How did educated Westerners make an enemy of an inspiration that has changed the lives of billions? Why is nationalism synonymous with atavism, fanaticism, xenophobia, and bloodshed? In this book, Robert Wiebe argues that we too often conflate nationalism with what states do in its name. By indiscriminately blaming it for terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and military thuggery, we avoid reckoning with nationalism for what it is: the desire among people who believe they share a common ancestry and destiny to live under their own government on land sacred to their history.
For at least a century and a half, nationalism has been an effective answer to basic questions of identity and connection in a fluid world. It quiets fears of cultural disintegration and allows people to pursue closer bonds and seek freedom. By looking at nationalism in this clearer light and by juxtaposing it with its two great companion and competitor movements--democracy and socialism--Wiebe is able to understand nationalism's deep appeal and assess its historical record.
Because Europeans and their kin abroad monopolized nationalism before World War I, Wiebe begins with their story, identifying migration as a motive force and examining related developments in state building, race theory, church ambition, and linguistic innovation. After case studies of Irish, German, and Jewish nationalism, Wiebe moves to the United States. He discusses America's distinctive place in transatlantic history, emphasizing its liberal government, cultural diversity, and racism. He then traces nationalism's spread worldwide, evaluating its adaptability and limits on that adaptability. The state-dominated nationalism of Japan, Turkey, and Mexico are considered, followed by Pan-Africanism and Nigeria's anticolonial-postcolonial nationalism. Finally, Wiebe shows how nationalism became integrated into a genuinely global process by the 1970s, only to find itself competing at a disadvantage with god- and gun-driven alternatives.
This book's original answers to imperative questions will meet with deep admiration and controversy. They will also change the terms on which nationalism is debated for years to come.
Robert H. Wiebe, who died in 2000, was Professor Emeritus of History at Northwestern University. His books include Self-Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy, The Opening of American Society: From the Adoption of the Constitution to the Eve of Disunion, and Segmented Society: An Introduction to the Meaning of America.
"An eloquent and profound new study of the phenomenon of nationalism. . . . Wiebe's overview of the role of nationalism in world politics, like his earlier books, is learned, penetrating, frequently pungent, and always free of cant."--Michael Lind, The Washington Monthly
"This is the most bracing, insightful study of nationalism in years."--Jim Sleeper, Wilson Quarterly
"A keen and critical study of a powerful constellation of political sympathies too frequently dismissed as retrograde, ignorant and xenophobic. Nationalism continues to touch an acutely sensitive nerve. . . . "--Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post Book World
"In this elegant and sweeping account . . . Wiebe portrays nationalism as a genuinely authentic impulse of people who see themselves as linked by common ancestry and seek common governance."--Foreign Affairs
"Unique and vital. . . . A powerful and influential analysis of nationalism and its impact on the human psyche and group actions."--Joseph W. Danielson, History: Reviews of New Books
"This is an extraordinary book. There are scores of books on nationalism, but none like this. With remarkable economy and sustained analytical force, Wiebe examines the development of nationalism and lays out its connection to the other forces that shaped the modern world. Wiebe is incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence, and what he writes here can be neither ignored nor forgotten."--James Sheehan, Stanford University
"Robert Wiebe has written a remarkable, very important, and surely unique book. It is a stunning performance by one of the most original and influential historians of his generation."--Thomas Bender, New York University
Table of Contents:
Forward by Sam Bass Warner, Jr. vii
Foreword by James J. Sheehan xi
Chapter 1: Thinking about Nationalism 1
Chapter 2: European Origins 12
Chapter 3: Changing Contexts 37
Chapter 4: The Case of the United States 63
Chapter 5: Climax in Europe 97
Chapter 6: Nationalism Worlwide 127
Chapter 7: Global Nationalism 182
Chapter 8: Thinking about the Future 211
Bibliographic Essay 229