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1-Page Summary of Imagined Communities
Nationalism is a cultural system that people use to feel connected. Nationalists believe in the sanctity of their country and its people, but they also believe in progress. They think that their nation can be better than other nations, and are willing to work hard for it. However, nationalism wasn’t always like this. It was first used as a tool by booksellers who wanted to expand their markets through vernacular languages (languages spoken by specific groups). As more newspapers started using these vernaculars, they were able to communicate with larger audiences about national interests and how they could contribute towards them. The spread of nationalism allowed countries all over the world to take on multinational empires like the Ottoman Empire or British Empire.
Most of the world has lived in empires throughout history. Unlike modern nation-states, there were no hard boundaries to these empires. Instead, they expanded through royal marriages and wars of conquest. This is how Spain, Britain, Italy came to be part of the Roman Empire and Afghanistan and India became part of the Mughal Empire.
In the eighteenth century, a new concept began to emerge. This was nationalism, which stated that people should be able to live in their own countries and not have to deal with an Austro-Hungarian royal family.
This is a new kind of community. Communities are usually larger than villages, and people don’t know most of the people in their communities. Empires often define membership by religious or dynastic terms, but nations are different. To be part of the same nation means to share the same nationality, so that has to be defined first.
In order to understand how people became Spanish and Algerian, we will examine key historical events.
In this book, you’ll learn about the similarities between religious thought and nationalism. You’ll also find out how booksellers contributed to the rise of nationalism, as well as why studying languages became a problem for rulers.
Big Idea #1: Nationalism is like a religion. It’s not a religious faith, but it has some of the same characteristics as religions.
We enter this world on terms beyond our choosing. Our genetic heritage, parents, and physical abilities are all determined by chance. The only certainty in life is death. These two facts – the contingency of existence and the inescapability of mortality – have always weighed heavily on humans throughout history. Attempts to make sense of them are at the heart of most traditional belief systems that attempt to answer these questions with religion or mythology; however, modern philosophies ignore these issues because they cannot be proven using scientific methods (Marxists believe that after we die we’re reincarnated into another body). Nationalism attempts to address many of these existential issues through a combination of historical events and myths about past heroes who led their nations out from under colonialism and oppression (for example: George Washington leading America’s fight for independence against England).
And that’s the main point: Nationalism isn’t a religion, but it is closer to religions than to other political systems.
Cenotaphs are interesting symbols that represent nationalism. They’re for soldiers who died without an identity, and it’s their anonymity that gives them meaning. Because they commemorate “Unknown Soldiers,” these ghostly tombs become symbols of something greater; dying for one’s country is the ultimate sacrifice, which cenotaphs seem to suggest will live forever.
Nationalism is similar to religious views in that they both rely on intuition. Religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are able to survive for thousands of years because they tap into human intuition. They provide hope by linking the dead, living and unborn into an eternal chain of death and regeneration.
Religion and nationalism have a lot in common. They emerged at the same time, as religion was declining. The Enlightenment emphasized human reason over religious tradition, which led to the decline of religion. However, people still suffer from problems like disease and poverty that were previously addressed by religion.
Therefore, there was a decline in the importance of religion. This left people with a void in their lives and they started looking for other things to fill that void. The nation became more important than before because it provided an imagined community where people can belong and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
Big Idea #2: Sacred languages were the glue that held communities and empires together.
Imagine a seventeenth century scene in Mecca, the holiest city of Islam. There are two strangers from different parts of the world who don’t understand each other’s languages and follow different cultural norms. However, they’re both Muslim, and that’s what matters most to them.
The main point is that sacred languages were the glue holding large empires and religious communities together.
Religious and imperial languages are written rather than spoken. They create communities of signs instead of communities of sounds. This is similar to mathematical symbols, like the plus sign. For example, Romanians and Thais have different names for it, but they both recognize the same symbol.
Secondly, these were common languages. Learning them wasn’t comparable to learning French or Arabic. That was because they weren’t divinely inspired like Latin and Arabic, which provided access to the true nature of things.
Many Catholics were also against Luther’s idea that the Bible could be translated into vernacular languages because they believed religious truths couldn’t be communicated in anything but privileged languages.
In the past, some have thought that certain languages were divine. For example, in China there was a belief that people who learned to speak Chinese would be more civilized. The same idea applied when Mongolians converted from their own language to Chinese and Turkish nomads became Muslim after learning Arabic.
If anyone could be admitted into religious communities, these groups would expand indefinitely. However, in the late Middle Ages, religion fell into decline because of vernacularization (the fragmentation of shared truth languages and their replacement by local languages). This process was driven largely by capitalism and the printing press.
Big Idea #3: Print capitalism helped to create national languages and also laid the foundations for nationalism.
The invention of the printing press made books more available to people. Before that, they were hand-copied and libraries could only have a few copies at a time. By 1500, some 20 million books had been printed and by 1600 around 200 million more were manufactured. As Francis Bacon said in his book, The Advancement of Learning, “Printing… hath changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world.”
The man realized that language could be changed. Soon, even languages were transformed.
The key message of this sentence is that print capitalism helped create distinct languages and laid the groundwork for nationalism.
So who was printing these books? The answer is entrepreneurs. They were the first to print books in Europe and, like every other form of capitalism, they searched for new markets.
It’s not surprising that the first books were in Latin, since there weren’t many people who could read them. However, as more and more people learned to read, publishers started printing books in other languages so they would be able to reach a wider audience.
Printing led to the spread of ideas. It also helped Luther spread his message about reforming the Catholic Church, which was a big deal because Rome used to be able to stop anyone who opposed its views from spreading their own. But it couldn’t do that anymore because everyone could now read and share books and pamphlets in their native language.
