Guide Theatre and National Identity: Re-Imagining Conceptions of Nation

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Edition 1st Edition. First Published Imprint Routledge. Pages pages. Export Citation. Get Citation. Holdsworth, N. By Nadine Holdsworth. By Anton Krueger. What is significant is that the Founders' viewed American political institutions not as resting on a national language or a national culture, but as giving rise to them. As Noah Webster wrote:. From the changes in civil policy, manners, arts of life, and other circumstances attending the settlement of English colonies in America, most of the language of heraldry, hawking, hunting, and especially that of the old feudal and hierarchical establishments of England will become utterly extinct in this country; much of it already forms part of the neglected rubbish of antiquity.

Thus the free institutions of the new nation would naturally lead to the formation of a new and independent culture, as symbolized by a distinct language. William Thornton made much the same argument in , when he told Americans:. You have corrected the dangerous doctrines of European powers, correct now the languages you have imported Thus the emergence of a distinct national language was seen to be an effect, rather than a cause, of the success of American democratic institutions.

This understanding was summed up by Tocqueville when he referred to the "influence which a democratic social condition and democratic institutions may exercise over language itself, which is the chief instrument of thought. That literary culture was naturally a source of national pride and an important means of consolidating national identity. But it was not regarded as the basis of national union. The question of a national language did not emerge again until the turn of the twentieth century, when Americans found themselves confronted with the large numbers of non-English-speaking immigrants.

Previously, language played a relatively minor role in nativist movements, which chiefly exploited fears that newcomers would dilute the religious and racial homogeneity of the nation. But in the first decades of this century, immigrants came to be seen as sources of political contagion. In , Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, author of the infamous Palmer Raids, in which more than eight thousand "radicals" were swept up and deported, could confidently assert that "fully 90 percent of Communist and anarchist agitation is traceable to aliens.

One answer to the imagined threat of imported sedition was the "Americanization" campaign, a concerted effort, as John Higham writes, to "heat and stir the melting pot. A Nebraska law stipulated that all public meetings be conducted in English; Oregon required foreign-language periodicals to provide an English translation of their entire contents. These measures were based on a particular view of the relation between language and thought, in which speaking a foreign language seemed inimical to grasping the fundamental concepts of democratic society.

The Nebraska Supreme Court, in upholding a state statute barring instruction in languages other than English below the ninth grade, warned against the "baneful effects" of educating children in foreign languages, which must "naturally inculcate in them the ideas and sentiments foreign to the best interests of their country. The complement of such suspicions was a view of English as a kind of "chosen language," the bearer of Anglo-Saxon or at least Anglo-American ideals and institutions.

English was turned into a kind of "truth-language," like Arabic, Hebrew, and Church Latin, except that the truths for which it provided a unique means of expression were those of the secular religion of American democracy. At the New York State constitutional convention in , during debate on an English-literacy requirement for voting, one delegate traced the connection between English and democratic values back to the Magna Carta a text often mentioned in this context, though it was written in Latin : "You have got to learn our language because that is the vehicle of the thought that has been handed down from the men in whose breasts first burned the fire of freedom.

We must also have but one language. That must be the language of the Declaration of Independence, of Washington's Farewell Address, of Lincoln's Gettysburg speech and second inaugural. What is striking about this list is what it does not include: there is no mention of the language of Irving, Longfellow, or Emerson, much less the reference to "the language of Shakespeare" that British contemporaries would have considered obligatory.

One doubts whether Webster would have approved of this list. Where are all the flowers of the literary culture that was to vindicate the American experiment in the eyes of the world? It is not that Roosevelt and his contemporaries were indifferent to literary traditions, but for them it was the political uses of English that made it an instrument of national union.

The language was no longer seen as a consequence of political institutions, but as a cause of them. This signaled a clear change in the conception of American nationality, with English as the soup stock of the melting pot. As such, Americanization was probably a more benign policy than the racially based nativism that held that immigrants were biologically incapable of adapting to American life.

In the view of James J. Davis, Secretary of Labor under Harding and Coolidge, the earlier "Nordic" immigrants were "the beaver type that built up America, whereas the newer immigrants were rat-men trying to tear it down, and obviously rat-men could never become beavers. For example, here is Ellwood P. Cubberly, dean of the Stanford University School of Education, describing the goals of the Americanization campaign:. Our task is to break up [immigrant] groups or settlements, to assimilate and amalgamate these people as part of our American race, and to implant in their children, as far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and our popular government.

