Eric Taylor Woods 2015
Cultural nationalism generally refers to ideas and practices that relate to the intended revival of a purported national community’s culture. If political nationalism is focused on the achievement of political autonomy, cultural nationalism is focused on the cultivation of a nation. Here the vision of the nation is not a political organisation, but a moral community. As such, cultural nationalism sets out to provide a vision of the nation’s identity, history and destiny. The key agents of cultural nationalism are intellectuals and artists, who seek to convey their vision of the nation to the wider community. The need to articulate and express this vision tends to be felt most acutely during times of social, cultural and political upheaval resulting from an encounter with modernity. Cultural nationalism often occurs in the early phase of a national movement, sometimes before an explicitly political nationalism has appeared. But it can also recur in long-established national states (see Hutchinson 2013).
The history of cultural nationalism begins in late eighteenth-century Europe. Several developments in the realms of ideas, culture and politics converge at this time, including the emergence of historicism and Indo-European linguistics, the rise of Romanticism in literature and the arts and a growing commitment to constitutional politics and the idea of ‘rule by the people’ (Leerssen 2014, 11). From this period of change, ‘emerged a polycentric Weltanschauung that presented a pantheistic conception of the universe, in which all natural entities were animated by a force that individualized them and endowed them with a drive for realization. The nation was one such life-force, a primordial, cultural, and territorial people through which individuals developed their authenticity as moral and rational beings’ (Hutchinson 2013, 76). As a part of this new world-view, the rise of a belief in the possibility of progress was crucial. According to Gregory Jusdanis (2001) intellectuals in central and northern Europe became aware of their ‘backwardness’ in the face of French dominance and sought prestige in their own cultures, while simultaneously also embarking upon a programme of progress. From Europe, cultural nationalism spread outwards, enjoying a renewed efflorescence in the decolonising efforts of the twentieth century. It is now a recurring phenomenon throughout the world.
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is often attributed the greatest individual responsibility for elucidating the ideology and practice of cultural nationalism. Herder presented the nation as the primordial scene from which the best of human endeavour owed its provenance, and which therefore obliged its cultivation through the recovery and celebration of its history and culture. Interestingly, Herder was as much practitioner as he was intellectual. In his search for the true character of the nation among the rural peasantry of central Europe, he played an influential role in the development of several practices that became associated with the cultural nationalism of the nineteenth century, such as philology, history and the collection of folk songs, myths, and other practices (see Barnard 2003).
Much ink has been spilled debating the character of cultural nationalism and its relationship to political nationalism. The most influential author in these debates is Hans Kohn (1960; 1967). Kohn distinguishes between the political forms of nationalism that are ostensibly associated with the United States, France, Britain and the Netherlands, and the cultural nationalisms that he suggests are representative of central and eastern Europe, as well as the former European colonies. Not only has this dichotomy proved incredibly influential in social research, but Kohn’s valuation of the two types of nationalism has also had great impact. While Kohn approvingly characterises political nationalism as marked by Rousseau’s idea that political communities are actively willed into being, he takes the opposite view of cultural nationalism, which he characterises as fatally influenced by Herder’s obsession with a nation’s unique character. For Kohn, it is the latter which planted the seed leading to the growth of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century.
Kohn’s dichotomy has been much criticised of late. Critics claim that it should be abandoned on empirical grounds, on the basis that all national movements tend to contain both political and cultural elements (e.g. Kuzio 2002; Shulman 2002; Yack 1996; Zimmer 2003). Others question Kohn’s characterisation of cultural nationalism as an ethnic or anti-enlightenment ideology, arguing, to the contrary, that it is defensible from a liberal perspective (Gans 2000). Indeed, some analysts distinguish cultural nationalism from ethnic and civic nationalism, suggesting that a focus on language and culture is distinct from adherence to citizenship rights as well as a belief in common ancestry (e.g. Nielsen 1996). Several historical sociologists have also taken issue with the view of cultural nationalism as anti-modern (e.g. Chatterjee 1993; Jusdanis 2001; Hutchinson 2013; Smith 1995). Their suggestion is that when cultural nationalists turn to the past, it is to find ways of accommodating their purported national communities with modernity.
