Prasanna K Choudhary


The viewpoint that gets manifested prominently in European nationalism seeks to think in terms of absolutely opposing categories, in terms of dichotomies like God vs Satan, Good vs Evil, Civilized vs Barbarous, Right vs Wrong, White vs Black, East vs West, High vs Low, Us vs Them, etc. ( In social sciences, such categorization theories were first formulated by R Dunnet in England in 1896 and in 1902 in France by Professor Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917, and his nephew Professor Marcel Mauss. ) Obviously this viewpoint leads towards launching aggressive campaigns against ‘satanic forces’ in order to establish the ‘kingdom of God’, against ‘barbarism’ in order to ‘civilize’ the world, against the ‘backward East’ in order to establish the ‘modern West’, etc.

Followers of this viewpoint emphasize on the binary basis on which computers or neurons in human brain operate ( 0-1, on-off ). They emphasize on differences, ‘irreconciliable differences’, and in such situations suggest and effect division or partition. Hence, European nationalism miserably failed in building societies consisting of different nationalities and faiths – in effecting unity amidst diversities.

The other viewpoint that chiefly manifested in the writings of a number of thinkers belonging to the colonial and oppressed countries, seeks to interpret things and phenomena in their relative perspectives. Any phenomenon or object can be viewed from a number of ( say, infinite) perspectives – no observation is final since observation never ends. ‘There is no Truth,’ said Flaubert, ‘there are just ways of seeing.’ All observations are relative truths and they cannot be posited as opposing categories. Confrontation or conflict takes place only when one relative truth claims to be the only Truth, and hence strives to eliminate all other truths – in short, when one relative truth tries to become the absolute Truth.

This inclusive viewpoint does not believe in exclusivist outlook of fundamental dichotomies; instead, it emphasizes on the coexistence together of many ( relative ) truths at the same time. It means that every relative truth should be recognized and accorded due respect in its space-time context. It means rejection of illusory, all-encompassing absolutes. As in the Star Wars, in reply to Anakin Skywalker’s poser, ‘ You are either with me or you are my enemy,’ Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi replies, ‘ Only Siths ( the Dark Side ) believe in absolutes.’

Yes, nerve signals in the brain are normally taken to be ‘on or off’ phenomena, just as are currents in the electronic circuits of a computer, which either takes place or do not take place. But now neurophysiologists, in search of consciousness, are going beyond the neurons into the subtle world of microtubules in the synaptic clefts where they believe the phenomenon of quantum coherence ( of Bose-Einstein Condensation, BEC ) occurs and relate this to the phenomenon of consciousness. From the binary world of on or off in the neurons, we enter into the world of quantum coherence ( where large number of particles collectively cooperate in a single quantum state ) of microtubules. (22)

Since the advent of the humankind, both these viewpoints have played important roles in human progress. Hence they are found in every society ( and even in every individual ).

Given the immense diversity ( in ever walk of life ), the second viewpoint stands at the core of coherent Indian society and has been predominant in the Indian thought. However, in the smriti tradition of our society, the first viewpoint of binary oppositions takes the prominent place. After the formation of the European Union, even western thinkers have become aware of the incompatibility of the first viewpoint with the idea of a unified Europe. Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, says, ‘ But one thing is certain: Europeans have learned that to live together peacefully, many points of view need to coexist. ….’

As noted earlier, the viewpoint of binary oppositions constitute the core of European nationalism, while the thinkers of oppressed countries seem to veer around the second viewpoint.


The most potent challenge to nationalism has arisen from a very different source. For the first time in the history of humankind, unseen high energy particles have become the chief instruments of production and communication. Although this transformation has been going on for the last 150 years, it was only in the last decade of the previous century that these particles had acquired their prime role in the day-to-day production and communication. These micro-particles can only be globally appropriated in a productive way ( in contrast to the old, gross instruments of production, be it palaeolithic stone tools or modern industrial machines which were appropriated either individually or collectively in the production process ). The more the instruments of production are subtle, the more universality they inhere ( and the vice versa ). The universal/global appropriation of subtle particles ( molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, positrons, photons, quarks, gluons, etc.) forms the objective basis of the current globalization, and it delineates the difference between current and previous globalizations.