Re-Imagining the Doctor

While this passage may strike the modern reader as smug and condescending, it is not literally racist, at least in its historical context. Cubberly obviously believed that rat-men could be turned into beavers, if only you caught them young enough. Taken literally, the chosen-language doctrine does not stand up under scrutiny. The Founders would have been distressed to be told that the truths they held to be "self-evident" could have been apprehended only by other English speakers; nothing could have been further from their own Enlightenment universalism.

And there is a peculiarly American fallacy in the supposition that the meanings of words like liberty and rights are somehow immutably fixed by the structure of the language. It is the linguistic equivalent of the historical doctrine that Daniel Boorstin has described as "givenness": the belief that American values were defined at the outset by the Founders, and continue to shape our institutions and experience in an uninterrupted chain, "so that our past merges indistinguishably into our present.

But the doctrine did useful symbolic work. It implied that the features of the old-stock Protestant culture could be abstracted in universally accessible terms. As the hysteria of the war years and the early twenties had abated and the flow of new immigrants was stanched to a trickle, the doctrine could be given a more temperate form. It was absorbed into the body of "invented traditions" of schoolroom rituals and folklore, which shaped the patriotism of generations of Americans of both native-stock and immigrant backgrounds, and with it, an equally patriotic attachment to the English language itself.

It has never been officially retired, and you may still encounter paeans to the political genius of English. But the conception of American nationality has been changing out from under it, and when later waves of immigration caused language issues to be raised again, the new case for a common language was made in very different terms. The dominant theme in the rhetoric of the Official English movement is the emphasis on English as a lingua franca, the "common bond" that unites all Americans. As former Senator S.

Hayakawa puts it, the language alone has "made a society out of the hodgepodge of nationalities, races, and colors represented in the immigrant hordes that people our nation," and has enabled Americans to draw up "the understandings and agreements that make a society possible. Modern official-language advocates are careful, however, to avoid any suggestion that English has any unique virtues that make it appropriate in this role as a common bond.

English publication explains: "We hold no special brief for English. If Dutch or French, or Spanish, or German had become our national language, we would now be enthusiastically defending Dutch. Its arguments are cast with due homage to the sanctity of pluralism.

Indeed, its advocates often rest their case on the observation that the very cultural heterogeneity of modern America makes English "no longer a bond, but the bond between all of us," in the words of Gerda Bikales, the former executive director of U. Or as Senator Huddleston argues, a common language has enabled us "to develop a stable and cohesive society that is the envy of many fractured ones, without imposing any strict standards of homogeneity.

Unlike the Americanizers, they no longer stress the role of English as an instrument of ideological indoctrination. Nor, in the Reagan-Bush-Gorbachev era, is there cause for concern that immigrants will add fuel to domestic radical movements or ignite labor unrest. At the most, they seem to many a bit too assertive about their rights, and insufficiently enthusiastic about cultural assimilation. But then, the great mass of turn-of-the-century immigrants had no more interest in political questions than present-day immigrants do. What has changed is not the political nature of the new arrivals, but the way we perceive their differences from ourselves.

So we might well ask: how have we changed, if our political unity can be threatened by unassimilated immigrants with whom we have no ideological differences? Americans are no less patriotic than they were a century ago, but their sense of community is mediated in different ways. In it was unimaginable that there should be occasions at which all Americans could be present, or that many Americans could acquire the sense of national identity that comes of frequent movement around the country.

There were, of course, newspapers and books, but literacy was far from universal. So the burden of creating a sense of community was naturally laid on traditional institutions of schools, churches, and the like, which could ensure that the experiences and ceremonies that ratified the national identity would be faithfully replicated from one locality to the next. But the twentieth century brought means of replicating experience that required no institutional intervention, most notably the movies, radio, and television.

More important, these media have the power to show Americans to one another, with such immediacy that we may be deceived into believing that the awareness of community can be created without any exercise of the imagination at all. The new mechanisms of national community are capable of imposing a high degree of cultural and ideological uniformity without explicit indoctrination, or indeed, without seeming to "impose" at all.

This is what makes it possible for us to indulge in the rhetoric of "cherished diversity," and even to suppose that it is only our language that we have in common. But the pluralism that Official English advocates profess to cherish is the denatured ethnicity of third- and fourth-generation Americans, monolingual in English and disconnected from any real ties to the language and culture of their ancestors. It could be argued that the very abundance of the common experience of national life makes linguistic unity superfluous.

