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Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire 
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Post Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
Chapter 4 (ii)

I'm running out of time today, and I've got a list of about five topics that I want to raise, but I figured I could at least get this one in.

Fromkin talks in this section (and hints in previous sections) about the role that race and nationality played in the cohesion of the Ottoman Empire -- or more specifically, how the lack of a uniform racial or national identity prevented its cohesion. Personally, I find this interesting. It seems clear that a large social unit like a nation or an empire has to have some sort of rallying point. Race has played a pretty obvious role in the past, as has religion. And nationality has, in recent centuries, become oddly important, almost creating a kind of vicious circle. Do you think that it was impossible for the Ottoman's to create an appropriate rallying point, or were they misled by the European emphasis on race and nationality? Was holding together the subjects of the Ottoman Empire a lost cause from the beginning, or did the Young Turks just fail to find the best way to go about it?




Fri Jul 07, 2006 2:10 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
I posted this in the National Delusions thread, which seems to have become a morass of ideology-upism, and my comment got a bit drowned out...and Mad, you've created the thread I was really looking for. I'd prefer to respond to your questions directly, but I've been running errands all day, and I'm out the door again in 10 minutes.

What I was trying to get at was your 'rallying point' -- some countries have constructive rallying points, others don't.

Quote:
Many of the problems in the Middle East stem from outside influences trying to 'create a nation' -- which was, essentially, just more colonialism. Colonialism does not a nation make...right? It didn't work in India.

But what about Canada? We're a nation, created out of what was once (not too long ago) a colony.

My question here is about just plain nationhood. What is it? Suddenly I'm back in Grade 5, getting the definition, but we're adults now, and we're examining a very complex part of the world, where, even as we write our responses on this forum, another group of outsiders are trying to define the nation of Iraq so as to impose their form of government on those people.

I lived in Korea for 3 years, and came up with a series of metaphors to illustrate the nations I was involved with. So, the USA is a melting pot -- a big stew where there are loads of different ingredients, but in the end, they all blend into one. Canada is a tossed salad -- again, all the ingredients that want to come, all part of the whole, but remaining distinct. Korea was a kimchi chigae, a kimchi stew, where the Koreans are all in one pot together, and the foreigners who live and work in the country are the side dishes that are part of the meal, but separate.

Nations of mixed cultural/linguistic groups work quite well together in North America. But we are all immigrants living on the backs of the Native people. Koreans have been Koreans for 5000 years, have not moved or been moved, and had an isolationist policy up until maybe 80 years ago.

So much of the story of the Middle East and Eastern Europe has been about nationalistic maneuvering. Is it only because of the attempts by larger, more powerful, more cohesive nations to interfere with their development?


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Fri Jul 07, 2006 6:26 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
Glad you located your earlier post, Loricat. I probably should have responded earlier.

Loricat: Many of the problems in the Middle East stem from outside influences trying to 'create a nation' -- which was, essentially, just more colonialism.

I'd say there's a subtle difference. Colonialism attempts to make another region or nation a sub-section of your own. What the Brits and Russians were attempting when they carved up the Middle East seems to have been a limited form of autonomy with favorable diplomatic effects. From our point of view, the difference between the two may seem negligible, but if the Brits and Russians themselves posited a difference, then it likely effected the way that they dealt with the Middle East, as opposed, say, to the way that Britain dealt with colonial India.

Keeping all of that in mind, at the same time, the Ottomans had apparantly already been looking for a center around which to concentrate their own empire. I think that's an important point: it means that nationalism wasn't a burden settled on the Middle East from without -- at least, not without some internal consent. The form of the nationalist ideology seems to have been adapted from European philosophy, and I think it's likely that at least some of the Ottoman's in power believed that European nationalism was part of the Western formula for progress, thus a necessary element of reform.

My question here is about just plain nationhood. What is it?

Damn good question. And damn big. I couldn't provide a complete answer in this space even if I wanted to, but I'll throw out a few thoughts and we'll see where that leads us.

