History Essays: Nation As An Imagination and History of Italian Risorgimento


“Nationalism is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of Nineteenth Century” is the opening statement of Elie Kedourie’s history of the idea of Nationalism. One may debate with the categorisation of Nationalism as a doctrine, its European origins and the dating of the idea to Nineteenth century, but its impact on creating a politics of a new kind, and that “nationalism is now obviously a worldwide phenomenon, vitally affecting both the material and intellectual development of modern civilisation”, is perhaps easier to agree with.

However, it is perhaps also easy to be in agreement with Walter Bagehot, who reportedly said that nation is a phenomena we understand as long as we are not asked to explain it. The ubiquity of nation states, and the common acceptance of the idea of nationhood as the legitimate, and the only legitimate, principle of statehood, at least since the ‘Wilsonian Moment’ of Autumn 1918, somewhat obscure the contested nature of the historical debates on the origins and the nature of the ‘nation’, and its role in historical transformations.

Anthony Smith have identified three fundamental debates that shaped the historiography of nationalism as
  1. Whether national communities are organic and historical, or voluntarist and brought into being by deliberate political action between the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries;
  2. Whether the awareness of a nation as a large community has long historical roots or brought about by changes with industrial capitalism and rise of the secular political orders;
  3. whether the idea of a nation is a modern social construction brought about by a ‘national’ elite, or such ideas emerged over a long period of time through a connection between the ‘national present’ and an ‘ethnic past’.

This essay purports to explore the role of one particular idea of nationhood, that as an ‘imagined community’, from Benedict Anderson’s eponymous book first published in 1983, in the historical debates about the rise of Nation States, giving particular attention to the historiography of Risorgimento and Italian nationhood.

The idea of ‘imagined community’ attempts to offer a ‘general theory’ of nations and nationhood, taking a ‘social constructionist’ approach and attempts to arrive at explanations of nationalism in emotive and cultural terms. This essay would begin by briefly tracing the origins of the idea within the broad spectrum of theories about nationhood and nation-states, before exploring the contours of the idea itself and its influence on historiography.

Genealogy of the Idea

Hans Kohn, writing in 1945, saw the origins of Nationalism within the socio-political changes in the second half of the Eighteenth century, in the changing ideas about popular sovereignty, with the help of ‘a new natural science and of natural law as understood by Grotius and Locke’, and transformation of the economic life with ‘the rise of the third estate’. While he situated the appeal of nationalism in ‘some of the oldest and most primitive feelings of man’, like ‘love of his birthplace or the place of his childhood sojourn, its surroundings, its climate, the contours of hills and valleys, of rivers and trees’, it was the differences in economic progress and influences of the ‘third estate’, or the commoner and its most influential representatives, the bourgeoisie, that obviated the rise of two different strands of nationalist ideology.

Where the third estate became powerful in the eighteenth century - as in Great Britain, in France, and in the United States - nationalism found its expression predominantly, but never exclusively, in political and economic changes. Where, on the other hand, the third estate was still weak and only in a budding stage at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as in Germany, Italy, and among the Slavonic peoples, Nationalism found its expression predominantly in the cultural field. Among these peoples, at the beginning it was not so much the nation-state as the Volksgeist and its manifestations in literature and folklore, in the mother tongue, and in history, which became the centre of attention of nationalism.

The ideas of ‘cultural nationalism’ have historical roots in the late eighteenth century ‘cultural populism’ of the German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, writing in the late Eighteenth century, as he broke away from the enlightenment tradition of universal reason and cosmopolitanism. While Herder accepted an equality between the cultures, he ‘saw it to be ‘part of God’s plan that we experience the world in organic groups, that the “people” are the natural repository of authentic experience, and that vernacular language and culture are the authentic expressions of our collective identity and experience.’

Opposed to this were the voluntaristic, political ideals of the nineteenth century nation, which found its most eloquent expression in an 1882 lecture by the French linguist, Ernest Renan:
A nation is therefore a large scale solidarity, constituted by the feelings of the sacrifices one has made in the past and of those one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarised, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as the individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life.”

