The Persistence of Nationalism: Modernity and Discourses of the Nation

Gerard Delanty. Handbook of Historical Sociology. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Engin F Isin. Sage Publication. 2003.

In this chapter I argue that nationalism is an expression of some of the major formative moments in modernity, and in particular can be seen as a response to processes of integration and differentiation. Nationalism can be understood in terms of models of integration which at the same time reflect wider societal structures of differentiation. These doubly articulated processes of inclusion and exclusion can be related to the three main political forms of modern nationalism: the civic nation, the state nation and the cultural nation. Most expressions of nationalism involve a mixture of the three main political forms, although generally one kind has been in ascendancy in any one particular context. But underlying these, I argue, is an ethic of radical freedom, which has its origins in Jacobinism. While this violent force has generally been tamed in the main political forms of nationalism, it has always been a recalcitrant force in all forms of modern nationalism.

Nationalism has endured for many reasons, not least of which is because it has been able to provide workable solutions to three problems, which can roughly be related to the three major political forms of nationalism: the problem of membership of the polity, the problem of demarcating the boundaries of the polity and the problem of establishing the identity of the polity. The different forms nationalism has taken in history are a reflection of the ways societies, or more specifically different groups, have found solutions to the problems of the polity under the conditions of modernity. However, many of the solutions that nationalism has found have been at a cost. The result has been to varying degrees exclusion of minorities, symbolic violence and xenophobia.

One of the main claims made in this chapter is that the historical sociology of nationalism must go beyond a theory of the political forms of nationalism. I argue that the contribution of a globally oriented historical sociology to the study of nationalism consists in linking these essentially political discourses of nationalism to a sociological account of the rise and transformation of modern society. What needs to be explained is how at various places and at different points in history certain political forms of nationalism came to be selected or given predominance over others. This chapter is an attempt to spell out some of the issues that need to be considered in such an analysis.

To this end I argue that the three main political forms of nationalism can be theorized in terms of four main institutional dynamics: state formation, democratization, capitalism and the intellectualization of culture. I discuss these dynamics in terms of the developmental logics of differentiation and integration. The advantage of this approach is that it avoids an exclusive emphasis on the purely political and ideological aspects of nationalism and will integrate structural approaches with ones that stress agency and culture. It will also provide a basis for a more dynamic conception of nationalism as produced in particular discourses and social practices.

In sum, then, the aim of the chapter is to offer a sociological account of the persistence of nationalism in the modern age by looking at how its various political forms have been articulated in the major dynamics of modernity and sustained by the underlying logics of integration and differentiation.

The chapter is accordingly organized as follows. First, I discuss the main theoretical approaches to nationalism, namely structural accounts, mobilization theories and cultural accounts. Second, I look at the three main political forms of nationalism mentioned above. In this section it is argued that underlying these forms of nationalism is an ethic of radical freedom, which has never been fully domesticated and consequently has given nationalism a violent edge. Third, the formation of nationalism is discussed around the dynamics of state formation, democratization, capitalism and the intellectualization of culture. Placing these dynamics in the context of the developmental logics of integration and differentiation, a framework for theorizing nationalism can be outlined that goes some way to explaining the diversity and persistence of nationalism.

Theoretical Approaches: a General Overview

Classical sociology gave relatively little attention to nationalism. Neither Weber nor Durkheim incorporated nationalism into his work. Perhaps because of their themes of differentiation and rationalism, they were not disposed towards movements suggestive of counter-tendencies to modernity. Durkheim, of course, was intrigued by the possibility of modernity generating collective representations akin to those that followed in the wake of French Revolution, and Weber, too, was fascinated by the survival of certain kinds of enchantment in modernity. But their legacy was a view of modernity that afforded little room for nationalism. Parsons also gave little attention to nationalism and took for granted the existence of the United States as a nation-state based on an over-arching integrative ‘societal community’ and the wider civilization of modernity. In these approaches, which formed the basis of mainstream modernization theory (see Wofgang Knöbl’s chapter in this volume), there was a general assumption that the nation-state was a ‘normal’ unit and that the social and political order of the state coincided. Nationalism as a counter-movement was generally seen as marginal to modernity. It is indeed peculiar that modernization theory’s main rival, Western Marxism, arrived at much the same conclusions, although from a different set of assumptions. This tradition inherited the idea of the ‘withering away of the state’ from classical Marxism. For Marx, nationalism was the natural ally of socialism, and even though history was to prove that the social question was to be overshadowed by the national question, nationalism was a marginal phenomenon for virtually all of twentieth-century Marxism.