The earliest concept of nation that I know of actually originates from the Middle East. It's essentially the accretion to an extended family of a mass of non-blood related individuals. In some ways, it's merely the abstraction of the concept of tribe, which is itself a bit vague, but not as loose a concept as that of nation. What's interesting about these early nations in contrast to modern nations is that they were mostly migratory, whereas the modern nation is almost always congruent with a locality or, as expressed in certain cases, a homeland. Think Israel, Germany, or Russia.

But not terribly long after the decline of the Middle Ages, the European notion of nation began to undergo some transformations, and the concept began to imply more than its early tribal associations. Germanic and French influence seem to have played a heavy part in this. For one thing, the basis for nationhood became less directly related to family or tribe. There was a period in which nations groped for some basis for asserting national identity -- language, folk lore, culture, race. Today there is, so far as I can tell, no single widely accepted cultural or biological basis for nationhood, and each nation seems at liberty to define its own terms. For the most part, recognition of citizenship appears to be the defining characteristic of a national, but in the early stages of the creation of a nation, that recognition is probably too arbitrary to solidify national identity.

Anyway, that's a start.

So much of the story of the Middle East and Eastern Europe has been about nationalistic maneuvering. Is it only because of the attempts by larger, more powerful, more cohesive nations to interfere with their development?

I doubt it. The more the Middle East came into contact with Europe, and the more it sought to compete -- economically, at least, if not politically -- with European nations, one or the other would likely have to adapt the mode of the other. It seems likely to me that the Middle East would have adapted some form of nationalism eventually.




Sat Jul 08, 2006 12:56 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
MadArchitect:It seems clear that a large social unit like a nation or an empire has to have some sort of rallying point.

The rallying point of a despotic polyglot Empire is often the point of a sword.

The Ottoman's thrived then survived for centuries, but by the time we meet them in this book they have their backs against the wall. Britain basically took over Egypt around 1880 and Bulgaria was lost back around that time. Large portions of their Christian subjects departed because of the various Balkan Wars in the early part of the 20th century. They went bankrupt back in the 19th century, and their finances were being overseen by European bankers to insure that they paid their debts. The Capitulations were an obvious and constant source of humiliation as European diplomats and businessmen had special priviledges within the Empire. But there were two things that the Ottomans still had going for them. One was that the forces of Turkish nationalism were strengthening. The other was that most of the subject peoples of the empire were Moslems who felt some affinity for the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire in general.

What would have happened if WWI hadn't started is something we will never know, but it is plausible that the Young Turks or what might have followed them might have led a revival of the Empire.




Sat Jul 08, 2006 8:03 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
All large empires -- Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, etc. -- have had difficulties maintaining the loyalty of people of different races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures. Smaller nations have that same problem, as can be observed in the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Kurds in Iraq & Turkey, and so on.

One fascinating manifestation of that tension was the janissaries in the Ottoman Empire: Christians enslaved at youth who were trained to become a powerful army.

Anyway, the 20th century saw the end of imperialism around the world, as various groups sought and achieved independence. The British and the French, for example, only held onto their empires for a few more decades than the Ottomans.




Sun Jul 09, 2006 12:23 am
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
JulianTheApostate: Anyway, the 20th century saw the end of imperialism around the world, as various groups sought and achieved independence.

This is a topic that interests me, actually, and I'd be glad to have a few references points to reading that could shed some light on the question of why imperialism, in its overt state, had a fairly definite span of popularity, and why it has, as a modus operandi, largely gone the way of the dinosaur. It does seem like the idea of Empire went through a phase in which it seemed to make a lot of sense to a lot of people, and that, at a certain point, it lost all its cultural cache. And I'm not sure I've seen a really convincing explanation for why.




Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:41 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
JtA: All large empires -- Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, etc. -- have had difficulties maintaining the loyalty of people of different races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures.