The tension between the Organic and Cultural Communities and Voluntaristic Polity were noticeable in the early Nationalist literature. Smith observes that Fichte and the German Romantics gave a political dimension to Organic nationalism by arguing that ‘true freedom consists in the absorption of individual self-determining wills in the collective Will of the community or the State.’  This was to be achieved through ‘correct’ education in the vernacular language and national struggle, to make individuals strive towards their ‘authentic self’.

It is at this point that these different, continental, strands of ideas about nationhood stood in contrast to the Whig, and American Republican, ideals of individual liberty and democracy, and were rooted in a revolutionary ethic of subjecting individual will to the community in search of an ‘essence’ as the basis of sovereignty. Lord Acton, writing in 1862. noted this, and said as much: “Nationality does not aim either at liberty or prosperity, both of which it sacrifices to the imperative necessity of making the nation the mould and the measure of the state. Its course will be marked by material as well as moral ruin..” In Acton’s vision, the State was different from the nation, which was ‘merely natural’ and it is the state which was to impose a progressive moral purpose on the chaotic world of nationality.

The ideas of nations and nationalism were also antithetical to the Marxist ideas, which presupposed a cosmopolitan culture to emerge with advancement from Capitalism to socialism. But on the fringes of the broad Marxist-Socialist tradition, important ideas about nations and nationhood emerged in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. For example, Georges Sorel, French radical syndicalist whose ideas would influence the European fascists, explored the appeal of myths in people’s ideas and that arguing that industrial progress might make national myths more appealing to the Proletariat rather than making them more class conscious and ready for revolution. At the other end of Europe, Otto Bauer, the Austrian Socialist, wrote Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie (1907) exploring the nationality question, arguing that Nations were historical creations, a product of intermingling of many ethnic communities, and necessitated by the Great Transformation, the dissolution of ancient, isolated communities into the modern industrial societies, and brought into being by a solidarity built around literacy-based high culture.  

After the Second World War, as the Actonian nightmare came true, John Dunn was writing ‘Nationalism was the starkest political shame of the twentieth century’ and commentators were writing deeply suspicious tracts about the idea and politics of nationalism. At the same time, nation-building assumed a different dynamic with the success of national liberation movements in Asia and Africa, and new countries coming into being as nation-states. The national identity and ideals also assumed an emancipatory dimension in Eastern Europe, where the tensions between the Soviet domination and ethnic politics were clearer.

In the 1960s, the lines in the debate about nationalism were very clearly drawn. Elie Kedourie was writing about ‘Politics of A New Style’, defining Nationalism as one that ‘pretends to supply a criterion for the determination of the population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own’. Around the same time, two Czech thinkers, Miroslav Hroch in Charles University in Prague and Ernest Gellner at the LSE in London, were writing very different sociological tracts about the origins of nationalism: Hroch was arguing about the existence of ‘large communities’ through ancient trading links and markets prefiguring later nations, and Gellner was looking for roots of nationalism in modernity and dissolution of the isolated communities. While Gellner’s account focused on sociological processes and had little consideration for national cultures, Hroch treated the nations as anthropologically formed and looked in national cultures and identities for explanation of persistence of nations.

If Acton proved prescient by wars of the Twentieth century, the dissolution of the Empire and the transformation of British Commonwealth into Commonwealth of nation states seemed to point to a transformation of the politics of nationalism into a legitimate organising principle of the states. Even India, a vast project overarching a myriad of nationalities constructed around Actonian imagination, was meant to be very much a nation state, with its founding generation, myths and symbols of nationhood. In Liberal imagination, the Republican Patriotism is meant to combine civic pride and institutional commitments in place of ethnocultural nationalism, and yet this falls short of an explanation how this could possibly build large scale solidarities that a modern nation needs to build.

Persistence and the success of nationalism, as evident in the emergence of new nation states in Asia and Africa and the acceptance of new nation states by the working classes in these countries, prompted new explorations within Marxist historiography as well. A particular problematic was the ‘nationalist’ wars between Vietnam and China in the late 70s, which underlined the need to explain these conflicts using explanations other than the class war.  

