Nations and Nationalism since 1780
The question of whether the U. S. A is a nation, state, or a nation-state is one with no straightforward answer. One’s first reaction to the question is to answer that yes the U. S is a nation, for we have been taught and it is generally accepted that the United States is certainly a nation, and as we believe the greatest nation in the world. However, when one considers the many definitions of the word Nation, as taken from the handouts, notes and readings by Benedict Anderson and E. G Hobsbawm the question of the United State’s nationhood becomes much more obtuse.
On page 37 of his book Nations and Nationalism since 1780, Hobsbawm says that historically “in practice there were only three criteria which allowed a people to be firmly classed as a nation, provided it was large enough to pass the threshold. ” According to Hobsbawm the first criterion for nationhood was “its historic association with a current state or one with a fairly lengthy or recent past”. I feel that the United States can certainly fulfill this requirement.
While the U. S began as a colony of Britain, and was at first entirely populated by citizens of other countries, it soon evolved into a country of its own and proceeded to declare and win its independence. Therefore, the U. S satisfies the first criterion because the current U. S. A can be traced back to the original settlers who fought for, and won, independence from Britain. “The second criterion,” according to Hobsbawm, “was the existence of a long-established cultural elite, possessing a written national literary and administrative vernacular.
While we do have a long established cultural elite (Roosevelts, Carnegies, etc. ), what Hobsbawm is asking is does a national language exist? I think so. While many may argue about it, the national language of the U. S is clearly English. While it is true that many people in the U. S speak a language other than English, all business in the U. S and in many other countries is conducted in English. The Constitution is written in English. The cultural elite, which still write all the laws that govern the people just as they have in the past, all can communicate in English.
While we give other people the freedom to speak whatever language they choose, the only way to be successful in the mainstream U. S is to know how to communicate in English, and because of this the U. S satisfies Hobsbawm’s second criterion. “The third criterion, it unfortunately must be said,” writes Hobsbawm, “was a proven capacity for conquest. ” While the U. S hasn’t conquered anyone lately, I feel that the United States still fits the modern interpretation of this criterion.
Historically, the U. S fit this criterion during the Expansion era when the U. S took over/bought the land to build the country up to what it is today. Even the present United States has shown a great deal of ambition for economic and political conquest throughout the globe. Unlike the old days to which Hobsbawm’s criterion apply, land is no longer the only way countries keep score. Now things are more complicated and the nuclear weapons owned by almost every country threaten to wipe out the earth if countries are foolish enough to use them. However, the United State’s economic conquest is already the largest in the world and still growing.
With globalization the U. S is basically moving its economic practices into other countries, and the hosts can either accept the U. S at the cost of their own culture or remain poor. Therefore, the U. S is still satisfying the criterion for conquest every day, just without violence. In the introduction to his book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson gives this definition of Nation: “it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. ” I feel that the U. S meets the standards for this definition of a Nation, but as the definition is somewhat confusing it may take more imagination to grasp. In the definition Anderson uses the term imagined because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members….. yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communication. ”
This is certainly true for the U. S. While I know that I will never meet or even talk to most of the people that live in this country, I can imagine meeting someone from the U. S in another country and being able to identify them as a fellow American. I can also imagine talking to this person, whatever they look like, and finding out that we have something in common, such as a favorite sports team or that I went to school with their cousin. Anderson uses the term limited in the definition because “No nation imagines itself as coterminous with mankind. pg. 7” I feel that the U. S fits with this aspect of the definition because I wouldn’t want to meet someone from another country who claimed that they were American just because they wanted to be.
No citizens of a nation would want that because it would make them less unique, and the country that you’re from is what inherently separates you from the rest of the world. If nothing else it is the feeling of having a specific homeland which gives you a bond with some people, and a difference with the rest of the world. The U. S is also imagined to be sovereign because its citizens must have the belief that even if the rest of the world were to spontaneously combust, then we would be ok.
I feel that the U. S has this feeling as much as, if not more than any other nation. Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. (Anderson, 7)” If nothing else, the United States is clearly an imagined community. Any time the U. S feels it’s way of life being threatened by an outside force citizens are quick to volunteer their lives so that the imagined community of the United States will be around for the next generation. For this reason and all mentioned above, I believe that the U. S is indeed a nation.
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