A Critical Review of the Book National Identities by Anthony Smith

Date:  2021-04-12 10:31:09
5 pages  (1149 words)
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Middlebury College
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The post-Cold War across the world was marketed with the renewed understanding and existence of nations and the concept of nationalism. Different scholars have emerged to strongly present their analysis regarding the implication of national identities, origins, and development. One of the profound researchers is Anthony Smith who is a British sociologist. Smith published the book National Identities where he presented the concept of nationalisms and the existence of nations from the perspective of ethnic and cultural inclinations. The arguments put forward have created new dimensions regarding the essence and lifetime of nations and whether nationalism exists. The author has presented different postulates regarding ethnic identity and the interrelation with the religious tendencies. This section is a critical review of the book National Identities by Anthony Smith.

Smith sets a foundational background on the categories, which he argues that they compose an individual or self. One of the fundamental category presented is the aspect of gender, which he argues is universal and pervasive. Smith states that a person can define their genders just as they regularly influence their opportunities and rewards they encounter in life. Smith claims that the onset of feminism did not have a significant influence on gender as a factor that defines humans because the relevance of the dimension has been ignored. Moreover, Smith presents space or territory as another dimension subjected to the local and regional perspectives. According to the book, regionalism is stronger than localism whereby the latter, if at all it establishes a movement, then it will still be founded on ideology rather than ecology (Smith, 1993). However, Smith points out that regionalism is associated with the failure to sustain their mobilized populations whenever grievances and social problems emanate. Furthermore, Smith presents socioeconomic identity as the third and influential collective dimension. The dimension correlates with the existence of social classes within a stratified society. The social classes have been the basis of political and military decisions that eventually influence the entire community system. Nevertheless, Smith points to the difficulty that exists with the struggle to have a universal identity in a stratified political environment.

Furthermore, Smith has founded his arguments on the presented understanding of nation identity and nationalism. According to the book, a nation can be viewed as a historical-based homeland associated with distinct origin and population. Myths and history moments characterized by several notable instances and memories also forms part of national identities. A critical assessment of Smiths work narrows to heritage, culture, and religion as the essential elements of the history. The cultural orientations that are shared across different subgroups that form the community are what contributed to the onset of conglomeration. Therefore, a nation is viewed as a set of coexistence where the people are subjected to common legal rights and obligations. Based on the duplicated duties for all members, nations depict related economy with territory mobility that generates a complex and abstract system. Nevertheless, Smith points out how the complexity of national existence creates two distinct territorial influences: civic and ethnic. The political, social, and economic needs and transformations, therefore, conform to the ethnic and civic-territorial inclinations. Smith points out that the appeal to national identity is part of the popular legitimation for solidarity and social order (Smith, 1993). Eventually, the existence of class creates two distinct classes: the elites associated with the civic territory and the subjects, which he refers to the wild or ethnic-genealogical population. Therefore, according to the book, the understanding of nations cannot be achieved without factoring in the cultural-religious and socioeconomic elements, which presents the necessary truth.

Although most of the presentations and arguments are valid, Smiths work is subjected to some faults. The attributes depicted for an ethnic identity is similar to the sociopolitical identity factors. Therefore, we expect to see a universal characteristic-based elements depicting the nations. If both the nation and ethnic group have interrelated identity elements, then the question of diversity should not present a challenge on the social, economic, and political affairs. Therefore, Smith presenting his arguments such as an ethnic group being more of mythical ties and ancestry, as well as being part of the small families that build up a nation contradicts with his earlier understanding of the difference between race and ethnic belonging. Smith holds that ethnic are primordial; however, he does not account for the distinct claims and rhetoric, which form nationalists ideologies such as the common economic responsibility yet different social classes as well as common rights and obligations yet diverse types of legal-based skewness (Smith, 1993). In as much as Smith esteems the primordial nature of ethnic, the effect of shared implications of different revolutions defined the culture, economic, and social orientations of the previous era for example from Iron Age, Mycenaean, Dorian, Dark Ages, Archaic, Classical, to Hellenistic periods respectively.

Furthermore, Smith has overemphasized on the ethnic capacities regarding community solidarities without factoring in the effect and contribution of racism in defining the orientations exhibited with the concept of modern nationalism. The same nature of exclusion is witnessed when Smith points the commonality of focus associated with ethnic and ancestral origin. However, some historical accounts of the disintegration of major empires such as Persia and modern Greece and later Rome were characterized by internal wrangles that ended up sweeping the established political, economic, and social systems as well as increasing external invasions based on increasing vulnerability. Furthermore, Smith has presented a European-centered analysis of the theme where he overrepresented present day France and England as the core progenitors of nation and nationalism (Smith, 1993). Instead of presenting a comparative perspective of the Soviet Union and the United States, Smith could have presented how ethnic were fundamental in advancing nationalism in these states. Smith also depict a high degree of generalization of arguments, which affects the reliability and relevance of the historical examples used to support the arguments. Such tendencies are subjected to inaccuracies, which increases the level of skepticism that readers will have towards the vital work that Smith presented.

In conclusion, Smith has presented important arguments regarding the interrelation between ethnic origins and influences on the existence of nationalism. The book has put forward the dimensions that provide the baseline for identity unique to ethnic communities and nations. The comparative assessment has revealed how both cultural and religious diversity contributed to the witnessed ancestral-related diversity. Moreover, Smith has expounded on the effect of social commonality characterized by socioeconomic diversity creating distinct groups within the same national existence. However, the generalization of the historical accounts and combination of diverse experiences without clarity is a literature shortcoming associated with the book. The European-centric analysis that Smith used allowed him to popularize England and France as the environments that cultured nationalism. Moreover, other factors that bring diversity within the society such as race have been defined in the book but not evaluated. Therefore, the book is essential as a foundational research on nationalism and ethnic identities.

 

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