Nationalism: Between Nation and State

Gerard Delanty. Handbook of Social Theory. Editor: George Ritzer & Barry Smart. 2001. Sage Publication.

In recent years nationalism and the discourse of the nation has become a central concern of sociology and no study of the contemporary world is complete without it. Yet there is little consensus on how it should be studied and the very concept is undoubtedly one of the contested terms which seem to make up the theoretical vocabulary of the social sciences. However, one thing is clear: in the past nationalism was related to the rise of the modern state under the conditions of modernization while today its resurgence is somehow connected to the decline of the modern nation-state under the conditions of globalization. The central argument in this chapter is that today we are witnessing the decoupling of nation from state, and with the decline of the nation-state both nation and state are undergoing different developmental logics. The current situation is seemingly characterized by a paradox: the idea of the nation seems to be very much alive, yet the state is allegedly in decline or at least no longer enjoys the powerful position it once held. One way of looking at this is to see a gradual shifting of the discourse of the nation away from the state which, under the conditions of globalization, is becoming detached from cultural legitimation but is having constantly to face the recalcitrance of the nation.

In this chapter I will outline the central themes in the study of nationalism concentrating on the main theorists and theoretical approaches. In order to execute this I will organize the discussion around the following ten problematics: constructivism versus realism; modernity and nationalism; power and the imaginary; state versus nation; agency and structure; inclusion and exclusion; identity formation and mobilization; mobilization and institutionalization; progress and regression; and nationality and citizenship. By way of conclusion, I discuss the question of postnationalism. These debates by no means summarize everything that has been written on nationalism but they capture the core of the central theoretical debates on the subject.

How Real is the Nation?

One of the central debates in the study of nationalism is a reflection of one of the main philosophical-methodological problems in the social sciences, namely are social entities such as nations and other social identities real or constructed? This may be expressed like this: identities can be seen either as deriving from an underlying essence, which constitutes their basic reality, or they are constructed by social actors and are therefore socially specific. The former view takes for granted the authenticity of identities which can claim a certain reality while the latter sees identities as constructed and therefore lacking any real authenticity. An essentialist view of identity entails a strict separation of culture from agency for cultural entities such as identities are prior to agency and are not therefore the fabrications of social actors. According to this view, then, social actors are the recipients or addressees of cultural traditions and not the active codifiers of them. In contrast, a constructivist view sees social actors as having an active relation to culture which does not derive from its own internal developmental logic but from the ability of social actors to construct creatively their world with the aid of the cognitive, normative, aesthetic and symbolic resources that culture makes available. It would appear, then, that a realist view of culture and identity differs from a constructivist position in the degree of autonomy culture is given with respect to agency. In sum, what is at stake is the relationship between culture and agency: a realist/essentialist view sees a strong causal link between culture and agency, whereas a constructive position sees this as largely contingent.

This debate is particularly relevant to nationalism. According to some theorists, the nation is based on a primordial essence which is the basis of its popularity. Nations are held to be authentic cultural traditions which can be explained by history and the power of enduring traditions. From a different perspective, one which is more or less constructivist, nations are inventions; they are conceived, constructed even fabricated by social actors and consequently cannot be explained by reference to an underlying historical essence which simply unfolds in history. The first position, frequently called ‘essentialism’ or ‘primordialism,’ sees nations as long-term historical ‘grand’ narratives deriving from an origin, while the latter approach argues for a stronger sense of rupture and renewal in historical narratives. According to the constructivist view the author of the narrative has virtually disappeared, leaving just the narrative as an open discourse. If nations are stories about the real world, a constructivist would argue, we must not forget about the story-teller who frequently subverts the plot and even re-writes it to make it resonate with the world of the listener. A constructivist view of nationalism suggests less a notion of narrative than of discourse: nations are discourses which are always open to new formulations and inventions. Whether nations are basically primordial narratives or constructed discourses is an issue that has cut across a wide range of debates on nationalism in recent times and has strong political implications, since on the whole constructivists tend to be critical of nationalism while those who argue for a realist or essentialist position tend to be defensive of nationalism.

These positions can be attributed to the accounts of Anthony Smith and Eric Hobsbawm, who respectively argue from essentialist and constructivist perspectives. Smith (1986, 1991a, 1991b, 1995a, 1995b) insists on the prior existence of an ethnic and historical core to nationalism, which in his view is never a pure construction. Hobsbawm (1990, 1992, 1993), in contrast, sees nationalism as primarily a modern construction, a creation of strategic elites who use nationalism for the mobilization of the masses. Nationalism is akin to an ‘invented tradition’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983).