Notwithstanding these historical and normative debates, the concept of cultural nationalism has proved fruitful among social researchers who employ it as ideal type, while acknowledging that in reality it can take many forms. An early exemplar of this approach is provided by Miroslav Hroch (2000). Hroch embeds cultural nationalism within a processual model describing the route by which national movements among several ‘small nations’ (stateless nations) of Europe became institutionalised. According to Hroch, cultural nationalism typifies the first phase (Phase A) of the process of nation-formation, when the ideas and practices associated with the national community are conceived and disseminated by artists and intellectuals. Hroch’s view of cultural nationalism as a key element in the process leading to the emergence nations has provided an important platform for subsequent research and debate on cultural nationalism.
If not specifically concerned with cultural nationalism, at least in his earlier work, Anthony Smith has had great influence on scholarship in this area. For Smith, all nationalism has a cultural dimension; hence his insistence that it is an ideological movement rather than merely a political movement. Across his long career, Smith (e.g. 1986; 1991; 2003) has sought to demonstrate the trans-generational ‘stickiness’ of the culture of nations. According to Smith, this pattern of myths, symbols, memories and values often extends backwards into the pre-modern era, as well as structuring a nation’s particular path toward modernisation. However, while Smith stresses the capacity for cultural patterns to endure in the face of social change, he also acknowledges they can undergo rapid change. Here Smith attempts to carve out a middle ground between those who view nationalism as a Herderian expression of an innate collective spirit stretching back into ‘time immemorial’, and those who view it as a wholly modern ideology conjured up by enterprising elites and imposed upon the masses. For Smith, national cultures take shape through a process of reinterpretation and rediscovery rather than mere invention. Smith has lately focused more explicitly on cultural nationalism. His most recent book seeks to uncover the significance of visual art in the making of national identity in France and Britain, which presents an original typology of national art (Smith 2013).
John Hutchinson has done much to enrich the understanding of cultural nationalism. He was Smith’s first PhD student and his work remains aligned with his approach. Hutchinson’s (1987) study of Gaelic revivalism and the establishment of the Irish national state greatly extends Hroch’s approach to cultural nationalism. While Hroch’s model suggests that the importance of cultural nationalism will diminish once the political movement takes off, Hutchinson presents cultural nationalism as an episodic phenomenon, which can recur even after a national state is established. To bring to light how cultural nationalism is institutionalised and disseminated, the book distinguishes between the intellectuals and artists who furnish the symbols and vision of the nation, and the intelligentsia, a vocational and occupational group including the professions and tertiary education instructors, who communicate this vision to the ‘masses’. In a subsequent book, Hutchinson (1994) discusses, among other topics, the myths and symbols that cultural nationalists tend to draw upon, noting the importance of newly ‘discovered’ folklore and legends to nationalist poets, writers and musicians. Here he also discusses the relationship of cultural nationalism to religion, suggesting that cultural nationalists must either appropriate religious myths and symbols or find alternatives.
More recently, Hutchinson has focused on the role of contestation in the endurance of national communities, suggesting that the often intense struggles among nationalists over national identity can paradoxically serve to reify the nation (Hutchinson 2005). He has also recently disavowed the commonly-held view that cultural nationalists will invariably turn to organic myths and symbols of common descent, suggesting that they may be just as predisposed to characterise the nation as a voluntary community grounded in civic principles (Hutchinson 2013). As a result of Hutchinson’s work, it is now possible to analyse cultural nationalism as an ongoing struggle over the definition and character of the nation, with the proponents seeking to convey competing visions to the wider community. In Hutchinson’s various analyses, this struggle is expressed as a series of binary visions of the ‘true’ character of the nation.