It thus came about that nationalism tended to be marginal for modern sociology, which itself developed as a discipline based on the nation-state. This is not to neglect the significant contribution made to nationalism by several scholars, working largely in sociology and political science. However, what is striking is that even in the seminal work of Ernst Gellner, the theory of nationalism was at best part of a broader theory of liberal modernity that did not call into question some of the central assumptions of modernization theory. The exception in this regard is undoubtedly Norbert Elias, but his work did not become influential until after the demise of modernization theory. With the collapse of modernization theory along with academic Marxism, the concerns of sociology did not immediately predispose it towards taking nationalism seriously. A major exception might be the work of Anthony Giddens, who was instrumental in reorienting sociology away from an exclusive concern with class power towards other kinds of power (Giddens, 1985). But in general the concerns of sociology in the 1980s were far from nationalism. Even Giddens’s own work was more about the nation-state than nationalism as such. The preference for the ‘new social movements’ tended to result in the neglect of other kinds of anti-systemic movements, for instance.

Owing in no small part to the great changes that have occurred since 1989—European integration, globalization, postmodernization and the emergence of a great many new nationalisms—nationalism was put on the agenda. However, this time the debate about nationalism is also part of a wider debate about the future of the nation-state and about national frames of collective identity (Arnason, 1990; Eisenstadt, 1999). There are also questions about the relationship between nationality and citizenship, the role of war and violence in modernity, the nature of the social and its relation to the political.

Despite the growing interest in nationalism in social theory and in sociology, the existing scholarship on nationalism is very fragmented. This is due to the fact that the study of nationalism has not been dominated by any one discipline, but has involved contributions from several, such as modern history, anthropology, sociology and political science. Literary theorists have also made a major contribution to nationalism. More recently contributions from social psychology, geography, feminism and cultural studies have added to the field. While this has generated a rich body of writing on nationalism, it has also led to very diffuse theoretical approaches. For the purpose of illustration, these can be divided into three broad categories: first, approaches that look at the structural properties of nationalism; second, mobilization approaches, which look at the role of social agency in the codification of national identity and in the mobilization of the masses; and, third, approaches that stress the role of cultural factors in the making of nationalism. It is to be stressed that in many cases these approaches overlap and many works on nationalism cannot be so neatly placed into these categories. The purpose of the typology is to provide a basis for discussing the very large literature on nationalism rather than to create distinctions necessitated by the typology. The following is a brief outline of these approaches.

Structural Theories

Structural approaches to the study of nationalism typically look at nationalism as a product of modernization, seeing it as a particular kind of response to the problems generated by modern society. In general, the emphasis in these explanations is on nationalism as a form of state-building as opposed to other dynamics, for example cultural ones or those that are more specific to particular kinds of mobilization, such as what might be entailed by democratization. The work of Rokkan (1999) might be cited as an example of a comparative and evolutionary structural approach that stressed the wider context of nation-state-building within the context of an international order based on sovereign nation-states.

Nobert Elias is also a significant figure in this tradition, but in his approach there is a greater concern with the cultural structures of nationalism. He saw nationalism both as an integrative force within states and as a means of establishing boundaries with other nation-states (Elias, 1978, 1982, 1995). However, such structural accounts generally see processes of nation-building as intertwined with nationalism as a system of communication. Karl Deutsch (1953) thus stressed the role nationalism played in providing social communication in modern society. Ernest Gellner developed this functionalist approach to nationalism into a social theory of modernity (Gellner, 1964, 1983, 1987, 1994, 1998; see also Hall, 1998). While his overall aim was to link structural explanations of nationalism with cultural explanations, he tended to give most weight to the former. Thus he famously explained nationalism as a response to the need of industrial society for a uniform ‘high culture.’ Developments in material life—capitalism, industrialism, technological culture bring into play new kinds of communication in which the state and its elites communicate messages to the masses, who need to be brought into the state’s project. According to Gellner, nationalism is a homogenizing kind of high culture that subdues and transforms the low culture. As such it is an integrative mechanism, but one that is also a response to the differentiated nature of modernization. In this regard what is significant is uneven modernization. Industrialization and the general development of capitalism are uneven, an expression, too, of wider processes of differentiation in modernity. Nationalism, Gellner argued, is a kind of integrative culture that provides modern societies with cultural cohesion.

In general, the dominant contribution of sociology to the study of nationalism has come from what can be very broadly described as structural explanations. Such accounts of nationalism have been influenced by modernization theory and, with some exceptions, have looked at nationalism in terms of processes of nation-building (Bendix, 1964). Typically, these classical sociological theories have not given much attention to nationalism as a form of mobilization, thus downplaying the role of agency, or to nationalism as a politico-cultural form. There is little concern with questions of identity, and the pervasiveness of nationalism as a cultural model is unexplored, beyond certain claims as to its fabricated nature. Structural explanations also do not address the question of how groups mobilize, instead seeing nationalism as a response to processes of state formation and capitalism.

