Nationalism and Nostalgia

On our way to the citizenship ceremony, N and I drove past a huge factory. I’m from the Soviet Union, so I find enormous factories very aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.

“This is solid capital,” I said pointing to the factory. “And we are agents of fluidity, whizzing by on our way to yet another citizenship.”

When nationalism first arose in the 19th century, a huge part of its appeal was that it helped people articulate and legitimize the nostalgia they felt for the time before modernity uprooted, destroyed and swept away. Then, as now, the progressive forces unanimously rejected nationalism and scoffed at the antiquated country bumpkins who chose their bond with the neighbor over that with the international proletariat.

The inventors of nationalism very shrewdly turned it backwards towards the exaltation of the familiar. And the internationalist forces lost, every single time. Even Stalin realized that the only way to defeat Hitler was to being back the vocabulary and the imagery of nationalism. (And he did, and it worked.)

4 thoughts on “Nationalism and Nostalgia

  1. First of all, congratulations on your citizenship.

    Maybe I am wrong, but lately I get more and more of this feeling that you are romanticizing nationalism a bit excessively…

    When was nationalism just about the bond between neighbors?.. When this bond between neighbors is meant to achieve something unquestionably positive, nobody ever calls it nationalism. Nationalism seems to always be about the bond between neighbors against somebody else – immigrants, LGBT (who failed in their reproductive duty to “our”/”correct” nation, as well as in the duty to uphold “our thousand-years old traditions”), Muslims, Mexicans, Russians, Serbs, Croats, Anglophones, etc, etc, etc. Maybe my take is a bit extreme, but I see nationalism as something masquerading as being about the bond between neighbors (something coming from the best within people) while actually being of the opposite sign (i.e. coming from the worst in people).
    “collaboration” is a morally neutral thing… One can collaborate for good or for bad, “collaboration” in itself does not make anything good by definition…


    1. Thing is, I can’t repeat the whole story from the start every time I talk about this. Yes – imagined communities – invented tradition – violent rejection of the other – neither of the world wars would be possible without it – it’s all true. But this is the story that has been told, actually the only story that has been told since 1982 when the unmasking of nationalism began in earnest.

      Now, we won’t be going to the premodern past, obviously. So what I want to look at is what’s next. What’s the new postnational future is like.


      1. This will be very interesting indeed.
        Do you think we should stick with something resembling 20-th century nationalism for a while, or else there will be some horrible backlash from the people upset by too rapid rate of change, and everything would descend to the level of some deeper uglier past?
        And this is not just a scholarly blog anyway, it is a personal blog too. So I see some glimpses of nostalgia in your personal perception of things that are pretty different ranging from old American factories to modern-day Ukrainian nation-building…


        1. I started my career as a scholar picking apart nationalism. Oh, it was so much fun. This was my MA thesis and I’m still happy with it. But yeah…

          What I fear is that there won’t be as bad. That Trump as hard-core as it gets. I’m from the USSR, so I personally find plenty of meaning in consumerism. But in rich countries, all of these crowds of people on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, opioids, etc. I understand that it doesn’t fill them. They’ve always had it,so there’s no sense of achievement in it for them. There’s got to be something else. And yes, Ukrainians are a good example because they have clearly found meaning. At least,many of them did.


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