The invention of the printing press in Europe was a major event. It meant that people could read books for themselves, rather than relying on others to tell them what the book said. This led to the development of standardized languages, which allowed speakers of different dialects (French, English and Spanish) to understand each other when they read books printed in their language.
At the same time, readers became aware of how many people shared their language and those who did not. This was a step toward imagining communities based on national characteristics.
Big Idea #4: Newspapers played an important role in the development of democracy.
Religious communities were created through sacred languages like Latin and Arabic. These helped millions of believers feel connected to one another because they shared the same language. As we’ve discussed, printing allowed readers to begin imagining themselves as members of a secular community.
Printing was important, but it wasn’t just printing in general. It was a particular format that made this all possible.
The key point here is that vernacular newspapers helped unite people with common interests.
A nineteenth century German philosopher, Hegel, once said that newspapers were a substitute for morning prayers. Let’s break that down.
Praying is a private act. It’s performed according to standard formulas and everyone does it. When the faithful pray, they’re aware that their prayers are being replicated by thousands or millions of other believers who don’t know each other but believe in their existence.
Reading a newspaper is similar to attending religious services. This ritual creates an illusion that the world is a certain way, and other people are doing this too. It confirms that the world isn’t just imaginary.
The media in Mexico might report on events that happen in Argentina, but Mexicans don’t think that Argentina has ceased to exist. Rather, they believe that the country will reappear when it advances the plot of a novel or movie.
The way newspapers define news creates a sense of what is important to the world. For example, if an article about Argentina isn’t on the front page of Mexican papers, it may be because Mexico doesn’t find Argentina relevant right now.
A sense of a collective interest is created by the shared experience of reading about the same news in the same language. This creates an imagined community that unites otherwise anonymous people who share common interests and values. It allows us to feel like we’re part of something bigger, even if we’ve never met most other members of our country or culture.
Big Idea #5: A linguistic revolution in Europe led to the birth of nationalism.
For centuries, Europeans thought they were the only civilization in the world. They believed that their culture was superior to all others and that they had been chosen by God to be great. However, this view changed when Europeans discovered America and saw how different it was from Europe.
The takeaway here is that through the use of language, nationalism was able to gain momentum in nineteenth-century Europe.
The Europeans became interested in languages after they encountered other civilizations. This was because of the necessity to communicate with people from those places.
Over time, the study of ancient languages led to some surprising discoveries. Ancient civilizations were much more diverse than previously believed and many of them existed before Greek or Jewish culture. In a pluralistic world, Europe is just one civilization among others and not necessarily better than any other.
The study of language has been going on for thousands of years. It was only in the late 18th century that people started to realize that languages change over time and are not static entities as previously thought. This led to a scientific revolution, where scholars began studying how languages developed through history. The study of language became known as philology, which is now considered one of the most important branches of science today.
But if all languages have equal status and importance, they should be studied equally. That’s what happened in the nineteenth century as European scholars started compiling dictionaries of different languages.
As people studied the vernacular languages, they began to notice that their speakers formed unique communities. This was the basis for nationalist organizations arguing for independence.
The first Ukrainian grammar was written in 1819, and within ten years it became a modern literary language. By the time of Taras Shevchenko’s death in 1861, he had brought about a revolution. The very next year there were nationalist organizations founded in Kyiv by people who had been trained abroad to standardize their vernaculars. This pattern is repeated all over the world where nations are being imagined and created through the systematization of vernaculars.
Big Idea #6: The rise of nationalism in Europe made it difficult for the empires there to maintain their power because nationalist principles were incompatible with imperial rule.
Imagine a Czech nationalist named Antonin living in Prague in the late 19th century. He spoke German, but preferred to use his mother tongue. He read Czech novels and newspapers, and his favorite composers were Smetana and Dvorak. What were his political goals? Chances are he would want to be ruled by fellow Czechs because that’s what he wanted most for himself at the time.
The rise of nationalism in Europe undermined the multinational empires because they were incompatible with imperial rule.
Nineteenth-century Europe was a patchwork of multinational empires. The Habsburgs in Vienna controlled an empire that contained Hungarians, Germans, Croats, Slovaks, Italians and Czechs. In Russia the Romanovs controlled an even larger empire containing Tartars, Letts, Armenians, Russians and Finns.
The philological revolutionaries in the previous key point presented a dilemma to the Habsburgs. They decided to switch from Latin to German as their official language because it was more practical than Latin, which had already been widely abandoned by many subjects. Also, German was a modern tongue with an extensive literature that could unite all of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s people.
Nationalists like Antonín saw the language struggle as a problem. The more the Habsburgs pushed German, the more other nationalities felt left out. They wanted their own languages to be used in school and by officials. Reversing course wasn’t an option either because it would only create another group of offended nationalities that now included Germans.
Some countries have tried to deal with the issue of nationalism by creating a top-down approach. This is typically associated with the largest ethnic group in that country, and it’s imposed on minority groups. For example, Russia attempted this in the late nineteenth century when they began Russification. It was a failure, so massive unrest followed.
It’s not surprising that this was a problem for empires, because they wanted to rule over different people. The idea behind nationalism is that the nation should be run by those who look and talk like them. This goes against the logic of multinational empires, which want to control many nations with diverse populations.
Big Idea #7: African and Asian intellectuals drew on European ideas to create their own independent nations.
The First World War destroyed the empires in Europe. By 1922, they were gone and replaced by new nations. The League of Nations, which regarded these new countries as the norm for international relations, took over from the imperial bureaucracies that handled diplomatic relations before. This left non-European territories under European control. What would happen to them?
