Nationalism and Ethnicity: Cultural Nationalism

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Nationalism and Ethnicity: Cultural Nationalism

The term “cultural nationalism” refers to movements of group allegiance based on a shared heritage as in language, history, literature, songs, religion, ideology, symbols, land, or monuments. Cultural nationalists emphasize heritage or culture, rather than race or ethnicity or institutions of statehood. To illuminate the current controversies concerning cultural nationalism, this article will proceed in the following sections: “cultural nationalism with or without the nation-state,” “cultural nationalism vs. human rights,” “transformations of nationalism in the modernizing nineteenth century,” “earlier forms of cultural nationalism: languages and religions,” “ties to historic land,” “anti-colonial movements for self-rule,” “gender equality and national cultures,” “regionalism, multi-culturalism, and ideological difference as national culture,” and “trans-nationalism, performance, and cultural tourism today.”


Friedrich Meinecke in 1908 proposed the distinction between the Kulturnation (cultural nation) as expressed in literature and fine arts and the Staatsnation (political nation). With some culturally distinctive peoples still longing for a nation-state, President Woodrow Wilson's “Fourteen Points Address” and subsequently the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 legitimized and selectively applied the principle of self-determination of nations. Today the principle is operative in the “United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights”: Part I, article 1 states “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” (in Ishay, p. 433).

We may use the term “cultural nationalism” for a variety of peoples who have created group identities. Benedict Anderson's influential Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983)

argued that whether there is a state or not, the national community is to a great extent imagined. Historically, the cultural creation of the nation filled the void left by the break-down of traditional smaller communities. With the aid of vernacular language development that influences a growing number of people through a print culture, an imagined community of the nation appeared. An anthropologist specializing in Indonesia, Anderson focused on the positive sense of belonging and love produced by the group association (Delantey and O'Mahomy, pp. 91–92). Anderson's view furthers Hobsbawm and Ranger's detailed studies of the creation of national historic memory in The Invention of Tradition.

Scholars continue to wrestle with Meinecke's distinction as well as with the issue of whether one can discuss nationalism before the modern period, as in Hans Kohn's The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in its Origins and Background (1944). Kristen Walton (2007) argued that Scottish nationalism began as a medieval political movement, acquired Calvinism as a key trait in sixteenth century, and after the Act of Union of 1707 was limited politically and became cultural nationalism.


From the eighteenth century on, nation-states were thought to have “a culture, defined by language, arts, customs, religion and/or race, that may be enormously varied by region and ethnicity but that generally has a dominant, hegemonic strain adopted by urban elites” (2); thus Vincent Pecora introduces Nations and Identities, a Cultural Studies anthology of key Western texts on nationalism. Reginald Horseman showed that in English thought, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century institutional studies of the freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon heritage shifted to a racial emphasis in the 1780s through the influence of Paul-Henri Mallet and John Pinkerton (in Horowitz, 1992, pp. 77-100). In The Science of Culture in Enlightenment Germany (2007), Michael Carhart traced late eighteenth-century scholars seeking the “unique genius of a given nation or locality” and viewing Moses, Homer, and Cicero respectively not as individuals or sages of universal humanity but as national spokemen of respectively of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman national achievement (pp. 6-7). This historicizing viewpoint contrasts with Renaissance humanist eclectic scholarship which sought to gather the seeds of knowledge from the diverse texts of the ancients to enhance one's human heritage. The classic contrast of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) with Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man (1792) epitomizes the rivalry between the particularizing viewpoint of national cultures with the theory of universal human nature, universal natural rights, and

contractual government declared in Locke's Second Discourse of Government (1690), the American colonists' “Declaration of Independence” (1776), and of the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (1789).


George Mosse utilized the term “Cultural Nationalism” as a viewpoint glorifying the German Volk that emerged from Fichte's 1808 “Addresses to the German Nation” and Freidrich Ludwig Jahn's 1810 Volkstum. While Fichte emphasized unity and integration of the German people then oppressed by French conquerors, Jahn emphasized keeping the German race pure in preparation for its task of civilizing the world by force. Romanticism gave to this “cultural nationalism” a “spiritual essence” as in “German spirit,” an ethereal concept embodied in poetry and national memories (Mosse, pp. 2, 40–44).