Something missing from your list is the need for Empires to control class warfare and conflicts between economic stratum within their own borders- as well as abroad.

MA: I'd be glad to have a few references points to reading that could shed some light on the question of why imperialism, in its overt state, had a fairly definite span of popularity, and why it has, as a modus operandi, largely gone the way of the dinosaur.

As I've argued in other parts of this discussion, it certainly wasn't popular with everyone, and has always had its dissidents and malcontents. I also don't believe it has gone the way of the Dinosaur, but has evolved into something just as dangerous and headed toward extinction...an extinction that could take all other life forms with it.

I think overt claiming of Imperial status has become Politically Incorrect because so much of the Cold War narrative involved battle against the evil Soviet Empire. This doesn't mean imperial adventures weren't, and currently are, being waged all across the globe...they are simply called something else.

I should also hope the brave and important work done by many in the fields of Post-Colonial studies and Peoples' Histories projects have finally put the nail in the coffin of the myths of Empire such as White Man's Burden, Beacon to the World, Light Unto the Nations, Civlizing the Savages, Bringing Democracy to the Barbarians....these scholars have provided ample alternative narratives to the primary pro-Imperialism paradigm.

I think Fromkin's book is an excellent argument for the folly of Imperialism, but I'm not sure yet if he is still of the opinion that a more wiser and just Empire could have done things better.

The American Empire Project is an attempt to expose and confront the vestiges of Empire still alive and well in American foreign policy. These lists of books by authors like Chalmers Johnson, James Carroll, Walden Bellow, and Noam Chomsky provide a powerful counter-narrative to those who think 1. Empire is dead; 2. America should embrace its Imperial obligations; and 3. America is not an empire.






Sun Jul 09, 2006 3:24 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
While no references come to mind, I have a few ideas about why overt imperialism disappeared during the 20th century.

To start off, it's unclear to me how the European nations managed to hold onto their empires for so long. The British, for example, ruled much of the world with remarkably few troops. Maybe the various colonies accepted European control instead of rebelling.

Also, technological advantage of the Western nations diminished. Once the natives obtained access to firearms and bombs, they're extremely difficult to subdue, as the US is finding in Iraq today.

The World Wars exhausted the European powers, and made them less willing to fight colonial wars.

Finally, with the modern economy, direct control of outside territory in less relevant to a nation's success. Western nations can exploit the resources and people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America without direct control of their governments. Still, the West maintains a major influence on the leadership and policies of nations around the world.




Sun Jul 09, 2006 11:18 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
JulianTheApostate: To start off, it's unclear to me how the European nations managed to hold onto their empires for so long. The British, for example, ruled much of the world with remarkably few troops. Maybe the various colonies accepted European control instead of rebelling.

Yeah, it seems to me almost necessary to conclude that there was some sort of suspension of disbelief on both sides of the line. The Imperialists must have given a pretty convincing appearance of superiority -- if not racial, then at least societal -- which native populations who could have resisted were willing, for whatever reason, to accept at close to face value. That's sort of what I mean by the idea of Imperialism having its period of popularity. People had to believe in it to make Empire a sustained reality, and it was sustained for a fair stretch of history, so they must have been fairly good at believing it.

The World Wars exhausted the European powers, and made them less willing to fight colonial wars.

The way Fromkin presents it, though, the Imperial idea was already waning prior to World War I.

Finally, with the modern economy, direct control of outside territory in less relevant to a nation's success.

I think that's a point worth examining, but I'm not sure how one would settle the question of whether that's a reason for the decline of the Imperial idea or whether the decline of the idea forced former Empires to look for new modes of economic success. Cart? Horse? I'm not sure.




Mon Jul 10, 2006 3:51 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
Just thinking out loud here while trying to put the book in perspective (feel free to take pot shots at this):

At the Congress of Vienna following the fall of Napolean, balance-of-power was the order of the day, and Great Britain devoted itself to seeing that the balance was maintained. Empires were useful from a balance-of-power standpoint--the Austro-Hungarian Empire was created at the Congress of Vienna.