Race thinking coloured their perception of themselves as a chosen people, a people with a mission civilatrice in backward Catholic Ireland. It also influenced perceptions of themselves as a people steeped in history and rooted in a progressive metropolitan domain.

Earnest Gellner and Benedict Anderson on the Nation and Nationalism

Like other European elites, especially their White Anglo-Saxon counterparts in North America, Ulster Unionists were impregnated with the ethos of change and social progress. They invested Industry, Trade and Commerce with the same divine authority that monarchy formerly claimed Kiernan, Adam Smith called the Europe of these elites the magna virum mater, the mighty mother of men. The combination of unionist nationalism and anti-Irish racism in Ulster made this a powerful nation-centred and patriarchal place.

This meant that Ulster Unionists always considered themselves to have the political advantage over Catholic nationalists. The European interstate system in general, not just Britain, usually respected the rights of powerful nations more than it did those of small nations like rural Catholic Ireland. Yet Wallerstein, unlike Hobsbawm, recognises a place for small nations in this nineteenth-century world order.

It can be defined in terms of attachment of territory, and in terms of historical association and socio-political groupings. However, their nationalisms were also the consequences of these same uniformities as realised in the socio-political and economic landscapes of late nineteenth-century Ireland.

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They developed out of the longing which each ethnic sub group had for oneness, uniqueness and cultural purity. The Irish experience of nation-building was not unique in this respect. In the Republic of Ireland it meant a Catholic constitution for a Catholic people. While recognising the role of race-thinking in dividing the colonised from the colonisers and legitimising the hegemony of powerful nations in a global arena, Wallerstein underestimates the part played by racism in the legitimisation of ethnic supremacy within nations.

Unlike Hobsbawm, he does not portray classes in abstract terms. Wallerstein on the other hand sees this as a perfectly natural and unavoidable historical development. We have seen this in national liberation movements all across the colonial world in the s and s. Thus, unlike Hobsbawm, his analysis allows for different political geographies of nation-building and nationalism, just as it allows for different scales of nation-building in the nineteenth century and today.

Wallerstein also points to the links between nationalism and the consolidation of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century. Like Hobsbawm he argues that nation-states historically were essential pillars in the evolution of a European world system under the hegemony of the national bourgeoisie. This, he argues, was because nationalism conferred citizenship upon members of the state while simultaneously transforming them into collective social and ethnic solidarities.

In rural Catholic Ireland these solidarities emerged, in modern form at least, in the course of the nineteenth century. This was what gave rural and urban communities throughout the north and south of Ireland such a heightened sense of place, a sense of themselves belonging either to an Irish nation-in-the-making, or to the already-existing and unionist British nation. This in turn literally raised the whole contentious issue of territorial attachments in an island economy marked by strong regional and cultural differences.

They informed whole aspects of life, including attitudes towards politics, progress, community, religion, work, land, history and identity. The sections that follow look at locational aspects of nation-building and nationalism in general and then in Ireland in particular. The anomalous state of nation-building here presented nationalists, national separatists and contemporary theorists of nationalism with many classic examples of the difficulties involved in building nations from the ground up. They also emphasise just how difficult it is to theorise, and generalise, about nation-building in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Despite the plethora of descriptive and highly partisan accounts of nationalism and Unionism in Ireland in the nineteenth century, critical theoretical accounts that seek to explain, rather than simply describe, legitimise or condemn these ideologies have been few and far between. In tracing Unionist power to the Tory heartlands of the United Kingdom, they underestimated the strength of plebeian Unionism in the enclave economy of the politically distinct north-east of Ireland. They ignored the rootedness of plebeian Unionism in this part of Ireland where conflicting, but no less legitimate, claims to nationhood were being articulated by Protestant Ulstermen.

In literally claiming space as their own and for their own, Irish nationalists and Ulster Unionists clearly renounced the geographies of Irish nationalism and Unionism in the different regional contexts of nineteenth-century Ireland. They had to be invented. They were not simply products of geography or history. Thus others since then have shown that the nation in Ireland as elsewhere in Europe had to be mediated through a whole variety of historical agents, and agencies, that were rooted in particular places or countries. In nineteenth-century Ireland, as also in France, Germany, Italy and Poland, the nation-building agents included the church, the national bourgeoisie, the provincial press and the educational establishment, as well as infrastructural networks of roads, railways and canals.

