Nationalism 101.

My offensive language towards the ideology of nationalism in previous posts deserves, I think, a short explanation. Sometimes, established ideas in academia radically differ from pervading beliefs. To begin with, I am of those who believe that nationalism is an ideology born with the industrial era and modernization process. Therefore, nations do not exist in themselves, as pervading belief takes it sometimes for granted; they are creations of human mind since the century of Enlightenment in Western Europe.

First, I think, a line has to be drawn between ethnicity and nationalism; between an ethnic esprit de corps and a nationalist sentiment and/or claim. The feeling of belonging to a “fatherland” (territory of “our” ancestors) has existed since the dawn of time. The need to affirm and reinforce communal bonds as well. Ditto for xenophobia and chauvinism (“Our Nation Über Alles” type). Both ethnicity and nationalism consist in intense emotional bonds and identification to a collective unit. The difference between them, however, is that nationalism calls for the establishment of a state to “legitimately crown” the nation. In most nationalisms, the ideas of a “regained” and/or “reborn nation” can be observed. Hence the trivial expression of “nationalist awakening“, leading us to believe that nations have existed since the origin and that it was high time they materialized fully. Many nationalisms, but not all, tried to transcend religion and ethnicity, and demonstrate a secular character.

In the 19th-20th centuries, nationalisms differed from ethnicity in (1) their claim for statehood (establishing an independent and sovereign entity), and (2) their effort to cultivate and raise awareness of one’s nationhood. It is all about sensibilizing masses, nurturing their consciousness of being “different” from other humans. What we call reflexivity is the thinking in terms of “We Ourselves”. In short, whereas ethnicity was a feeling and a process of identification, nationalism became more reflective and rationalized. Of course, sometimes, both ethnicity and nationalism coincided. In that paradigm, which lasted until ca. 1970, nationalism was considered to be “modern” and ethnicity “archaic”. In the post-modern paradigm (1970+), ethnicity presents almost the same features as the so-called “modern” nationalism, as the nurturing of new ethnic identities increased.

Why the First Arab Nationalists Were Christians

Three main factors: (1) Their ill feeling against the Ottomans and (2) their impregnation with Western ideologies through their contacts with Catholic and Protestant missionaries. (3) Most publicists, journalists, editors, publishers in the Lebanese province of the Ottoman empire were Christians. Therefore, they were more inclined to be influenced by the ideologies prevailing in the West–namely, nationalism and secularism. The fundamental criterion to base the nascent nationalism on was the Arabic language.

The cause is then socio-historic, not “essential” to the Christians’ identity as the trivial TV speeches relentlessly repeat it. Nationalism found many adherents among Christians, even if not all of them agreed on the nature of its “Arab” character. Some opted for Lebanese nationalism (Lebanism or Lebanonism), which is a typical product of an ethno-nationalism rendered (fictitiously) secular–namely, Maronite ethno-nationalism. Others opted for Arab nationalism (Arabism), in part due to ethnic considerations as well.

Unfortunately, as time will later tell, language proved not to be enough to maintain national cohesion, and neither was culture, this conceptual tote bag, impossible to define theoretically and empirically.

Just like Christians invented Arab nationalism, I think it is high time they dis-invented it.


Note. I would first like to thank the readers who asked me for further clarifications on my opinion towards nationalist thought. Some of them thought I was preaching anarchism and the abolition of the state, so I will shortly elaborate my views.

I do consider nations to be raw inventions based on identifications to a collective unit. Nations do not exist per se, they have been created. As to my personal opinion: I am 100% for the continuity of states and nations as mere faits accomplis not as a God-given heritage (of course, if a nation wants to separate amicably and democratically, then it’s up to its nationals). Nations are an essential part of human history and they cannot be simply eliminated. I am just saying: don’t take nationalism too seriously as if it were directly created by God. A nation is not a sacred entity pertaining to a natural order, it is just an illusion we chose to accomplish with the means and the ideologies we had. To me, it is only a political utility, an idea of convenience, destined to remain established by usage and custom.

Consequently, I am deeply critical of the concept of nation-state, but I am not opposed to the very idea of state. As far as I am concerned, the archetype of the state should be a corporate-like structure, an enterprise or a company, the role of which should be to ensure all citizens’ equality, cultural-religious freedom and political participation. This form of state must take religious and/or cultural ethnicity into ultimate consideration without having an ethnic character.

In conclusion, my idea is that the legitimizing pillar of the above-mentioned “new state” should not be the Nation (particularistic thinking), but Humanity (universalistic thinking).

This entry was posted in Lebanon and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s