A, perhaps overly simple, way of looking at the European political landscape in the 19th century was to see it split up into three main factions: radicals (who advocated leveling revolutionary change), liberals (who advocated some sort of law-guided, representative-democratic system) and reactionaries (who advocated a monarchical system). The radical/liberal Revolutions of 1848 failed but they scared a lot of powerful people, and the search was on for ways to stabilize the situation domestically and maintain the balance-of-power internationally. The pendulum swung toward the reactionaries.

One way to maintain control domestically, thus helping with the international balance-of-power was the well-tested method of dictatorial control. Empires were nominally held together by fealty to a monarch but in reality they were held together by force. Technological advances (trains, steamships, telegraph, repeating rifles) made it easier for Empires to be held together by force. Another political mechanism that bound people together was the concept of the nation. Nationalism became a great glue. Another political/economic mechanism was imperialistic-conquest, which benefited from advances in technology and in the newly important forces of nationalism. The imperialistic-conquest mechanism developed into the state-of-the-art grand strategy of the most advanced European nations.

In 1914 there were three old-style Empires in Europe: The Austro-Hungarian, The Russian, and the Ottoman. They had a role to play in the old balance-of-power days, but the balance-of-power grand strategy had been replaced by the imperialistic-conquest grand strategy, and these old-style despotic polyglot Empires had, by 1914, become generally recognized as anachronisms. Relatively few suspected in 1914 that the new style imperialistic-conquest Empires were also anachronisms.




Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:41 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
J Seabolt: Technological advances (trains, steamships, telegraph, repeating rifles) made it easier for Empires to be held together by force.

I forget the book title now -- the author's name was Jacob Weizenbaum, I believe -- but I read a book about the effects of computer technology on modern society, and one of the points made there was that computers extended beauracracy into a virtual space and make the work of beauracracy so much more efficient that it had become difficult to really address the problems created by beauracracy. Improvement is only improvement from a limited point of view in cases like these.

Another political mechanism that bound people together was the concept of the nation. Nationalism became a great glue.

Right, but the point that bothers me a little is that the name "nationalism" appears to have been applied to movements and centers that were, in many ways, dissimilar. So what, at root, was the force holding together these national ideals?




Wed Jul 12, 2006 1:25 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
J Seabolt: I'm curious if Robert Wright's Nonzero is one of these.

Nope, haven't read it.

So...you want everyone to adopt your multi-pov pov?

Nah. It wouldn't really be practical in every situation, and to a lot of people it would just be baggage. But I do think that, in a number of contexts, particularly those related to the determination of various forms of policy, the Progressive pov is potentially disastrous.

Way out of my depth, but if you keep sailing and lose your bearings you might want to check out Isaiah Berlin's 'Historical Inevitability', which is a critique of such things. This can be found in Berlin's A Proper Study of Mankind.

Berlin is a writer that I'd like to read more of, so I may take your recommendation. So far, the only extended works I've read by Berlin are his study of Tolstoy, "The Fox and the Hedgehog", and his elucidation of the philosophical contributions of "Vico". Both were incredibly lucid.

The fitting and connecting of these pieces is consilience and it provides us with a "seamless web of cause and effect" that encompasses "all tangible phenomena" (Consilience p.266).

So the ontological version of the Progressive stance would be the belief that we're steadily approaching an integrated knowledge of the principles that govern reality, and that with said knowledge we should know not only how to achieve a utopic existence but also what that utopic existence would be like. Does that seem about right?

I'm struggling to reconcile this...
MA: Race, to some degree, is the basis of their "nationality", but in the modern context of their political and familial blending, it serves more as a historical myth than a contemporary reality
with this...