It is not my intention to resolve this question here since it involves complex philosophical questions—which neither Smith nor Hobsbawm address—as well as necessitating detailed empirical attention to specific cases, but two observations can be made. First, with respect to the theoretical problematic of realism and essentialism and constructivism, it may be suggested that the latter is always the perspective of the theorist while the former is the perspective of the social actor. The theoretical perspective is not the one adopted in everyday life, for social actors do not normally reflect on the constructed nature of their identities which, in the pre-theoretical mode of action, assumes a certain continuity of narrative and authenticity in its claims. In my view this is the only way to resolve the theoretical dimension to the debate: national identities are constructions from the perspective of the social scientist, while from the perspective of the social actor they are essentialist. The second observation I wish to make relates to the notion of nations and nationalism as discourses. If we see the idea of the nation less as a narrative struggling with the forces of history—whether one characterized by continuity with history as essentialists would argue or characterized by discontinuity and invention as constructionists would claim—than as a discourse the problem can be further relativized. The discourse of the nation has both a real and a constructed dimension to it. For example, the idea of the nation, like the perception of injustice or historical grievance, may reflect something real but can take a constructed form when it is interpreted through cultural models which have the feature of selecting certain aspects of the phenomenon in question and giving it a symbolic existence. Constructed in the cognitive structures of a discourse, a new level of symbolic reality emerges.

How Modern is the Nation?

A theme closely related to the problematic of constructivism is the question whether nationalism is a product of modernity or a product of premodern tradition: is nationalism modern or a product of long-run identities? A conventional view is that nationalism derives its strength from tradition, a position more or less held by Anthony Smith. States are modern, the argument goes, but are anchored in tradition, and one of the most powerful traditions is that of the nation. This view would see nations as secular religions, and in the case of Islamic nationalism as coeval with religion. Jewish nationalism, for instance, would see the idea of the nation going back to the biblical Israelites, Japanese cultural nationalism claims that Japan is culturally unique because of its ancient civilization, Irish nationalists have often claimed continuity with the ancient Gaelic civilization and English nationalism has claimed continuity with the early Anglo-Saxons. In short, virtually every national culture claims continuity of the modern nation with a primordial community and believes its traditions to be in some way authentic, even if historians have demonstrated their frequently fabricated nature and the fact that much of what we take to be traditional is very often the product of the recent past. Thus Eugene Weber (1976) in a classic work argued that French national identity was not consolidated until as late as the end of the nineteenth century when an infrastructure of compulsory schooling, military conscription and modern means of communication emerged. Local and regional identities were much stronger than national identities, he argued, which depended on a uniform society and common language.

The historical literature on nationalism would suggest that the idea of the nation, while having its antecedents in premodern traditions, is on the whole a modern creation. Hans Kohn (1944), in one of the early studies of nationalism, denied that it could be traced back to the middle ages, claiming that religion was a far more important mark of identity. Moreover, the idea of the nation in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was very different from the modern notion of the nation, referring largely to the aristocratic order (Alter, 1989: 56). The medieval term natio referred to a birthright and not to a particular cultural or political community as is suggested by the modern term, the nation. In the eighteenth century the German elite was predominantly French-speaking and many, including Frederick the Great, had contempt for the German language. This was also the case in England from the Norman Conquest until the fourteenth century, when the Anglo-Saxon elite was replaced by a French-speaking elite. The nation was precisely designed to exclude the masses. Some historians, for instance William McNeill (1986), have argued that polyethnicity and not the nation has been the norm in history, for territory and culture have rarely been coeval.

In a famous essay on nationalism, originally published in 1882, Ernst Renan (1990) argued that ‘forgetting,’ not remembering, history was central to nationalism. Nationalism is a kind of historical amnesia, for far from being a remembered history from times immemorial, a crucial dimension to nationalism is the forgetting of history in the invention of new myths. Since many nations came into existence as a result of violence, war and the brutal repression of minorities, the forgetting, even repression or sublimation, of the origin has been important for nationalism to survive. Thus Karl Deutsch once claimed: ‘A Nation is a group of persons united by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors.’ In this sense the discourse of the nation is a constructed reality.

Nations as Imagined Communities

If nations are not fabrications in Hobsbawm’s sense, and if they are not entirely real in the way Smith would claim they are, they may be seen as imaginary discourses. This is the position taken by Benedict Anderson (1983) in his famous book, Imagined Communities. His thesis is not as explicitly constructivist as Hobsbawm in that he sees nations as being more than mere fabrications by elites. He criticizes Gellner for conflating ‘invention’ with ‘falsity’ and ‘fabrication’ and for assuming that there is such a thing as a ‘true’ community. ‘Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined’ (Anderson, 1983: 15). For Anderson, the nation is above all an imagined community which is able to provide a narrative of meaning for individuals. It is imagined because its members will never meet most of their fellow-members. He thus downplays the role of intentional agency and does not address the question of exclusion, which is central to Hobsbawm’s approach. According to Anderson, nationalism is above all a response to the disappearance of community as a shared face-to-face world and its replacement by large-scale territorial societies organized around a state. Nationalism provides a kind of imagined community as opposed to a real community; it allows individuals to imagine the territory of the nation without having personally to encounter it and its inhabitants. The emergence of print-mediated experience, in particular novels and newspapers, and clock time was crucial for the articulation of imagined communities, giving them a foundation in narrative: ‘the convergence of capitalism and print technology on the fatal technology of human language created the possibility of a new form of imagined community, which in its basic morphology set the stage for the modern nation’ (Anderson, 1983: 49).

