Prasanna K Choudhary


The ideology of nationalism had to face serious challenges from the very beginning itself. Needless to say that there was always a radical opposition in Europe’s bourgeois movement, whose social base consisted of common working people like urban workers, craftsmen, poor peasants, lower sections of urban middle class,etc. These sections were then making their presence felt in various secret societies and sects, revolutionary, communist and radical political movements. In England, behind the Levellers, there were Diggers (13), in Germany, behind Martin Luther was Thomas Munzer (14). During the Reformation, there were Anabaptists (15) in Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands; in France, there were Jacobins and of course, the man named Francois Noel Babeuf (16). There were sects like Freemasons or Quakers (17). Later on, came Chartists, communists and social-democrats. These movements strengthened the concept of ‘popular sovereignty’, challenged the homogeneity of nation, and in due process helped in the democratization of nations. However, the development of democratic institutions continued till the first half of the twentieth century – even the universal adult franchise was realised in that century itself.

Moreover, parallel to the nationalist thought, a few ideological systems came to the fore in Europe itself in which ‘nation’ was accorded a very minor or transitional role. Instead of regarding nations the ‘natural form’ of human community, religious fraternity, class or civilizational societies were considered as prominent forms of human community. All these categories were supra-national, and in place of ‘national consciousness’, religious, class or civilizational consciousness were preferred. Marxists emphasized on class identity, class solidarity and class-based internationalism. Toynbee discovered twenty-one species of human society as a whole in his study of history and six living species of society, namely, (i) western Christian society; (ii) orthodox Christian society; (iii) Islamic society; (iv) Hindu society; (v) far eastern society which got divided into (a) Sinic society (main body), and (b) Korean-Japanese society. (18) Huntington’s much quoted ‘clash of civilizations’ theory is just a simplistic imitation of Toynbee’s original theory of’species of society’.

Moreover, due to the pressures of current globalization, nation-states are today confronted with the very real challenge to their relevance itself.


A vast literature as regards the critique of different aspects of European modernity (including nationalism) is found in ex-colonies, semi-colonies and other oppressed countries.

For the enlightened people of these countries, Europe always provoked conflicting and confusing images. Europe defied any one image, one text or one interpretation of itself. Like a Dadaist collage, it was ‘everything together’. The Renaissance was true, as was barbarous colonization. The Enlightenment was true, as was slave trade. The Reformation was true, as was forcible conversion in colonies, the Industrial Revolution was true, as was the primitive accumulation through open loot of colonies.

Europe was mesmerizing. It had Dante, Milton, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Goethe. There was Michelangelo, and Titian, and Raphael, and Rembrandt. Above all, there was Leonardo de Vinci. Europe had Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, Leibniz and Cardano, James Watt and Faraday. It had Bacon, Descartes, John Locke, Hobbes, Kant, Spinoza and Hegel; Adam Smith, Ricardo, Sismondi and Karl Marx; Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. Europe had England’s Cromwellian Revolution (1649-58) and Glorious Revolution (1688), and of course, ‘the mother of all revolutions – the French State Revolution’. It had modern standards in almost every walk of life.

The same mesmerizing Europe was, indeed, a nightmare for the rest of the world. Wherever it laid its steps, the earth turned red. Europe’s many great writers, philosophers, scientists and politicians were enthusiastic supporters of its ‘bloody civilizing campaign’. Its diplomats, military commanders, ideologues and priests were past masters in thuggery, corruption, drug-pedalling and loot of gold, silver and artefacts. Thomas Jefferson wrote in his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia, ” I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just. ” And Mark Twain summed up the hypocrisy of the West in following words, ” In our country, we have those three unspeakably precious things : freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence, never to practise either of them. ”

It was true that the rest of the world had its own cruelties and barbarities. But could they look into the mirror of Europe to get rid of their own cruelties, their own oppressive, retrograde social institutions? These societies tried time and again to look into the mirror of Europe. But the mirror used to get cracked and in the cracked mirror, they found their faces deformed, distorted and schizophrenic (James Joyce). We can also borrow words ( although used in a different context ) from Ken Kesey ( ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest ) : ‘ Psycho-ceramics – the cracked pots of mankind ‘.

In this background, we find an altogether different sort of ‘nationalist discourse’ in colonial and oppressed countries in the writings of Dadabhai Naoroji, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, SunYat-Sen, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mao Zedong, Lu Hsun, Premchand, …. and of course, Aime Cesaire ( ‘Discourse onColonialism’, 1950 ), Franz Fanon ( ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, 1952; ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, 1967 ), Albert Memmi ( ‘The Colonizer and the Colonized’, 1965 ), Kwame Nkrumah ( ‘Consciencism’, 1970 ), Edward Said ( ‘Orientalism’, 1978; ‘Culture and Imperialism’, 1993 ), Chinua Achebe ( ‘Things Fall Apart’ ), Ngugi va Thiongo ( ‘Decolonizing the Mind : The Politics of Language in African Literature’ ), etc. In this discourse, Jean Paul-Sartre, Michel Foucoult, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer ( of the Frankfurt school ) and a few other post-modern thinkers are frequently quoted.

