Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Blame the Capitalists!

Written by: on January 16, 2015

Blame the Capitalists!

There’s only so much room on this planet.  If a nation is to expand, or a new one emerge, some existing borders have to be shifted around a bit.  It’s just the nature of things.  It’s interesting to me to watch as (even as we speak) a new nation (Islamic State) is establishing itself by military force, carving away real estate from two existing  “nations” (Iraq and Syria).  I placed “nations” in quotes because this book, Imagined Communities, has me thinking about what legitimates a nation in the first place.  And honestly, I think we all understand that there really is no such thing as a historical “Iraq.”  Those boundaries were created in the aftermath of WW-1 and VOILA!  Now there are “Iraqis” where they simply did not previously exist.  But, the recent performance of the Iraqi army as they “defended” their “country” from the “Islamic State’s” military advance demonstrates just how deeply patriotic they feel.  (Wow! That was a LOT of quotation marks!)  They absolutely were NOT prepared to lay down their lives!

So, what is it that binds a collection of people together?  What causes them to live, and in many cases, die for this thing called “country?”  Will people truly die for a country or is it the preservation of a beloved culture embedded within those imagined connections that they so desperately seek to preserve?  I’m considering these things.

Recently, Russia successfully annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine with virtually no resistance and is presently angling for even more territory in the East.  How could this happen?  I mean, I am trying to imagine what the response would be from most red-blooded ‘Mericans if Canada said, “Hey, we’d like to have Washington, Idaho, North Dakota and Minnesota.  You don’t mind, do you?  We’ll just redraw those lines…”  Or what if Mexico offered to take back Southern California?  Even IF they gave back the fifteen million dollars, we probably would have a problem with that.   (or maybe…… hmmm…)  The reality is that the people who live in those annexed areas don’t consider themselves to be Ukrainian.  They are ethnic Russians speaking primarily the Russian language.  They relate with Russia in culturo-linguistic terms.  They just were unfortunate enough to wind up living in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This action by Russia could easily be viewed by the occupants of these contested areas as acts of liberation from Ukrainian oppression. Their Russian culture, especially language, holds sway over the arbitrary boundary line behind which they live.1

So, how is it that Russia could pull of its recent land-grabs?  Was it simply because they carry the biggest stick?  I don’t think so.  I think this was made possible because even if the Ukrainian central government waaaaaaaaay over there in Kiev could muster enough fire-power to defend their territory from invaders encroaching from without, they knew they could never turn the hearts of the people living within.  So, might as well just rattle a few sabers, do your best to save face, then redraw the lines.  Like Benedict Anderson, I believe the true roots of nationalism extend deeply into the soil of culture, and at the heart of culture is shared language.2

While I can agree with Anderson that common language ultimately is at the heart of any nationalism, probably the most fascinating (and disconcerting) aspect of Anderson’s reflections is his take on how global capitalization fueled the formation of fewer, but more widely embraced, common languages.  In other words, there are fewer languages now than in antiquity, and because of that a tendency towards nationalistic emotionalism, and oh yeah, by the way, it’s the Capitalists fault!  It’s interesting that when a Marxist identifies what they perceive to be a problem (in this case, the carving down of the human race into national sub-sets), oftentimes, their default posture is to point the finger of blame at Capitalism.  Anderson takes a somewhat simplistic approach.  His logic moves like this: Once the printing press was fired up on a mass scale, the businessmen who owned them needed to create a market into which their product could be sold.  Capitalistic eagerness (think “greed”) then responded by accelerating the consolidation of languages which, in turn, advanced artificial nationalistic identities. Simple!  A grand conspiracy indeed!  And once again, a Marxist accuses Capitalists of manipulating the masses for their own ill-gotten gain.  That’s the easy explanation, it fits the Socialist narrative.  I’m just not so sure it’s that simple.  It seems that there are at least a few other markers of national identity than just a common language.

Food maybe?


1. Read this article (I dare you) for another example of sovereignty being ripped away from a political system, only in this case, by fear and intimidation: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/09/boko-haram-deadliest-massacre-baga-nigeria.  Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon all seem poised to lose ground.

2. Benedict Anderson.  Imagined Communities, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006).

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

12 responses to “Blame the Capitalists!”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Jon. I loved how you used the Russian/Crimean Peninsula situation to highlight Anderson’s point. While I also think Anderson is correct when he says “true roots of nationalism extend deeply into the soil of culture, and at the heart of culture is shared language” you also helped me understand where Anderson misses the mark. The point you make on Capitalism is something I couldn’t articulate but instantly resonated with when I read it.

