The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow's Ancestors

By David McCrone | Go to book overview

3

INVENTING THE PAST

History and nationalism

To have common glories in the past, a common will in the present; to have accomplished great things together, to wish to do so again, that is the essential condition for being a nation.

Ernest Renan’s famous essay ‘What is a Nation?’ places ‘history’ at the centre of the nationalist project, but it is a history which requires careful interpretation. ‘Getting history wrong’ is the precondition of nationalist history because it requires not only collective remembering but collective forgetting. This ‘forgetting’, said Renan, ‘I would go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality’ (1990:11).


Traditions as inventions

The inventing of traditions, the title of a collection of essays edited by Hobsbawm and Ranger (1986), is nowadays treated with due suspicion, because we are better aware of the ways in which historical accounts are used as tools in the contemporary creation of political identities. We have grown used to the idea that history is not a product of the past, but a response to the requirements of the present. Indeed, we might say that all traditions are ‘invented’ insofar as they are constructed and mobilised for current political ends in some way or another. In this respect, there are no ‘real’ (as opposed to ‘invented’) traditions. The problem with this approach, however, is that it usually operates in a differential manner. The ‘construction’ of tradition is often a charge made against new or oppositional nationalisms rather than those of the ‘centre’ whose traditions are deemed matters of fact, because they are matters of power. In this chapter, we will examine examples of the mobilisation of history by nationalisms of the centre and the periphery, and suggest that all types have to be treated equally.

The conventional wisdom about inventing national traditions is that much of it occurred in Europe between the 1870s and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. This, of course, was the period which saw the culmination of European

-44-

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The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow's Ancestors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - The Fall and Rise of Nationalism 1
  • 2 - Tribe, Place and Identity 22
  • 3 - Inventing the Past 44
  • 4 - ‘devils at His Back’ 64
  • 5 - Nation as State 85
  • 6 - Dialectic with the Other 102
  • 7 - In and Out of the State 125
  • 8 - The Unforeseen Revolution 149
  • 9 - Nationalism and Its Futures 169
  • Bibliography 188
  • Index 199
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