The Idea of Nation and Nationalism: Michael Billig

Nation and nationalism are contested ideas yet inseparable from our lives. Every time, debates, discussions, controversies and even wars arise because of these powerful ideas.

In this particular post, I do not write anything new. This post simply tries to provide a helpful introduction to the scholarly views of nations and nationalism. These are sourced from The Nationalism Project. I hope you find it useful not only as a student of Political Science or Sociology, but as a conscious human being willing to understand the world better.

This is PART 7 in the series: NATION & NATIONALISM


 

“Banal Nationalism”: Michael Billig

michael billig
Michael Billig

Michael Billig suggests that nationalism is more than just a set of ideas expressed by separatists. Instead, Billig argues that nationalism is omnipresent- often unexpressed, but always ready to be mobilized in the wake of catalytic events.

“… there is something misleading about this accepted use of the word ‘nationalism’. It always seems to locate nationalism on the periphery. Separatists are often to be found in the outer regions of states; the extremists lurk on the margins of political life in established democracies, usually shunned by the sensible politicians of the centre. The guerrilla figures, seeking to establish their new homelands, operate in conditions where existing structures of state have collapsed, typically at a distance from the established centres of the West. From the perspective of Paris, peripherally placed on the edge of Europe. All these factors combine to make nationalism not merely an exotic force, but a peripheral one. In consequence, those in established nations – at the centre of things – are led to see nationalism as the property of others, not of ‘us’.

“This is where the accepted view becomes misleading: it overlooks the nationalism of the West’s nation-states. In a world of nation-states, nationalism cannot be confined to the peripheries. That might be conceded, but still it might be objected that nationalism only strikes the established nation-states on special occasions. Crises, such as the Falklands or Gulf Wars, infect a sore spot, causing bodily fevers: the symptoms are an inflamed rhetoric and an outbreak of ensigns. But the irruption soon dies down; the temperature passes; the flags are rolled up; and, then, it is business as usual.” (p. 5)

“… the term banal nationalism is introduced to cover the ideological habits which enable the established nations of the West to be reproduced. It is argued that these habits are not removed from everyday life, as some observers have supposed. Daily, the nation is indicated, or ‘flagged’, in the lives of its citizenry. Nationalism, far from being an intermittent mood in established nations, is the endemic condition.” (p.6)

“The central thesis of the present book is that, in the established nations, there is a continual ‘flagging’, or reminding, of nationhood. The established nations are those states that have confidence in their own continuity, and that, particularly, are part of what is conventionally described as ‘the West’. The political leaders of such nations – whether France, the USA, the United Kingdom or New Zealand – are not typically termed ‘nationalists’. However, as will be suggested, nationhood provides a continual background for their political discourses, for cultural products, and even for the structuring of newspapers. In so many little ways, the citizenry are daily reminded of their national place in a world of nations. However, this reminding is so familiar, so continual, that it is not consciously registered as reminding. The metonymic image of banal nationalism is not a flag which is being consciously waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on the public building.

“National identity embraces all these forgotten reminders. Consequently, an identity is to be found in the embodied habits of social life. Such habits include those of thinking and using language. To have a national identity is to possess ways of talking about nationhood. As a number of critical social psychologists have been emphasizing, the social psychological study of identity should involve the detailed study of discourse…. Having a national identity also involves being situated physically, legally, socially, as well as emotionally: typically, it means being situated within a homeland, which itself is situated within the world of nations. And, only if people believe that they have national identities, will such homelands, and the world of national homelands, be reproduced.

“In many ways, this book itself aims to be a reminder. Because the concept of nationalism has been restricted to exotic and passionate exemplars, the routine and familiar forms of nationalism have been overlooked. In this case, ‘our’ daily nationalism slips from attention. There is a growing body of opinion that nation-states are declining. Nationalism, or so it is said, is no longer a major force: globalization is the order of the day. But a reminder is necessary. Nationhood is still being reproduced: it can still call for ultimate sacrifices; and, daily, its symbols and assumptions are flagged.” (pp.8-9)

banal nationalism
Banal Nationalism

 

*Billig, Michael. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage Publications, 1995.

 


Except necessary changes, all the contents of this post are sourced from The Nationalist Project. You can read more about the project HERE.

The Idea of Nation and Nationalism: John Breuilly

Nation and nationalism are contested ideas yet inseparable from our lives. Every time, debates, discussions, controversies and even wars arise because of these powerful ideas.

In this particular post, I do not write anything new. This post simply tries to provide a helpful introduction to the scholarly views of nations and nationalism. These are sourced from The Nationalism Project. I hope you find it useful not only as a student of Political Science or Sociology, but as a conscious human being willing to understand the world better.

This is PART 6 in the series: NATION & NATIONALISM


 

Defining and Classifying Nationalism: John Breuilly

john breuilly
John Breuilly

John Breuilly’s book, Nationalism and the State, is a classic discussion of the politics of nationalism in a comparative and historical perspective.

“The term ‘nationalism’ is used to refer to political movements seeking or exercising state power and justifying such actions with nationalist arguments.

“A nationalist argument is a political doctrine built upon three basic assertions:

  1. There exists a nation with an explicit and peculiar character.
  2. The interests and values of this nation take priority over all other interests and values.
  3. The nation must be as independent as possible. This usually requires at least the attainment of political sovereignty.” (p.3).

“So the definition employed here can avoid the danger of being too vague and all-embracing and, among other things, draws attention to the modernity of nationalism.

“The definition also excludes from consideration political movements which demand independence on the basis of universal principles. The term ‘nationhood’ is often used to describe the achievement of such independence, as, for example, the creation of the United States of America. But the leaders of the independence movement did not refer to a cultural identity to justify their claims. They demanded equality and, failing that, independence, and justified the demand by an appeal to universal human rights. Parts of North America were simply the areas in which these rights were being asserted. Admittedly a sense of national identity developed after the achievement of independence but by then nationalism had a rather different and less distinctive function.” (pp. 6-7).

“These general remarks have served to define and narrow down the area of investigation. I am concerned with significant political movements, principally of opposition, which seek to gain or exercise state power and justify their objectives in terms of nationalist doctrine. This still covers a large number of political movements and it is necessary to subdivide them. To do so one requires some principle of classification.

“Classifications are simply sets of interrelated definitions. Utility is their justification. There are numerous ways of classifying nationalism….

“The concern here is with nationalism as a form of politics, primarily opposition politics. This suggests that the principle of classification should be based on the relationship between the nationalist movement and the existing state. Very broadly, a nationalist opposition can stand in one of three relationships to the existing state. It can seek to break away from it, to take it over and reform it, or to unite it with other states. I call these objectives separation, reform and unification.

“In addition the state to which such a nationalist movement is opposed may or may not define itself as a nation-state. If it does, conflict may arise between governmental and opposition nationalisms, conflict which cannot occur when the state does not define itself as a nation-state. The position of a nationalist opposition having to counter governmental nationalism is fundamentally different from that of one which does not.

“These distinctions yield six classes, which are set out here with examples for each class:

(Opposed to) Non-nation states a (Opposed to) Nation states 1
Separation Magyar, Greek, Nigerian Basque, lbo
Reform Turkish, Japanese Fascism, National Socialism
Unification German, Italian Arab, Pan-African

(a) “A rather clumsy term but I can think of nothing better” (pp. 11-12).

 1. The bracketed text was added in the Second Edition of Breuilly’s text (1992). It is included here in the hope that it will make the author’s distinctions a little more clear. The remainder of the text quoted here is drawn from the 1985 edition.

 

*Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

 


Except necessary changes, all the contents of this post are sourced from The Nationalist Project. You can read more about the project HERE.