An answer emerged soon.
The main idea in this passage is: African and Asian intellectuals drew on European ideas to create their own independent nations.
Three factors helped Africans and Asians to imagine their future nations.
Technology made transportation and communication much easier between 1850 and the early twentieth century. It allowed ideas to travel from metropoles to remote outposts in an instant, as well as improved physical mobility. This led people from colonies to make pilgrimages to European capitals where they learned about revolutionary political ideas.
Secondly, the education systems in colonies were often highly centralized. In the Dutch East Indies, for example, students from thousands of unrelated islands received identical instructions from identical textbooks. As they progressed through the system and became more specialized (or funneled into an ever-smaller number of schools), they learned that their archipelago was a single territory with diverse people living on it.
Racism in Europe led to the idea that people from a particular territory are members of a group. The officials did not distinguish between different groups, and instead treated everyone as despised natives. As a result, these subjects came to see themselves as part of a collective called India or Indonesia.
Bilingualism, Western education and the intelligentsia brought about a new class of people who were more aware of European history and saw themselves as part of a larger nation.
The class led to the independence of many countries, including Angola, Egypt and Vietnam.
Full Summary of Imagined Communities
Benedict Anderson’s study of nationalism starts by rejecting the assumption that nations are a natural or inevitable social unit. Instead, he describes them as cultural constructs with particular histories and features. To understand why nations exert such power over people, he points to continuities among different nations, including those in different eras and places. He also explores how they differ from one another to show how they depend on history but preserve many structures inherent to older forms of social organization.
Anderson begins by describing what makes nationalism different from other political ideologies. Nationalism is powerful, while liberalism and communism are not. Nationalism can motivate people to die for their country, while no one would die for a liberal or communist regime. The idea of the nation is so strong that everyone assumes everyone else belongs to one; the most important international political body is called the United Nations; and since World War II every successful revolution has defined itself in national terms. But despite how much we talk about it, nobody really knows what “nation,” “nationality” and “nationalism” mean. They seem to have no concrete definition because they’re more like emotions than tangible things—they’re imagined communities. According to Anderson’s definition, nations are emotional phenomena where citizens feel like part of a family with shared origins, mutual interests and horizontal comradeship. Nations also seem very limited (borders) and sovereign (the only legitimate authority within those borders).
In the next chapter, Anderson argues that one of nationalism’s most important effects is to give meaning to people’s lives. After religion declined in importance and lost its political role after the Enlightenment, nationalism conveniently took its place in giving meaning to people’s striving for improvement, service to their overlords, and even deaths. People began thinking about history as an endless chain of cause-and-effect rather than as God’s will. The rise of vernacular languages also contributed a lot towards creating a sense of community among different communities. Nationalist novels written in vernacular started portraying communities living together on bounded territorial entities while newspapers constructed imagined communities out of their readers through their cultural products like advertisements and news stories.
In the next chapter, Anderson explores how printed texts helped to spread ideas and influence people. He explains that this was possible because of the Protestant Reformation which dethroned Latin as Europe’s common language for scholars and political leaders. Then, he discusses how publishers chose a standard dialect to print in so their audience would be able to read it. These standard dialects became prestige versions of languages, changing much less than oral languages through time.
In the fourth chapter, Anderson discusses how nationalism developed in America. The American revolution was led by educated elites who were familiar with European ideas and philosophies. They revolted against their rulers because of economic oppression and cultural differences, which led to a democratic republic rather than a monarchy. In the second half of this chapter, he explains why it took so long for people to unify into one country: the British colonies were close together while those in Spanish territories were spread out; and there wasn’t as much communication between them since bureaucrats could only work at home but not travel far away from where they lived. As a result of these constraints, each region had its own economy, newspaper system (which contributed to national identity), and sense of independence that eventually led to revolutions against Spain’s control.
In the next chapter, “Old Languages, New Models” Anderson looks at how language was crucial in Europe from 1820-1920. The reading classes of each major European language began thinking of themselves as a community and expanded rapidly due to government bureaucracies and a new bourgeoisie class (both of which essentially required members to be literate). However, there was another cause for nationalism: Europeans copied their American counterparts who had already revolted and built nations. This phenomenon is called “piracy” by Anderson. In the sixth chapter, “Official Imperialism and Nationalism” he examines how established states also began copying nationalist tropes in an attempt to stave off populist revolutionaries. He offers many examples such as Russia’s forcing its national language on linguistic minorities or Thailand copying European empires’ diplomatic infrastructure projects in order to avoid being invaded by them.
In his seventh chapter, Anderson turns to the last wave of nationalisms that arose after World War II. These new nationalistic movements were in Africa and Asia, specifically colonies rebelling against European rule. New technology and the growth of bureaucracy meant that natives of these colonies could more easily participate in government and make pilgrimages to Europe. Largely young and idealistic, they became excellent revolutionaries by copying earlier nationalist strategies on other continents (but using European languages). There were still differences between these nations: for instance, Indonesia’s huge size and ethnic diversity made it a single nation while West Africa split into various smaller countries because France played ethnic groups against each other.
In his eighth chapter, Anderson argues that people are often very attached to their country and willing to die for it. He says this is similar to the way a person might feel about his or her family. Nationalism can be open to new members of society who learn the language and naturalize, while racism dreams of eternal contamination by other races. As such, he concludes that nationalism does not cause racism but racists have used nationalistic language in order to oppress others throughout history.