MA: The conflict was essentially one of national identity, and the national identity of the populations was defined along racial lines


It may help to remind yourself that, in this context, I'm not talking about strictly demarcated biological designations of race, but rather about the Yugoslavs perceptions of race, which conform in individual instances with greater and less fidelity to externally observed determinations of race. In other words, what mattered in the Yugoslav conflict was, first of all, each individual's perception of race, both their own and that of the people around them, and secondly, the aggregate of all those beliefs culminating in broadly defined social attitudes about race. A view of nationality that was not anchored in the historical myth of race might have been more willing to embrace as Croatian, Serbian, Montenegran and so forth, anyone who chose to self-identify as that nationality. My reading suggests that most such people tended to self-identify as Yugoslavs rather than any particular sub-set thereof. But a view of nationality that insisted on racial identity would dismiss as, say, Croat, anyone who had "racial" characteristics that might identify them as Serb. And there were quite likely a large number of Yugoslavs on every side of the factional lines who, from our perspective, misidentified themselves by identifying with a race of which they were not "really" a part.

There are two notions of race at play here, and the dividing line is one or perspective. From an external perspective, we might be inclined to view race along strictly genetic lines. From the perspective that, day to day, decided the course of the war, race was a construct loosely adapted from the more generally recognized definition of race. That, in large part, cemented national identity in the dissolution of Yugoslavia, such that a Serb was almost never self-identifying with a purely political body, but with the race who had suffered genocides during and after WWII, or who had lost a crucial battle on the plains of Kosovo, and which was now embodied by a Serbia no longer willing to serve as an organ in the greater body of Yugoslavia.

Aren't we really talking about ethnic groupings, with their mixing of cultural/religious/biological/historical/geographical factors, rather than racial groupings?

We are, yes. They, however, were not. And that's a crucial part of my interest here, because the question of how a people (as the aggregate of individuals) solidifies itself into a nation depends in great part on how they perceive the issues at stake. In the popular view, race was identified with culture, religion, history, and -- with important political ramifications -- geography. All of those terms, as I understand the situation, were ultimately subordinated to the question of race. That, naturally, led to complications -- how was a Muslim Serb to deal with a set of allegiance that, in the popular view, amounted to a split personality? And to some degree, war had the secondary effect of addressing, in a brutal, levelling way, with those complications.

And isn't your use of the term nation to describe geographically fragmented populations problemmatic?

It was fatally problemmatic, but it isn't my term. That's how Yugoslavia was structured -- as a Republic encompassing, unifying and mediating between nations.

Perhaps it was an updated version of an old prejudice, but in its updating it placed itself in a "scientific" wrapper that gave it authority it might not otherwise have had.

A different kind of authority, perhaps, but not more authority. The great chain of being was almost universally accepted during its heyday, as being part of the explanatory inventory of theology during a period when all of Europe was encompassed in a veritable theocracy. Social Darwinism, by contrast, has always had its detractors. Granting the possibility I raised in my last post, you'd have to view social Darwinism as a fallback position for the hierarchical features of the Great Chain.




Mon Jul 17, 2006 5:20 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
MA: Does that seem about right?

I don't believe Wilson gets into any Utopian scenarios. He'd be happy if we all got a little smarter and did less damage to the biosphere.

As for the Yugoslavia stuff, I now understand that you shifted your point of view from yourself to a "Yugoslav's" point of view. So, where are we? You and your Yugoslav friend define the term nation loosely. You agree that the term race as used by your Yugoslav friend is defined loosely and is actually more like the term ethnicity because when your Yugoslav friend uses the term he is really referring to the whole bundle of characteristics normally associated with ethnicity. So, now we have a "Yugoslavian" who defines "nation" loosely and "race" loosely then makes them synonymous in his head. From his standpoint he belongs to a nation/race, is surrounded by other nations/races, fights other nations/races.

MA, I don't know why you would want to set something like this up unless you must talk about race. I can think of only one reason for this -- you have the "race" meme embedded in your mind, and it is trying to replicate.

MA: Granting the possibility I raised in my last post, you'd have to view social Darwinism as a fallback position for the hierarchical features of the Great Chain.