It is within this broad context, the ‘cultural turn’ in the ideas about nations should be seen. An important contribution was that of Eric Hobsbawm and his colleagues, who argued that Nationalist ideas and conceptions emerged in the 1830s as a mass democratic and political nationalism in Western Europe and North America, followed by an ethno-linguistic nationalism in the smaller countries of Southern, Central and Eastern Europe in the following decades. It is in this later period, Hobsbawm argued, one could see an ‘Invention of Tradition’, statues, national festivals, an elite-led ‘myth-making’, of ‘creating an ancient past beyond effective historical continuity, either by semi-fiction (Boadicea, Vercingetorix, Arminius the Cheruscan) or by forgery (Ossian, the Czech medieval manuscripts).’ Hobsbawm argued that the “comparatively recent historical phenomenon, the ‘nation’, with its associated phenomena..rest on exercises in social engineering which are often deliberate and often innovative”.  

The ‘Imagined Community’

The idea of nation as an ‘Imagined Community’ should be seen in the context of this ‘cultural turn’ and perhaps specifically as a response to the ‘invented tradition’ within the Marxist historiography. The basic thesis here is that ‘nationality..as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind’ Positing ‘nation’ as an ‘imagined political community’, which is both limited territorially and sovereign politically, Anderson’s basic argument is that this ‘imagination’ is not fabrication and based on falsity, but rather a creative realisation of the existence of a broader community beyond one’s immediate surroundings, as a ‘deep. Horizontal comradeship’.

The idea of ‘imagined community’ is attempting to address several problematics that arose out of Liberal and Marxist historiographies of nation and nationhood. Why, to question the Liberal idea of State as a rational entity focused on liberty and prosperity, would someone be prepared to die for the country, when doing so for Liberal Party would be unthinkable? Also, the Marxist problematic, why do nations persist despite the advancement of Capitalist state, as well as the uncomfortable reality of self-declared Communist States of China and Vietnam going to war with each other, needed an explanation beyond the class-based identities.

Anderson traces the origin of the idea of the nation to the disintegration of the religious communities and dynastic realms. However, for him, it is not enough, as some Modernists would argue, to simply think that ‘nation’ grew into the void left by the decline of religion and dynastic states, with the associated ‘sacred communities, language and lineage’. Instead, he looks for cultural explanations - particularly, in the modern conception of ‘chronological time’ and a new conception of ‘simultaneity’, in which instead of the past, future and the present blending together, as it does in ‘messianic time’ of the medieval age, one recognises the parallel existences of others who we may never meet, and yet whose actions, interests and existences interplay with one’s own. This conception of ‘homogenous, empty time’, argues Anderson, is the result of the new economic life, ‘print capitalism’ propelling new cultural engagements through novels and newspapers, enabling the possibility of an ‘imagined community’, a ‘comradeship’ with people who one may never meet, but whose parallel lives are lived along her own and whose interests and ideas she can share.

Nations as imagined communities, then, are presumed to have its roots in the Sixteenth century convergence of Printing and Capitalism, and emergence of ‘Print Languages’ that could be read by people within a particular geographic territory, thus creating communities which cut across political boundaries of the time, defined by various courts and their languages. Nations as a political form, in Anderson’s view, arise between 1760 and 1830, predating the French Revolution, and as work of creole elite in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Spanish America. The economic change, liberal republicanism, and enlightenment ideas had an impact on the growth of national consciousness, which were, it must be noted, led by men who spoke the language of the Colonial power, Spanish in Spanish America or English in the Thirteen colonies, they were fighting against.

This model of American Nation States then become a model for popular vernacular based movements in Europe, which ‘pirated’ the model of nation state and were influenced by the ideas of the French revolution, from the ‘second decade of the nineteenth century’. As Anderson observes
If we consider the character of these newer nationalisms which, between 1820 and 1920, changed the face of the old world, two striking features mark them off from their ancestors. First, in almost all of them ‘national print languages’ were of central ideological and political importance, whereas Spanish and English were never issues in the revolutionary Americas. Second, all were able to work from visible models provided by their distant, and after the convulsions of the French revolution, not so distant, predecessors.