Anderson’s approach thus does not see nationalism as a discourse of power or one of ideology but one of cultural meaning and cognition. He leaves open the question of power and the role of agency in codifying the discourse of nationalism. While being very influential in studies on nationalism, Anderson’s work has not succeeded in explaining how actually nationalist mobilizations occur. The explanatory power of his thesis is largely confined to a very long historical view of the genesis of nationalism as a cognitive structure. However, when it comes to explaining the actual dynamics by which a nationalist movement or changes in the codification of nationalism arise we need a perspective on agency and how different and opposed discourses of the nation emerge and compete with each other for supremacy.

Despite these limits, his approach has the advantage that it can alert one to the role of nationalism in everyday life. Thus Billig (1995) proposes the term ‘banal nationalism’ to describe the nationalism inherent in everyday life. Arguing that too often nationalism is seen as the identity of the periphery, whereas in fact it is deeply engrained in the dominant discourses of society. Thus the separatists in Quebec or in the Basque country in Spain are nationalists while the state and the main parties are somehow supposed to be free of nationalism. Nationalism, he argues, has been rendered natural or normalized in most parts of the world with its banal moments filling everyday life by means of media messages. Undoubtedly tourism and sport (which are frequently related) are among the most powerful means of articulating images of the nation today. In the past the imagined community of the nation was a product of industrialization and nation-state-building, in other words, it was a creation of a society of producers; today, it is a product of a society of consumers. Thus one of the most powerful expressions of French national identity in recent times was the celebrations in Paris when France won the soccer World Cup in 1998. What is remarkable about this is the shifting of the discourse of the nation from history—the equation of the Revolution of 1789 with the nation—to post-industrial popular culture, creating what might be called a kind of post-historical nationalism.

Defining the Nation: State versus Nation

Before we proceed further we need to give some thought to basic questions of definition. The words nation, nationality, national identity, nationalism, nation-state are often used imprecisely and have a wide range of applicability, with the term ‘nation’ being used to refer to ‘societies’ and ‘nationality’ to mean citizenship. The term ‘nationalism’ can mean nationalism as a movement or nationalism as an ideology or idea and is often equated with the more diffuse term ‘national identity’ while the term nation is often used when what is meant is clearly the state, as for example in the ‘United Nations’ (which is in fact an organization of states). Mindful of these problems in the actual use of terms, I wish to look at the problem in defining the nation, in the most general sense of the term, with respect to its cultural or ideological content. What defines a nation?

Two ways of looking at this have prevailed: the state creates the nation or the nation creates the state. According to the first position, the nation is defined by the state. Typical examples of this would be the older European territorial states, such as France, Spain, England where the state form preceded the discourse of the nation, or at least the modern idea of the nation. According to the second position, the state is the creation of the nation, typical examples here being Ireland, Italy, Israel and Germany where the idea of the nation is allegedly older than the particular form of the state. There are clearly a whole range of historically specific issues at stake here, largely concerned with definitions of exactly what is a nation and the process by which nation and state become fused in the formation of the modern nation-state. One way of looking at this is to see the first case in terms of a project of state-building—as in England, Japan and France where national identity was a project largely forged by the state and the elites—whereas in the case of Ireland and many central and east European countries national identity was forged against the existing state and came from ‘below.’

Nations have mostly been defined by reference to either an ethnos or a demos, the nation is either a cultural community or a political community, or as Friedrich Meinecke ([1907] 1970) expressed it in a classic work, a ‘cultural nation’ and a ‘state nation’ (or ‘political nation’). Of course it can also be both. The ethnos of the nation is its cultural foundation in language, religion, a shared sense of history or a myth of descent or origin. Of these, undoubtedly language has been the strongest in maintaining the spirit of the nation, either as a functional prerequisite or as a reference point for identification. Most nationalist movements have been in some way linguistic. In the case of some, such as the Irish revival movement at the beginning of the twentieth century, this was the language of a minority and the preoccupation of elites, but in the majority of cases language has been central to the definition of the nation, with Quebec being the best contemporary example. Religion has played a role too, but this has mostly been marginal, exceptions being Ireland, Poland and Israel. Important as language is, the cultural component of nationalism more or less always contains an identification with history in the sense of a myth of origins. Mention must also be made of the role of territory in defining the nation, relevant in the case of Serbia (Hooson, 1994). However, it is important to stress that the nation as a cultural community is more than an ethnos: nationalism and ethnicity are not coeval. The nation is also a political community, a dimension which is closely related to the state, though is not reducible to the state. In this context the nation is closely identified with a particular territory, a legal order, a state, and even a governing elite.

