Imagined Communities: Reflection of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

Imagined Communities: Reflection of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

This is a book written by Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson and published in 1983, which was later republished with additional chapters in the year 1991 and later 2006. The book tries to explain the ideologies behind nationalism. Anderson wrote the book after realizing that there was a gap in the intellectual print media concerning the origin and spread of nationalism. Nationalism as defined by Anderson is a community constructed socially by people who imagine that they are part of that community. The term “imagined communities” is a dominant concept throughout the book. “Imagined communities” are defined as a collection of people who believe they belong to one group or community (Anderson 5). This community is so big however, that the members do not know each other and will never meet or talk to each other. The community is different from the actual community due to the fact that the members do not know each other, yet they are bound by the belief that they share a common interest. This book brings into context the idea and the origin of nationalism as perceived through the eyes of the author and other researchers. It explains the rise of nations and the spread of the ideology of nationalism. A nation as described in the book as an imagined community molded by a particular political orientation (Anderson 17). The origin of the book is the gap that the author exploits when he realizes that previous intellectual theories on nationalism did not fully define the concept of nationalism. The theories that initially explained the concept of nationalism were Marxist and liberal theories.

While introducing the concept the author brings into existence three paradoxes that are associated with nationalism. This creates the basis and interest in learning more about the subject. The paradox that surrounds nationalism according to the author are; the objective of the concept of nationalism as perceived through an historian’s eye and its’ objective as perceived through a nationalist eye (Anderson 38). The second paradox is the universal view of the concept of nationalism as a socio-cultural concept. Eventually, the author brings out the paradox of political power that comes with nationalism compared to the philosophical poverty that is conveyed by the same.

The book explains the concept of nationalism well and illuminates various hidden complexities of the practice. To elaborate on the idea of nationalism, the author furthermore uses an illustration to drive his point home. He uses an example of an unknown tomb that bears the remains of soldiers. The tomb may be empty or may contain the remains of unidentified soldiers. Nations that have access to the tomb will constantly claim the remains of the soldiers. This is the ideology behind nationalism where people believe that they are connected and have a connection with people they have never met or even seen. This illustration is well crafted and brings out a clear picture of the concept of nationalism, making it understandable to everyone with an interest in knowing what it entails. To this end, the author narrates an example that drives the point home. It is under the auspices of this concept whereby a nation participates in world activities e.g. the Olympics games and even the world cup. Its citizens feel a sense of belonging and pride for being part of a particular nation and this is the concept of “imagined communities”.

According to the book, nationalism can be traced as far back as the start of the industrial revolution, which was a time when communities were realigning themselves for large-scale economic empowerment. At the time, coalitions were being made to fit the anticipated change in economic orientation. During this period, capitalist entrepreneurs would therefore create and spread ideologies crafted to promote these “imagined communities”. This concept was promoted further during the age of enlightenment where new ideologies cropped up and further research was being conducted on issues that were universally accepted, while economic empowerment also contributed to accelerating the process.

The use of vernacular language is the origin of nationalism and with the help of the print media it was possible to reach masses with the ideology. The print media, which the author calls print capitalism, was responsible for the spread of information since it was transmitted in the local language which many people understood. The language in use at the time i.e., Latin, could reach many people who understood the language therefore fostering a connection between the people (Anderson 115). When people feel that they belong to a common origin then the ideology of nationalism is achieved. The author narrates a phenomenon that accelerated the origin and spread of nationalism and the factors that led to the formation of nations based on common interest/s. Most nations were formed because the people were able to communicate in a common vernacular language or because they faced the same problems and/or situations.

The phenomenon as narrated by Anderson (182) includes a change in the perception that a particular language has higher superiority than others based on access to general universal truth and justice. The communities that were initially viewed as underdogs and inferior became empowered, got the strength to rise, and demanded to have their say regarding issues of concern. Communities that were previously oppressed could now regroup themselves to get the strength to stand and fight, and champion that which they believed were their rights. This gave rise to the development and alignment of communities based on common interest and understanding. The second phenomenon is the change in mindset of the concept of the right to rule and divine leadership being the exclusive right of selected groups of people in society. This brought to an end the rule by monarchy/aristocracy and hereditary leadership that was being passed on from generation to generation within a specific class of people and through family lineage. Initially, the right to rule was the sole privilege of particular royal families. The change in this perception is solely responsible for the birth of democracy and democratic rule and this led to the regrouping of communities to bring political, leadership and regime change. People with an interest in getting into leadership roles and other champions of change, would therefore use the print media to promote their agenda for regime change. They would print masses of communication materials in a language that the common people were well conversant with to ensure the spread of their information to the masses and to interact with them (Anderson 164). The other phenomenon that discussed in the book is a change in the belief that human beings and the world are from the same origins. This led to people and groups to rearrange themselves in communities who believed that they had the same origin and when people discovered that they have different origins, the existing communities disintegrated and the fabric that held the community together was broken down and regrouping was inevitable.

