Once banners were flown and made literally to fly in order to celebrate a family or a quarter of a city, like in Siena, a province or religion. Then, there were the rich potent reigning families like the Tudors or the Hapsburgs. Each having their own special family stem symbolising their power and might. Then one day, the idea of nations became a part of our collective memory. We suddenly became a “people” no longer just loyal to our family or our province and king but a mythological “people”.
Before that age, conquests were made in the name of a person, not a people. The “people”, when the last line was drawn were the property of some Vizier, Emporer or King or maybe a religion.
In the 18th century, nationalism was born. First among nations was England, here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
With the emergence of a national public sphere and an integrated, country-wide economy in 18th century England, people began to identify with the country at large, rather than the smaller unit of their family, town or province. The early emergence of a popular patriotic nationalism took place in the mid-18th century, and was actively promoted by the government and by the writers and intellectuals of the time. National symbols, anthems, myths, flags and narratives were assiduously constructed and adopted. The Union Flag was adopted as a national one, the patriotic songRule, Britannia! was composed by Thomas Arne in 1740, and the cartoonist John Arbuthnot created the character of John Bull as the personification of the national spirit.
The term nationalism was first used by Johann Gottfried Herder the prophet of this new creed. Herder gave Germans new pride in their origins, and proclaimed a national message within the sphere of language, which he believed determines national thought and culture. He attached exceptional importance to the concept of nationality and of patriotism – “he that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole worlds about himself”, whilst teaching that “in a certain sense every human perfection is national”.
The political development of nationalism and the push for popular sovereignty culminated with the ethnic/national revolutions of Europe, for instance the Greek War of Independence. Since that time, nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history, perhaps most notably as a major influence or postulate of World War I and especially World War II. Benedict Anderson argued that, “Print language is what invents nationalism, not a particular language per se”.
From then onwards we’ve seen the price of rising of nationalism, even today from the Basque country to Chechnya, the Tuaregs in Mali to the Eritreans … and so many more besides. Nationalism has been used to bond people even more than a religion or a single ruler ever could have done. Basically, nationalism bonds totally through the creation of the myth of a pre-existing “people”; united by language, culture, religion and race even when that unity never actually existed, as par example Italy before the Risorgimento, Franco’s Spain or Nazi Germany, just to name a few.
a flag, a song, a language
Written for Ligo Haibun – May 26, 2014