Nations can thus be defined in terms of the kind of community to which they give substance. Closely related to the political dimension of community there is the additional question of the role of ideology. Nationalism can be put alongside liberalism, conservatism and socialism as one of the great ideological doctrines of modern times. As a political ideology, nationalism is a doctrine codified by elites who sought to mobilize the masses or, in other cases, sought to provide a system of legitimation for a political order. Of particular importance in this regard is the pivotal role of intellectuals in the codification of nationalism (Giesen, 1993).

Arguably, the two most influential ideologies of modern nationalism were those of Giuseppe Mazzini and Woodrow Wilson. Mazzini was the apostle of modern republican nationalism and argued that nations of a certain size have a right to states of their own. In his conception the nation is essentially a territorially large cultural community which has a historical right to be realized in a sovereign state. This doctrine of nationalism, which derives from the Enlightenment’s emphasis on self-determination, was immensely influential in the second half of the nineteenth century, giving rise to many nationalist movements such as Young Italy, Young Poland and Young Ireland (though curiously Mazzini denied the claim of the Irish nationalists to an independent state on the dubious grounds that Ireland was too small). However, despite some sessionist movements and the creation of modern Greece, nationalism in the nineteenth century was for the most part the nationalism of the established territorial states. The twentieth century marked the birth of sessionist nationalism, and as a result of the circumstances in the aftermath of the First World War, principally the problem of the dissolution of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, new states were created. The criteria for the formation of these new states were laid down by the American president Woodrow Wilson whose famous Thirteen Point Plan, which included a commitment to the principle of self-determination, gave a powerful ideological legitimation—and supported by V.I. Lenin—to the idea that nations must be realized in states. In this case the problem was that it was never clear exactly what a nation was and as a result many ethnically defined identities suddenly found themselves declared ‘nations’ and then transformed into states, since it was easier to create a state than a nation. The doctrine of self-determination assumes that a nation can be definable territorially and that it consists of only one ethnicity, or a single cultural community. This doctrine thus rests on the equation of nation, state and culture. But the problem of course has been, with some few exceptions, that cultural community never translates so neatly into political community and as a result the struggle for self-determination has frequently been associated with violence, both political and cultural. The solutions states have found to this problem of incongruity of state, nation and culture have been various, including genocide, expulsion, partition, population exchange, marginalization and forcible assimilation.

The Social Dimension: Structural Factors

While much of the debate on nationalism has been focused on the political and cultural dimensions concerning the role of elites in the invention of the nation or on the relationship of the nation to the state, a major area of debate has been on the social structural basis of nationalism. Can nationalism be explained by reference to social structures or is it to be explained by the power of its ideological message? Sociologists such as Karl Deutsch and Ernst Gellner have stressed the social origins of nationalism as a response to the need of modern societies for cultural cohesion. According to Karl Deutsch (1953), who wrote one of the most influential sociological books on nationalism, it is the need of modern societies for intense communication that gives rise to nationalism. Modernization, in his account, brings about more and more communication and nationalism can be seen as a response to the need of modern society for a common medium of political communication. While being an explicitly sociological account, Deutsch tended to stress nationalism only in terms of its structural effects: nationalist ideas meet with widespread acceptance when there is dense communication. Missing was any sense of the role of agency or a sense of ideological competition. Moreover, Deutsch confined his analysis to the impact of the idea of nationalism and did not show how that idea is itself actually constructed and why nationalism takes different forms.

Ernst Gellner’s (1983; see also 1987, 1994) sociology of nationalism was a considerable improvement on the older, highly functionalist accounts such as those of Deutsch. He viewed nationalism as related to industrialization which had the effect of uprooting large segments of the population leading to the decline of traditional forms of cohesion. Nationalism can be seen as a post-traditional form of cohesion. Basically accepting Deutsch’s account, Gellner brought the discussion one step further in stressing the importance of industrialization which produces the need for a new system of homogeneous integration based on communication. Nationalism, he argued, offers a principle of cultural homogeneity, generally one related to a common language; ‘nationalism is not the awakening of an old latent, dormant force, though that is how it does indeed present itself. It is in reality the consequence of a new form of social organization, based on deeply internalized, educationdependent high cultures, each protected by its own state’ (Gellner, 1983: 48). However, while taking the debate on nationalism much further than earlier studies, his approach remained largely structural and functionalist, though he did recognize the constructivist element to nationalism as well. Like Hobsbawm, he was a trenchant critic of nationalism, which he regarded as a construction of elites, the enemy of liberal enlightenment, and one of the most destructive forces in the modern world. His view of nationalism was that it was a fabricated ideology and a false resolution to the problems of modernity: ‘Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness. It invents nations where they do not exist’ (Gellner, 1964: 168). However, it must be said that Gellner was more distinctively a structuralist than a constructivist in that his aim was primarily to explain the socio-structural factors in the genesis of nationalism rather than the actual codifications of elites.