This was particularly the case in powerful nations where, as a result of the influence of social Darwinism, nationalist historians regarded it as inevitable that strong nations would prevail over colonial societies abroad and weaker nations at home. It would be wrong to suggest that it is only modern-day expressions of ethno-nationalism that can contribute to regional instability in countries as far apart as former Yugoslavia and Indonesia. Small-nation nationalism in late nineteenth-century Ireland also threatened the regional stability of the United Kingdom.

In Ulster at least this genre of nationalism defended the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In so doing Ulster Unionists recognised the existence of two expressions of nation-building in nineteenth-century Ireland, but insisted that theirs was the more legitimate because it had the sanction of history and race theory.

Anderson, Hobsbawm and Wallerstein all point to one of the persistent paradoxes of nineteenth-century nation-building - the fact each nation proudly proclaimed its own distinctiveness, yet, in western Europe at least, all were the product of more or less similar nation-building processes. This was also the case in nation-building Ireland. The latter included the nation-building agents and agencies we have already been discussing, print capitalism, the popular press, the provincial press, the bureaucratisation of society under the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, national education and elaborate networks of road and rail communication which reduced the relative costs of travel within Ireland and Britain.

It designated instead a concrete reality, that amalgam of language, religion, economy, way of life, territory, history and politics that formed the basis of the nineteenth-century nation-state. As such it gave meaning to life, precisely because citizens of the nation found shelter from the storms of modernity, from its ennui, its faceless-ness, its rootlessness and its meaninglessness.

As members of the nation were forged into an organic community they also developed deep, often spiritual, attachments to the country they inhabited. They began to develop a sense of identity, a sense of place and a Herderian sense of mission. So there developed a collective memory, a collective vision of the future, as citizens of the nation developed a capacity to project themselves forward as a people of distinction, and with a distinct contribution to make to the wider world of nation-building.

Central to the imaginative construction of any nation, not least in nineteenth-century Ireland, was the assumed existence of national collectivities and the very real existence of agents and agencies capable of transforming the country into a nation. In Ireland as elsewhere in Europe this organic community of the nation had to be constructed through a careful nurturing of inter-class and inter-regional alliances. This was achieved through the cultivation of a common sense of identity and the teaching of shared myths and common history.

Given the multi-ethnic and multi-national character of most societies in nineteenth-century Europe, including Ireland, nation-building regularly involved the coercive absorption or incorporation of minorities into the nation of the dominant majority.

We have already seen that nation-building even on the Irish scale had profound implications for Irish Travellers and also resulted in the marginalisation of workers, women, the rural poor and religious minorities. That small ethno-nations like Ireland were expected to assimilate into the nation of the dominant majority, in this case Britain, is clear from the writings of liberal unionists like John Stuart Mill.

His Considerations on Representative Government, published in , contains one of the strongest, and highly racist, defences of this process to be found anywhere in the writings of nineteenth-century political theorists. Mill contended that:. Experience proves that it is possible for one nationality to merge and be absorbed by another; and when it was originally an inferior and more backward portion of the human race, the absorption is greatly to its advantage.

Nobody can suppose it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of the French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilised and cultivated people - to be members of the French nationality.. The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlanders, as members of the British nation. Mill, , p. Although he does not name Ireland here, elsewhere Mill staunchly defended its absorption into Britain. As we have already seen, the process of absorption and integration was particularly lengthy and tortuous in the case of Ireland.

More importantly still, however, this was happening just as it became possible for the Irish to imagine themselves a nation in the modern sense of the term. Catholic Ireland then was only one example of an attempted assimilation of an ethno-nationalist minority into the nationhood of the majority. In Spain, France and Germany, as also in the countries of Scandinavia, ethno-national minorities were incorporated into the nation-state of the dominant majority. As these cases show, minority nations were regularly expected to accept as rational the democracy of majority, even if it did not serve the interests of minorities.

For that very reason they were expected to assimilate to the mores of the dominant majority and accept as democratic the decisions of democratic majorities. This was because, being sectionalist and regionalist, ethno-nationalist minorities were also considered non-progressive. If, as in the case of nationalist Ireland, they threatened the territorial integrity of the dominant nation, they had to be coerced or, as was later the case, forcibly partitioned. All this suggests that the process of marginalisation which resulted from nation-building also had clear spatial implications.