The advent of ‘popular nationalism’ created a tension between nationalism and imperialism, as the imperial expansions of the major European powers and nation-formation in countries such as England, Russia and France were proceeding alongside. This gave rise to ‘Official Nationalism’, where a ‘national realm’ was nurtured at the core of worldwide multinational empires. This is why, explains Anderson, while “Slovaks were Magyarized, Indians Anglicized, and Koreans Japanified, but they would not be permitted to join pilgrimages which would allow them to administer Magyars, Englishmen, or Japanese.. The reason for all this was not simply racism; it was also the fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging - Hungarian, English, and Japanese. And these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule.”

It is a combination of all three types of nationalism that supplied the model for later nationalisms of Asia and Africa, whose leaders would ‘deploy civil and military educational systems modelled on official nationalism’s; elections, party organisations, and cultural celebrations modelled on popular nationalisms of nineteenth century Europe; and the citizen-republican idea brought into the world by the Americas’. These colonial states, argue Anderson, were based on the colonial imagination - so much so that the new nation states almost identically resemble the old Colonial territories - and this colonial imagination was built around the three artefacts of the colonial rule, Census, Map and Museums. “Map and census shaped the grammar which would in due course make possible ‘Burma’ and ‘Burmese’, ‘Indonesia’ and ‘Indonesians’. But the concretization of these possibilities - concretizations which have a powerful life today, long after the colonial state has disappeared - owed much to the colonial state’s peculiar imagining of history and power.”

Anderson’s world-historical analysis of the nation state as an ‘imagined community’ allows the conversation about nation-states to move forward beyond various dichotomies of culture versus politics, intentionalism versus structure, modernism versus perennialism to one which is based on historical continuity and human agency at the same time. At this point, it may be worthwhile to turn to the historical debates about Italian Risorgimento, and explore how the idea of Imagined Community, and the associated conceptions such as ‘Deep Images’, has contributed to the debate.

Risorgimento Contested

The Italian Risorgimento, or Resurgence, is usually considered a defining phase in the Italian history, like the American or French Revolutions and German Unification for the respective nation states. And, just like the French, German and American events, Risorgimento has a special place in the literature of nationalism, and some of its key leaders, Mazzini, Cavour and Garibaldi, were well known both in their time as well as to the posterity as men who built a nation. However, its canonical place in history did not deter historians from questioning the origin, nature and legacy of the Risorgimento, and its historiography has produced a rich and dynamic study of how ideas about nations and nationalism have played a role in understanding of this historical phase, over time.

The Risorgimento, or Resurgence (1815 - 60), was meant to be a period of resurrecting Italy’s glorious past over an imperfect present, a time of division, foreign occupation, and moral decay. However, after the Italian unification in 1860, when the resurgence failed to materialise and political divisions and economic deprivation continued, the period of Risorgimento itself became the subject of political division and debate, and Italy’s ‘failure to resurge’ and Italian ‘peculiarities’ became the subject of much historical analysis.

After the First World War, collapse of Liberalism and Fascist take-over, the reassessment of Risorgimento history came from two opposite directions, from the idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce and the imprisoned Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci.
For Croche, who published his analysis in 1928, the objective was to defend the achievements of the Historic Right (Desta Storica) of Risorgimento and Italian Unification, whose leaders were presented as ‘a spiritual aristocracy of loyal and upright gentlemen’. For Croche, Italian Fascism had no connection with the Risorgimento, but it was rather an anomaly made possible by the war.

Gramsci, who was influenced by Croche, and whose account would not be published till 1949, nonetheless saw the Risorgimento history in a completely different light. For Gramsci, the Risorgimento was a ‘passive revolution’, marked by a betrayal of the Mazzinian Radical Democrats by the Conservative Liberals who worked with the existing Feudal order. For Gramsci, this was the reason for the ‘breach between Italian Polity and Italian Civil Society’, which caused political instability and social disorder. Fascism arose out of this rupture, argued Gramsci, as a weak bourgeoisie attempted to reorganise the political system and stop a socialist revolution.