Structural explanations of nationalism typically downplay the role of agency. As with all structural explanations, nationalism is explained by reference to the functional needs of society – or its dysfunctions—and not by reference to the actions of social actors who tend to be reduced to structure. Obviously a complete view of nationalism must entail a synthesis of structure, culture and agency. Missing from Gellner’s work on nationalism was an appreciation of the popularity of nationalism, its ability to strike powerful chords of emotional attachment and resonate with cultural identities. On the whole, he tended to overemphasize structural factors, neglecting both the autonomy of culture (which is better illustrated by Anderson) and the role of agency in interpreting and transforming cultural codes. Thus while industrialization may have provided the structures for much of modern nationalism, we also have to recognize the relative autonomy of culture. Clearly modern nationalism did emerge in preindustrial situations, for example late nineteenth-century Ireland, Tokugawa Japan and eastern Europe, and in the developed West today nationalism has enjoyed a resurgence under the condition of what might be called ‘deindustrialized.’ Obviously, then, we need a more finely worked theory of the interrelations of agency, structure and culture in the explanation of the genesis of nationalism. The studies of George Mosse (1975, 1985, 1993) can be cited as an example of an approach that is more sensitive to the cultural logic of nationalism. Mosse emhasized such factors as the lower middle-class ethic of respectability, the aesthetization of politics and the fusion of nature and nation in the discourses of nationalism, which was originally a progressive-leftist movement but gradually became a right wing and fascist movement by the early twentieth century. Mention can also be made of the work of John Breuilly (1982), for whom nationalism is to be explained as a means of conducting politics by mass mobilization.

Inclusion and Exclusion

The difficulty with many conventional accounts of nationalism is that they neglect the role of agency as a mediator of structure and culture. Structural accounts, such as Gellner, neglect the autonomy of agency, more culturalist approaches such as Anderson’s confine the analysis to the cultural content of nationalist discourse, and more historically inclined authors such as Hobsbawm stress the role of agency to the neglect of both culture and structure. A fruitful approach is the anthropological theory of Frederick Barth (1969). In his influential book, he looked at how social actors deploy cultural constructs in order to set up and maintain group symbolic boundaries which in time become real ones. His point, which places him theoretically in the constructivist camp, is that cultural boundaries do not derive from cultural tradition as such but are set up by groups seeking to establish their difference from others. For Barth, there is not a direct causal relationship between culture and agency, as in the work of Smith, but a creative one. The main dimension to this is the Self/Other dichotomy, which for Barth derives from boundary maintenance and not from cultural traditions. Thus what counts is the ability to make a ‘difference,’ even if this is a very small difference. The importance of his approach is that he can show how social actors—who have different social locations—manipulate cultural codes in order to maintain group boundaries. In this approach, nationalism is less driven by the Enlightenment’s ideal of ‘self-determination’ than by the dynamics of group formation, which require the ‘self to determine the ‘other.’

Identity Formation and Mobilization

A theme in the recent literature on nationalism is the sociological question of how a movement arises, gains public support and leads to the establishment of a new institutional framework. The emphasis in the older literature on nationalism was on the ideology and cultural content of nationalism—in particular on national identity—and on the political role of nationalist movements. Only recently have studies on nationalism progressed to look at exactly how nationalist movement arises. Does nationalism derive its strength from interests or from identities, for instance? This is an area of huge debate, with some approaches emphasizing the role of interests and others the role of identity. Rational choice theorists, such as Hechter (1975), have looked at nationalism in terms of the strategic goals of nationalist leaders. For Hechter, the success of a nationalist movement is to be explained by reference to its ability to maximize benefits for its supporters who respond to grievances. One of the problems with a social interest approach—that is, the assumption that grievances led to the articulation of identities which give expression to social interests—is that it cannot provide a satisfactory account of how nationalist mobilization actually occurs since interests have to be interpreted through cultural models in which grievances are amplified (or even invented). Nor can it explain the genesis of values and the desirability—that is, the cultural and institutional selectivity—of certain normative goals over others. It is particularly weak in explaining how nationalist agencies are themselves formed.

Other traditional approaches which stressed the content of nationalist discourse as opposed to external interests have tended to remain on the level of an analysis of ideology. Thus, for Elie Kedourie (1993), in his influential book, nationalism is primarily an ideology whose force is simply compelling. Put more sociologically, his argument was nationalism as a movement is caused by the ideology of nationalism. Again, missing from this account is a theory of agency and structure. We need to understand the relationship between social agents such as nationalist elites and movements on the one side, and on the other how these relate to both the socio-structural context and pre-existing discourses of the nation. As we have seen, Gellner’s work was an important step in this direction but suffered from the limits of his structural and somewhat functionalist modernization bias.