Mobilization Theories

Mobilization accounts of nationalism, in contrast to structural approaches, stress the artificial nature of nationalism, and thus are constructivist in nature. Rejecting realist epistemologies and essentialist conceptions of the subject, social constructivists see social reality as constructed by social agency. With respect to nationalism, such approaches emphasize the ‘invented’ nature of national identities, as in the work of Hobsbawm (1983a, 1983b). In such accounts, what is salient is the codification of identities by particular groups, and very often there are underlying assumptions of the masses as led by elites. This assumption was also present in Gellner, for whom nationalists fabricated historical narratives and collective memories. However, in his case, while oscillating between cultural and structural explanations, a structural functionalist perspective rooted in a realist philosophy has dominated his work.

Mobilization-oriented explanations of nationalism are reflected in Barth (1969), Hroch (1985, 1993) and Tilly (1984, 1986; Tilly et al., 1975), who, in different ways, see nationalism in terms of processes of mobilization. In Barth’s anthropological approach, which is perhaps a less explicitly developed mobilization approach, the crucial issue is boundary maintenance. Hroch, meanwhile looks at the interaction of different kinds of nationalist groups in terms of their social location, whereas Tilly, adopting resource mobilization theory, examines nationalism in terms of the capacity of different groups to mobilize significant sections of the population. In the latter two cases, the meso-dimension is crucial, as is the identification of specific social and political opportunity structures. This approach, which challenges the conventional view that a nationalist movement is the product of deeply entrained historical identities which derive from grievances or an idea, allows us to see identity as something that is always open to strategic change and symbolic reinterpretation according as circumstances change. Nationalism has proven decisive in offering a common discourse that can unite several key actors in society, ranging from various organized interests such as agrarian protesters, professional associations, entrepreneurs, to political elites and radical groups. The result is 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 successes of nationalism is precisely the construction of such a consensus movement. In this context mention might be made of institutionalist theories, such as the approach adopted by Brubaker (1996) and Kitschelt (1995). Institutionalist approaches differ in one respect from constructivist approaches, in that they stress the role of institutional structures in facilitating mobilization.

The advantage of mobilization approaches is that they avoid purely functional explanations of nationalism. Nationalism cannot entirely be explained in terms of structures such as nation-building processes, which are perhaps better seen as preconditions for the emergence of movements of different kinds. An emphasis on mobilization is also better able to explain the conflicts and different phases in the genesis of a nationalist movement. Without some sense of the role of different kinds of agency, no account of nationalism is complete. Such approaches avoid dualisms of agency and structure, allowing agency to be conceived in terms of transformative practices. Constructivist accounts, on the other side, are limited in their exclusive emphasis on mobilization. Cultural processes of meaning, symbolic creation and cognitive structures cannot be entirely explained by the mobilizations of specific groups. Not everything is invented by agency. It is in this context that cultural approaches can be mentioned.

Cultural Theories

Cultural approaches stress the cultural amplification of discourses of meaning that emerge out of the projects of social groups. In interdisciplinary studies on nationalism, such a perspective is expressed in the work of Anderson (1983), Billig (1995), Eisenstadt and Giesen (1995), Greenfeld (1992) and Hedetoft (1995). In their theories of nationalism the central point concerns neither structures nor particular kinds of agency, but the existence of what might be called discourses, cultural models, or cognitive frameworks. Although this is never made explicit, the assumption is that nationalism owes its existence to its ability to provide models of meaning, the essential tool-kits for the construction of collective identity. Nationalism, in the view of Benedict Anderson, is essentially a cognitive model allowing individuals in modernity to interpret their society. Eisenstadt and Giesen emphasize the composition of nationalism in codes which give symbolic meaning.

These cultural approaches differ from constructivist approaches in their focus, which is less on groups than on the resources groups draw from. In this a cultural approach has distinct advantages, particularly when what is at issue is less an analysis of nationalism as a movement than nationalism as collective identity. Moreover, conceiving of the nation as discursively constructed allows us to avoid some of the theoretical pitfalls in the literature on nationalism, for instance the view that nationalism is a product of ‘essential’ or real identities or that it is a ‘constructed’ identity. This is also a question of whether nationalism should be viewed in positive terms, and even with emancipatory possibilities. In these terms, the literature on nationalism can roughly be divided into, on the one side, those who are favourably disposed to nationalism, which is seen as a primary collective identity—for instance, Anderson (1983) Calhoun (1997), Canovan (1996), Greenfeld, Smith (1981) and, on the other side, internationalists such as Deutsch (1983) Gellner (1983) Hobsbawm (1990) Kedourie (1994) for whom nationalism is on the whole a reactionary anti-modern ideology. The debate has often been cast in epistemological terms: according to Gellner, the truth content of nationalism is false, since nationalism is based on fabricated versions of the past. On the other side, Anderson sees nationalism in purely cognitive terms to be a mode of social knowledge, a way in which individuals ‘know’ their society.