So?

I'll grant you your original point, but this fallback position was given a pseudo-scientific boost and became influential over a range of political and ideological topics (so called Social Darwinism was just one aspect of the misapplication of evolutionary thinking). This peaked near the end of the 19th century (about the time H.G Wells wrote The Time Machine) but continued to be influential well into the middle part of the 20th century. What counts is whether it was influential during the years of this book, and not whether it was more or less influential than at some time in the distant past. Certainly it should be factored into the worldviews of many of the decision makers in Fromkin's book.

Edited by: J Seabolt at: 7/18/06 12:03 am



Mon Jul 17, 2006 11:02 pm
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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
Wow, you two have really flown with this discussion...and I appreciated reading through it.

I want to bounce a few ideas off of you, starting with a recent exchange that intrigued me.

JSeabolt: Aren't we really talking about ethnic groupings, with their mixing of cultural/religious/biological/historical/geographical factors, rather than racial groupings?

Mad: We are, yes. They, however, were not. And that's a crucial part of my interest here, because the question of how a people (as the aggregate of individuals) solidifies itself into a nation depends in great part on how they perceive the issues at stake.

So all of those factors -- culture, religion, biology, history & geography -- are part of any given national identity. With distance of time and space, we, intellectualizing, can see the distinctions, but those in-the-moment are less likely to analyze what aspects of their nationhood are under siege.

It seems to me that in a lot of countries, the concept of what constitutes the people's identity is more simple. In Korea & Japan, biology seems to be the primary focus of nationalistic spirit -- everything else is important, but their culture, for example, is crucial because of their racial identity.

I lived in Korea for three years, and while they tolerate foreigners, the largest...insult to their natures are the 'banana' Koreans -- the Koreans who have lived overseas since they were kids, who lookKorean, but aren't, culturally, or often not even linguistically. Japan too...I had a student once from Japan, who told me "I'm North Korean." What that meant was her grandparents arrived from NK, her parents (born in Japan) married within the NK community, and she was born in Japan -- but could not be considered Japanese. She didn't have a Japanese passport, instead she had an identity card that proclaimed her NK blood. It's the same there for any foreign 'racial' group.

Unlike Canada (and other countries...Australia, the USA, and??), where if you're born here while your parents are on vacation, you get Canadian citizenship. Geography, then, is the fulcrum of our national identity, on which balances our hodge-podge of ethnicities, captured under two official languages (and loads of 'unofficial' ones).

Germany has its folk culture & shared history

France has its language (in all of its purity...they are utterly amused by Quebecois French -- it's essentially a 500-year-old museum piece with weird Anglophone additions and a 'cute' accent, as I was told I had once).

Could we say then that part of the problem in the Middle East is perhaps a cacophony of competing elements in their national identities? It's not mostly geography, or mostly religion, or mostly 'racial homogeniety', but all of it mixed together, without a single thing to focus on.

Just throwing this out there.... :)

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Post Re: Race and nationality as the cornerstone of Empire
J Seabolt: You agree that the term race as used by your Yugoslav friend is defined loosely and is actually more like the term ethnicity because when your Yugoslav friend uses the term he is really referring to the whole bundle of characteristics normally associated with ethnicity.

Actually, I see your point about ethnicity now, as well. In fact, I'm not terribly sure why I didn't get it in the first place. Yeah, the Yugoslav perspective was more about the loose bundle of associations described by ethnicity than the more concrete set of biological characteristics that go into, say, American race discrimination. Determining the place of race in Yugoslav ethnicity is a complex thing, and I probably overstated its importance to some degree.

So, now we have a "Yugoslavian" who defines "nation" loosely and "race" loosely then makes them synonymous in his head.

