“There is never a human life prior to the advent of culture.” , the statement by Tzvetan Todorov that appears in his essay “Collective Identities” reflects on the indisputableness of the term “culture”. Culture goes back to the first interaction of the first human being. It is integrated into our nature and it is unavoidable as humans are cultural beings. A person cannot be stripped of all cultural influence. We need culture as a stabile ground, a familiarity that acts as a security blanket and also as the foundation of any individual’s identity. Todorov also underlines the inevitability of change in cultures of any kind with the unavoidable interaction between the surrounding nations. In the last few centuries, these interactions got a lot more complicated and easier at the same time. Rather than the exchange and the influence between neighboring clans, tribes, or nations that is simply as a result of geographical closeness, after the technological developments and the globalization of the world, cultural and national identity became a subject of discussion.
Theories of the existence of one singular homogenous culture emerged, with it came a stand towards protecting one’s nation’s integrity as it was seen as an attack on its own identity. This essay will focus on the effects of these factors and the reemerging of the nationalist movement (or neo-nationalism) around the world in the 21st century. Some of the greater feelings a human being can ever experience is the oneness of tens, thousands, millions of people coming together in a single cause. Take a sports match, a concert for example. A thousand individual voices shouting the same slogan, the same lyrics of a song. There is something about that feeling that empowers us humans to a great extent. That may be the simplest demonstration of how people, maybe stemming from the basic survival instincts that are installed and encoded upon us, crave that sense of belonging and togetherness. This feeling perhaps is, as opposed to the obligation of keeping peace in ours and other people’s lives, the primary cause of creating communities. Not only from a survival standpoint, which is unquestionably a great factor, but also from a phycological perspective; as an act of humans seeking other humans.
Small communities create interactions of various sizes and shapes with other small communities and therefore becomes a larger body of people that share similar values. This brings upon the term “nation”, that has a parallel meaning to this community that has been previously described. A nation is defined in the dictionary as ”a country, especially when thought of as a large group of people living in one area with their own government, language, traditions, etc.” ,a further extended definition made by Montserrat Guibernau, defines it as ‘…a human group conscious of forming a community, sharing a common culture, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule itself’ .
The problem with these definitions is that, they suggest nations having to have a singular umbrella of a culture. It is apparent even in the smallest unit of a society, the family; even in a traditional, endogamous marriage, meaning marrying within a certain group that share common values like social class or ethnicity, there are two different individuals with separate identities, raised by different individuals coming together raising another. Although they all share the same customs, they cannot create the same, cookie-cutter people, they all instill a variety of values upon their children.
This is a good example of the variability within a nation. One can have multiple identities and their own definitions of those identities, also depending on his or her surroundings those identities could take on an additional meaning. “…individual identity stems from the encounter of multiple collective identities within one and the same person.” . For instance, the famous author Franz Kafka, born to a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague (now the Czech Republic) was oppressed not because he was a German speaker but because he was a German speaker in Prague. And he would also be alienated in Germany, as being Jewish in Israel differs from being one in Germany in that time.
Behind his haunting stories lay a man that had multiple layers of selves. No two other person is the same therefore they cannot have the same culture. No culture is stable and unchanged. “…a culture that has stopped changing is by definition a dead culture.” A concept of a pure, uncontaminated nation is obscure. Nations consist of so many different layers as the people in them do, whether the nation itself recognizes the fact or denies it. One of the first things a person is defined and categorized as, along with their race and gender, is their nationality. We are thought to love and celebrate our countries and even sacrifice our lives for “the greater good”.
Maybe defining one’s nationality is as simple as a piece of paper telling which state you belong to, but what if the person also belongs to another, and what if the color of their skin does not match the common feature of the nation their birth certificate tells them they belong to or the language their parents speak at home. As hard as it is to brand an individual as one thing, nations don’t have a hard time defining themselves. Because they create a separate unique self to do so, and do not usually merge themselves with others.
A nation’s identity does not come from its components, it comes from how the government defines itself. In history, instances show that the starting point of many, if not all nations are the process of breaking free from another state’s definition of an identity. They are established generally from the grounds of independence. “Nations often construct themselves in opposition to an idea of otherness, a big part of Irish, for instance is not being English” . As with this example, it is apparent that the Irish built their national identity upon being separate from the English hegemony, but at the same time this act comes across England’s definition of the English identity.
It is pronounced here that the term is very fluent and contextual. The United States of America was another example of a nation built upon freedom but contrarily to others they did not form as a natural community. The American was not of any substance for a while even when they were separate. Before anyone called themselves American, they were just “free”. In its first stages, It was seen as a door to this utopian land of opportunities that embraced all people of all cultures to come together as one and leave any binding to their old traditions. This notion that was called a “melting pot” was seen as the ultimate key for emancipation. We can view this term from two different sociological stand points.
One thinking would say that melting pot was the great bond that creates stability and order that keeps the state together. Another, more of a conflict theory view would say that this idea would be impossible to execute therefore would fuel tremendous inequality, because instead of celebrating and melting all cultures as equal parts into a one pot, what it does is dismissing some elements and overpowering another, carries a heavy ethnocentric vision. This melting pot concept in time changed into a “salad bowl” idea because it was a more of an accurate description of a multicultural society. Because culture could not be melted as one homogenous element and in America it is clear that European culture is more celebrated than an African culture.
Which undoubtedly causes social stratification. Let’s take Chinatown in New York or the Bronx districts. These areas are generally inhabited by people of same ethnicity and cultures. Even when they call themselves American, they tend to hold on to their roots and to each other because it is a form of security as they feel their minority. This is a form of community. Essentially, what brings out that feeling during a football game is a sense of communion. And this is what nationalism drives to achieve in a nation. Because being a Nation does not necessarily come from or consequentially create a social togetherness. Holding a country together cannot be achieved without creating nationalism, a principle that to some various extents, every country possesses. While most scholars would trace the nationalism’s origins to the ancient times and an organic process, in contradiction Ernest Gellner suggests that nationalism is a fairly modern concept in spite of nations’ immense existence and that it is brought upon as a result of western industrialization.
Turning its focus on certain qualifications required by the industrial society being the cause of trying to create a singular culture and a singular identity within the nation . I would suggest that both are correct opinions. Although nationalism comes organically it takes different forms at different times and places. Its intensity changes constantly as does the cultural identity. The United States The Republic of Turkey, like many others, was built upon Nationalism but unlike many western countries, Turkey actually harbors Nationalism as a general principle and the 2nd article in its constitution. “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state ….; loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk, and based on the fundamental tenets set forth in the Preamble.” For Turkey, nationalism meant taking pride in your country and independence. A fairly innocent concept. But in recent time