A cultural approach offers a clear advantage over many of these controversies, for what is at stake in nationalist discourse is not truth or falsity in, but of the frameworks of meaning. As a discursive construction, nationalism is real by virtue of being constructed. As the Thomas theorem states: ‘If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences’ (Merton, 1996).

These three perspectives all bring important insights to bear on nationalism. Structural accounts, though less popular today since the cultural turn in the social sciences, cannot be dismissed. Such accounts are crucial in macro-analysis, as, for example, in studies on nation-building, while mobilization approaches are primarily relevant to meso-level analysis, for instance the study of processes of nationalist mobilization. By drawing attention to the mediating role of cultural communication, cultural approaches offer useful perspectives on collective identity, which is less the concern of structural and mobilization approaches. But in general these different concerns—nation-building, mobilization and collective identity formation—have led to quite different approaches in the study of nationalism.

It is not the aim of this chapter to offer an alternative to these approaches, given their quite different concerns, and, of course, as already pointed out, many of these approaches overlap. However, one critical point can be made. What needs to be more fully developed in the study of nationalism is an understanding of the mechanisms by which the world of the state and the projects of elites are articulated in everyday life. A relatively neglected aspect in the study of nationalism is its ability to bring the political world of the state into the everyday level. This perspective is undoubtedly close to the concerns of many mobilization and cultural approaches, but has never been fully developed. As a category that cuts across the world of state to the world of the individual, nationalism is an important part of everyday life in the modern world. It is not just a political discourse but a social practice. In the terms of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the habitus, nationalism can be understood as a set of dispositions that embed history, politics and cultural symbols of the life-world (Bourdieu, 1990). Nationalism as a discourse is thus a set of social practices that make real objective categories in society. The politico-cultural history of nationalism can be written in terms of the progressive extension of the nation into the lives of people. Thus what matters is neither who constructs nationalism—as in social constructivism—nor the content of nationalist discourse—as in cultural or cognitive approaches—nor even the functions of nationalism—as in structural analyses—but the mapping of cultural constructs into the habitus in the shaping of particular social practices. This is also argued by Stuart Hall (1992), for whom nationalism is a form of narration which is reproduced in discourses. Feminist writing on nationalism also points in this direction of the ‘nationalization’ of the social. Looking at nationalism from this angle allows us to appreciate its persuasive appeal and institutional persistence. Nationalism is a kind of semantic space that expresses through its major discourses a variety of projects, identities, interests and ideologies, in other words forms of social practice. Its persistence in modernity is not due to some underlying cultural logic, for instance the inherent primordiality of national identity or its ideological appeal or its functional necessity. What has made it a recalcitrant force in modernity is the persistence of key problems in modernity, for instance the questions of defining the membership of the polity, its boundaries and identity. As a political discourse, nationalism is also a particular kind of social practice. In the following sections it will be demonstrated how the political forms of nationalism become effective through actor-driven processes of integration and differentiation as these are articulated in the major dynamics of modernity.

The Major Political Forms of Nationalism

I have already intimated that many of the problems with conceptualizing nationalism can be avoided if we see it in terms of three political forms: civic nation, state nation and cultural nation. In one way or another, all modern expressions of nationalism involve the basic codes of these political discourses.

This conceptualization goes beyond the conventional division of nationalism into two groups, civic and ethnic, which is often associated with the work of Hans Kohn (1944). According to this view, civic forms of nationalism are typically Western European, where the state tradition has been more stable and the focus of national loyalty, while ethnic forms of nationalism have been more common in Eastern Europe, where there has been a weaker tradition of statehood. While having some basis in reality, such forms of dualism must also be rejected. Nationalism always has both ethnic/cultural as well as civic forms; it cannot be reduced to either (Schöpflin, 2001). In its formative period, civic forms of nationalism were always articulated in cultural forms, as in the case of British national identity (Corrigan and Sayer, 1985), and, in the case of Irish nationalism, strongly cultural expressions of nationalism also included civic dimensions (O’Mahony and Delanty, 1998). Yet it makes sense to distinguish between the main political forms of nationalism. Avoiding reductionist and essentialistic approaches, the main political forms of nationalism can be said to be either civic, state-centric or cultural. These forms overlap and are not specific to particular national traditions, although one or more of these forms will be likely to be dominant at any one particular time.

The civic nation was born with the republican tradition, which laid the foundation of modern nationalism in terms of the idea of self-determination. The American and French Revolutions promoted a view of the nation as an inclusive polity based on citizenship. The ideals of modern constitutional law and democracy, which stressed the formal equality of all individuals and their right to personal autonomy, provided the foundation for the idea of the civic nation. Modern republicanism was the first nationalist movement in this universalistic sense of term, which is indistinguishable from the older notion of patriotism. The doctrine of self-determination to which it led was to become greatly influential in the second half of the nineteenth century, leading to a widespread acceptance of ‘liberal nationalism.’ Republican self-determination, originally an expression of civil society, eventually became the dominant ideology of modern nationalism and provided a widely accepted argument for the creation of new states, in particular in the period from the Congress of Berlin in 1878 to the Versailles Treaty in 1919.