    And I know a few people willing to lay down their life for our nations food. (-:

  2. Brian Yost says:

    “Will people truly die for a country or is it the preservation of a beloved culture embedded within those imagined connections that they so desperately seek to preserve?”
    Great question, Jon. I think you are touching on something that is essential to understand when considering nationalism. I am reminded that the Greek word translated “nations” actually refers to ethnic groups, not geographical borders. Ethnic groups generally share a such things as common language, common history, common religious backgrounds, a common geographical background, and even a common ancestry. These are all things that contribute to a sense of nationalism are a result of a base cultural connection.
    Your comments of capitalism reminded me of MaryKate Morse’s position on power. In the same way that power can be either used for good or evil, capitalism can be the source of mutual blessing or it can be the source of great evil and injustice, it really depends on how you use it.
    Loved your post.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Brian, yes I agree with that. It seems that there is palace for capitalism, since there needs to be people among us to serve as stewards of resources for the good of all. Jesus said the poor will be with us always and that there is a responsibility to take care of them. The question follows then, if no one has wealth, who takes care of the needy? Capitalism is important.


  3. Dave Young says:

    Jon, I loved how you focussed on current events. Your assessment of what happened in Crimea really made the book come alive for me. I can see how shared language (maybe food) and a heart level identity with mother Russia has really made all the difference. I can also see how easy it might be for ISIS to redraw the national lines of Iraq and Syria, and depending on your definition of nation – maybe they already have. Yikes. With their brutality I wouldn’t want to accept that such a nation could even exist, but that’s just being naive. It’s all a bit scary that things are in flux. I guess I can learn how to sing O Canada.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave thanks. The whole Islamic State thing is fascinating to watch unfolding. They have popular support among a majority within a measured geography, shared language and religious ideology. Now, the question really is, at what point will THEY draw lines and say “this is our boundary.” Up til now, they are intent on an ever-expanding border but at some point, nationhood will emerge. I am predicting that within the next few years, there will be at least one national government, somewhere that will establish formal, diplomatic relations with them as a stand-alone nation, establishing trade and they will establish a local, national currency.

      Brutality aside, if they have shared language, borders and trade partners, what can we call that other than “nation?”


  4. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you my brother Jon you always have the fire! lol. To me history is told in the light of what is best sounding and not really what is true. Capitialism has nothing to do with Christianity! Jesus never taught us to be capitalist. My denomination is way in to deep with capitalist concepts and greed! And if you dont pay the piper you are considered out of the loop. American values are not Christians Values all the time and as a church we have to realign things to reflect God and Christian values!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Travis. Hear hear! The balance of living as citizens of the Kingdom while at the same time, citizens of an earthly governance structure is always tenuous. We are supposed to live according to a higher set of principles, yet do we? Speaking of capitalism, how profoundly has the church been impacted by western consumerism? It is startling to look into that whole thing…


  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, I think it is amazing that we are talking about nationalism in this moment of time. Maybe it has always been like this and we are just waking up to it, but it seems with the state of nations, ideologies, religion, power, social media etc . . . it seems our world is at another culminating moment where radical revolutions are taking place right beneath our noses. The world is being transformed daily by the actions of “people groups” that make tomorrow very different than today. Loved your thinking and connection to the events unfolding now, and now, and now, and …

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Phil. It is amazing. I think to some degree, these kinds of things have been going on as long as empires have risen and fallen but now, the proliferation of immediate information has pulled it right up to where we cannot ignore it any longer. For the first centuries of of our American existence, we were insulated by oceans on both sides, relatively isolated, we could grow up thinking that our world looks likes. Safe, secure… Now, the internet is shrinking the globe, redefining community on all kinds of levels.


  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    In reading both yours and Dave’s post, it seems to me I must have missed the point of Anderson’s book. I felt like he was indicating “what is” versus what is best. In fact, it seemed to me that he was struggling with how nationalism, building on capitalism, was creating a world that he thought wasn’t going to exist. And yet, in the reality of what is, he points a finger to what are the characteristics of nationalism.
    I agree with all your points about the struggle between Russia and Ukraine as “nations” and Russians and Ukrainians as people. It seems we’re always in a fight to determine who we are – finding our identity, both globally and personally.
    If you read this post before tomorrow, let me know what you think.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I felt that, as I read his words, they were nuanced in such a way to communicate a view of what “is” that is somewhat of an accommodation to the tendencies of humanity to nationalize but not necessarily his view of what would be best. Now, I would probably be hard pressed to find concrete evidence of that, just a notion I had when reading his reflections. It seems that he comes from the school of thought that we should be one race, the human race, not whittled down into artificial groupings like nations, kind of utopian maybe? Even in the somewhat condescending assertion that nationalities are “imagined” seems to indicate a feeling on his part that only weak minded people, given over to their dreams and fantasies would fall on their swords for the sake of King and country…

      I don’t know. That’s how it struck me.


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