For Romantics, the Greek statues embodied the perfect beauty of human form, which Winckleman also thought characteristic of Germans and English of his day. The Romantic finding of two distinctive forms of national identity in ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew literature was influential on gaining some international interest in the early nineteenth-century movement of Greek independence against the Turks and in the later nineteenth- and twentieth-century Zionist movements of Jewish return to the land where Hebrews had ruled in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

In the 1830s appeared Baedeker's first guidebooks to the Rhineland which encouraged the middles class to take seats on the new railroads. A German nationalistic culture of display cultivated interest in natural settings, historical ruins, Germanic myths, folk dance and costume in local festivals, and historic memory. The guidebooks contributed to the “nationalization of the masses” as people came to identify with the 1870 creation of the modern German state (Payne, et. al. pp. 169–171). Similarly, according to Eugene Weber, it is the nineteenth century, the age of modernization, when the ordinary citizens living in the countryside of France became “French.”

In contrast to practical nationalists who negotiated borders and believed in co-existence of nations (in Ishai, Woodrow Wilson, pp. 303-304), Mosse narrowly defined “cultural nationalism” as leading to the view of the one true nation's superiority and right to conquer other nations. With Romanticism's revival and with the burgeoning pseudo-science of race in the period of Emperor William II, this type of “cultural nationalism” culminated in twentieth-century totalitarian movements (Mosse, pp. 53, 65; Payne, pp. 138–139). Gobineau's Essay on the Inequality of Races (1853–1855) with its hierarchy of three races influenced the Social Darwinian interpretations of Darwin's Origin of Species (1859). During the late nineteenth-century European imperialist conquests in Africa, explicitly racist cultural nationalism proliferated as in Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Pecora, pp. 20, 200, and Chamberlain's text on “The Nation,” 200–204). Lamarckian genetics taught that organisms acquire physical and cultural characteristics as they adapt to environment. While Karl Marx was optimistic in general that racial differences could be overcome, in his personal correspondence his specific comments on Blacks, Jews, and Slavs vocalized the negative stereotypes of his times (Diane Paul in Horowitz, 1991, pp. 117–140).


Back in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, writers in Tuscany in particular were establishing the Italian language, creating a burgeoning Renaissance literature that became the envy of the English and the French. In the early sixteenth century Machiavelli called to the Italian people divided in their regional city-states to throw off the yoke of foreign invading oppressors, in particular the French monarchy, the Spanish monarchy, and the Holy Roman Empire. Nineteenth-century theorists of a political state for Italian national unity would cite Machiavelli as a founder of their type of state nationalism.

Luther's call in 1520 to the German nobility to throw off allegiance to the Pope resulted in a weakened Holy Roman Empire which at the close of the Thirty Years War in 1648 housed independent Lutheran, Calvinist, and Catholic rulers of distinctive states. On the principle “Cuius regio, eius religi,” the ruler determined the religion of the state. Throughout Europe at large, the Pope was dependent on political leaders such as the monarch of Spain to lead Counter-Reformation wars against regions seceding from the Catholic Church. Thus, even Catholic political leaders were strengthened vis-á-vis the Pope. Thus, in France, even though religious war engulfed the country from the 1560s to 1590s and Calvinists received some legal toleration (1598–1695), the overall Catholic sentiment of the people and the monarchy was embodied in Gallicanism, celebrating the liberties of the French Catholic Church and viewing the Pope as an Italian prince.


A people often builds its sense of identity around association with particular land. In the ambivalence of American national identity, where the destruction of indigenous tribes played so important a role in Manifest Destiny from coast to coast and belied the myth of a

“virgin land” awaiting the taking, Amerindian names for historical places are common and some fictional Amerindian names continue to romanticize locations. With growing respect for distinctive identity, the Smithsonian Museum has returned artifacts and bones to the heirs of tribes from whence they were taken.