Nationalism today is challenged by nanoparticles. Nationalism promotes single, homogenous, unidimensional identity. Nano-particles are creating multiple, heterogenous, multi-dimensional identities. Nationalism constructs stereotypes, nano-particles generate diversities.

New instruments of production and communication are forging new socio-economic relationships which manifest itself in newer forms of community. These developments have been the subject of many recent studies on knowledge economy. (23)

Quantum science and knowledge economy both are pushing the humankind towards new forms of community that are open, flexible, diverse and based on mutual respect towards their components – communities comprising of multiple identities and a variety of pluralities in a coherent whole.  Even individuals today are becoming more and more conscious of their own multiple identities. All internet sites ( be it blogs, various file-sharing sites, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Second Life, Facebook, Twitter, etc. ) create around themselves global communitities consisting of people of different nationalities and orientations. These newer virtual forms of community are actively interfering in real world affairs. Real and virtual are constantly changing their places. How will the ‘coherent virtual world’ impact the ‘binary real world of conflicts, wars, and terror’ and how will they interpenetrate, remain to be seen.


For the western nationalist thinkers, the unity of India amidst immense diversities remained an enigma. In an age when economic and political power-centres are shifting, and for the first time in the last three hundred years, western powers are face-to face with losing their hegemony in world affairs, this enigma is again attracting their attention, albeit in a different perspective.

In today’s world, singularity of identity is reserved only for the ‘black holes’. The unique selling proposition of any individual, institution or of society is its plurality. The very features – ‘million mutinies’ and ‘functioning anarchy’ – that were once regarded as sure signs of India’s disintegration, are today its greatest selling propositions, and to use Joseph Nye’s words, its most surprising ‘soft power’. India’s million mutinies are constantly creating its million unities, and its functional anarchy is continuously adding vitality to its dynamic political order. Whether Einstein’s ‘universal constant’ exists or not, there is certainly an enigmatic Indian constant keeping the Indian universe thriving amidst mind-boggling diversities, and mutinies and anarchy. Enigmas, like Shakira’s ‘hips, do not lie’; formal logic of straight identities does. In the post-independence period, Indian people have time and again rejected the ideologies and organizations that have tried to create a singular identity for India.

In spite of innumerable binary conflicts in history, Indian society historically evolved as a social equivalent of ‘quantum coherence’ or of Dadaist collage. Revisiting nationalism is an occasion to celebrate and re-assert this social realization.


1. The Treaty of Westphalia reduced the power of the Emperor to a shadow and recognized two long accomplished facts, the separation from the Empire and the complete independence of both Holland and Switzerland. France acquired Alsace and its border extended upto the Rhine. One German prince, the Hohenzollern Elector of Brandenburg, acquired so much territory as to become the greatest German power next to the Emperor. It became the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701.

2. Catlin, George; ‘ A History of the Political Philosophers ‘, London, 1950.

3.Engels, Frederick; ‘ Letter to the Editor of The Commonwealth’, No. 160, March 31, 1866. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol 20, Moscow, 1985.

4. Braudel, Fernand; ‘ A History of Civilizations ‘, London, 1995.

5. Kincaid, Jaimaica;  Foreword to Guy Endore, ‘ Babouk ‘, New York, 1991.

6. Braudel, Fernand; Ibid.

7. Brafman, Ori and Beckstrom, Rod A ; ‘ The Starfish and the Spider ‘, London, 2006.

8. Jean Bodin ( died 1596 ): French political philosopher. Councillor of State, attached to the Court of Henry III of France. Authored ‘ Les Six Levres de la Republique ‘ (1576)

– ‘ Six Books of the Commonwealth ‘ ( translated by M J Tooley, 1955 ).

9. Giambattista Vico ( 1668-1744 ): Italian philosopher and sociologist.

10. Johann Gottfried Herder ( 1744-1803 ): German philosopher of enlightenment, writer and literary critic.

11. Emanuel-Joseph Sieyes ( 1748-1836 ): French revolutionary.

12. Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio; ‘ Empire ‘, London, 2001.

13. ‘ True Levellers ‘ or Diggers: Diggers broke away from the democratic republican Levellers’ movement during the English bourgeois revolution of the mid-17th century. Representing the poorest section of the population suffering from feudal and capitalist exploitation in town and countryside, the Diggers, in contrast to the rest of the Levellers, who defended private property, carried on propaganda for community of property and other ideas of egalitarian communism, attempting to establish common ownership of land through collective ploughing of communal wasteland.