Recent literature on social movements shifts the focus from identity to mobilization. Identity is theorized as emanating from the actual dynamics of mobilization; it is seen less as an underlying essence which somehow causes action than as a product of action and the existence of certain opportunity structures. According to this approach, which has moved beyond constructivism and essentialism, identities are ‘projects’ and are constructed in a relational field which is created when groups mobilize to win support for their view of the world. In this struggle, to impose new definitions of reality, interests and identities are articulated together. Thus identities are less resources than projects. According to O’Mahony and Delanty (1998), adopting this analysis, the most important identity formations of Irish nationalism did not precede the mass mobilization of the late nineteenth century but were created in the period of mobilization itself, including the key grievances that fuelled nationalism. This approach, which challenges the conventional view that a nationalist movement is the product of deeply entrained historical identities which derive from grievances—allows us to see identity as something that is always open to strategic change and symbolic reinterpretation as circumstances change. As Rogers Brubaker (1996: 17) argues, nationalism is not engendered by nations but is produced by political fields of particular kinds. His approach, which is influenced by the sociology of Bourdieu, sees the dynamics of nationalism being governed by the properties of political fields, not by the properties of collectivities.

A central question in this approach is under which conditions nationalist interpretation models, attempting to make sense of a given situation, acquire societal validity. How does nationalist ideology resonate with segments of the population and gain widespread support? To answer this question it is necessary to have recourse to the idea of opportunity structures. Following Kitschelt (1986), the concept of an opportunity structure—political, cultural and social—has become influential in recent literature on nationalism (Brand, 1992; Hooge, 1992; O’Mahony and Delanty, 1998). In contrast to the structuralist approach, which places too much emphasis on the functionalist nature of nationalism, the idea of opportunity structures describes how institutional conditions offer opportunities or barriers to the realization of a movement’s goals, for instance, the degree of institutional access to state (political opportunity structures), the openness of the public sphere to the identity projects of the nationalist movement (for their message must resonate in the society linking up with other identities and interests, cultural and social opportunity structures); and the receptivity of the movement’s project with other movements. The latter opportunity structure is particularly important in the case of nationalism, which often needs the emergence of a ‘discourse coalition’ where a variety of social movements unite behind a common programme leading to the building of a consensus movement and a master frame of identity. It may be argued that the key to the success of nationalism is precisely the construction of such a consensus movement.

One of the implications of the emphasis on mobilization strategies in the context of opportunity structures is a multidimensional view of nationalist movements, which are rarely unitary. In a study of European smaller-country nationalisms, Hroch (1985; see also 1993) identifies three vertical periods and four typical factions in nationalist mobilizations. The temporary distinctions are Enlightenment cultural nationalism, the elite nationalist movements of the mid-nineteenth century, which had a more pronounced political dimension, and finally the emergence of a mass movement from the end of the nineteenth century. In the latter phase there are four principal wings, the clerical-conservative, liberal democratic, socialist and revolutionary. Each of these emerges from different contexts and acts in the name of different and frequently incompatible interests and identities. Hroch, however, does not use mobilization theory as such and his work does not actually explain how mobilization occurs. Mobilization theory stresses the role of social actors in taking advantage of certain structural conditions and also has the advantage of relating cultural models to relational fields in which social actors struggle in the context of open structural situations. Combined with a discourse theory of nationalism, this is undoubtedly a promising approach to the study of nationalism since it combines structure, agency and culture.

Mobilization and Institutionalization

The relationship between identity formation and the emergence of a movement has been a concern of a great deal of recent work on nationalism. Another key concern, though one which has received less attention, is the question of the institutionalization of a project of nation-building in a state, for a successful nationalist mobilization leads to the establishment of a state. Obviously this is going to be heavily influenced by the mobilization phase. However, one of the main differences between the mobilization phase and the phase of institutionalization is that in the latter there is likely to be a more pronounced tendency towards the emergence of a master frame, or a discourse coalition. New elites will emerge; frequently after an initial civil war when marginal elites significant during the mobilization phase are isolated in the struggle for the acquisition of economic and political power as well as social influence. The establishment of a nation-state involves the creation of a new system of regulating interests within an institutional order and a new cultural imaginary which will bind the new elites together. The elites who codify this imaginary will also have an opportunity to define the institutional rules of the new order.

Recent literature on nationalism emphasizes very strongly the importance of an institutional analysis to nationalism. For instance, Rogers Brubaker (1996) has shown how the seeds of post-communist nationalism were sown by the policies of institutionalizing nationhood and nationality in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was based on institutionalized multinationality, which not only tolerated national identification but institutionalized it, establishing nationhood and nationality as central institutional categories, and in doing so, Brubaker argues, it prepared the way for its own demise.