In the ninth chapter, Anderson emphasizes that imitation and piracy are important to nationalism. He uses China, Vietnam, and Cambodia as examples of countries who copied bad models for nationalism. In these cases, there were more wars between different kinds of nationalists than there were between nationalists and Marxists. Therefore scholars should stop putting Marxist theory before the evidence and start expecting more “inter-socialist wars.”
The last two chapters are later additions to the book. Chapter Ten looks at three colonial institutions that Anderson believes made it possible for post-World War II revolutionaries to imagine their lands as nations (specifically in Southeast Asia, his area of expertise). These were the census, map and museum. The census divided people into categories while maps and museums created symbols of national identity out of living history. Chapter Eleven looks at how history itself was used to define a nation’s narrative of identity. The earliest nations thought they were breaking new ground but the next generation argued that its people had always belonged together by recognizing an ancient primordial unity with each other through time; homogeneous empty time became a key tool for this process because it allowed historians to create narratives about what “to remember/forget”, specifically by including or excluding certain events from official histories which would then be taught in schools as children grew up so they internalized these ideas about who they were and where they came from without questioning them further.
Anderson begins by describing the conflicts between independent Marxist governments in China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Although they have the same goals of freeing oppressed people from capitalism, Marxists will not necessarily be on the same side because nationalism is a concept that has been around for centuries. This trend shows no signs of slowing down as more countries become nationalist and define themselves as such. However, there are different ways to view what constitutes a nation which makes it difficult to come up with one definition. There is also no good theory about where nations come from or why they exist at all in Marxist ideology so Marxists tend to ignore them.
Anderson’s goal in Imagined Communities is to offer some suggestions for a better interpretation of nationalism. He thinks that the concept needs a “Copernican” rethinking, and that nation-ness and nationalism are cultural artefacts with roots in the late 18th century. They’re so powerful because they stir up people’s emotions.
Anderson starts by discussing the paradoxes of defining a nation. Nations are relatively new to historians, but old according to nationalists themselves. He also says that it’s both a universal concept and an irremediably particular one. Nationalism is powerful as an emotional and political concept, but it is logically absurd because there is no fundamental rule for what it means to have one nationality and not another. Furthermore, most serious academics look down on nationalism as meaningless or even insane. One of these academics’ errors is assuming that all nationalisms are the same—Anderson thinks they’re diverse groupings more like “kinship” or “religion” than like “liberalism” or “fascism.”
Anderson’s definition of a nation is that it is an imagined political community. The members of the community will never know most other members, but they still consider them part of their own group. Anderson says this makes communities imaginary, but he also admits that any bigger than a village must be imagined. What matters is how people imagine their communities—whether as extensions of kin or as fellow citizens, for example.
Anderson argues that nations are limited and have borders. They also consider themselves sovereign because they arose when political power replaced the imagined power of God, and citizens share a sense of horizontal comradeship even though there may be inequality within their nation. He asks the question at the center of his investigation: how can such a young concept as nationalism generate such colossal sacrifices?
Tombs of Unknown Soldiers are a symbol of nationalism. They represent the efforts of an entire community, but they also show that nationality is obsessed with death and immortality—just like religion. It transforms fatality into continuity by linking death to rebirth, just as religion does. So it’s not surprising that people started thinking about their national identity around the same time as the Enlightenment ended religious dominance in Europe. Anderson doesn’t mean to say that one caused the other or that nationalism is necessarily better than religion, but merely says that we should think about them together because they’re similar cultural systems: both concern themselves with large groups of people who share a common identity—religion for believers and nationality for citizens.
In the section “The Religious Community,” Anderson suggests that religions could create a sense of community across the globe through “a sacred language and written script”—Latin, Chinese, and Classical Arabic allowed people from different language communities to communicate through writing. Each community considered its language sacred because it was used for religious purposes. People in these communities believed in a strict hierarchy with literate minority members mediating between earth and heaven.
The author argues that the great religious communities declined from the end of the Middle Ages. He gives two reasons for this decline: (1) Travelers who visited different parts of the world brought back information about other religions, and (2) people began to use their own language as opposed to a sacred one in order to publish books.
In the section “The Dynastic Realm,” Anderson outlines how foreign a dynastic government would be to people today. The monarch’s power comes from divinity and there are no clear borders or citizens; they’re subjects instead. Kings kept concubines and married into one another in order to consolidate their rule over different peoples.
In the 1600s, Europe started moving away from monarchy. By the 1700s, most European countries had become republics. But even though they were no longer monarchies, many of these countries tried to justify their power in terms of nationalism.
Anderson argues that there was a change in how people viewed time. This change made it possible for them to think of the nation as something different from their own communities and families. For example, Medieval Christian painters depicted Jesus and Mary as people from their own place or culture because they didn’t believe in an endless chain of cause and effect or radical separations between past and present. Rather, they believed that Judgment Day could come at any moment, which meant that past, present, and future were predetermined by God’s will (and therefore existed simultaneously). However today we see time differently; we view it as homogeneous empty time. We see one thing causing another with the future remaining uncertain.
Anderson argues that the way people perceive time has changed over the years. He uses novels and newspapers to illustrate this concept of “time.” In a novel, readers can see different characters doing different things at the same time. This is similar to how we view our nation today. People in a nation are like characters in a novel who interact with each other but never actually meet face-to-face. Anderson uses four examples from different contexts to support his argument about how time has changed over the years.
A famous work of literature written in Spanish, the language of the colonizers and oppressors, is different from a famous work written in an indigenous Filipino language. The latter has more oral elements while the former does not.