Kosaku Yoshino’s (1992) much cited study of cultural nationalism in Japan takes the work of Hutchinson and Smith in a new direction. Yoshino applies the distinction between intellectuals and intelligentsia to investigate how the ideas of intellectuals are diffused among two separate groups of ‘intelligentsia’ – businessmen and educators. Interestingly, Yoshino finds that it is the businessmen who are the more committed carriers of the ideas of the intellectuals. More recently, Yingjie Guo (2004) has applied Hutchinson’s approach to cultural nationalism in a fascinating study of China, where he suggests that a group of intellectuals have become increasingly emboldened to assert an ethnic vision of a Chinese national community against the long-standing rationalist and Marxist representations of China. Both studies confirm Hutchinson’s argument that cultural nationalism is as much a feature of long-established national states as it is of independence movements.
The study of postcolonial nationalism in Asia and Africa has contributed much to our understanding of cultural nationalism. David Kopf’s (1969) history of the intellectual ferment of the College of Fort William of Bengal sheds light on the challenge of fusing (foreign) modernity with (indigenous) culture. This dynamic has recently taken on particular importance. Homi Bhabha’s (1990) suggestion that what emerges is an unstable ‘hybrid’ identity that is neither European nor indigenous has triggered a massive outpouring of research. This even had an impact on the study of nationalism in the former metropole, in which scholars have focused on the cultural politics of the formerly colonised who now make their home in Britain (e.g. Gilroy 1987; Hall 1993).
A central figure in the study of postcolonial nationalism is Partha Chatterjee. In his first major study, Chatterjee (1986) takes aim at Elie Kedourie’s assertion that postcolonial nationalism is merely a derivative discourse imported from Europe, suggesting that it arises out of a dialogue between European and indigenous ideas and practices. While the colonial administrations may have dominated the ‘material realm’, in Chatterjee’s view, they never really fully penetrated the spiritual realm, where intellectuals were involved in the elaboration of the moral community from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. Chatterjee (1993) subsequently applies his approach to a study of the emergence of a national ideology in Bengal through attention to a wide variety of cultural practices, while also focusing on efforts by marginalised groups within India to make claims for their inclusion in the emergent national discourse.
The challenge of constructing novel national identities also characterises settler nationalism. Nationalists in settler societies face the peculiar challenge of distinguishing themselves from a metropole that shares a similar culture, while also not being able to lay claim to an authentic culture rooted in the territory from ‘time immemorial’. In this context, Bhabha’s notion of ‘hybridity’ has again been put to good effect (e.g. Proudfoot & Roche 2005; McDonald 2013). According to Christopher McDonald, ‘the concept of hybridity includes not just Bhabha’s “third space” between European and “Native” but also the cultural “ambivalence” experienced by Europeans in a colonial setting’ (2013, 174). To overcome this ambivalence, cultural nationalists in Mexico, for example, sought to construct a ‘mestizo’ national identity, which through the mixing of settler and indigenous, can claim rootedness in the territory and also embrace the prestige of European modernity (Doremus, 2001). In the former British settler societies, cultural nationalists proclaim their national communities to be at the vanguard in the construction of a new kind of ‘rainbow’ or ‘multicultural’ community, whose strength is its diversity (Hutchinson 1994, chapter 6).
The significance of gender for cultural nationalism has begun to attract increasing attention. An earlier intervention in this area of research by George Mosse (1985) observes that the rise of nationalism in Europe coincided with the widespread acceptance of the patriarchal family. A landmark book by Nira Yuval-Davis (1997) has provided a catalyst for research on the gendered symbolism of nationalism. Davis (1997, 43-45) observes that masculinity is associated with the public sphere and men are thereby given an ‘active’ status, as the defenders of the national community, periodically called upon to the sacrifice themselves for the ‘motherland.’ By contrast, the nation’s private sphere, its ostensible ‘inner’ essence, tends to be represented by femininity, and the ‘active’ role that is assigned to women is as reproducers of the national community. More recent research has focused on the symbolic importance of a woman’s body, and how she adorns it, to the national community (Chatterjee 1989; Kandiyoti 1991; Timmerman 2000). A particularly sobering new line of research focuses on the way in which the representation of women as the ‘pure’ essence of the nation has led to them being the target of horrific sexual violence in times of war and crisis (Bracewell 2000; Harris 1993).
