September 06, 2008

Ethnic nationalism reappraised

Jerry Z. Muller has an interesting article in Foreign Affairs, titled Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism, in which he argues that the reason why Europe has enjoyed such a long period of peace after World War II was the fact that post-war states were largely ethnically homogeneous. Thus, he argues, peace was not so much the result of European nations' "overcoming" their nationalism, but rather its fulfillment, i.e. the creation of nation states dominated by a single ethnic group.

It's a fairly interesting piece, touching among other things on the resurgence of nationalism after the Cold War in the few places in Europe (e.g. the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union) where national and ethnic borders did not coincide, the distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism, and the challenges that ethnic nationalism faces in an age of immigration.


SarahImogene said...

Dienekes, what happened to
More importantly, is there another site like it, where anthropology is more interactive and entertaining?


Maju said...

Well, the most long-term stable states in Europe have been rather multiethnic: from the UK to Spain, from France to Russia... and let's not forget Switzerland. Nevertheless, excepting Switzerland, all them have been dominated by a single hegemonic ethnicity (English, Castilian, French, Russians).

Their stabilizing characteristic may be instead that they are inclusive nationalisms, not ethnically exclusivist. For instance, Scots and Welsh have been largely "included" but Irish were not, hence Ireland revolted and eventually broke apart.

What happened after WWII (and WWI in some case) was largely an ethnic cleansing of massive proportions, mostly in Eastern Europe. This may have stabilized the resulting states but it's not an ethically acceptable procedure.

I am in favor of ethnic nationalism when justified (i.e. when it reflects a demand of the people and when this people are not colonists) but I cannot support ethnic cleansing as "solution". Actually the post-Cold War conflicts rather suggest ethnic cleansing is de-stabilizing and often backfires (Serbia, Israel). It is much better to assimilate the minorities by persuasion, without denying their differential status (i.e. making Estonian-Russians to become just Estonians, with patience and pedagogy).

Anyhow, the real thing that has kept Europe relatively peaceful after WWII has been other kind of things: nuclear strategical balance, internationally integrated economies (like EU) and specially an affluent economy. We must not forget that more often than not, ethnic conflicts are low intensity batelfields for the great powers and that the two world wars were actually generated by economic competition between them (specially between rising Germany and estabilished UK-USA). We must not forget either that for 45 years there was an always delayed World War III pending on our heads and known as the Cold War as the Soviet Union challenged the hegemony of the USA. If it never became an open war it was surely because of nuclear deterrance, we like it or not.

Dienekes said...

A lot of it has to do with prosperity. Different groups put their differences aside when things go well. The unification of Spain, for example coincided with the beginning of its Empire.

pconroy said...

Scotland joined with England to form the UK, in order to have access to the new world trade and became prosperous because of it. They may opt out of the UK soon, as the North Sea oil is mostly in their territorial waters, and they would be wealthier as an independant nation.

On the other hand Franco didn't allow Euskaldun (The Basque Country) to become independent as much heavy industry and banking was located there, and without it Spain would be much poorer.

It's almost always economics that drives such conflicts.

Maju said...

On the other hand Franco didn't allow Euskaldun (The Basque Country) to become independent as much heavy industry and banking was located there, and without it Spain would be much poorer.

Well Fascism is only a brief (even if painful) epysode. The Southern Basque Country was incorporated to Castile between 1200 and 1521. It enjoyed of huge autonomy until the 19th century though, when liberal centralism reduced it to a symbolic pervivence, amidst a couple of Taliban-like wars.

The main motivation for Castile to annex Western Navarre was to get accessible harbours to export wool to Flanders (and in general the European Atlantic markets) - and to deprive Navarre of them.

Note: "euskaldun" means Basque as in Basque speaker (primarily), person or people, not as in country. The historical authoctonous name of the country is Euskal Herria. All the terms derive from "euskara" (Basque language).

Urselius said...

The Scottish parliament was paid to dissolve itself, with a quite literal strongbox full of coin.

The Scottish state and many of its wealthier citizens had been made bankrupt through a speculation involving the founding of a colony in the Americas, which went belly up rather quickly. The English silver made an invitation to union difficult to refuse.

miz RAND BLOWTON said...

I can understand that different groups of people have to work together for economic improvement,but why would that effect ethnic nationalism? The US has many ethnic groups that are successful,but they don't subvert their race to live and work here in the U.S.They live here,participate,AND keep their race intact.Of course a group would need a lil community-their own schools,a few businesses that they own,some neighborhoods of their own,with amenities for their town.That's what other groups tend to have when they do well,and no one tells them that they have to mix with others to keep it all.