I don't know if they really defined "nation" loosely. While Yugoslavia was still a viable political body, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, etc. seem to have conformed to the definition of fourth-world nations -- that is, nations imbedded in a larger political body. Although, I'm not terribly sure how that status would play out, since technically any communist nation falls automatically under the category of second-world nation. At any rate, all of the nations subsumed under the republic of Yugoslavia had precise geographic boundaries and their own governing bodies, including their own presidents.

I can think of only one reason for this -- you have the "race" meme embedded in your mind, and it is trying to replicate.

Damn memes.

I'll grant you your original point, but this fallback position was given a pseudo-scientific boost and became influential over a range of political and ideological topics (so called Social Darwinism was just one aspect of the misapplication of evolutionary thinking).

I don't know that the point is really worth arguing. I brought it up only as a suggestion for tracing the idea further back than Darwin. In fact, it seems to me that "On the Origin of Species" itself has the tendency of blurring the sort of distinct categorical divisions necessary for a hierarchical structure -- the early chapters, in fact, question the validity of "species" as a natural category -- such that some adjuct become necessary to explain the hierarchical features of social Darwinism. But that's rather incidental to your point -- it doesn't so much matter where the hierarchical structure of social Darwinism comes from so long as we can reasonably assume that social Darwinism was a contributing factor to political policy during the formation of the Middle East. I'd just like to see more evidence to that end before drawing any conclusions on its impact.

Loricat: So all of those factors -- culture, religion, biology, history & geography -- are part of any given national identity.

Yeah, they can be, and part of why I raised the whole question is that I want to understand how a given group decides on which factor to emphasize in building their national identity, and why it sometimes works, and why it sometimes fails. More generally, I'm interested in what kind of thing a nation is if it can be constructed around any of these things.

With distance of time and space, we, intellectualizing, can see the distinctions, but those in-the-moment are less likely to analyze what aspects of their nationhood are under siege.

I don't know. My impression of the formation of Germany as a nation is that the people involved were pretty clear on choosing German folk culture as the focal point around which to organize the new, discreet political body.

In Korea & Japan, biology seems to be the primary focus of nationalistic spirit -- everything else is important, but their culture, for example, is crucial because of their racial identity.

I can't speak much for Korea, and you seem to know enough about it that I'm safe in deferring to your judgment, but from what I know of Japan it seems to me that culture is significantly less important than race in determining their national identity. This has become increasingly more obvious in the years after World War II, from which point the Japanese were increasingly willing to co-opt their traditional culture in exchange for prominance in the international community. But at the same time, they remain discriminatory against the races whose culture they've co-opted.

I see your point, though. When culture is important, it's important because they've linked it to the issue of race.

Unlike Canada (and other countries...Australia, the USA, and??), where if you're born here while your parents are on vacation, you get Canadian citizenship. Geography, then, is the fulcrum of our national identity, on which balances our hodge-podge of ethnicities, captured under two official languages (and loads of 'unofficial' ones).

I'm not sure. That looks like an argument for geography, but I'd say that our ideals play into it a great deal. The loopholes for gaining Canadian and American citizenship seem designed, in some instances, to deny the accidents of birth in determining a person's access to American and Canadian ideal -- liberty, for instance, or justice.

Could we say then that part of the problem in the Middle East is perhaps a cacophony of competing elements in their national identities?

Hmm. That's a suggestion that warrants more scrutiny, I'd say. For the moment, at least, I'd say that the problem isn't so much that Middle Easterners can't decide on a focal point for national identity but rather than the focal points that they would choose don't necessarily mesh with the national identities imposed on them by foreign powers in the period described by Fromkin's books. Even where there are points of agreement among the nations of the Middle East, their national histories over the past 80 years or so serve to disrupt those agreements. They may be saying, in effect, "Hey, we'd love to join forces on the strength of our shared religion or culture, but you guys did this to us 30 years ago, and we're not ready to forgive that without some bigger concessions."

But that's just conjecture at this point. I really need to know more about the history of the region before I settle on an explanation. Fortunately, we're already reading about that.




Wed Jul 19, 2006 1:58 pm
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