Globalisation provides new resources for nationalism
- Photo: Alain Dieckhoff Crédits Sciences Po
The nation is at once an emancipatory and an exclusionist concept. This is the theme developed by Alain Dieckhoff, CNRS research fellow and director of Sciences Po CERI, in his latest book, Nationalism and the Multination State*. Grounding his analysis in the history of the nation-state, Dieckhoff helps us understand the shifting manifestations of the concept and the tensions generated by nationalism. Interview with the author.
Let’s start with a brief reminder of how and when the concept of nationalism emerged. You situate it at the heart of modernity. Can you tell us more about what you mean by this?
Alain Dieckhoff: Nationalism is both an ideology and a political movement that aims to make the nation the focus of collective expression. The word ‘nation’ signifies a human community which shares common characteristics, be they cultural (language, religion, shared history) and/or political (belonging to the same territorialized political community). The term ‘nation’ was first cautiously adopted in the preeminent European languages of the 18th century, and then firmly took hold elsewhere in the following century. This means that nationalism is a modern phenomenon embedded in a major transformation: when political sovereignty became vested in the people, rather than in monarchs.
How do you explain that nationalism has switched from a ‘positive’ connotation, synonymous with freedom and emancipation, to a ‘negative’ connotation, synonymous with exclusion and withdrawing into oneself?
Because the idea of nation was at odds with the unequal society of the Ancien Regime, it was inseparable from the rise of democracy as government by the people. Nationalism originally had a truly revolutionary and emancipatory dimension. From the Peoples’ Spring in 1848 through to the 1950-60s great wave of decolonization and up to the ‘decommunisation’ of peoples under Soviet rule in the 1990s, it was this emancipatory aspect of nationalism that was clearly at the forefront.