14. Thomas Munzer ( 1490-1525 ): Leader of the urban plebeians and poor peasants during the Reformation and the Peasant War in Germany ( 1525 ); advocated egalitarian utopian communism.

15. Anabaptists: Anabaptists or rebaptists belong to one of the most radical and democratic religious-philosophical trends spread in Switzerland , Germany and The Netherlands during the Reformation ( 16th century ). Members of this sect were so-called because they repudiated infant baptism and demanded a second, adult baptism. Under the name of Mennonites, prospered in Britain, and went to America, founding a colony in Providence, Rhode Island, and became a powerful Protestant sect in the United States.

16. Francois Noel Babeuf ( Gracchus ) ( 1760-1797 ): French revolutionary. Advocate of utopian egalitarian communism. Organizer of the ‘ conspiracy of equals ‘. In 1828, a companion of Babeuf, Philippe Buonarotti had described in his ‘ History of the Conspiracy for Equality ‘, known as the Babeuf Conspiracy, how the ‘ Equals ‘ had planned a sort of ‘ plebeian Vendee ‘, how they had failed and been executed. Babeuf stabbed himself on 26 March, 1797 to escape execution.

17. Quakers ( or Society of Friends ): A religious sect founded in England during the seventeenth century revolution and later widespread in North America. They rejected the Established Church with its rites and preached pacifist ideas. The ‘ wet ‘ Quakers, so called in opposition to the orthodox ‘ dry ‘ Quakers, were a trend which emerged in the 1820s and sought to renew the Quaker doctrines. In 1681, the Quaker William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania in the United States.

18. Toynbee, Arnold J ; ‘ A Study of History ‘, Vol I , London, 1945.

19. Wang, Chaohua; ‘ One China, Many Paths ‘, ( ed. ), New York, 2003.

20. Ibid.

21. Pamuk, Orhan; ‘ Other Colours ‘, London, 2007.

22. Penrose, Roger; ‘ Shadows of the Mind ‘, London, 1995.

23. Some of the recent studies on knowledge economy include D Foray’s ‘ Economics of Knowledge ‘, MIT Press, 2004; S Weber’s ‘ The Success of the Open Source ‘, Harvard University Press, 2004; Eric Von Hippel’s ‘ Democratizing Innovation ‘, London, 2005; …. Hippel studies the trend towards democratization of innovation, ‘ innovation communities ‘, ‘ intellectual commons ‘, user-centered innovation process and the open-source software movement beginning with Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation created in 1985 upto the founding of the Open-source software movement by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond in 1998. Foray argues that the radical changes in the information and communication technologies are creating major changes in the economics of knowledge production and distribution. Foray positions users at the heart of knowledge production. He says that one major challenge for management is to capture the knowledge being generated by users ‘ on line ‘ during the process of doing and producing, and to integrate it with knowledge created ‘ off line ‘ in laboratories. …. The increased capabilities of information and communication technologies tend to reduce innovators’ ability to control the knowledge they create. He proposes that the most effective knowledge management policies and practices will be biased towards knowledge sharing. S Weber maintains that ‘ the conventional language of industrial era economics identifies producers and consumers, supply and demand. The open source process scrambles these categories. Open source software users are not consumers in the conventional sense…. Users integrate into the production process itself in a profound way. ‘ He then argues that this new mode of production can extend beyond the development of open source software, to an extent and a degree that are not yet understood.


( Translated from the original Hindi text by the author himself. )

Written in May, 2009.




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 ….





Prasanna K Choudhary


The self-identity of European countries as ‘nations’ was invariably linked with the process of denying and destroying the identities of so many tribes, societies and countries of the rest of the world. Here we can have a glimpse of this process.