The state nation can be associated with the politics of legitimacy that came with the post revolutionary period and characterized the major expression of nationalism in the nineteenth century. Rather than nationhood, this is best seen in terms of territoriality and statehood. The nation is equated with the territorial jurisdiction of state rather than with civil society or the demos. This is the official nationalism or state patriotism of the existing state. By its nature it has tended to more of a legitimating ideology than the other forms.

The third form of modern nationalism is the cultural nation. With its origins in the historicist tradition, the ethnos is central the definition of the nation and the basis of the demos. The historicist conception of the nation derives from early nineteenth-century romanticism and the philosophy of Herder, especially his Treatise on the Origin of Language (see Herder, 1969 [1772]). The republican conception of the nation was framed in the image of society as an open system; the historicist conception, in contrast, spoke in the name of a more closed cultural community based on language. Where the other traditions were universalistic, embodying cosmopolitan liberalism and an inclusive conception of the polity, historicism stressed the particular, the world of feelings and exclusiveness. In its early Herderian form, this romantic side to nationalism was perfectly compatible with liberal nationalism—and much of nineteenth-century nationalism was a combination of romanticism and republicanism the tension between them was to become more and more pronounced, as in Fichte’s vision of the German nation (Fichte, 1922 [1807-8]). By the twentieth century the historicist tradition had triumphed in many parts of Europe, not just as a distinctive kind of nationalism but as a major component of all kinds of nationalism. From 1919 onwards it became more acceptable to see the nation in ethnic, cultural terms. Inevitably this strand in nationalism shifted the focus away from the concern with self-determination in an inclusive polity to one animated by the desire to exclude the other.

Distinguishing between these three kinds of nationalism has clear advantages over the more conventional picture of ethnic versus civic kinds of nationalism. The ethnic component arose out of the communitarian resistance to modernity and is as much a part of modernity as are its other expressions. The concern with roots, belonging, the presence of the past, has given nationalism an enduring cultural focus. Civic nationalism is too general and disguises the two major forces within it, which I have characterized as the civic nation and the state nation. On the one side, nationalism is closely related to democratization and emancipation, and hence to a social conception of the nation, and, on the other side, nationalism has been linked to a state-centric conception of the nation.

Yet there is more to the political forms of nationalism than these three, which have been in different ways as much legitimizing ideologies as forms of resistance. But this additional dimension is less a distinct political form than an underlying current in all of these three kinds of nationalism. This concerns the radical discourse of nationalism as a form of resistance.

Standing at the critical juncture of modernity was the Jacobin ideology, which encapsulated the spirit of modernity in its pursuit of radical freedom. Jacobinism reflected some of the central elements in modernity by establishing the absolute superiority of political leadership and political goals as shaped by a political elite who could represent the popular will. The Jacobin tradition can be seen in terms of an ideology of radical freedom as interpreted by elites. According to S.N. Eisenstadt (1999), Jacobinism has been the source of many political movements in modernity, ranging from communism, nationalism, fascism to fundamentalism. This dimension to nationalism has been in tension with the civic and state traditions. The ability of nationalism to be able to claim the mantle of the demos, and with it the ideal of equality, has been crucial to its appeal, but because of the Jacobin thrust within it, that in the name of radical freedom society can be eternally reconstructed by political action, nationalism remained a deeply subversive force in the post-Versailles order.

This has all had the consequence that nationalism has entailed a strong resistance to institutionalization. The nation could never entirely be institutionalized by the modern state. When it was institutionalized in the dominant forms of state patriotism, it always remained a recalcitrant force, volatile and open to new interpretations. This recalcitrance has expressed itself in an unending tension between the nation form and statehood. Nation and state have never fully coincided in modernity, as is borne out by the history of the nation-state. Among the most enduring of the problems has been the conflict between the state and the nation. On the one side, the nation gave expression to ideas of self-determination, and, on the other, this conception of the nation conflicted with discourses of the nation as statehood. As a modern form of dual or multi-identity, nationalism has had continued mobilizing appeal.

The Jacobin notion of radical freedom that lies at the root of all of modernity’s major cultural narratives cannot be separated from symbolic violence. Thus, for instance, the concern with a founding event has always been deeply implicated in violence, both direct and symbolic. Such quests for a clean slate have been closely related to purges or forcible assimilation. The very notion of the people as an undifferentiated Volk can be a legitimation of violence. Because of the obvious fact that the people can never be embodied in a single political form, the question of the necessity for their rebirth is insistent. Indeed the very meaning of the term ‘nation’ is ‘natio’ or birth and nationalist movements have often been self-conscious attempts to seek the re-birth of the nation, as in the Italian Risorgimento or the lrish cultural revival movement.