Anderson’s third example is of Mexican writer José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, who wrote El Periquillo Sarniento. This book criticized the Spanish colonial government by following a Mexican man they failed to educate as he visits hospitals and jails. He also goes to villages and monasteries, but in each location he finds people suffering from poor care or neglect on the part of the government. The implication is that Mexico has been divided up geographically by its colonial rulers, which means that they have also failed all Mexicans as a whole. Anderson’s final example is of Marco Kartodikromo’s Semarang Hitam (Black Semarang), which opens with scenes of the city Semarang narrated as “a world of plurals” – plural because it includes not only humans but animals and objects too – then turns to an unnamed young man reading about a dead vagrant in his newspaper. He becomes angry at this news story because it reveals how poorly Indonesia treats its citizens under Dutch rule.
Anderson asks why the newspaper is a cultural product. He explains that it’s because of two things: stories happen at the same time, and newspapers are read by people all around the city on the same day they’re published. Anderson suggests that books were an extreme form of publication before newspapers became popularized under industrial capitalism. The newspaper creates anonymity among its readership, which he claims is one of modern society’s hallmarks.
In conclusion, Anderson states that the creation of a nation was made possible by three things: 1) The shift away from sacred language and towards vernacular speech 2) The move away from divine rule to more human-like rulers 3) The change in how people viewed time. These changes led to the separation between history and cosmology. This opened up room for nationalism to replace religion as a means of uniting people. Anderson attributes this mostly to print capitalism because it allowed ideas and information to spread quickly throughout Europe.
Anderson begins by saying that the rise of printing helped to create horizontal-secular, transverse-time national communities because of capitalism. The number of books printed in the 1500s was huge and this made reading accessible to everyone, which turned publishing into a big business. After cornering the proportionally small Latin market, book sellers began publishing in vernacular languages like English. They did this because three factors: 1) Latin became more standardized (it grew closer to Roman standard and further from Catholic Church); 2) Protestants used print for religious propaganda; 3) Governments started using local “administrative” languages instead of Latin. While none of these three alone were enough to dethrone Latin, they all had significant impacts on it.
Language is diverse and changes over time. However, the printing press standardized language by making it easier to disseminate different dialects of a language. This made people realize that they were all speaking the same language, even though their spoken languages differed from one another. The printed version of a language was fixed, so it didn’t change as much over time as oral versions did. As a result, speakers started to consider those who spoke closer versions of the standard literary form more prestigious than other speakers with variants further away from the standard version.
Originally, the creation of prestige through print was unintentional. However, once people started to use it as a method for creating national consciousness and repressing minorities, it became a powerful tool that governments used to impose their own sense of uniformity on their citizens. Nowadays, every country has its own language but not all countries have the same language spoken by all of its people; rather they share one common language which is rarely spoken or understood by most people in those countries. This phenomenon first occurred in North America because this continent had more true nation-states than any other region in the world at that time.
Anderson finds two things unique about the American colonies that gained independence in the 18th and 19th centuries: they shared a language with their colonizers, and their independence movements were led by wealthy elites who were worried about violent rebellions from slaves. In fact, many leaders of those independence movements wanted to preserve slavery because European powers were beginning to turn against it.
It is interesting that the elites in Latin America started thinking of themselves as a separate group from Spain. The main reasons for this were the monarchy’s increasingly strict policies and easy transmission of European philosophies to Latin America, which resulted in many countries declaring independence soon after revolution began. However, these reasons do not sufficiently explain why so many distinct states formed in the Americas or how they became independent.
Anderson believes that the reason national identity emerged quickly in each of Spain’s colonies was that they were all administratively independent. They were divided by difficult terrain, long distances, and a prohibition on trading with any territorial entity but Spain—including one another. Thus, these areas developed their own distinctiveness. However…
The rise of independent states in Latin America is attributed to the administrative organizations’ ability to create meaning. The author uses Victor Turner’s analysis of journey and pilgrimage as a prototypical kind of journey. Pilgrimages bring people together and build a sense of community, much like bureaucrats who travel from their homes to the capital city for work. In this way, they share experiences that unite them in their country or nation.
Even though they were culturally identical to Spaniards, creole bureaucrats born in Spain’s Latin American colonies were prohibited from rising to posts beyond their own colonies’ capitals. For example, a creole from Peru could get work in the local capital Lima, but never in Madrid. This meant identity formed not on the level of the empire as a whole, but rather on that of individual colonies with creoles born in the same colony able to collectively lament their shared subjugation to the Spanish. The creoles were an important class because they at once held significant power as their colonies’ ruling classes and helped Spain control and exploit local native populations while being subjugated themselves by Spain itself around the globe.
Printing presses were controlled by the government and church in Spanish colonies until the 1600s. In the 1700s, however, newspapers became widely available as they began to serve a market-based economy. Newspapers focused on information that was important to their readers who were part of an elite group involved in colonial administration and trade. Readers rarely read newspapers from other cities because it took a long time for news to arrive there.
According to Anderson, the reason why the colonies succeeded in gaining their independence was because they were geographically close to each other and economically unified. They had a strong sense of nationalism and a common identity. The Spanish colonies failed because they were not connected with each other, so there was no collective identity or national spirit among them.
The author moves on from American nationalisms between 1760-1830 to European nationalisms from 1820-1920. These later nationalist revolutions were distinct in two ways: they used print media and modeled after previous ones.
The notion that language and territory can be linked grew out of the historical creation of a distinction between antiquity and modernity, which made it possible to think about Europe as just one civilization among many. Language studies revealed that non-European languages were older than European ones, making it clear that Europe’s “old sacred languages” weren’t special at all. This allowed vernacular languages to gain official status in place of Latin and Greek due to the efforts of grammarians, lexicographers, fiction writers, classical composers, and especially “reading classes.”
