Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural, and Multicultural Politics

Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural, and Multicultural Politics

Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural, and Multicultural Politics

Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural, and Multicultural Politics


This book examines the problematic politics of contemporary nationalism, and the worldwide resurgence of ethno-nationalist conflict. It analyses the core theories of nationalism, building upon these theories and offering a clear analytical framework through which to approach the subject. This outstanding volume features detailed case- studies discussing nationalist contention in areas including Spain, Singapore, Ghana and Australia as well as looking at Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Rwanda disputes.


Unravelling nationalism

Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?

(Handel’s Messiah, from Psalm 2:1)

Nationalism is unravelling in the sense that the nationalist legitimacy of many existing states is under challenge from the nationalist claims of ethnic and regional minorities, thus generating new contentions. Nationalism needs unravelling analytically therefore, so that by isolating and examining its conceptual ingredients we can more clearly understand the resultant changes—the ethnic conflicts, the emergence of new nation-states, the uncertainties of national identity and the restructuring of multicultural nations.

When told about the projected book on nationalism, which would develop an explanation of the upsurge of nationalist conflicts, a friend responded in tones of bemused regret. ‘But you’re missing the point, David. They are not nationalist conflicts at all, they are disputes caused by economic disparities and élite power rivalries. Write a book about class, not about nationalism.’ The tone of regret was because any analysis based on the concept of nationalism, however brilliant, would not just be a marginal academic pursuit, it would also be misleading. It would add to intellectual obfuscation by promoting what we used to pithily call ‘false consciousness’; thereby legitimating the conflicts which it purported to analyse. Reading this book would therefore be more than a waste of time, it would be dangerous.

For those readers who choose to remain, the first response of this book to the preemptive criticism is to accept that nationalism is indeed a form of false consciousness, a ‘vain thing’, in the sense that it is an ideology offering a distorted perception of reality, containing selective simplifications and elements of myth. Neverthless, it is also a particularly powerful and pervasive ideology which convinces large numbers of people, and structures their political behaviour. Thus, while nationalism may indeed be stimulated by competing interests relating to disparities of access to power, status and wealth, it is also a major causal factor in politics; a belief in the grievances and destiny of nations which means that negotiable differences of interest become translated into non-negotiable confrontations between opposing national rights.

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