In Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson seeks to propose a nuanced perspective for how we understand and perceive the origin and spread of nationalism. Anderson does a good job of setting up his argument by walking us through a historical perspective that gives way to the deconstruction of nationalism being a real sense of identity. He sets up his argument by deconstructing the idea that nationalism is determined by ones affinity to culture, power, privilege, race and class. He sees nationalism as an assimilation. One that is “assimilated to skin-colour, gender, parentage and birth-era – all those things one can not help“1. It is focused on what a person is more willing to sacrifice for the nation. An individual’s willingness to lay down their own life invokes a sense of camaraderie. He argues that while nationalism does bear national superiority, it is not one that is used as a means to divide individuals within a nation but to unite individuals together as an identity proclaimed against the outsiders (my paraphrase of course). While I find his book insightful there are two aspects of nationalism that I will choose to discuss further. The first is the way in which Anderson uses fraternal bond as a means to explain “imagined communities”. Second, I will share my thoughts on the current state of nationalism in this country.
Imagined Communities- A Fraternal Bond
Being an active member of a Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., I am well aware of the ideals that govern a fraternal bond. Yes, like Anderson states, there is an assimilation that fosters unity and affinity to the organization. One can also say that the bond itself is deemed more superior than the identity of its individual members. However, in Anderson’s narrative, he does not take into account the various other aspects of a fraternal bond that make the bond worthy of allegiance. There inherently are vows that come with a fraternal association. Promises that are packed within and can be easily overlooked if only looking at the bond from a macro level as being “imagined”. Nationalism being limited only to ones sacrifice denounces the idea of commitment and fortitude being apart of the creation and formation of these communities. It is not only what one surrenders but it is what they gain from the camaraderie in return. In my search for others who have reviewed this book, I found a critical review written by Matt Cromwell. In his review, he argues that it is not enough to just disagree with Anderson but one should try to propose an alternative narrative. He cites an alternative proposed by Claudio Lomnitz, which for me give legs to my unsettled feelings of Anderson’s use of fraternal community, ” ‘nationalism does not form a single fraternal imaginary community’, but rather several that include our bonds of dependence on the weaker members of society that strong citizens take responsibility for…Therefore, nationalism does not only promise a compelling fraternity, but also domestic relations, care for the downtrodden, productive work-place relations, etc. “2 An expanded depiction of fraternal bond gives way to how nationalism has currently evolved over time. There is truly a shift in national affinity as one of just sacrifice but towards the inherent promises and benefits that come along with the camaraderie.
Nationalism-current state of affairs
“With liberty and Justice for all.” These are words we proclaim as we recite our Pledge of Allegiance. “The “all” in our pledge of allegiance denotes superiority and affinity but “limited” in it universal translation and adaptation. Although our Declaration of Independence declares”all men are created equal” our pride as a “united” nation is not in our equality but our superiority and domination of anyone and anything that would not conform to our ideals. One thing I will note is that in our attempt to be what I call “super nationalists” we have merged the ideas of patriotism and racism into the same definition as nationalism. While it is difficult due to our American history to truly delineate them from one another outside of Merriam-Websters definitions. They have forged a dangerous triad that has carried with it destruction and discourse. You cannot begin to discuss nationalism in this country without being prepared to also address the other two. “Isms” in this country continue to keep us from being united and becoming a fortified community whether real or imagined. The values are no longer common among everyone and even the proclamation of “one nation under God” is only true within specific” imagined communities”. Unfortunately, much to Americans disdain, our main stream media continues to project societal illusions that become the platform of the terror “nationalism” brings to our country. The whole idea of “taking our country back” is fundamentally asinine. The founding of America began with the nation being stolen from the natives who were already occupying the land. That statement implies that it was stolen from us and not the other way around. The question that remains is “who are we taking it back from?”. That question is what continues to divide us as a country. The notion of “I am an American right or wrong” is no longer welcomed with great pride and celebration (not sure it ever should have been). Despite all of this, we continue to perpetuate this sense of false identity and ownership of God’s divine favor in this country as we still shout loudly “God bless America!” We simply can no longer ignore and deny the truth. Until we face it head on, we will be left to deal with the “real consequences” that continue to destroy our country and erode at the possibility of hope in our future.
- Benedict R. O’G. Anderson, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (London: Verso, 1991), 147.
- Matt Cromwell, “A Critical Review of Benedict Anderson,” Scribd, November 2, 2010, 5 , accessed January 10, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/doc/45202059/A-Critical-Review-of-Benedict-Anderson