There are many ways to interpret nationalism.
One might claim that nationalism is about standing up and representing one’s own country, while others define it as holding together as a community with similar interests. However, nationalism did not develop from the love towards one’s homeland. The origin of nationalism dates back to end of the 18th century when too many beliefs emerged. This made religion, which was the main point of common interest among the population, doubtable and obsolete as a binding force. As multiple religions lost their appeal, the people needed something else that connected them to each other in order to form communities. Instead of only relying on a common God and faith, the importance shifted to other values like sharing a common language, appearance and descent.
This sparked the movement to abolish the ideas of rule by divine right and hereditary monarchy, giving the community more power and coherence.The political scientist Benedict Anderson tries to analyze the concept of nationalism in his book “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism” (1983) by depicting nationalism as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who identify themselves as part of that group. To Anderson the shift from communities forming due to common religious beliefs, to communities building based on common values and descent, as well as language, is the “coming to maturity” (p.
50) of nations. This being said, Anderson tries to offer a new perspective on nationalism and its formation, by coining the term “imagined communities” and assigning it four main criteria. First of all, Anderson sees communities as imagined due to being limited, because even the largest communities have finite and permeable, as well as elastic, boundaries, beyond which other nations exist. Furthermore, Anderson argues that individuals residing in one place will never converse or have any sorts of relationship with most of the members of their communion, yet the ideological concept of community prevails, as the members may have similar interests and each holds a mental image of this kinship. An example for when the nationhood comes together with other members of the nation is when the “imagined community” participates in large events such as the Olympic Games. Moreover, a nation is imagined to be autonomous because it is a concept, which emerged during the age in which Enlightenment and Revolution called into question the legitimacy of the divine and the hierarchical rule. Even universal religion was confronted with the existence of an excessive number of religions, as a product of this changed apprehension of the world.
This led to nations wanting to be free from the claims these religions have made. The symbol for this freedom became the autonomous state, meaning that the nation became its own authority. Lastly, Anderson claims that nations are imagined as a community because although inequality and exploitation may dominate, the nation is always perceived as a “deep, horizontal comradeship” (p.50), which connects all citizens of a nation despite of their race or social class. This idea of community, accompanied with the sense of belonging and being equal, leads to the creation of identity, which provides the members of the nation with safety and security. It also explains the motivation of why people, over the past two centuries, would be willing to die for their nation. Nowadays, nationalism and the sense of community have been taken to the extreme and have become related to racism and discriminative behavior, for which Anderson critiques these “imagined communities”, which are supposed to bring individuals together, not divide them.
Additionally, Anderson tries to establish the origins of nationalism and how it emerged. He argues that the emergence of print capitalism has heavily formed and shaped imagined communities. Previously, print was crucial as it cut through the barrier of dialect and unified people through language. Nowadays, media strengthens the imaginary bond between the members of a nation through the use of images and targeting a mass audience. This ultimately shows that Anderson’s argument of the existence of “imagined communities” is still relevant today, as nowadays media plays an even bigger role due to connectivity provided by the internet and modern technology.
As of today, the concept of “imagined communities” remains highly relevant and significant in a contemporary context of how nation-states frame and formulate their identities in relation to domestic and foreign policy. Policies regarding immigrants and migration still rely on the Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” to regulate the movement between nations in order to keep and strengthen said nations community feeling. Being surrounded by people who look , behave and think alike comforts individuals, making it favourable for communities to enforce nationalism. Furthermore, Anderson’s concept of nations being “imagined communities” often is used when discussing geographical thought, meaning that the communities and nations are not the only imagined concept, but that even our modern idea of geographical borders stems from this collective thought Anderson introduced.
On paper, our world is divided by invisible borders which merely exist because mankind accepts them, as they are willing to possess their own land, to rule over it as a nation. Anderson himself is not opposed to the idea of nationalism nor does he think that nationalism is obsolete in a globalizing world. He values the utopian element in nationalism that makes people believe and dream together, but like with every utopia, the scheme of a perfect nation, or even a perfect world where everyone belongs to the same collective nation, only exists in our minds.