Between 1451 and 1600, some 2,75,000 African slaves were sent to America and Europe. In the seventeenth century this number rose to an estimated 13,41,000, largely in response to the demand of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. It was the eighteenth century, however, that was to be the golden age of slaving, with the forcible exportation of more than six million people from Africa to the Americas between 1701 and 1810. Novelist Jaimaica Kincaid, herself a West Indian, has written,’ Twelve years after Christopher Columbus landed in this part of the world, over a million people he found living here, were dead. In addition, so many Africans were thrown overboard on voyages from Africa to this part of the world that it would not be an overstatement to say that the Atlantic Ocean is the Auschwitz of Africa.’ (5)

The competition among European nations for the plunder and colonization of Africa continued until almost the end of the 19th. century. (‘ For Europe after the final act of the Congress of Berlin in 1885, the colonization of Africa was the last great overseas adventure.’ ) In pre-colonial period, Africa was home to a few empires such as Ghana, Ashanti, and Edo empires. ‘ Ghana Empire had been established around 800 AD and so was contemporary with Charlemagne.’ Nigeria was home to the Haussa, Yoruba and Igbo cultures. There was Kingdom of Monomotapa ( now Zimbabwe ), Mali Empire ( which spread throughout the whole bend of the Niger ), Songhay Empire ( with its capitals in Gao and Timbaktu, destroyed in 1591 ), and Benin ( a clearing in the dense mass of equatorial rain forest between the waters of the Gulf of Guinea and the inland tablelands. It was in Yoruba country, between Niger delta and present day Lagos ). All these cultures were barbarously ravaged, ruined and sacrificed at the altar of the new industrial civilization. (6)

Latin America : At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan ( present day Mexico City ) was a great city, full of life – as large as Seville or Cardoba. In 1519, Spanish Army under the leadership of Hernando Cortes reached the capital and was amazed by the great highways leading to the metropolis. Cortes had expected to see savages, instead he encountered a civilization with its own language, an advanced calender, a central government and complex aqueducts. The sheer size and beauty of the temples and pyramids astonished him. Aztec Emperor Montezuma II’s empire had a population of 15 million. ‘ In the marketplace,’ he marvelled, ‘ over 60,000 souls gather to buy and sell ( and ) one can behold every possible kind of merchandize found in lands the world over. ….’ He entered Montezuma’s grand palace, which was big enough to house the entire Spanish Army. Cortes of ‘ civilized ‘ Europe threatened Montezuma II of ‘ barbarous ‘ America : ‘ Give me all your gold or I will kill you. ‘ Montezuma had never seen someone like him before. ….He yielded and handed over all of his gold. ….Despite his promise, Cortes killed Montezuma. Chaos ensued. The Spanish Army barricaded the roads, preventing any food from entering the city and they blocked off the aqueducts. Within eighty days, 2,40,000 inhabitants of the city starved to death. By 1521, just two years after Cortes first laid eyes on Tenochtitlan, the entire Aztec Empire  – the civilization that traced its root to centuries before the time of Christ – had collapsed.

About eleven years later, in 1532, the similar fate befell the Incas. The Spanish Army, led by Francisco Pizzario, captured the Inca leader Atahuallpa. A year later, with all the Inca gold in hand, the Spanish executed Atahuallpa. Again the annihilation of an entire society took only two years. (7)

The French essayist Montaigne wrote at the end of the sixteenth century, ‘ So many goodly cities ransacked and razed; so many nations destroyed and made desolate; so infinite millions of harmless people of all sexes, states and ages massacred, ravaged and put to the sword; and the richest, the fairest and best part of the world topsyturvied, ruined and defaced for the traffick of Pearles and Pepper. ‘

Here I am deliberately leaving out the examples of India, China, Indonesia and other countries of Asia. Through loot, thuggery, massacres, unimaginable barbarity and monstrosity, the  ‘ civilized ‘ and ‘ powerful ‘ nation-states of Europe unfurled their flags of victory over Asia, Africa and Latin America.


With the emergence of nation-states, there also evolved several theories of nation and nationality. In this enterprise almost all the major thinkers of Europe made their contributions.

However, the names that are often quoted prominently in this regard are : Jean Bodin (8), Giambattista Vico (9),Johann Gottfried Herder (10), Emanuel-Joseph Sieyes (11), Thomas Hobbes, Hegel, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Max Weber, Lenin, Rosa Luxemberg, etc. On the various aspects of this discourse, J S Mill, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Theodor Adorno and Benedict Anderson, too, are often quoted. Since nation constituted an important component of modernity in Europe, the inner contradiction of modernity also got reflected in this discourse.