The reading public was small in the 19th century but grew substantially due to two factors. First, many people had to read because they were bureaucrats and wanted to work as colonial administrators. Second, a capitalist bourgeoisie emerged that didn’t value relationships based on blood or personal ties but rather shared economic interests across the country. These groups could maintain their connections only through print media and so while an illiterate nobility couldn’t function as a noble group, an illiterate bourgeoisie is hard to imagine.
The spread of literacy and the use of vernaculars (languages other than Latin) allowed for a more unified approach to language across Europe. The process was slower in places like Austria-Hungary, where various groups fought for the right to have their own languages used instead of others. Similarly, each nationalism formed with the influence from its local upper classes, which varied greatly in terms of power and wealth. The most common formation “was a coalition between lesser gentries (middle class), academics (professors), professionals (doctors/lawyers) and businessmen that provided leaders with standing; myths; newspapers; and money” while also allowing them to market themselves throughout Europe regardless of their native tongue.
In conclusion, Anderson brings up the second factor he mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: piracy. Essentially, Europeans copied the model of an independent national state provided by previous revolutions and widely available by the middle of 19th century. This was important because it helped account for “the populist character” of early European nationalism.
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Anderson begins by noting that languages were used as the basis of imagined communities. So, languages could be both the dynasty’s language and the people’s language, but it had to choose between different options. When a single language was adopted for all purposes (and each dynasty wanted to gain legitimacy), they gained popularity and faced opposition from others who spoke other languages. Ultimately, this whole process was in response to popular national movements that grew from 1820 onward.
Anderson offers a few examples of official nationalism in the Russian Empire. The empire had many provinces dominated by German, and St. Petersburg court spoke French. Over the next century, Russia gradually eliminated other languages through policies that attracted rebellions in response to its Russification efforts.
Anderson also discusses the British Empire. On one hand, Scotland was able to Anglicize itself by learning English, suppressing Gaelic languages, and linking its economy, governance, and education system to London. However on the other hand, people from the empire’s tropical possessions were unable to do that because they had little choice in where they went or what language they spoke. For Anderson this is damning proof of “the inner incompatibility of empire and nation.”
Anderson’s third example of nationalism is the restoration of the Meiji oligarchy in Japan. The new government dissolved class distinctions and unified what eventually became Japanese territory. In a matter of decades, they had become an independent military power on par with European countries. Homogeneity and isolation led to a sense of danger from Europe’s growing empires, which made them want to copy these European dynasties and take over Asia. At the turn of the 20th century, great nations were understood as synonymous with global conquerors.
Anderson then turns to two smaller cases of nationalism that were somewhat different from the three he previously discussed. The first was in Siam (now Thailand) where a king used diplomacy and hired Chinese workers for infrastructure projects. He was succeeded by his British-educated son, who turned against the Chinese and began excluding them from society. Both monarchs used nationalism to prevent their countries from being marginalized or excluded in an emerging national community formed around empires like Britain’s.
Similarly, the ethnic Hungarian elite in the province of Hungary had a difficult time deciding whether to use Hungarian as their language. They were only successful after several years of debate and then an uprising overthrew them. The power was given back to the imperial government but they made sure that all government jobs went to ethnic Hungarians. It wasn’t until much later that they decided to ally with socialists who wanted a United States of Great Austria (in part because its continuity with the empire would lend it legitimacy).
Anderson begins by summarizing his argument. In the 19th century, nationalism was a tool that was used to gain power and control in Europe. However, it didn’t stay there; it went beyond European borders and into the major empires of Asia and Africa. The rulers tried to tell their subjects that they were all one nation even though they knew better than that because of how different they were from their rulers who spoke English or French while they spoke Hindi or Swahili. Eventually the colonies gained independence from their imperial masters and admitted that official nationalism wasn’t real—it was just a way for the ruling class to maintain control over those under them.
After World War One, the old order was replaced by the League of Nations (an earlier organization similar to today’s United Nations). After World War Two, there was a period of time when nation-states were everywhere. However, in the 1970s, Portugal—the last European empire—fell. Therefore, nations that formed after World War Two are mostly outside Europe and have preserved colonial borders due to their geography which resembles Latin America two centuries ago.
Anderson notes that Africans were able to travel more to Europe during the 20th century than in previous centuries because of better transportation technology, as well as the fact that Europeans had large colonies in Africa. The spread of education meant that many Africans could read and write, which made it easier for them to communicate with their European overlords. In addition, those who wrote back home learned about European struggles for independence and revolutionary philosophies from a nationalist perspective.
A wave of nationalism occurred in the colonies. It was led by young people who were educated in a Western language, which created a cultural gap between them and their elders. This happened because colonialism forced everyone to use one language, so they could all be taught the same things and move around easily from place to place for school. The students learned about maps that showed only parts of their country, creating an imagined reality about what it meant to be Indonesian or French or whatever colony they lived in.
In Indonesia, the Dutch colonial power was very racist toward all natives. This led to natives thinking of themselves as a collective group and hating the Dutch. However, this concept of being native did not have an equalizing effect everywhere because there were differences in bureaucratic structures.
When the French controlled West Africa, education was centered in Dakar, which forced elites from around the region to travel there. Later, schools were built in other areas of West Africa and Dakar lost its status. And even more importantly, Dakar was never as important administratively as Jakarta was in Dutch Indonesia because educated Africans identified with their own future nations instead of a broader pan-African identity.
In Indochina, the French tried to change Laos and Cambodia by adding French influence. They also changed Vietnam’s education system so that it would be more like theirs. The only university was in Hanoi, and there were two high schools in Saigon and Hanoi.