The book narrates that nationalism is movable and can be moved from one generation to another. The current form of nationalism is of inter-ethnic dimension and the concept can be imitated and adapted to suit a particular situation. Currently political affiliations are using the concept to get political mileage. This is achieves wherever political parties mobilize their supporters and convert them into an “imaginary community” under the common understanding of imaginary. The concept of an imaginary community is also currently used across the ethnic divide to achieve a particular goal. The book is successful in describing the origins of nationalism and the progress made so far. It does not however, speak so much about the future, the impact thereof and the dynamics of it. It has fairly sealed the loopholes that were left behind by the maxis and the liberal theory.


The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery is a non-fiction historical book writer by Eric Foner. N. W. Norton & Company published the book in 2010 and it narrates the life and times of Americas 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The work eludes repetition of previous works on the subject that is related to it by avoiding writing the biography of Lincoln. The work narrates his contributions to the fight against slavery and the times when he failed. The book furthermore narrates Lincolns’ life story, his ideology and his contribution to the shaping of the nation that he later ruled. It dwells on his contribution to ending the inhuman practice of slavery, the success of his ideologies regarding slavery and his failures. The book divides the Life of Abraham Lincoln into different stages. The first stage is his childhood – this generally discusses the early life that Lincoln encountered in Kentucky and in Illinois, the conditions that he was subjected to and the kind of lifestyle he had, how it molded his way of thinking and the way he that approached issues later in life. The second part concerns his political life. This stage describes his political life and his career and the way it all unfolded and how he handled it. As a professional, he later had to deal with issues that contradicted his beliefs regarding slavery and as a politician, it analyses his political affiliation he subscribed to and further discusses the policies he championed and the challenges he encountered in the course of the decisions that he made. The third stage covers the period of his leadership. During his tenure as leader, expectations were high, the challenges he faced were numerous, and this stage analyses the successes and failures of his leadership.

Abraham Lincoln was raised in Kentucky during the early stages of his life in a border town that was explicitly used during the civil war as a haven for the slave trade (Foner 12). In that part of the country, slavery was acceptable. Lincoln had firsthand experience with regard to slavery and saw precisely the conditions that slaves were subjected to which is believed to be the origin of his brave idea to fight the injustices of slavery. Later in life, his family migrated to Illinois, a state where slavery was illegal, but the practice continued nevertheless. In Illinois, he had an opportunity to see how black rules were applied, laws which were discriminatory in nature and designed to oppress the black. These laws changed the perception that Lincoln had of the entire judicial process (Foner 72). He opposed the slave trade and fought hard to put an end to it, pushing hard for the termination of the rules and laws that encouraged and the trade. As a legislator, he fought hard when he became part of the legislature, in congress and as a leader of the Republican party to advance his anti-slavery ideologies. He fought hard found he was almost on his own when he issued protest orders against the resolution of the Illinois legislature on the ruling that congress had no power to stop slave trade.

As a politician the author portrays Abraham as being consistent throughout the pre-war period on the issue of slavery. He publicly condemned and spoke against slavery. His fight against slavery is however tainted by his legal career a lawyer he defended slave masters on occasion. The worst of these instances was when a ruling was made for a slave woman to return to her master. Politically Lincoln grew from being a legislator to becoming a congressional representative and finally becoming the 16th president of the US. He was the leader of the Whig party up to 1850 before realigned himself and changed parties to join the Republicans who shared the same ideologies that he believed in. In the Republican Party, he was became party leader and was later nominated for president in 1860 (Foner 128).

As the president Lincoln rose to power and was faced with two antagonistic situations, the first, that he entered office with the zeal to end slavery as speedily as possible and the second that he lacked adequate personal conviction and could therefore easily be swept along by external political forces.

Long Walk to Freedom

This is a book written by then the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Published by little Brown and Co., in 1995, the book narrates the childhood life of Mandela, his upbringing, education, family and his 27 years of political imprisonment.  Born 1918 to a village chief, he was named Rolihlahla, which in translation means troublemaker. At a later stage, he was given the name Nelson, a Christian name (Mandela 11).