In history, humankind has been self-organizing itself in different forms of community depending upon different modes of earning their livelihood. In hunting and food gathering stage, the primitive form of community evolved as patriarchal or matriarchal gens, tribes and later on as tribal confederations. The territorial sovereignty of the tribes took the form of chiefdoms. In different geographical areas this form of community acquired its own specific features. In the agrarian age, human community took the form of settled territorial societies ( janapadas ) based on social division of labour necessitated by agriculture. Village was the basic unit of these societies. In this age, the sovereignty of landlords took the form of kingdoms, and later on, of empires. This form of community too has specific features in different parts of the world. Members of the tribes ( based on blood relations ) became subjects of their respective kings.

In the age of exchange, human community reorganized itself in the form of nations in the capitalist countries of Europe. The sovereignty of the new bourgeois class culminated in the form of nation-state, and that of the colonial system of these nation-states. The ‘subjects’ of the agrarian age were transformed into ‘citizens’ of the nation-state. However, this form of human community was the product of the specific conditions of Europe where the sovereignty of the Roman Church was supreme – small states and principalities based on religious hierarchies were a great hindrance to the capitalist development. ( In fact, after the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War and the Vienna Congress, the first important step towards the unification of Germany was the ‘customs union’ formed by several German states in 1834. )

Thus nation was a historical product. It was a specific form of human community in Europe in the age of capital. But it was put forward as a ‘natural form’ of human community as if the humankind had at last found its ideal form of existence. Even its specific European form was made universal and capitalist nation-states of Europe tried to impose it all over the world. This attempt, combined with the competition among capitalist-imperialist states, resulted in protracted bloody civil wars in Africa killing millions of people – in Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, etc. In other places also, the situation was more-or-less similar. Indo-Pak partition, Israel-Palestine problem, etc. were also the results of the same process. Today, the nation-state exported to Africa, has crumbled in Somalia – what to talk of ‘nation-building’ efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Therefore, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri has rightly pointed out,” It may be true as Benedict Anderson says, that a nation should be understood as an imagined community – but here we should recognise that the claim is inverted so that the nation becomes the only way to imagine community. ….Hence our conception of community is severely impoverished. Just as in the context of the dominant countries, here too the multiplicity and singularity of the multitude are negated in the straitjacket of the identity and homogeneity of the people.” (12) So it was poverty of imagination. In the age of exchange, too, human community can assume ( and should assume ) different forms depending upon different circumstances and backgrounds  – this possibility was denied even at the level of imagination.

As a natural corollary to this line of thinking, many nationalist thinkers of Europe were convinced that after independence, India was destined to disintegrate. According to them, unity forged among various nationalities of India during their struggle against the British colonial rule, was not sustainable after independence. India’s balkanization, in their eyes, was a foregone conclusion.

However, after sixty three years of independence, barring a few areas in the north-east and Kashmir valley, the unity of India, despite all its diversities, has strengthened. On the other hand, even after more than three hundred and fifty years of the Westphalian Treaty, the process of building and rebuilding nation-states is continuously going on in Europe till today. In the last decade of the previous century and the first decade of the present one, most of the new nation-states emerged in Europe itself. Many western writers call this process ‘the balkanization of Europe’. ……….

Around 1922, ex-colonies of Russia ‘voluntarily’ merged themselves in the Soviet Union – after 1992 ( in the background of the fall of communism in Russia ) they, asserting their right to self-determination, ‘voluntarily’ broke away from the Union leading to its final disintegration. As a result, many nation-states emerged in eastern Europe and Central Asia — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Uzbekstan and Turkmenistan. Even the Russian Federation faced a bloody seperatist rebellion in Chechanya. …. Ukraine too is facing secessionist pressures, as the people residing in Galicia, the Bukovina and the sub-Carpathian Ukraine ( Who are different from the bulk of the Ukrainian people ) are clamouring for a seperate nation-state. Transdniestr region of Ukraine is currently under Russian military’s watchful eyes.

Similarly, after the end of the communist rule in Yugoslavia, all of its previous constituents are now independent nation-states  — Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Demand for the unification of independent Macedonia and Macedonia province of Greece has already soured relation between the two countries.