However, the “Indochinese” identity never formed because of two reasons. First, there were parallel schools set up in French and Vietnamese as well as Khmer. Second, unlike other empires, the French allowed some natives to work in different colonies. Specifically, Vietnamese bureaucrats worked in Cambodia and Laos.
As a result, Vietnamese bureaucrats probably thought of French Indochina as a unified whole. In contrast, people from Laos and Cambodia formed distinct identities. It is no coincidence that Cambodians educated in the French bilingual schools became leaders of Cambodia’s independence movement, while the conflicts between the Vietnamese and Cambodians were put on hold because people from throughout Indonesia could travel to Jakarta (Batavia).
Indonesia’s language was a major contributor to its unity. The Dutch didn’t spread their own language, unlike the French, but instead governed through the common trade language of Malay that quickly became the dominant written and spoken form of communication in Indonesia. Anderson emphasizes that this doesn’t make Indonesian nationalism more “real” or “authentic” than nationalisms that used colonial European languages—rather, he simply wants to show how this shared language was a crucial tool for “generating imagined communities,” building particular solidarities among diverse peoples in the Indonesian context. European languages can do the same thing in other contexts. In general, what is important for nationalism is having a shared written language rather than which one gets selected.
Anderson also makes the point that although a language can be used by many people, it does not necessarily make it the national language. For example, technology has made news accessible to many different languages, and leaders have learned how to use elections, party organizations, and cultural celebrations to create a sense of nationalism. Although language is an important contributor in creating national consciousness, Anderson argues that it is not essential from the twentieth century onwards. To illustrate this point he uses another example: Switzerland.
Switzerland was made up of a number of different regions, each with their own language. The country didn’t become an integrated nation until the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before that time, it was ruled by French bureaucrats who worked in French, which no one else could understand except for them. Religion also divided people more than language did because most people were Catholic or Protestant. In order to avoid being conquered by its neighbors, Switzerland decided to make all three languages equal: German, Italian, and French. This happened around the same time as other Asian countries had begun becoming independent nations at the beginning of the 20th century (the turn of the century).
Anderson ends this chapter by summarizing his argument. Nationalism began in Asia and Africa as a response to the new imperialism created by industrialization, which included large empires with growing bureaucracies and school systems. As print media spread, so did nationalism, creating multilingual intelligentsia who wanted their own nations modeled after European ones. Improved communication technologies allowed them to get their message out faster than ever before, spreading it all over the world.
The author then goes on to explain that the idea of nationalism is often associated with hatred and racism. However, it’s more common for people to express their love for their country than hate. He gives an example from a poem written by José Rizal, a Filipino nationalist who does not condemn Spaniards even though they’re about to execute him.
People often talk about their countries in terms of family. It is easy to see how people consider themselves part of a country as if it were another family member. They feel the same way about families, which are seen as having an important and natural place in our lives that can force us to make sacrifices for them. People even go so far as dying for their country rather than something like a political party or an international organization because they believe that one cannot choose his/her country but must love it unconditionally.
Language is a powerful tool that can be used to create communities. It allows people to read poems and sing songs together, creating an environment where they feel like part of the same community. Language also seems ancient, as if it predates anything else in human history. However, languages are not actually timeless; instead, groups of people choose to adopt them over time. This makes language simultaneously open and closed because although it might seem like something that has always existed, languages do change over time and can even disappear completely.
Anderson argues that the only limit to learning another language is one’s mortality. He also notes that powerful people often use racist epithets to talk about their oppressed subjects, but this is not proof of nationalism causing racism. Instead, he says these epithets are powerful because they deny their targets the dignity of being a nation.
Anderson begins by arguing that nationalism and racism are closely related. Nationalism focuses on history, whereas racism is fixated on bloodlines and purity within nations. Racism is actually about class—an obsession with bloodlines and purity within nations. In empires, racism arose when the upper classes tried to replace popular nationalism with official nationalism, because the bourgeoisie could pretend to be nobility in colonies (by performing “capitalism in feudal-aristocratic drag”), as well as seeing themselves as superior to native peoples in any empire.
In contrast to colonized people, who never insulted their former colonizers on racial grounds but rather focused on equality and the contributions of groups deemed inferior by whites, they praised them for what was good about them. Language is the medium by which all this imagining is possible.
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In this chapter, Anderson returns to the idea of war and conflict in Vietnam, China, and Cambodia. He explains that these conflicts are based on a model created by Britain’s government during its colonial era. The British empire was considered “impersonal” because it did not involve direct control over colonies; instead, the empire sought indirect influence through economic dominance. This concept is also applied to later governments who used similar models of revolution—if only because they were available or appeared successful at the time—such as Russia and China (Cambodia being an extreme example).
Ultimately, both of these revolutions seemed to come out of nowhere and were possible only because of piracy. They followed in other nations’ footsteps as they “planned revolution” and “imagined the nation.” Cambodia’s genocidal atrocities largely resulted from its government replicating Soviet models, while new regimes imitate old dynasties that had been previously overthrown by using their buildings, institutions, and records. Anderson makes sure to distinguish between the leaderships of nations and the comparatively powerless people in whose name those leaderships often claim to speak.
Anderson concludes that China, Vietnam and Cambodia are not unique in their conflicts. As a result, the author argues that it is only logical to expect more inter-socialist wars. The platitudes of Marxist countries’ solidarity or opposition to nationalism will get in the way of learning about history. Benjamin describes history as an angel looking back at one catastrophe after another which cannot be changed by him; this can be applied to human history because we’re powerless against it.