The book chronologically describes the life of Nelson Mandela and groups his life into different stages. It firstly classifies him as a child and a teenager. At the age of 16 years, he underwent circumcision and through initiation, left his childish ways. He joined Wesleyan college in 1937, which was a mission school. He met other black people there and developed wider interests of being an African and not a Thembu (Mandela 20).

Nelson later moved to Johannesburg and at the age of 23 years, he met Bregman who became his friend and took him to meetings with the aim of converting him to communism. Later, during his years in Johannesburg Mandela met a number of lecturers and together they discussed the idea of the segregation of blacks, their abuse by government and other oppressive matters that happened in South Africa at the time. This led to change of mind set and eventually to the formation of an active ANC youth league with the aim to unite the many tribes into one nation to fight white supremacy and to establish a democratic government. Mandela became an executive committee member of the union.

In 1953, he is elected the president of ANC and although it was later banned; he developed a plan to make it function underground. In the same year, Mandela was banned from Johannesburg due to his active involvement with the ANC, which was viewed as an outlawed organization (Mandela 52). The ANC later develops a Freedom Charter and calls for a convention, inviting more than 200 organizations to attend. The charter developed by the ANC became the guiding principle and the government came up with a plan to develop separate areas for the Bantus to break the unity that was formed between different black tribes and groups. When Mandela visits his relatives in Cape Town, he observes that people are ready to make sacrifices to fight for the freedom. This energizes the fight for freedom within him and changes the dimensions of the war against apartheid.

In the year, 1958, the ANC plans a general strike, but it fails. Opposition to apartheid grew, more so to the passing of laws which restrict blacks to living in certain areas and only use specific roads. During the same year, Winnie married Mandela, later taking up a role of fighting for the release of her husband. This was after Mandela and 141 other ANC members were arrested and accused of planning to overthrow the government of the day. Then the Pan African Congress, a rival party to ANC, was formed under the leadership of Robert Sobukwe in 1959 (Mandela 112). The PAC completely opposed the ideologies of ANC and supported pure African membership. There was increased mass opposition to Bantustans and Sharpeville massacre, which led to death of 69 unarmed black demonstrators, happened. Mandela undertook various visits to different countries across Africa to solicit support for the ANC. Upon realizing his motives, he is charged for being out of country illegally and imprisoned for five years.

The various arrests and conviction of Mandela lands him in various prisons. At the Rivonia prison Mandela faced harsh conditions, being unfairly treated and humiliated, a situation that also happens to his fellow ANC prisoners. The police then conducted a raid and they discover material, which they believe, is inciting treason. In 1963, his trial begins in Rivonia and the judge finds him guilty. He is sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the death sentence in 1964 (Mandela 217). This ruling happens in his absence and he is transferred to Robben Island prison, section B where life is unbearable and he is banned from receiving visitors, letters, forced to do hard labor and wear shorts. There is increased brutality by the prison guards. Back home his mother dies and wife Winnie is arrested. In prison, there is an attempt to assassinate him.

ANC prisoners devise a syllabus to educate young prisoners on the ideologies of ANC and there is some hope, Mandela writes memos, which are smuggled out.  During this period, there is violence throughout South Africa. Mandela is isolated from his colleagues at Robben Island and he is taken to Pollsmoor prison where his wife Winnie is allowed to visit him. Conditions at Pollsmoor are better in comparison to Robben Island. He is permitted to receive fifty-two letters a year. Within this period, another comrade, Bishop Tutu wins Nobel Prize and he champions for the release of Mandela. Mandela is eventually offered freedom with the condition that he renounces violence, which he refuses to do. During this time there are secret meetings going on between him and Kobie Coetsee, the then justice minister which Mandela describes as negotiation with the enemy.

In 1988, he is moved to Victor Verster, a comfortable place and is assigned a cook. While there he enjoys a lot of freedom and he can receive visitors and organize meetings with some ANC leaders. The author describes events taking place whereby in 1989, FW de Klerk becomes the leader of National Party after Bothal steps down and gains the presidency of South Africa (Mandela 274).

In the year 1989, a meeting is held between Mandela and President de Klerk of South Africa and in Feb of 1990, Mandela is released from prison. Upon his release, he becomes the Presidential candidate for the ANC in the first democratic elections of South Africa and wins to become the first black president of South Africa.



Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991. Print

Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.

Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. Print