An important area of research asks questions about the persistence of cultural nationalism in an era characterised by the increasing globalisation of culture. For many scholars, globalisation undermines nationalism. Until recently, the view that American cultural dominance was leading to the cultural homogenisation of the world was widespread. Others, such as Anthony Giddens (1991), have suggested that globalisation produces a paradoxical simultaneous movement away from the nation towards large-scale continental identities and much smaller, local identities. Pointing to the proliferation of new imagined worlds that do not readily fit within a national schema, Arjun Appadurai (1990) suggests that global flows are leading to new forms of identification.
Against the arguments that globalisation and nationalism are inimical, Smith and Hutchinson have mounted an impressive alternative reading. Taking a long-view of globalisation as a process that has been underway for centuries, Hutchinson (2003, 75) suggests that ethnicity and nationalism are actually engendered by globalisation. Indeed, Smith (2010, 149) argues that the recent global era should be considered a period of ‘internationalising nationalism’. According to Smith, nationalism has a ‘demonstration effect’, whereby ‘wave after wave of nationalisms have engulfed successive regions, engendering new claims and making equivalent demands.’ Turning to the realm of culture, Smith (2010, 50) suggests that we are witnessing an increasing role for cultural nationalism; if the criteria for entry into the global community of national states were initially political sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction, they now also include a demonstration of ‘cultural unity and solidarity, and preferably some degree of cultural “uniqueness”’.
Arguments over the impact of globalisation have been prevalent in the study of film and cinema. In a highly cited essay, Andrew Higson (1989) raises doubts about the possibility of a ‘national’ cinema, when the production teams and the audiences of even the seemingly most nationalist of films are often transnational. Yet, the fact that films continue to draw heavily on national narratives and imagery seems to suggest nationalism’s ongoing grip on our imaginations. In an analysis of the film Braveheart, Tim Edensor (2002, chapter 5) shows how a film made in Hollywood, whose largest audience was American, had significant impact on Scottish nationalism. Edensor’s analysis points to the possibility of an international ‘normalisation’ of national myths and symbols through Hollywood. Of course, Hollywood’s dominance also suggests the possibility of conflict, as audiences see themselves refracted through American stereotypes. Indeed, in the case of Braveheart, which depicts the English in an unsavoury light, Edensor observes that cinema-goers in England largely chose to stay home.
Joep Leerssen (2006; 2006; 2014) has recently sought to carve out a unique approach to cultural nationalism. In doing so, he builds in particular on path-breaking work by Anne-Marie Thiesse (2001) on the role of intellectuals in the transnational diffusion of nationalism. Leerssen enjoins his fellow researchers to move away from a concern with the significance of cultural nationalism in the progression of particular national movements towards uncovering how the ideas and practices of cultural nationalists are shared across transnational networks. He advocates greater attention to intellectual and artistic developments, whereby new practices and cultural forms emerge and are disseminated among its practitioners. This approach sheds light on the two sides of cultural nationalism, whereby a concern for authenticity ensures that the content is national, but the sharing of ideas and practices among a transnational body of practitioners ensures that the form is international. For example, Leerssen (2006) details how Sir Walter Scott’s approach to the historical novel, as exemplified by Ivanhoe, was adapted by authors working in other social settings, to become an important mechanism in the construction of national myths and symbols throughout nineteenth-century Europe. Leerssen has lately become particularly interested in Romantic nationalism, spearheading a large-scale research project that seeks to shed light on its dissemination through time and space in nineteenth-century Europe. The preliminary results of this project have been mapped on to the project’s interactive website (see http://www.spinnet.eu).