In this chapter, Anderson discusses the way that European colonial powers created national identity for their colonies. He says that while it is true that Asian and African countries were not explicitly copying European ideas of nationalism, they did use similar institutions such as censuses, maps, and museums to create a sense of national identity. These are also the same institutions used by the Europeans to create a sense of national identity in Europe itself.
The first of the three institutions is the Census. A study has shown that colonial census-makers in Malaysia transformed identity categories over time, making them more exclusive and racial rather than religious. They reduced a wide variety of identities to just four: “Malaysian,” “Chinese,” “Indian,” and “Others.” In Indonesia, however, they stand alongside each other as equal categories.
Anderson takes up two examples of censuses to show how they were used by colonialists. The first, the Spanish census in the Philippines, “imagined” a society where there was really just independent landowners who didn’t know each other. The second example is an Indonesian court case that reveals that the native Cirebonese classified people by social status while the Dutch categorized them as Chinese. Because China was thought to be homogeneous, Dutch officials decided all Chinese should dress and act alike and insisted on it even if they weren’t from China originally.
For Anderson, the colonial censuses were novel because they were systematic and quantified. Earlier native censuses counted potential draftees and taxpayers, but now everyone was counted in a new system of hierarchy based on ethnicity. The government ignored religion, which it could not control or change. Religion became a place of resistance to colonialism due to its growth despite attempts by the government to limit religious freedom.
The second important institution discussed in this chapter is the map. Maps used to be a way of representing places, but they were not as detailed or accurate as we have today. In 1851, Thailand started to use maps that showed borders and zones of influence for each country’s sovereignty. They also introduced the word “country,” which quickly became dominant in political discourse.
“Totalizing classification” is the key link between the census and European maps. Although theoretically maps are supposed to represent a preexisting geographical reality, in Thailand they became “a model for,” rather than “a model of,” what they purported to represent. Construction projects, military movements, and administrative divisions were decided on a map before they were created in reality; moreover, the map even became the basis for census ethnic categories that had strict geographic origins.
Anderson argues that European countries used maps as a way to justify their rule over other countries. They would claim they had taken over the sovereignty of native rulers, and this led to an expansion of the map industry. Post-colonial governments also started using maps in order to create a narrative about their country’s history and territorial claims.
The second form of map-making is the map that represents a country’s identity. It includes its geography and location on the world map, but it also removes any borders to show how the country relates to other countries in terms of nationalism. For example, when the Dutch were controlling part of New Guinea, they didn’t care about it because they had no control over it. But then Indonesian nationalists started using maps with half of New Guinea cut off from Indonesia as an example of their struggle for independence; this helped spread their message across Indonesia.
West New Guinea has had a huge impact in shaping the identity of Indonesia. It was the catalyst for a nationalist movement that helped unite people who were previously so diverse they could not communicate with each other. West New Guineans have even managed to turn Indonesian into a symbol of their struggle against Indonesia, which is oppressing them badly. The reason for this is because Indonesians are united by a common language and therefore they see themselves as one country, even though diversity within Indonesia persists on many levels.
Anderson then turns to the Museum, which is an extension of the “museumizing imagination” that makes it possible. It’s a political space because postcolonial states inherit the mindset of their former colonizers.
During the mid-19th century, Europeans went from not caring at all about Southeast Asia’s monuments to being obsessed with cataloguing and studying them. Anderson lays out three reasons why this happened. The first reason is that many conservatives saw education about monuments as a way for “the natives” to stay native. Second, they were used as an excuse to prove that the natives had always been ruled by more advanced peoples or that their time had come and gone. Third, protecting monuments allowed colonial governments to position themselves as protectors of tradition while turning religious sites into reproducible logos for a secular colonial state.
After the end of colonialism, many countries formed their own governments. These new governments often continued to use art in a similar manner as the country they had just gained independence from. For example, Indonesia hung paintings that erased everything unique about Borobudur and replaced it with something more generic. The painting was meant to represent national identity rather than the temple itself.
In conclusion, Anderson turns to the significance of the census, map, and museum. These are all forms of “thinking” that were used by colonial governments to control people through a totalizing classificatory grid. This means making everything countable (including those who don’t fit into available categories). The census, map and museum helped colonial governments do this by fitting people/places/history into these absolute systems of classification (respectively). After independence, maps and monuments became logos for nations that inherited their colonizers’ projects which reduced history to an archaeological album of its ancestors.
The author discusses why Europeans named places like New York and New Orleans. He says that they did so because the concept of living parallel lives to others became possible during the colonial era, when people were able to travel around and see new things.
Unlike other immigrants who assimilated into the countries they moved to, Europeans in the New World kept their ties with Europe. They even rebuilt those ties as soon as independence was achieved. This is one reason why nationalism began in America, not Europe. The creole elites led American independence movements because they wanted to safeguard their parallelism with Europe and did not want to take control of the imperial center or become independent from it.
In the next section, Anderson argues that there are two types of time: new time and old time. He claims that the concept of New World nations being parallel to European ones gained momentum with America’s declaration of independence. This was both unprecedented and reasonable because it offered a vision for revolutionaries around the world to follow. At the same time, watches were being made faster than ever before, newspapers were becoming more common, and novels were gaining popularity as well. The academic discipline of history was also starting to form during this period due to these changes in perception about how we perceive our own times in history.
In the next wave of nationalism, leaders looked backwards rather than forwards. They used a metaphor that described how their countries were suddenly gripped by national sentiment. The metaphor explained why European elites embraced vernaculars they had previously rejected for generations and how the Americas got to nationalism first.
In the Americas, there was no ancient order to restore, so nationalists turned to History. They used history as a means of giving meaning to acts of the dead who died in service of their countries or for those who were killed in revolutions.