Kosovo has unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia. Czechoslovakia, too, now stands divided into two nation-states – Czech and Slovakia. Russia and Georgia have already fought a war over Georgia’s two rebel provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The rise of these nation-states has been a very bloody process in some cases – particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

However, this process is not confined to the erstwhile communist-ruled statesof Europe. As we have already seen, the independent development of nation-states in Europe has led to a number of national wars and in the twentieth century, to two world wars. Hence, the organization of the European Economic Community in the 1950s, and later on of the European Union, was also intended to check the growth of aggressive ultra-nationalist tendencies ( like Nazism ). However, the EU failed to contain nationalist movements for seperate nation-states. To the contrary, such movements acquired a pan-European forum to further their cause. Small nationalities in Europe, on the one hand, want to secede from their parent nation-states, and on the other hand, by becoming members of the EU and NATO, they want to enjoy the benefits of the unified European market as well as to guarantee their security.

In Belgium ( which houses the headquarters of the EU ), the strained relation between Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons is heading towards seperation. Flemings are now veering around the demand for independent Flanders. Basque seperatist movement is one of the oldest movements in Europe; so is the movement for independent Catalonia in Spain. Secessionism is gaining ground in the Lombardy region of Italy. Greenland has now declared its ( limited ) independence from Denmark – the first nation-state-in-the-making that owes its origin to the global warming.

In 1707, through the ‘Act of Union ‘, Scotland and England, in place of their seperate parliaments, established the single parliament for the whole of Great Britain. Now, three hundred years later, Scotland is well ahead on its road to independence.

The role of UNO as the word organization of nation-states has never been remarkable; today it has gone down further and become miserable. On the one hand, demands for its reorganization are gaining ground, on the other hand, through global, regional and bilateral conferences, treaties, and institutions, attempts to build new power equations and structures in different fields ( be it economic, political, cultural or environmental ) can be easily discerned.

Nation-state in Europe, it seems, is completing a full circle, albeit in a changed global scenario.

To be continued ……










Prasanna K Choudhary


1648.The Thirty Years’ (1618-1648) European War ended in the Treaty of Westphalia. In this devaststing war, fought in the background of the Reformation, the Pope, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs and Catholic German princes rallied under the banner of Catholicism, and battled against the Protestant countries – Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden, the Republic of The Netherlands and a number of German Protestant states. Germany was the principal battle area and the main object of plunder and territorial claims.

The specific feature of this war was the role of France – the rulers of Catholic France supported the Protestant camp, thereby taking their rivalry with the Habsburgs beyond the bounds of religion. The Treaty sealed the dismemberment of Germany ( The Vienna Congress of 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, did not alter the arrangement. (1)

This Westphalian Peace, as is widely believed, heralded the system of nation-states in Europe. However, this peace should be understood in the sense of Orwellian doublespeak. The Westphalian system ushered in a new series of national wars for hegemony in Europe and in colonies – and through a number of local wars, Napoleanic campaign, Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), this process went on upto the two world wars in the twentieth century, and even beyond that upto the present time.

In the form of nation-states, the emerging bourgeoisie of Europe finally realised its long-cherished goal of sovereignty. It replaced the medieval, feudal organisation of political authority based on hierarchical religious order. The old order was a great hindrance in the development of new relations of production, and in the process of getting rid of this order, a few transitional forms of sovereignty too emerged, particularly in periods of absolute monarchies.

These tumultuous developments were going on in Europe for more than a century. Long before Westphalia, the famous formula governing the peace of Augsburg (1555) was cujus regio, ejus religio ( the lord of each territory will settle the religion of the land where he is landlord ). Later on, the Doctrine of Toleration, which ended the Christian Catholic domination, was confirmed (by the ex-Protestant Henry 4 ) in 1598 by the Edict of Nantes, marking the end of that epoch of domination of politics by Religion, which is said to begin with the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan of 313. ( The Holy Roman Empire was formally disbanded in 1806. ) (2)

In the process of the development of nation-states, the ideology of nationalism took its strong roots. Nation was defined as a community having a common language, a spatial continuity of territory, a shared history, a cultural integrating identity founded on an biological continuity of blood relations, and as a result of all these characteristics, a common psychological make-up. Sovereignty based on religious hierarchies was replaced by national sovereignty. In other words, national sovereignty replaced papal suzerainty.