The idea of birth, or rebirth, has been a major motif of modernity—as is reflected in the Renaissance, the French Revolution, modern nationalism, fascism—and has given a cultural legitimation to violence, justified in the name of historical meaning or a transcendental principle that asserts the subordination of the social to a non-social principle. This principle has generally been held to be nature. That society springs from nature is an old idea, going back to the liberal myth of the state of nature in the early modern thinkers. Although modern thought has abandoned some of the cruder notions of natural man and, since Kant, the idea of natural law has gone into decline, the conviction that society is constrained by a non-social principle has remained. The German Idealists and much of Enlightenment romanticist thought believed nature was the domain of radical freedom. Rousseau, for instance, believed that modern man longed to escape from oppressive social institutions into a natural condition. The suggestion, then, is that modernity has been haunted by the belief that the social derives from a non-social principle that might be constitutive of a greater kind of freedom. This fundamental discord between the social and natural has given animus to modernity’s ethic of radical freedom, which has been driven by the belief that nature is a domain of freedom.

This tendency for modernity to revert to primordial violence is illustrated in the purges of the Reformation and in the terror that followed in the wake of the French Revolution and most of the major revolutions of the twentieth century: the October Revolution, the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. To achieve a new beginning, a clean slate from which the past would be wiped away, has been central to these movements. Nationalism, too, inherited the desire to create a founding event which would be the recovery of a primordial past. Thus the French Revolution and the Jacobin Terror sought to emulate the Roman Republic. As with the European Reformation and the Wars of Religion in the seventeenth century, a new beginning necessarily requires the destruction of the present in order to recover the primordial past. Cultural memory and historical amnesia elucidate each other, for every memory is in part a forgetting of that which distorts the dream, as Renan (1990) argued in a famous essay published in 1882. The other side of amnesia is animosity, for the collective self is very often shaped in relations of adversity. As Karl Deutsch wrote: A nation is a group of persons united by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of the neighbors’ (1969: 3).

Most, if not all, modern nations came into existence as a result of violent struggles, which were as likely to be purges of minorities as of external groups. The memory of these struggles is not easily forgotten, despite a great many discursive techniques, such as the construction of a scapegoat whose function is to externalize otherness and to bear responsibility for primordial violence. The foundation of the Irish state in the 1920s was marked by a bloody civil war which has continued to shape the major political cleavages until the present day. In other cases the foundation act required genocide, such as that of Armenians by Turkish nationalism, or partition, as in the cases of Ireland, Korea and Cyprus. Nationalism in these cases has been able to provide a model of integration only by separation. One of the paradoxes of nationalism is its combination of the new and the old. On the one side, it is obsessed with the new, but, on the other, the birth of the new must be based on the old. This tension within nationalism has been the source of many violent conflicts.

The Institutional Development of Nationalism

Moving from the previous discussion about the political forms of nationalism, I now turn to the question of the dynamics of modernity which have sustained nationalism. Identifying four of these—state formation, democratization, capitalism and the intellectualization of culture—I argue that what was decisive in shaping modern nationalism was actor-driven processes that emerged out of the different combinations and interactions of these dynamics. Central to this are logics of differentiation and integration. Which of the main political forms of nationalism emerged depends not on their inherent ideological appeal, but on societal dynamics and their characteristic kinds of social practices.

One of the major assumptions of sociological theory is that modernity can be conceived in terms of the developmental logics of integration and differentiation. From the moral philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment to Comte through Spencer and Durkheim to Parsons and Luhmann, differentiation was seen as the key developmental logic in modernity. Thus one of the main insights of classical sociological theory is that modern society is not integrated by just one institution or sphere, but entails a differentiation of structures—chiefly, cultural, social, political and economic structures—and within these structures, a further differentiation of functions. The classical tradition emphasized the second of these. It was the main contribution of Luhmann’s work, especially his earlier writing, to develop a separate theorization of the differentiation of modern subsystems. We can thus distinguish between two kinds of differentiation: functional differentiation (for example, specialization of functions) and structural differentiation (the separation of subsystems from each other, as in the autonomous development of political, social, cultural, economic structures). This thesis of differentiation gave rise to the problem of how integration is possible, and more generally how social order is possible (see Alexander and Colony, 1982; Delanty, 1999; Haferkamp and Smelser, 1992). If modern society is highly differentiated, integration becomes the key problem, according to Comte, Durkheim and Parsons. However, for these figures, modernity generates specific forms of integration appropriate to societal differentiation. Modern society, though highly differentiated, is also integrated. To follow a well-known distinction, social and system integration are two responses to the problem of integration in modernity (see Habermas, 1987). In the former, integration is achieved by means of social and cultural structures of the life-world, and in the latter, by ‘system’ economic and political structures.

