Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism investigates a concept of nationalism that most people, while living out the reality, rarely consciously think about. I have traveled to many different countries and have found that there is an almost universal pride in one’s nationality. Even people who disagree with their government’s policies still take great pride in who they are as a national people.
The perspective that nationalism is “imagined” is an intriguing concept. Anderson explains his premise as such, “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”
Coming from a militaristic nation, I frequently encounter people who are willing to die for their country, even though they may personally disagree with many governmental actions and personally know only a minuscule amount of the total population. My nephew was a Green Beret and died in Iraq. He was willing to give his life for his country even though he fought in a far-away land. While serving in the Balkans, he once said that they were supporting the wrong side, yet he still submitted himself to the will of his nation. The connection between dying on foreign soil and serving one’s country implies a deep sense of duty. One would expect this sense of duty toward one’s family and close friends but to include unknown strangers in this protective loyalty seems a bit strange; somehow these “strangers” must have meaning in a person’s life; Something draws us together as if we were a family.
We all have a basic need to belong. Anderson traces key elements that allow us to “belong” to a much larger group. Through embracing commonalities, we are able to find our identity in the larger “family” of strangers who share our dreams, desires, and beliefs. Anderson elaborates on three of these commonalities that played a significant role in the development of nationalism; language, religion, and dynasty. Of these three, I would argue that perhaps religion is the strongest. It is so strong that it can dictate what languages are used and has been used as justification for the establishment and perpetuation of dynastic rule. Nationalism addresses questions like; where I belong, what is important, what is my place in the world, where am I going, and what is worth dying for. Religion addresses these same issues. In fact, when I think of imagining community, I am drawn to the image of God helping Abraham image a great nation even when it seemed impossible. As I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see Jesus helping the disciples imaging a kingdom that was vastly different from anything they had previously experienced. It seems that we are not only born with a need to belong, but that we are born with a mind that can even image a better way of living in the community in which we belong. Commonalities of language, unified rule (whatever the form of government), and mutually held religious beliefs only serve to expand what is already part of human nature.
A negative side of this need to belong is the propensity to identify those who do not belong. Nationalism very often results in racism toward those with identifiable differences. While some difference may be more apparent than others, the fact is, even the smallest, most obscure difference can be used as a means of exclusion. “The fact of the matter is that nationalism thinks in terms of historical destinies, while racism dreams of eternal contaminations, transmitted from the origins of time through an endless sequence of loathsome copulations: outside history.”
While nationalism can create a great sense of identity and mutual wellbeing, it can also be the source of great travesties commitment against other human beings.
As a student of history, I loved the way Anderson wove key historical events throughout the narrative, but if I could offer one critique it would be this; Don’t expect your readers to understand whatever language you decide to quote, give us the translation. Bueno, tal vez esto sólo es una parte de mi arrogancia nacionalista americano saliendo.(Well, perhaps that is just some of my American nationalistic arrogance coming out.)
 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections On the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised ed. (London/New York: Verso, 2006), 6.
 Ibid., 153.