Progress and Regression

An unavoidable theme in the debate is the question of whether nationalism is a progressive force, or more generally, whether there are progressive forms of nationalism. There is a tendency in the literature to assume that certain forms of nationalism are more progressive than others. Thus Hobsbawm dismisses the nationalism of the periphery—but not that of the existing nation-state as an unrealistic aspiration for an impossible statehood. However, it is evident that for him nationalism is a deeply destructive force and is best combated with a more cosmopolitan consciousness. We are not told what this could be, but there is a certain nostalgia in his writings for a lost socialist consciousness. This brings us back to one of the older debates on nationalism, whether class or nation is the primary social actor in advancing progress. For Marx it was clearly class. It was his view that nationalism was a useful resource for the attainment of an international proletarian class consciousness. Engels famously dismissed the ‘unhistorical’ peoples of eastern Europe and, with Marx, assumed that the initiative would come from the industrially advanced nations. In general, Marxists have regarded nationalism as secondary to the class struggle but have positively appraised it as a progressive movement since the national and the class struggle were putatively connected.

The idea of history entailing progress was central not only to the Marxist theory of society but to liberal social science. Nation-state building and the shaping of nationally specific political cultures was regarded as an essential dimension to the process of modernization. One of the main debates on German history has been on the so-called ‘Sonderweg’ thesis, namely the argument that there is an ideal or normal path to modernity which offers a normative reference point to assess other paths. Thus, it has been argued Germany’s path to modernity was an aberration from the norm which was allegedly characterized by the established nation-states (England, the Netherlands, France). The difficulties with this position are obvious. For instance, the history of Britain can be seen as a series of failed attempts to institutionalize federalism, for it is by no means apparent that the nation-state has been a success, as has been illustrated by Anglo-Irish relations. More generally, there is the question as to from where do normative alternatives come? Do they come from the society’s own learning structures or from outside?

Nationalism, Nationality, and Citizenship

According to a particular tradition associated with the Enlightenment, the nation is an idea of universalistic significance. The idea of the nation was synonymous with society and far from being the ideology of a particular state it was associated with the universalism of civil society. The ideas and ideals of the American and French Revolutions promoted a view of the nation as the voice of civil society. This conception of the nation was concretely realized in notions of citizenship and human rights. The ideals of modern constitutional law and democracy, which stressed the formal equality of all individuals and their right to autonomy, provided the foundation for the idea of the civic nation. Modern republicanism was the first nationalist movement in this universalistic sense of the term. This univeralistic sense of nationalism associated with the Enlightenment is often termed patriotism and can be contrasted to the particularism of late forms of nationalism which fostered strong identification with the state and equated the nation with a culturally or ethnically defined people or Volk.

With the growing identification of the nation with the state, the republican spirit of patriotism and civic identity waned. Henceforth there was an increasing emphasis on the territorial nation-state, on the one side, and on the other the culturalist-historicist interpretation of the nation began to overtake the civic interpretation. In the twentieth century nationalism—in its explicitly political and cultural forms—has been mostly associated with strategies of exclusion rather than ones of inclusion. With the exception of pan-nationalist movements, it has mostly been a particularist ideology seeking a close identification of the cultural community with a particular geographical territory or, more commonly, with a state. The rise of the national has been at the cost of civil society.

The universalistic core of nationalism has mostly disappeared today, though in certain forms of civic nationalism (as opposed to political or cultural nationalism) and in ‘cosmopolitan’ forms of identification a degree of universalism is retained. In sum, what is happening is that nationality and citizenship have become interchangeable. In modern society citizenship, as membership of a political community, came to be defined in terms of membership of a territorial nation-state. National identification and citizenship identification became one and the same, even though the distinction for many is contingent rather than necessary. What is at stake in this distinction is exactly what membership of a community entails. Is the community a political entity defined by the polity, a cultural community defined by a shared framework of norms and values or a civic community defined by something that goes beyond nationality and entailing a deeper kind of citizenship? This is much evidence today that nationality and citizenship are losing their close connection and that consequently the discourse of the nation is losing its power to define social reality.

Conclusion: Nationalism and Postnationalism

From about the end of the 1980s, nationalism has been on the rise throughout the world, in particular in the former communist countries but also in Western Europe there is also a pronounced increase in nationalism (Ignatieff, 1994; Judt, 1994; Kaldor, 1993). There is one major difference between nationalism today and in the past: today it is mostly an expression of conflicts within nation-states rather than between them. In the classical period of nation-state-building in the late nineteenth century nationalism was an expression of the growing identification of the masses with the state. An important part of this was ‘social imperialism,’ the cultivation of a patriotism around the nascent empires the Western states were amassing. If the old nationalism was primarily jingoistic, the new nationalism is xenophobic. Nationalism today is more about exclusion than inclusion; it is heavily focused on immigrants and minorities within the state rather than on other states. Equality and modernity had been central to the old nationalism whereas ‘ethnic cleansing’ has become a metaphor of the new nationalism.