For present purposes, this will have to suffice, since my aim is to locate nationalism in the context of the developmental logics of integration and differentiation. The argument is that nationalism has been one of the most important mechanisms by which both social and system integration have been achieved in modern society. However, and this is crucial, developmental logics of integration—such as those related to nationalism—are mediated by logics of differentiation. The nation form has served to provide forms of integration that emerged as a result of logics of differentiation. While today the nation is losing this integrative function, in the formative period of modernity it was an important means of reconciling the dual logics of modernity. Nationalism was able to accommodate processes of differentiation by imposing a logic of closure on what is an open logic. The dynamics of modernity as they unfolded in the area of state formation, democratization, capitalism and in cultural formation were easily adapted by nationalism and transformed into integrative mechanisms. In this sense, then, nationalism brought about a certain de-differentiation in modernity.

Taking state formation as one of the major dynamics of modernity, we can see how the nation form provided a framework of integration. On the one side, modernity was characterized by the division of the world into separate geopolitical units and, on the other, it brought about a high degree of homogeneity within these units. The main form by which the modern state developed was the nation-state, with the nation form finally dominating even in the case of federal states. After 1648 in Europe, the sovereign state became the primary actor in international geopolitics, and from 1918 nation-states flourished among the remains of the slowly crumbling European territorial empires. Indeed the past two hundred years, and especially the twentieth century, has an the whole been the history of the nation state.

The principal means by which the nation form institutionalized structures of integration was through national citizenship. By making citizenship coeval with nationality, one of the most important institutions of integration was created. Virtually every model of statehood has been based on some kind of national citizenship. The modern state in one of its key projects has sought to make of its members full citizens with the rights and duties that this condition involves. In this respect the state project has been articulated through strategies of social regulation, for the control of population was one of the key functions of the state. Other functions were the expansion of territory, crucial for access to markets, and, related to this, permanent preparation for war. However, in the modern period the state has become more and more occupied with the control of populations. As described by Foucault by means of his famous concept of governmentality, the state project is more than mere government and is also about the regulation of populations through the control of a whole range of areas concerning the social body, such as health, crime, education, poverty. But governmentality is more than social regulation; it is also about the actual constitution of the subject as an individual and a member of the national polity. In order to achieve this objective, the state project must set about creating citizens. One of the primary functions of citizenship is to distinguish between members of the polity and non-members (Hindess, 1998). As described by several authors, the modern central state unleashed a project that integrated diverse populations into the state (Watkins, 1990; Weber, 1976).

It has already been noted that democratization was the basis of the republican strand in modern nationalism. With regard to the previous remarks on state formation, the discourse of the nation was never entirely dominated by the state project, but was also an expression of the dynamic of democratization. With its origins in the popular revolts of the early modern period, in colonial liberation movements, in social movements of all kinds throughout history, democracy has been a potent force driving a wedge between society and state. The birth of modernity coincided with the emergence of a wide spectrum of social actors, ranging from the early radical scientists and Protestant sects to Jacobin and socialist movements. On the one hand, these movements expressed the differentiation of modern society into different kind of agency and, on the other hand, democratization entails a principle of integration, albeit one that is highly fragile and volatile. It has been a basic tenet of modern thought that democratic legitimacy and the rule of law provide the final point of integration in an otherwise differentiated world.

Capitalism—and more generally the dynamic of industrialism—has also been pivotal in shaping the face of modern nationalism. As Ernst Gellner (1983) recognized, the emergence of a modern market society organized around capitalism and industrialism has played an important role in creating the social and economic preconditions for the emergence of nationalism. While there is no inherent structural reason why capitalism produces nationalism—which has been present in pre-capitalist societies as well as in non-capitalist societies, capitalism, by its nature, has been crucial in generating social inequalities and conflicting interests in society that have nurtured nationalism. Since the rise of the social question in the late nineteenth century, nationalism has been able to draw a great deal of ideological drive from popular struggles, and while its categories can never fully be translated into social issues, there has been a remarkable coincidence of purpose in many instances of popular struggles and nationalist mobilization.

On the level of the state project, economic nationalism has been practised by many countries since the early twentieth century. Friedrich List’s National System of Political Economy (1931 [1909]) was an important work in laying the foundations for protective economic nationalism. His ideas were adopted in Bismarkian Germany and were influential in many countries. Whether in the form of Grossraum expansion, economic protectionism or trade wars, many countries have adapted their national ideologies to protect capitalism. There is also the fact that national markets tend to homogenize society. In the recent past, but going back to the late nineteenth century, world exhibitions and other occasions where the great technological innovations of capitalism were displayed played a major role in codifying national identity (Roche, 2000).

