For Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson

One of the big dogs of nationalism – the academic who came up with the term ‘imagined communities’ – died this month.

You should read his most famous book, now over 30 years old. It’ll make you think differently about your country; every country in fact. Here’s its main segment on national anthems – oddly, one of the book’s few paragraphs that is undeniably positive:

In an age when it is so common for progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love. The cultural products of nationalism – poetry, prose fiction, music, plastic arts – show this love very clearly in thousands of different forms and styles.

On the other hand, how truly rare it is to find analogous nationalist products expressing fear and loathing. Can the reader think immediately of even three Hymns of Hate [national anthems]?

Even in the case of colonised peoples, who have every reason to feel hatred for their imperialist rulers, it is astonishing how insignificant the element of hatred is in these expressions of national feeling.

Clearly he wasn’t as obsessed with anthems as I am. I can easily think of more than three hateful hymns. Take Algeria’s, which features lines like, “O France, your day of reckoning is at hand”, or read the final chapter of my book and learn about any of South America’s and just why they’ve stopped singing multiple verses.

But, yes, clearly if he had been as obsessed, he wouldn’t have written such a groundbreaking, thought-provoking work.

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