In many parts of the world nationalism is related to the growing incidence of civil wars rather than wars between the nation-states (Enzensberger, 1994). There are also major changes in its social composition. In the past nationalism was primarily an ideology of elites who competed for mass support; in other cases it was an ideology imposed from above by the state upon society. Today nationalism on the whole derives from ‘below’ and is generally anti-statist. The anti-statist component in the new nationalism is illustrated in the Northern League, for whom the Italian state is disloyal, and, in the extreme case, in the American militias, for whom the Federal government has betrayed the American nation.

It may be suggested that the new nationalism gains its impetus from the decoupling of nation and state. The nation is mobilizing against the state which is losing its connection with society. The resurgence of nationalism can be seen as the product of the growing alienation of society. In their analysis of right-wing voting in Western Europe Jurgen Falter and Markus Klein (1996) argue right-wing voting is to be explained less as an ideological phenomenon than as a reaction to economic insecurity. Economic crises combined with ideological predispositions channel support into the extreme right. Thus the decline in the vote for the German Republikaner in the 1994 election may be seen as a decline in political dissatisfaction rather than a decline in right-wing political attitudes, for this potential always exists. This would suggest extreme right-wing parties are likely to succeed if they can find a way of linking xenophobia to material interests. This has indeed been the case with the 1998 elections, when the support of the extreme right dropped due, it may be suggested, to the ability of the SPD and left alliance to offer a successful challenge to the neoliberal position represented by the government. Therefore, it may be argued that nationalism today is less the expression of notions of cultural superiority or political ambition than an expression of the decline of the social and the exhaustion of the civic component of political community.

One dimension to this is the crisis of the welfare state. In the period that followed the Second World War Western societies succeeded in creating welfare states that were also the social basis of Western multiculturalism. The economic boon of the postwar years allowed Western societies to achieve full employment, with many countries importing immigrant labour. The decline of the welfare state is inseparably linked to the crisis of multiculturalism and the emergence of growing nationalism. Extreme nationalist parties have gained huge support due less to the inherent belief in nationalism than in growing social discontent with the mainstream parties. This is evident in the tendency of nationalists, including extreme nationalists, to deny the racist component in their discourses. The issues, it is alleged, are merely about immigration and the restriction of citizenship to nationals. The new nationalism thus might be called a ‘materialistic’ nationalism as opposed to one that is explicitly cultural or political (Habermas, 1991).

Another factor is undoubtedly the reaction to the global context. In Europe the momentum towards European integration occurred at a time when welfare states were under attack from neoliberal-influenced strategies. Combined with the spectre of large-scale immigration following the collapse of communism, the secure foundations of Western societies suddenly became questioned. Transnational processes, such as European integration, notwithstanding the case of German unification, appeared to undermine the cultural models of national societies which were also reaching the limits of their capacity to provide an enduring form of social citizenship. The motivational forces of nationalism are fear, trauma, resentment and disappointment. Nationalism provides an ethos of security in a world that is fraught with anxiety, risk and insecurity. In the former communist countries the loss of economic security that communism and exposure to neoliberal economics and a culture of consumption led to a major feeling of economic and cultural insecurity.

Earlier in this chapter I suggested that a major dimension to nationalism today is the disjuncture of citizenship and nationality. We are no longer living in a world in which nation and state are secure entities. It is in this sense that we can speak of post-nationality. Societies are no longer defined by exclusive reference to states or nations. In the global era citizenship is becoming increasingly deterritorialized, with transnational communities becoming more and more able to appeal to human rights and citizenship rights which are not specific to nation-states (Soysal, 1994). Many theorists have observed that the consequence of globalization is more and more particularism (Robertson, 1992). Globalizing trends in politics and law give nationalism a major impetus. For instance, the decline of the state releases the nation, as is illustrated in the fact that much of world politics is about the regulation of ethnic nationalism (Barkin and Cronin, 1994). It has been frequently argued that globalization entails the mobilization of the local and the regional against the centre. But this dynamic is also one that provides a tremendous boost to nationalism (Castells, 1997).

In what sense, then, is it meaningful to speak of postnationalism? It is clear that nationalism is not going to decline but it is unlikely to become a dominant identity. Unlike in the past, when nationalism had few competitors—its main adversary being class—today it is forced to live in a world in which many identities exist. According to Habermas and others, modernity contains a self-reflective component that cannot be simply avoided: the critique of cultural traditions and the reflexivity of ideology is built into the self-understanding of modern conceptions of the world. The postnational position would argue that no cultural tradition is able to withstand self-examination (Delanty, 1995). Habermas defends the plausibility of a ‘constitutional patriotism’—an identification with the principles of the constitution rather than an identification with the state, territory or history—as the basis of a postnational political culture. This might also be conceived as a new cosmopolitan ‘imaginary,’ but it is evident that such an identity can only be a minimal one.