Delphi, the site of the Oracle of Apollo, helped unify the Greeks divided politically into many city-states. The Delphic oracle sat on top of the Omphalos Stone, believed by the ancient Greeks to be the center of the world, and Greeks arriving to query her on issues of war and peace and received cryptic answers to untangle. The city of Jerusalem was the capital of the ancient Hebrew monarchy under King David around 1000 B.C. It has become contested sacred space among Jews who recall their worship at Solomon's Temple and later at the Second Temple; Christians who recall Jesus's life, death, and resurrection; and Moslems who recall that Prophet Mohammed stopped at the Temple Mount on his ascent to Heaven.

The emergence of detailed maps played a role in the development of personal identification with local territory. For example, John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain; presenting an exact geography of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.…(1611) exhibits maps detailed enough to be later used by soldiers fighting in the English Civil War of the 1640s, yet is an almanac of symbols of ethnic groups uniting in a political entity. While the first title page shows twenty-four crests of previous rulers in the territory then in King James I's dominion, the second title page displays costumed personifications of a Britain formed by a Roman, a Saxon, a Dane, and a Norman.


As French aggressive nationalism accompanied Napoleon's troops, both cultural and political nationalist movements emerged in many of Napoleon's puppet regimes in Europe, as well as in Haiti and the Middle East. Likewise, nationalist movements in Latin America in the nineteenth century carved out independent regimes from the former Spanish empire.

Similarly, the internecine warfare of the two world wars decimated Europe and allowed for successful anticolonial uprisings in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. By the 1960s France had lost its control of North Africa, Western and Central Africa, Indochina and many islands. A diversity of people who had served the French colonial governments emigrated to France, increasing the need for a French nationalism that would be multi-cultural. In Africa, new nations often had to struggle with borders carved out by European imperialists, borders that did not accord with ethnic or tribal or regional state identities; a positive resource was Pan-African pride and cooperation. The USSR—despite a constitution which respected national ethnic identities—increased Russian hegemony over a variety of peoples; in the late twentieth century the USSR split into many states, including Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, while Yugoslavia disintegrated into states like Croatia and Serbia, among others, with continuing warfare influenced by religious as well as ethnic hatreds. Ethnic groups reinvigorated their languages, their religions, their heroes, their literature and their music.


The “Beijing Declaration” of 1995 elaborating women's rights as human rights in celebrating 50th anniversary of the United Nations calls for equal education, equal participation in government, equal employment opportunities, and an end to violence against women. Such goals contend with the gender inequalities in many national, regional, and local cultures. Chandra Talpade Mohanty in Feminism without Borders (2003) defends an “antiracist feminist framework, anchored in decolonization and committed to an anticapitalist critique,” as she works for global political cooperation (p. 3). Via an anthology of documents including manuscripts of women's letters, autobiographies, and speeches, In Their Own Voice: Women an Irish Nationalism, Margaret Ward relates the roles of women in the successful movement for Irish independence; this women's history also provides information on women's daily lives and on their struggle for equality in the home as well as in the state. Poet Eavan Bland struggles with the problem that “Irish poems simplified women most at the point of intersection between womanhood and Irishness” (in Pecora, p. 357).


The United States is a good example of a nation-state which has experienced several stages of national culture and regional variations. The state history of Massachusetts emphasizes English Calvinist origins and heroic actions leading up to the American Revolution. Through the 1950s American history was written from such an East Coast point of view, emphasizing Anglo-Saxon Protestant male heritage. State histories of California emphasize Spanish Catholic colonial and then Mexican dominion until 1848. In keeping with that heritage, the radical history book Occupied America supports Chicano national culture in the Southwest, and the letter “A” in the popular student college organization MEChA stands

for Azatlan, the imagined full extent of the Aztec empire. Today, for teaching students American national heritage, one includes texts concerning men and women from a multiplicity of regions, ethnicities, classes, religions, mixed heritages, and political and social viewpoints; for example, one may step into viewpoints of a medley of Americans via Through Women's Eyes or explore contemporary American national culture via the electronic Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. A benign form of nationalism found in liberal democracies and not requiring homogeneity in ethnicity has been called “civic nationalism” (in Mortimer, part V).