The view of Risorgimento as a period of nationalist resurgence under the benevolent liberal leadership, as argued by Croche and others, were already under attack since soon after Italian unification. The Risorgimento leaders were seen more as ‘realists’ rather than ‘nationalists’ and particularly Cavour, along with Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck, was seen to be a pioneer of a realpolitik of state-making. The success of Italian unification was seen more in terms of balancing of the Great Powers, than a nationalist triumph. This view surfaced again in the 1950s and 1960s, in forming a new ‘realist’ orthodoxy about the history of Risorgimento. Denis Mack Smith, while challenging the accounts of Cavour’s realism, argued that the leader was inept as well as cynical in his political ambitions and actions. For the realists, the Italian Unification of 1860 had little to do with national feelings and awareness, but rather this was traditional state-making with little regard to any nationalistic aspiration. Also, with the post-war discomfiture with nationalism, alongside the availability of new archival sources such as Cavour’s correspondence, the historical attention shifted to political and dynastic politics and diplomatic history and away from the ideas of nationhood. While many of these historians rejected Mack Smith’s negative judgements, they shifted away from the grand narrative of ‘nationalism’ as implied in earlier liberal accounts such as Croche’s.

On the left, the Gramscian perspective was deeply influential and the focus shifted to the divisions between the Liberals and the Mazzinians, and on divisions inside the Mazzinian movement itself. The dynamics of political programmes, rather than any account of Risorgimento or the Italian Unification, dominated the Marxist-Gramscian analysis of history of Restoration Italy. From the Marxist-Gramscian perspective, Risorgimento increasingly came to be seen as a movement of the elites, disconnected from the poor, the peasants or the working classes, with political change being brought about by wider social and economic change. These accounts, while treating national movement as an account of political conflict and its legends and heroes with suspicion, held the weakness of the middle classes was the root cause of the weakness of Italian unification.

In the 1980s, a new revisionist history of Italian unification emerged, rejecting all accounts of nationalism and national unification, and focusing instead on the persistence of the local identities. While the revisionist historians rejected the Marxist argument of capitalist development as explanation of social change in Italy on account of regional variations, they prioritised social and economic history over political analysis and produced ‘a rich, varied and complex picture of changing societies, whose politics and identities were unaffected by any notion of the national.’

However, this very approach invigorated a new debate about Italian National Identity, as it failed to satisfactorily answer a number of questions:
For if the political odds were so obviously stacked against them, how and why did the opposition elites struggle to create a united Italy? How, in an Italy characterised by municipal interests, traditional loyalties and separate economies, did the nationalists win the argument against the Restoration rulers?  How was resistance to change transformed into an appearance of a consensus in its favour? Moreover, if Italy was oblivious to nationalist sentiment, how can the fame and popularity of Garibaldi be explained? And why did Cavour perceive an advantage in manipulating nationalist opinion? Finally, if there was no economic or political logic to national unification, what made it happen?

Italy As An Imagined Community

The ‘unintended consequence’ of the revisionist histories of Risorgimento was a search for the roots of Italian identity. Even if Italy was not a political entity until after 1860, a sense of Italian-ness was prevalent among a small educated elite, and culture, rather than politics or economics, defined this ‘nation-ness’. After the French Revolution and subsequent French occupation, the language and iconography of revolution pervaded the Italian-ness, and the repression of the revolutionary politics by Restoration rulers failed to suppress the popular imagination of Italy in the arts. Alberto Banti’s ‘Risorgimento Canon’, “some forty texts through which.. The future young patriots of Italy ‘discover’ the nation, and ‘understand that it is necessary to fight for her’”. Riall writes
For Banti, there is a single continuum which ties the images, metaphors and narratives of these texts to the national-patriotic discourse of Risorgimento politics. In Risorgimento texts and the political rhetoric of Italian nationalists the nation is imagined in similar ways: a voluntary pact amongst a free and equal fraternity; an organic community; an extended family; and a shared historical identity.

Banti, who was deeply influenced by the ‘cultural turn’ in the ideas of nationalism, as is perhaps evident above, published his La Nazione del Risorgimento in 2000, which marked a new turn in Risorgimento historiography. This idea of culture as the ‘binding force’ allowed them to overcome the issues of political competition, focusing instead on ‘a single way to think about the nation’. Also,
[T]he attention to culture - as opposed to social structure or high politics, and the treatment of culture as a variable independent of both - leads to a crucial reappraisal of of Italian nationalism’s reach and importance. The Risorgimento, according to Banti and Ginsborg, ‘was a mass movement’.