The intellectualization of modern culture has also been a central dynamic for the creation of nationalism. With regard to the developmental logics of integration and differentiation, modern culture occupies an ambivalent position. On the one hand, it is clearly differentiated both functionally and, more importantly, as Weber argued, structurally, in that modern cultural spheres are relatively autonomous of each other. Yet, on the other hand, as noted by Mathew Arnold (1960 [1869]), culture could also be a reliable antidote to anarchy; or, to put it in the terms of sociological theory, culture could be a form of integration. In order for culture to have this role it had to be intellectualized and coded for popular consumption. In all of this intellectuals played a leading role.

Intellectualization and rationalization have accompanied cultural differentiation to produce secularization. Without secularization, nationalism would not have attained the significance it has. Nationalism is a product of secularization, in that it emerged in the space created by the withdrawal of religion from the public domain. The secularization of modern culture has lent it a discursive nature. Although nationalist ideas are often dogmatic and strive to be hegemonic, they are nevertheless discursively articulated and seek to convince. A related dimension to the intellectualization of nationalism is the role of popular education, for the existence of a reading public is a precondition for the reception of national ideas. While nationalism cannot be reduced to a set of ideas that is compelling because of their ideological force, it requires a discursive medium. Finally, the abstract nature of nationalism lends itself to intellectualization: the idea of the nation must be imagined for it does not exist in a concrete form that can be immediately experienced.

Intellectuals have been pivotal in codifying the cognitive structures for imagining the nation (Giesen, 1992). In many countries the university has helped to define national identity by promoting national languages, collecting folklore and codifying national literatures. University academics helped in the codification of national identity by collecting and defining ethnographic, geographical and cultural material without which national cultural narratives, consciousness and national memories would not have been possible. Historians played a central role in writing the history of nation. Archaeology has also played a significant role in codifying the national identity of many countries by furnishing the basic artifacts out of which historical narratives can be constructed. In many countries major controversies occurred over the preservation of archaeological sites that did not affirm the official or dominant national identity. Academics, in particular in Germany, emerged as the representatives of the nation and in this way made themselves indispensable to the state, for whom they were the ‘interpreters’ of the nation. In Germany the university helped to shape German national identity. It served the cognitive function not just of providing the state with functionally useful knowledge but also of an important transmitter of national heritage. The autonomy of knowledge and the autonomy of the state were seen as inextricably connected. In many countries the universities were supported by the state in order to secure training for the professions. The result was that academic research became more and more drawn into the state project, defining its goals but more importantly shaping its cognitive structures. Thus the disciplines of geography, history and statistics were important in laying the foundations of what may be called national cognitive structures.

Conclusion the Persistence of Nationalism

It has been hotly debated whether nationalism is a product of modernity or the outcome of long-term historical processes that are not specific to modernity. Much of this debate has revolved around the claim that there were pre-modern nationalisms and that many of the characteristics of modern nationalism can be found in these movements, for instance the notion of a distinctive people with a common origin and a shared destiny. According to writers such as Greenfeld (1992), Gorski (2000) and Smith (1981), many of these ideas can be found in the early modern period, especially in England and the Netherlands. Others, such as Kameneka (1976) and Kedourie (1994), see the French Revolution as the defining moment of modernity and of nationalism, when the ideas of self-determination and equality entered many political discourses. The argument in this chapter suggests that while there may have been pre-modern nationalisms, the main political forms of nationalism are largely products of modernity. But the argument goes further: while nationalism may be a creation of modernity in terms of its ideological nature and political form, its persistence must be explained by its key role in expressing some of the major transformations in modernity. For this reason a political theory of nationalism must be complemented by a historical sociology of nationalism. More broadly, the suggestion that is made in this chapter is that the persistence of nationalism is because it allowed forms of social and system integration to develop within the differentiated structures of modernity. In this sense, nationalism can be seen in terms of processes of re-enchantment and de-differentiation. It provided a resistance to the tendency within modernity towards disenchantment—the loss of unified systems of meaning—and differentiation, in the sense of more and more pluralization, rationalization and intellectualization. But, as I have argued, the presence of symbolic violence in nationalism cannot be neglected. The price for the penchant for integration whether social or systemic—has been a high degree of violence in modern societies, much of it related to nationalism.

The nation form served as a discourse of integration for some two hundred years. Today there are clear signs that this discourse is finally showing signs of weakening in this function, although it is far from disappearing as a pervasive force in the world. Globalization has opened up different logics of integration and differentiation, unleashing in the process many kinds of identity politics, to which we can add nationalism, in particular of the violent Jacobin kind. The political forms nationalism is taking in the contemporary global world are very different from the kinds of nationalism that existed in the modern era. What is different about the current situation is that nationalism must live in a very fragmented and plural world of many discourses. It has lost its capacity for integration, except as something defensive and possibly temporary.