People, state and country

The Endurance of Nationalism. First Edition

February 23, 2007

This book ends with a kind of domestic analogy, indicative of its style and mode of engagement: "The fact that one cannot choose what family one is born into leads some people to make a virtue of necessity; they learn to coexist with, and even maintain affection for, people whose manners or opinionsthey find offensive. There is something to be said for that. In other words, nationalism need not merely be endured as a necessary evil. It can be shaped and cultivated as a source of emotional sustenance for otherwise abstract and impersonal values of pluralism and tolerance."

First of all, it can be better understood, or argued. Enter Aviel Roshwald, who is nothing if not argumentative, which is in fact his cardinal virtue.

The Endurance of Nationalism is less a textbook than a treatise on how to think about nationalism - what it has been and what it might be - cast as a passionate argument or series of arguments, rooted in cases. In the first instance, the arguments are conducted with others. The end notes to each chapter are in effect an annotated guide to the literature, and indeed the whole book can be read as an extended argument about the current state of "nationalism studies".

Traditionalists might contend that the book is more suitable for advanced undergraduates who are familiar with the debates and who know some history, but the terms and the debates are clearly explained and well sourced and the cases are comprehensible in themselves.

There is a slight tendency for the text to be US-orientated, but this hardly detracts from its interest. There is a penetrating analysis of the response to 9/11 in nationalist perspective and a compelling treatment of The Alamo as a "shrine of martyrdom" - and extensive discussion of European examples, ancient and modern.

Moreover, the book advances two theses of capital importance. Roshwald argues that nationalism has its roots in antiquity, or more precisely that "modern nationalism represents the meeting ground for modern and pre-modern sensibilities, rather than a manifestation of modernity pure and simple".

He also believes that "one of the most underexamined issues in the existing scholarship is the question of what determines the receptivity or resistance of popular culture to the nationalist ideas disseminated by elites, and how the sensibilities and attitudes of the target audience shape those ideas". In other words, he emphasises "the interplay of popular identity and state authority". Nationalism is not only top down but also bottom up. Discuss.

Alex Danchev is professor of international relations, Nottingham University.

The Endurance of Nationalism. First Edition

Author - Aviel Roshwald
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 349
Price - £45.00 and £17.99
ISBN - 0 521 84267 0 and 60364 5

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