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In nineteenth-century Ireland, as in post-independence Africa, some regions were considered too valuable to be lost to rival nations. Some had more symbolic significance than others. Some places were considered dispensable, while others were regarded as indispensable to the nation-building drive. This was how the nation literally was constructed. Moreover, in the nineteenth century at least, it was constructed as an organism linked to a national territory with sufficient social and economic potential to hold its own in a world then dominated by powerful nations.

Thus, in order to qualify as nation-states, nineteenth-century nations had to command a national homeland, just as they had to be inhabited by citizens with sufficient developmental potential to place their nation alongside the progressive nations of the world. This, as we shall presently see, was considered problematic in the case of Catholic nation-building Ireland. The latter were considered irrational because they sought secession from a united kingdom in the process of becoming a united nation under a national bourgeoisie.

It seemed remarkable at this period of the nineteenth century, when minor states were asking for the protection of greater states, that a section of the Irish should ask to have the country launched forth as an independent entity - a speck in the ocean. Donegal Independent, 27 March ; quoted in Anderson, , p. Much in the same manner that the United States during the Reagan administration constructed El Salvador and Nicaragua as threats to its internal security, Ulster Unionists and the Conservative party constructed Irish Home Rule as a threat to the integrity of the British Empire and the death-knell of landlordism.

It pointed out that:.

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Quoted in Anderson, , p. In their efforts to construct their organic nation, Irish nationalists had literally to scramble for territory, including symbolic territory, anywhere they could get it. As these statements show, they were unlikely to find such territory in the staunchly nationalist-unionist north-east. Nineteenth-century Irish nation-building contained strong elements of geographical exclusion and inclusion.

In the industrialised north-east it lost out to Protestant Unionists, while elsewhere in the country it entailed inclusion of underdeveloped, yet culturally vital regions like the barren western seaboard. Nation-building here also subordinated urban interests in Ireland to the interests of the rural Catholic bourgeoisie. This meant that the agricultural heartlands of the country always had higher priority than urban centres and the underdeveloped peripheries.

The fact that the north-east chose to stay within the United Kingdom also inadvertently contributed to the social disintegration of communities throughout Catholic nation-building Ireland well into the twentieth century. Indeed the peripheralisation of rural Ireland during the first thirty or forty years of the state was not unconnected to processes of core-formation which caused this part of the country to be linked with mainland Britain, and not with nation-building Ireland.

While Ireland was integrated into the world economy through the commodification and internationalisation of Irish labour, Unionist Ulster remained an integral part of the UK economy. Here, as a later chapter will show, impoverished counties like Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, all of them part of the historic province of Ulster, could be set apart from Unionist Ulster without too many, at least in the Unionist heartlands, lamenting their loss. It was not just that inclusion of these counties would have stretched the boundaries of Protestant Ulster beyond the bounds of Unionist control.

In the event these western counties fell under the hegemony of a Catholic nationalist petty bourgeoisie which often had only very tentative links with nation-builders and powerholders elsewhere in the country. Abdel-Malek, A. Agnew, J. Akbar, Mj. Aithusser, L. Althusser, L. Anderson, B. Anderson, J. Andrews, C. Andrews, J. Andrews, T. Ardey, R. Baddeley, 0. Balibar, E. Barker, D. Beames, M. Beattie, S. Bell, G. Benjamin, W. Beresford Ellis, P. Bernal, J. Bhabha, H. Billig, M. Bishop of Derry n. Black, R. Blaut, J. Boate, H.

Bonner, B. Bowler, P. Boyce, D. Boylan, 1. Branch, M. Breully, J. Bull, P. Burbage, C. Calder, A. Canny, N. Carr, E. Chatterjee, p. Cherniavsky, M. Clark, C. Clark, M. Clark, S. Clark, 5. Clayton, P. Colletti, L. Connell, K. Connolly, J. Connolly, S. Corbin, A. Corkery, D. Cormack, L. Cousens, S. Craske, M. Crinson, M. Cubitt, G. Curtis, L. Daly, E. Dangerfield, G.

Daniels, S. Davidson, B. Davies, G. Davis, H. De Paor, M. Visualising Ireland New York: Faber. Deutsch, K. Dewey, C. Dijkink, G. Doherty, W. Donnelly, P. Duden, B. Development Dictionary London: Zed. Duffy, C. Duffy, P. Dunne, T. Eagleton, T. Edwards, R. Elias, N. Elliot, M. Engels, F. Epstein, A. Fahy, J. Falkiner, F. Fitzpatrick, 0. Fitzpatrick, D. Foster, R. Fox, E. Friel, B. Fromm, E. Garvin, T.

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