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Modern Nationalism and its Origins May 7, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Books and Movies, History.
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Early this semester I was assigned reading from Eric Hobsbawm The Age of Empire: 1875-1914. Hobsbawm is a British Marxist historian born in 1917 and still living. In a chapter on nationalism and its developments he provides some very interesting analysis that I thought I would share with you all. Most of what follows is his words.

The word “nationalism”:
• First appeared at the end of 19th century to describe groups of right-wing ideologists in France and Italy
o These first “nationalists” were keen to brandish the national flag against foreigners, liberals, and socialists in favor of that aggressive expansion of their own state which was to become so characteristic of such movements.
o In this period, 1880-1914, the song “Deutschland Uber Alles’ (Germany above all others) replaced rival compositions to become the actual national anthem of Germany.
• Began to be used by all movements to whom ‘national cause’ was paramount in politics: that is to say for all demanding the right to self-determination
• The basis of ‘nationalism’ of all kinds was the same: the readiness of people to identify themselves emotionally with ‘their’ nation and to be politically mobilized as Czechs, Germans, Italians or whatever, a readiness which could be politically exploited.
• Democratization of politics, and especially elections facilitated the potential to mobilize around national identity.

The word “Patriotism”:
• Usually the functioning term for “nationalism”. In both the English and Japanese languages the term “nationalist” has a negative connotation, while “patriot” is a term every politician wants associated with himself.
• The essence of right-wing nationalism was to claim a monopoly of patriotism for the extreme political right, and thereby brand everyone else as some sort of traitor.
• This phenomenon was new. For most of the 19th century nationalism had been rather identified with liberal and radical movements and with the tradition of the French Revolution.

One last interesting point he makes.
• He also explains how the political dedication to nationalism did not necessarily exclude other political aims.
o For example James Connolly, a class conscious Marxian revolutionary and an Irish patriot, was executed in 1916 for leading the Easter Rising in Dublin

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