Aime Cesaire showed how colonialism worked to ‘decivilize’ the colonizer : torture, violence, race hatred, and immorality constitute a dead weight on the so-called civilized, pulling the master class deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism. ” End result is degradation of Europe itself. Europe is indefensible. ” He wrote, ” Idea of the barbaric Negro is European invention. Negritude turned out to be a miraculous weapon in the struggle to overthrow the ‘barbaric Negro’. ” Explaining his own point of view, Cesaire in his letter to Maurice Thorez, secretary-general of the French Communist Party, clarified, ” I am not going to entomb myself in some straight particularism. But I do not intend either to become lost in a fleshless universalism. …. I have a different idea of a universal. It is of a universal rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars there are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all. ”

Maintaining that ‘Europe is literally the creation of the third world,’ Franz Fanon said, ‘History teaches clearly that the battle against colonialism does not run  straight away along the lines of nationalism. …. Orthodox nationalism followed along the same track hewn out by imperialism. ….A new system of mobile relationship must replace the hierarchies inherited from imperialism.’

After the economic reforms of 1978, the question of ‘West’ again came to the centre-stage in the national studies ( Guoxue ) of Chinese intellectuals. In 1988, a hit television series He Shang ( River Elegy, said to be produced by circles around the then General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, late Zhao Ziyang ) was aired on the Chinese television. This particular TV series offered a melodramatic portrait of the backwardness and tyranny of traditional Chinese civilization, symbolically identified with the Yellow River, while extolling the’Blue ocean of Western civilization’ into whose liberating waters the Peoples’ Republic of China was now supposed to sail. Obviously this serial was severely criticized. However, in the background of growing relationship with the West, and of building socialism ( read capitalism ) with Chinese characteristics, Chinese leaders were quite eager to cite West’s advanced culture as their source of inspiration. Former President of China Ziang Zemin revealed that as a youngman watching movies in Shanghai, he loved three movies above all others in his life. One was ‘Gone with the Wind’, the second was a Broadway musical called ‘Green Bank on a Spring Morning’ and the third was ‘A Song to Remember’ about Chopin ( all three were produced in the thirties and forties of the last century ). (19)

Needless to say, many Chinese intellectuals were quite conscious of the challenges ahead and the necessity of going beyond the simple-minded dichotomies as traditional/modern, closed/open, socialism/capitalism, communist/anti-communist, etc. , and overcoming the compartmentalization of life and regulations of knowledge operative in complex academic-administrative systems. Professor of Cultural Studies at Shanghai and Professor of Chinese Literature at East China Normal University Wang Xiaoming wrote in his ‘A Manifesto for Cultural Studies’, ” China is currently importing many Western technologies, management practices, cultural products and values, but it is doubtful that she will easily change systems to become a western style modern society like Korea or Japan; rather she will probably become something unique, that we do not expect. It seems impossible to define contemporary China. In almost every respect she fails to fit existing theoretical models, whether familiar or novel. She seems to be an unwieldy behemoth, the most difficult and unprecedented case of social change in the twentieth century history. ….Not only must we consider literature, music, painting, sculpture, and film, we must also pay attention to commercial advertisements, magazines, popular music, soap operas, newspapers, TV shows, window displays and public decorations. ….( When virtual reality so easily unsettles people, can it still be called virtual? In this mixture of true and false, where the virtual and the actual interchange, how is culture to be distinguished from absence of culture? )…. Cultural studies in China neither rigidly adhere to existing disciplinary confines, nor strive to become a new discipline itself. ….” (20)

The conflicting images of Europe are summed up by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk in following words, ” Europe has always figured as a dream, a vision of what is to come; an apparition at times desired and at times feared; a goal to achieve or a danger. A future – but never a memory. …. Turkey should not worry about having two spirits, belonging to two different cultures, having two souls. Schizophrenia makes you intelligent. You may lose your relation with reality – I am a fiction writer, so I do not think that is such a bad thing – but you should not worry about your schizophrenia. If you worry too much about one part of you killing the other, you will be left with a single spirit. That is worse than having the sickness. This is my theory. I try to propagate it in Turkish politics, among Turkish politicians who demand that the country should have one consistent soul – that it should belong to either the East or the West or be nationalistic. I am critical of that monistic outlook …. It is a way of fighting against nationalism, of fighting the rhetoric of Us against Them. ” (21) ( Here I am deliberately leaving out references from the writings of Indian thinkers. )

From the above references, it is quite clear that there is a crucial difference between the European and non-European discourses on nationalism. The difference pertains mainly to different viewpoints.

To be continued ….




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