History of Popular Nationalism Wiebe, Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

But Nazism was, in fact, an internationalist movement of expansion, much like the expansionist aims of the Soviet state. Similarly, what is most feared today is not Islamic nationalism, but rather Islamic fundamentalist internationalism, the result of the Arab Muslim world's "shallow-rooted, kleptocratic" authorities that preside over disenfranchised "impoverished Moslem populations" with little sense of national loyalty (Wiebe 204). In his conclusion, Wiebe argues for a weaker nation state with more deeply-rooted local and less expansionistic ties as the antidote to the negative effects of nationalism.

At the end of Wiebe's preface to his book, he writes: "my hope is not that you will come to like nationalism -- I am not its advocate -- but that you will come to see it as so thoroughly human that no simple judgment does it justice" (Wiebe xvii). However, while Wiebe may be fair in reproaching most American's poor sense of history and lack of appreciation for the power of regional nationalism to affect politics around the globe, naturalizing nationalism as simply and uncomplicatedly human seems troubling, since it essentially leaves the observer powerless to stop its negative forces. Wiebe wants nationalism to be channeled in a positive fashion, yet history would seem to suggest that it has proved to be such a potent force it cannot easily be contained. Wiebe praises Irish nationalism,
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for example, for sustaining the Irish through oppression in America, where so many immigrated after the famine. Irish resistance to British control may certainly seem valid -- yet it cannot be denied that Irish nationalism has also been used as a justification for terrorism in the 20th century (Wiebe 25).

Furthermore, another of the problems with Wiebe's central thesis about the uncomplicated nature of nationalism is that some of the distinctions he strikes seem semantic -- between internationalism and nationalism, for example. He also ignores the degree to which religious fervor can infuse negative forms of nationalism, as was the case with the Baltic conflict between Serbs and Muslims. Ultimately, it is difficult to draw a line between good and bad forms of nationalism. When does the 'good' nationalism that broke up the Soviet republics become 'bad' nationalism? No matter how fine Wiebe's rhetoric, nationalism always seems to be based upon an 'us-them' dichotomy, with a dangerous potential for spiraling into hatred, no matter how positive its origins. Also, the nature of nationalism seems to shift with political needs, rather than the reality of the claims of clan or familial groups. Nationalism suits the needs of the moment, and something so culturally and historically contextual seems hardly to be 'natural' despite Wiebe's protests.


Wiebe, Robert. Who we are: A…

Sources Used in Documents:


Wiebe, Robert. Who we are: A history of popular nationalism. Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 2001.

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