This approach led to research in pre-Risorgimento Italian Literary and artistic public sphere which confirmed the increasing ‘italianisation’ well before Italian unification. So, as Riall writes,
[E]ven as cultural activity remained a local affair based on regional networks and associations, its languages, rituals, themes and subjects became more Italian. Italy was an especially strong presence in the visual and performing arts: in painting, music and plays.. Theatre in particular played a nationalising role. The popularity of opera led to a wave of theatre construction in major cities and small towns, and these theatres created a recognisable and uniform public architecture across the Italian peninsula.. Thus, both the theatres themselves and the performances in them provided and helped construct a sense of imagined community in Italy.

The revisionist historians, in support of their ideas about predominant local identities and the elitist nature and irrelevance of Risorgimento, argued that Italian language could not be the national unifying force because of its low penetration. Tullio de Mauro argued that only 2.5 per cent of the population, and only 160,000 people outside Tuscany and Rome, out of 20 million, were ‘Italophones’. However, de Mauro’s definition of ‘Italophone’ was based on ‘command of national language’, which could be achieved, for him, only through post-elementary education. However, this was a highly contestable claim, and based on an expectation of literacy which was uncommon in the nineteenth century, before the spread of public education. Allowing for different degrees of familiarity with the language, the historical Linguist Luca Serianni revised de Mauro’s figures, and estimated that about 10 per cent of the Italian population spoke the national language at home or at work. However, a much larger proportion of the population were able to use the national language whenever necessary, for example, with customers or while travelling, and even a larger section understood the language even if they did not speak it. Putting this together, about 22 per cent Italians understood the language, though, they might not have been able to read the ‘risorgimento canon’.

Riall also points to the use of new science of Statistics and its popularity and use of creating peninsula-wide information as an important element of ‘national imagination’. Also, this new ‘cultural’ approach presents an opportunity to reassess the role of Mazzini and somewhat reverses the image of Cavour and his friends getting the upper-hand over the Mazzinians. Riall writes
Mazzini also realised after arrival in England in 1837, the technologies of mass communication could be used to encourage and spread such feelings of empathy far beyond any natural boundaries of national community. By the middle of nineteenth century, the effects of this nationalising and internationalising print capitalism had become more widespread.
Mazzini’s various newspapers, particularly Apostolato Popolare, published from exile in London, and addressed to ‘Italians and Italian workers’, and his popularisation of Giuseppe Garibaldi as a selfless Italian hero, had enormous impact on Italian imagination, making Garibaldi famous even before he returned to Italy in 1848. Even when Mazzinian insurrections failed, as in Calabrian expeditions, Mazzini could turn them into publicity triumphs winning more and passionate followers of the cause of Italy. Besides, Mazzini’s popularity and influence in England helped spread the Risorgimento ideas all over Europe, which played no little role in influencing various diplomatic decisions in the following years that helped the Italian unification. And, while Cavour and his friends might seem to have won the ‘political conflict’ over the Mazzinians with the decline of the political influence of the latter in the 1850s, that Cavour’s hand was forced into Italian Unification by the expedition of Garibaldi can now be seen as a triumph of Mazzinian politics of insurrection and propaganda.

As outlined in the brief discussion of the historiography of Risorgimento and Italian Unification above, the idea of ‘imagined communities’ rescued ‘nation-ness’ as a legitimate object of historical analysis, and not just as a transient state or a convenient invention by the elite to attain objectives of their own. The idea of ‘Imagined Communities’ allowed the conversation to move beyond both the idealistic notions of a nation being through the imagination of a group of elites and their self-less action, as well as the notions of the nation as an ‘accidental’ creation. Such notions were bound to be challenged with the availability of new evidence, as it was by the revisionists, but their tale of social and regional divisions obscure the key question - why did Italian unification happen at all?