Nationalism provided the European bourgeoisie a strong ideological basis for organising and protecting its domestic ( national ) market and for establishing its economic-political-cultural hegemony over other countries and colonies in the name of furthering ‘national interests’. Alongwith nation-state came the concept of an abstract ‘nation-people’ having common interests and aspirations, always ready to sacrifice everything in the interests of, and for the glory and pride of the nation. In this way, the internal dissensions and discords, confrontations and conflicts within a nation were pushed into the background, and from time-to-time, in the hegemonic interests of the bourgeoisie, the imaginary nation-people were mobilised in real battles as a pro-active force. Nation-state became one of the symbols of the new, modern age.

As a whole, after the decline of feudalism in Europe, the modern era is identified by following characteristics – the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Newtonian ( scientific ) revolution, manufacturing, and later on, the industrial revolution, world trade and colonization, urbanization and city life, nation-states, rise of secular ideologies, violent popular revolutions and republicanism, prose writing and development of novels, in particular.

The rise of nationalism in Europe proved to be quite devastating for the small countries of Europe. Imre Szabo’s work ‘The State Policy of Modern Europe’ chronicles in detail hundreds of bloody wars fought in Europe from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. These wars were accompanied with loot and arson, mayhem and massacres. The small nations of Europe became victims of arbitrary divisions and dismemberment at the hands of the hegemonic powers of Europe. Here the case of Poland will suffice for an example.

There was no country in Europe where there were not different nationalities under the same government. ” It was a natural consequence of the confused and slow-working historical development through which Europe had passed during the last thousand years that almost every great nation had parted with some outlying portions of its own body, which had become seperated from the national life, and in most cases participated in the national life of some other people so much so that they do not wish to rejoin their own main stock. The Highland Gaels and the Welsh were undoubtedly of different nationalities to what the English are, although nobody would give to these remnants of people long gone by the title of nations any more than to the Celtic inhabitants of Britanny in France. Moreover, no state boundary coincided with the natural boundary of nationality, that of language. There were plenty of French-speaking people out of France, same as there were plenty of people of German language out of Germany. A sizeable population of Switzerland consisted of French and German-speaking people. ” In Poland alongwith the Poles ( the chief constituent of the Polish population ), there were Lithuanians in the northern provinces on the Baltic, ‘White Russians’ in the south and the east, and the ‘Little Russians’ in the southern provinces. It can be easily assumed from the afore-mentioned facts that the ‘theory of nations and nationalities provided a powerful weapon in the hands of the dominant powers of Europe in order to intervene in different countries. In the name of ‘nationality principle’ and of pan-slavism, Russia used to spread its hands across the entire eastern Europe, becoming self-proclaimed defender of Serbs, Croats, Ruthenes, Slovaks, Czechs and other remnants of bygone Slavonic peoples in Turkey, Hungary and Germany.

Poland was partitioned in 1772, 1793 and 1795 between Russia, Prussia and Austria. ” The way in which this partition was brought about, is particularly interesting. There was at that time, already an enlightened ‘public opinion’ in Europe. There was that kind of public opinion which has been created by the influence of Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, and other French writers of the eighteenth century. The Russian Czarina Catherine II had made an elaborate arrangement for the ‘celebrity endorsement’ of Poland’s partition. She always knew that it was important to have public opinion on one’s side. …. The court of Catherine II was made the headquarters of the enlightened men of the day, especially the Frenchmen; the most enlightened principle was professed by the Empress, and so well did she succeed in deceiving them that Voltaire and many others sang the praise of the ‘semiramis of the North’, and proclaimed Russia the most progressive country in the world, the home of liberal principles, the champion of religious toleration.

The principle of nationality, endorsed by Enlightenment and put into practice by Russia, Prussia and Austria, resulted in the annihilation of Poland. There was no outcry at all in Europe, and indeed, people were astonished at this only, that Russia should have the generosity of giving such a large slice of the territory to Austria and Prussia. ….” (3)

French historian Fernand Braudel later commented on that period in the following words,” The autocratic Catherine was thought liberal in France because she had ‘ The Marriage of Figaro ‘ staged in Russia before it was authorized by Louis XVI. We should be less gullible. In reality, Catherine’s government was socially retrograde; it consolidated the power of the nobility and worsened the condition of the serfs. ” (4)

To be continued ….