Cover image for Who we are : a history of popular nationalism
Who we are : a history of popular nationalism
Wiebe, Robert H.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xx, 282 pages ; 24 cm
Thinking about nationalism -- European origins -- Changing contexts -- The case of the United States -- Climax in Europe -- Nationalism worldwide -- Global nationalism -- Thinking about the future.
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JC311 .W464 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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How did educated Westerners make an enemy of an inspiration that has changed the lives of billions? Why is nationalism synonymous with atavism, fanaticism, xenophobia, and bloodshed? In this book, Robert Wiebe argues that we too often conflate nationalism with what states do in its name. By indiscriminately blaming it for terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and military thuggery, we avoid reckoning with nationalism for what it is: the desire among people who believe they share a common ancestry and destiny to live under their own government on land sacred to their history.

For at least a century and a half, nationalism has been an effective answer to basic questions of identity and connection in a fluid world. It quiets fears of cultural disintegration and allows people to pursue closer bonds and seek freedom. By looking at nationalism in this clearer light and by juxtaposing it with its two great companion and competitor movements--democracy and socialism--Wiebe is able to understand nationalism's deep appeal and assess its historical record.

Because Europeans and their kin abroad monopolized nationalism before World War I, Wiebe begins with their story, identifying migration as a motive force and examining related developments in state building, race theory, church ambition, and linguistic innovation. After case studies of Irish, German, and Jewish nationalism, Wiebe moves to the United States. He discusses America's distinctive place in transatlantic history, emphasizing its liberal government, cultural diversity, and racism. He then traces nationalism's spread worldwide, evaluating its adaptability and limits on that adaptability. The state-dominated nationalism of Japan, Turkey, and Mexico are considered, followed by Pan-Africanism and Nigeria's anticolonial-postcolonial nationalism. Finally, Wiebe shows how nationalism became integrated into a genuinely global process by the 1970s, only to find itself competing at a disadvantage with god- and gun-driven alternatives.

This book's original answers to imperative questions will meet with deep admiration and controversy. They will also change the terms on which nationalism is debated for years to come.

Author Notes

Robert H. Wiebe, who died in 2000, was Professor Emeritus of History at Northwestern University

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Wiebe explores the European origins and worldwide diaspora of the most powerful force of identity: nationalism. He argues that together with socialism and democracy, nationalism constitutes an essentially communitarian and populist movement and that all three of these populist forces have been subverted by the all-pervasive institutionalism, authoritarianism, and repression of the modern state. Wiebe seeks to understand the essential essence of nationalism by addressing three questions: Where does nationalism appear and thrive? When did nationalism emerge? What is nationalism's powerful appeal? This is effected in a magisterial--if somewhat breathless--tour de horizon of this most pervasive of all the identity constructions. Nationalism is defined with subsequent chapters addressing nationalism's European origins, the role of migration in its US manifestations, US connections with nation-building in Europe and Israel, and the global context as the "winds of freedom" blow through former imperial realms. Wiebe diagnoses four strategies for encountering global cultural difference: strengthen the state-system; nurture the "universal solvent of global capitalism"; promote human rights worldwide; and welcome diversity on a global scale. Lightly footnoted, the volume is strengthened by a powerful 40-page, regionally organized bibliographical essay. All levels and collections. B. Osborne Queen's University at Kingston

Table of Contents

Sam Bass Warner, Jr.James J. Sheehan
Forewordp. vii
Forewordp. xi
Prefacep. xv
Acknowledgmentsp. xix
Chapter 1 Thinking about Nationalismp. 1
Chapter 2 European Originsp. 12
Chapter 3 Changing Contextsp. 37
Chapter 4 The Case of the United Statesp. 63
Chapter 5 Climax in Europep. 97
Chapter 6 Nationalism Worldwidep. 127
Chapter 7 Global Nationalismp. 182
Chapter 8 Thinking about the Futurep. 211
Notesp. 221
Bibliographic Essayp. 229
Indexp. 269