In the edited Cultural Nationalism in East Asia: Representation and Identity, Harumi Befu assembled scholarship on the continuing transformations in cultural identity after national sovereignty. Prasenjit Duara, discussing the tension between federalism and centrism in China of 1920s and the victory of the centrist position, concludes that the movements for autonomy in Taiwan and Hong Kong reflect continuation of the legitimate alternative federal argument for flowering of regional Chinese identities. In evaluating the contested national symbol of the Great Wall during the Maoist and post-Maoist periods, Arthur Waldron contrasts the Western Enlightenment use of the Wall to symbolize Chinese “Greatness” with traditional Chinese association of the Wall with oppressive government. Michael Robinson points out the importance of liberating oneself from the master narrative of the history of the nation-state as he explores diverse visions within Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultural nationalism. As Befu sums up Ann Anagnost's analysis of diverse Chinese approaches to nationalism, “the nationalism of a given nation need not be sung in unison, but instead may be polyphonic—contrary to popular belief, which assumes that the nationalism of a given country is one since the nation is culturally homogeneous, whether it be China, Japan, or Korea, and that the ‘correct’ nationalism is that promoted by the state” (Befu, p. 3).


In the twenty-first century there is increased global awareness that peoples of diverse religions, ancestry, national backgrounds need to live together peacefully in multi-cultural states. A diversity of groups may practice minority national cultures (with distinctive language, food, religion, rituals, holidays, as well as political organizing) while living peaceably as citizens within one political entity, and each group may express transnational communal ties within a borderlands or to a far-away “homeland.” Public education attempts to inform the next generation of the variety of cultures that participate in the national culture. Meinecke's Staatsnation involves the political institutions, laws, naturalization process, and citizenship behavior governing the land, and Meinecke's Kulturnation becomes in liberal multi-cultural states a salad-bowl of distinctive and blended cultures celebrating historic and imagined communities.

Cultural nationalism may be viewed as a process to regenerate a people through expansion of its art, its music, its theatre, and its thought to contribute to humanity at large (Rabow-Edling, p. 443). Barbara Kelly (2008) has gathered articles on French music and national identity which reveal the tensions between national and universal expression, and the tensions between French and German identities, especially evident in the borderlands of German-controlled Alsace-Lorraine. Joseph Maguire (2005) analyzed international sports competitions as a major source of identity-formation and pride, as well as of entertainment in a global economy. In Staging Nationalism (2005) Kiki Gounaridou has brought together experts on theatre from Japan to Quebec to illustrate how particular productions have either contributed to build or subvert national cultural identity.

Performance in the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, in summer of 2008, of a South African troup's 1970s Cape Town setting of Porgy and Bess is an indication of the cultural importance to blacks in post-Apartheid South Africa of the saga of oppression and the determination to overcome impossible odds that marked the Black experience in the American South. A movement of Black pride is a transnational cultural movement that appreciates the diversity of cultural achievements by people with some African ancestry. Afro-American nationalist, as well as militant separatist, works are extensive enough that one can consult the annotated bibliography Afro-American Nationalism.

Cultural tourism, an aspect of global capitalism that entertains travellers and provides employment for local communities, thrives on appreciation of diverse cultures and encourages re-enactment of traditions of yesteryear. The National Ethnic Minorities Theme Park in Beijing is a celebration of ethnic minority cultures within mainland China through display of costume, ritual, food, dance, and architecture; the show-place for Chinese as well as international tourists highlights the diversity of peoples and nationalities in the People's Republic of China. The personal greetings, especially by costumed female performers in historic costume, fulfill the urban public's quest for a connection to a historic past of small communal cultures. Likewise appealing to curiosity for the exotic, the Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu, Hawaii, is a transnational showplace in which Brigham Young University student re-enact and entertain visitors with the traditional lifestyles of islanders from Fiji, New Zealand,

the Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and Hawaii. Tourists are encouraged to visit also the adjoining large Morman Church. This American transnational theme park encourages popularization of the Maori historic memory of migration of Polynesian kin across thousands of miles—a transnational unity—while celebrating the American minority national culture of Pacific Islanders.


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Maryanne Cline Horowitz

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