Argentina's Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History

Argentina's Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History

Argentina's Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History

Argentina's Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History

Excerpt

This book is about the interaction between nationalism and the politics of history in twentieth-century Argentina. The concepts of ‘nationalism’ and ‘politics of history’ are both contested, but the second is perhaps easier to define. Most historians would agree that knowledge, including historical knowledge, is a crucial means in struggles for the achievement of political power. It follows that interpretations of history, whether consciously or not, are often produced, disseminated, appropriated and used for political purposes. By politics of history I mean the ways in which history was written and mobilised in order to affect the distribution of political power in a society. The ideologies in whose name this is done obviously vary, but since historical narratives, myths and symbols are the stuff from which national identities are construed, many politics of history are embedded in debates over what constitute the essential traits of a given nation-state. In other words, not all politics of history are nationalist, but all nationalisms delve into the nation’s past as a basis for present political claims. Eric Hobsbawm has put it thus in the following oft-cited and catchy statement:

[H]istorians are to nationalism what poppy-growers in Pakistan are to
heroin addicts: we supply the essential raw material for the market.
Nations without a past are contradictions in terms. What makes a nation
is the past, what justifies one nation against others is the past, and histo
rians are the people who produce it.

Hence, the writing of history has become ‘mixed up in politics’ and ‘an essential component of nationalism’.

In the sense that all nationalisms thus contain a politics of history, it could be argued that the subtitle of this study is almost a tautology. Although in this book I concentrate on the politics of history, I do so by way of example, in order to learn something about nationalism. It is therefore chiefly these politics of history that explicitly put forward an idea of nationhood that I am interested in. Nationalist accounts of history, of course, can take different forms. As the conservative French thinker Ernest Renan famously noted in 1882, attempts to fashion a cohesive national identity and to subdue alter-

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