No nationalism but Terry Nationalism

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Jack Graham

Jack Graham writes and podcasts about culture and politics from a Gothic Marxist-Humanist perspective. He co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper. Support Jack on Patreon.


  1. DC
    September 28, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

    Jonah Goldberg, not Jeffery.


    • Jack Graham
      September 29, 2018 @ 12:39 pm

      Cheers. Amended.


  2. Aylwin
    September 30, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    Good stuff, but I am a bit perplexed by your characterisation of the nation as an essentially geographical (and state-based?) concept of “soil” or “home”, to which notions of “‘people’, ‘blood’, ‘folk’” are extraneous. Surely the nation is an essentially ethnic concept, an imagined community with a putatively shared culture, usually a shared language, and often a notion (to varying degrees vague, symbolic and/or unacknowledged) of shared ancestry. Land is an extremely important adjunct to it (and, as we discussed here once before, people often identify nationalistically with past inhabitants of their “country” from periods before their “nation” existed there, or at least with the things they left behind, in a rather muddled fashion), but I think it is essentially secondary. The basic and original idea of the nation is primarily about people, and what they notionally have in common. The idea of inheritance is essential to it, and that encompasses inheritance of control over land, or of claims to such control, but it also encompasses cultural inheritance and ancestry, and it is these communal inheritances that define the outlines of the group asserting claims on land and makes those claims national rather than being of some other sort.

    Of course it has all got very complicated and blurry. Due to developments in Europe over the last couple of centuries or so, resulting from the practical successes of nationalism in making the outlines of states correspond ever more closely to those of nations, and its theoretical successes in vanquishing other ideological bases for the formation of polities, the nation state has come to be seen as the normal and proper sort of state, to the extent that “national” has come to be used as effectively a synonym for “pertaining to the state” and “nation state” to be used as a synonym for “state”. Decolonisation, arriving into a context defined by these European developments, led to widespread efforts to speedily construct new “nations” to legitimise and hold together states based on colonial frontiers, often with no pre-existing ethnic “logic” to them. (Not that precolonial polities in the same areas necessarily correspond to ethnic patterns either, but they were constructed in contexts where a unifying “national” identity was not yet thought to be proper to a state, and had other means of legitimation.) Even back in the 19th century (and the late 18th in the USA), there was a more limited variation on the same theme in European colonies of settlement developing towards and emerging into independence. They too developed new “national” identities to fit territorial units, identities which, though still with a basic ethnic bedrock of white cultural-Europeanness, and usually a single European common language, had to deal with the ethnic distinctions within their European populations and to distinguish themselves both from their European societies of origin and from neighbouring states of similar background, in ways that made geography and state institutions more important relative to more fundamentally ethnic features. In recent decades, efforts to dismantle ethnic hierarchies within those societies, mass migration into Europe, and post-Second World War discomfort with the excesses of nationalism have led to attempts to, as it were, denationalise the nation, through concepts of “civic nationalism” and the like, seeking to retain the solidarity-binding communal glue of the nation while removing what makes it sticky (in both senses, if you see what I mean).

    But I think all those are complications and mutations rather than essentials. The notions you refer to have never needed to be added to that of the nation, because at its root it is a version of the same agglomeration of ideas.


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