Admittedly, the new historiography of Risorgimento, illuminating as it is in opening up new discussions about public and private spheres, remains a work in progress, and whether it could be called a ‘mass movement’ is still being debated. The connections between ‘high and popular culture’, as well as ‘between secular and religious culture’ are still being debated, and ‘not enough is known about the relationship between cultural developments and social change, or between cultural forms of identification and political action.’  

An emergent approach from this historical analysis is to separate nationalism as a cultural movement from that of nationalism as a political programme, with the connection to political action being provided by political thought and considerations of realpolitik. The argument about separating Cultural and Political Nationalism is not new but rather than reverting back to the ‘cultural primordialism’ and reasserting the ancient origins of the nation, the idea of ‘Imagined Community’ allows cultural nationalism to become a tool of historical analysis in its own right, and supports a system of ideas that links Cultural Nationalism with political action, as the new Historiography of Risorgimento may demonstrate.

The other prominent criticism of ‘Imagined Communities’ idea is that it is elitist, and that its explanation of national awareness depends too much on a Mazzini or a Gandhi. But, as the discussion on Historiography of Risorgimento shows, its implications are quite the reverse: The nuanced understanding of cultural nationalism that it affords, by being distinct both from political nationalism which gives the elites an outsized role, and from cultural primordialism which has a deterministic quality about it, allows one to see the agency of ‘little people’, in a voluntaristic formation of ‘national space’ rather than in submission to a ‘common will’.

In conclusion, the nation as an imagined community exerts a deep influence on modern historiography and opens up new possibilities of historical discussion. It also brings the influence of newer media, radio and television, into the sphere of legitimate concern of historians. As ‘Print Capitalism’ gave way to these newer forms of mass communication, new forms of politics also emerged, history of which is being written now. The relationship, it seems, works both ways: The decline of newspapers have been linked to the diffusion of nationalism in the Western societies, and vigour of the print culture in some of the Asian societies have been linked to affirmation of new national sentiments. And, emergent now is the new politics of Internet, which, with a new narcissism of ‘avatars’, and of personalised news feeds (which can also be said of the proliferation of TV channels made possible by Cable and Satellite television) creates ‘echo-chambers’, a new kind of personalised social existence without the kind of ‘simultaneity’ that allowed the empathies beyond one’s immediate surrounding. The question, asked by Ernesto Laclau, ‘which imagined community’, is acquiring a new potency with the emergence of the new media, and generational and professional divides challenging the sense of belongings and identities of the previous generations. And, in these challenges, one could spot the extraordinary possibility of the idea - in itself as well as an analytical tool - in its ability to generate deep insights and conversations across contexts and historical phases.


Secondary Sources

Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities, Verso Books, London, 1996

Riall, Lucy, Risorgimento: The History of Italy from Napoleon to Nation State, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2009

Balakrishnan, Gopal (Ed), Mapping the Nation, Verso Books, London, 2012

Beales, Derek and Biagini, Eugenio F, The Risorgimento and The Unification of Italy, Pearson, Harlow, Essex, 2002

Cole, Laurence (Ed), Different Paths to the Nation: Regional and National Identities in Central Europe and Italy, 1830 - 70, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2007

Culler, Jonathan and Cheah, Pheng (Eds), Grounds of Comparison: Around The Work of Benedict Anderson, Routledge, New York, 2003

Hayes, Carlton J H, Nationalism: A Religion, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1960

Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence (Eds), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997

Hutchinson, John, The dynamics of cultural nationalism: The Gaelic revival and the creation of the Irish nation state, Allen and Unwin, London, 1987

Kedourie, Elie, Nationalism (4th Edition), Blackwell, Oxford, 1966

Kohn, Hans, The Idea of Nationalism: A study of Its Origins and Background, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1945

Manela, Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009

Patriarca, Silvana and Riall, Lucy (Eds), The Risorgimento Revisited: Nationalism and Culture in Nineteenth Century Italy, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2012  

Riall, Lucy, The Italian Risorgimento: State, society and national unification, Routledge, London, 1994

Riall, Lucy, Garibaldi: Invention of A Hero, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007

Smith, Anthony D, The Nation in History: Historiographical Debates about Ethnicity and Nationalism, Brandeis University Press/ Historical Society of Israel, Published by University Press of New England, Hanover, 2000


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