Essay: Nationalism According to Hobsbawm

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Nationalism According to Hobsbawm

The concept of nationalism would appear as organic to us, with the allegiance and affinity that one feels toward one's homeland emergent from a sense of natural interconnectedness with this land and its people. However, this perception is undermined by the idea that, instead, nationalism is largely a manufactured concept designed to impose a cultural homogeneity in concurrence with the existed political hegemony. While the latter may be formed by concrete borders, jurisdictions and ruling majorities, the former is actually quite difficult to achieve and exists on an ethno-linguistic continuum described in Erick Hobsbawm's 1991 address before the American Anthropological Association. Hobsbawm makes the argument that these ethno-linguistic features are attributed to the concept of nationality as an afterthought and as a device for the validation of political and power-driven structures. As Hobsbawm most convincingly phrases this notion, "ethnicity is one way of filling the empty containers of nationalism." This concept is instructive and agreeable to the following discussion on two levels, the first being the supposition that the ethnic attributes given to nationality are consequent rather than determinant and that without them, nationalism is indeed an 'empty' concept at its heart.

As many of the texts consulted in our follow-up research demonstrate, nationalism is viewed by many scholars as having emerged in more recent centuries in order to create populist connections between political boundaries and personal identity. To this end, the text by Gellner & Breuilly (2006) voices the idea that nationalism has been largely conjured as a way of promoting sentiments of collectivity, unity and alignment that help to give justification to the authority and territorial jurisdiction of certain ruling parties. Accordingly, Gellner & Breuilly report on the perspective -- among others voiced in their text -- that nationalism is "a modern, irrational doctrine which could acquire sufficient power so as to actually generate nationalist sentiments and even nation states." (p. xx)

Quite so, evidence is in easy supply to suggest that the invocation of this doctrine to such effect has been successful in a wide array of contexts. The address by Hobsbawm connects these ideas to both the formation of superpowers such as the United States and to the rumblings for independence from colonial occupation which swept through the world during the Industrial Revolution. During this era of revolution and independence, the notion of nationalism created a great sense of unity toward the cause of self-determination and helped to prop up the concept of the nation as a manifest destiny rather than as a political, military or social movement. By… [END OF PREVIEW]

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