two hundred years nationalism has been and continues to be a dominant operative ideology of the modern age.