“The reality is quite plain: the ‘end of the era of nationalism’, so long prophesied, is not remotely in sight. Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time” (Anderson, 1983:3)
Both Benjamin and Anderson try to deal with a fundamental paradox of modern times. The classical neoliberal theory predicted the disintegration of national borders once with the implementation of capitalism at a global level. Even Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, preached: “Workers of the world, unite!” (Marx, 1848). Therefore, although in different forms, both classical liberals and Marx predict the creation of a united world. However, as Nairn will later notice, the theory of nationalism will contradict all Marx’s credos and will represent “his great historical failure” (Anderson, 1983:3). After the Second World War a reverse process took place: the more markets and networks were expanded, the more new forms of nationalism arose at a local level.
Throughout his book, Anderson tries to reveal the mechanisms lying behind the birth of nationalism in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. Glimpsing the imagining character of nationalism, Renan observes that “l’essence d’une nation est que tous les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublié bien de choses”. Therefore, the concept of nation is based on the imagined perception of a communion (the feeling of being subject to a greater providence together with other people) and on history that is constantly reinterpreted. Firstly, Renan’s definition highlights the strong interdependence between the concept of nationalism and the power of affect. As Anderson beautifully writes, “nationalism” will play the same role as religion in the mental of society. It is attractive exactly because of its causality, because it offers the sense of resurrection that people innately are looking for.
Secondly, in order for this restoration to take place, people need to forget and history needs to be interpreted in new terms. The nation is imagined as a homogenous “deep, horizontal comradeship” and its members are willing to die for it, if an outside threaten is perceived (Anderson, 1983:7). Popular nationalism becomes the great mobilizer, presented in terms of “self-defence”. However, the sense of danger always emanates from the leaders and serves the interests of the leaders: “it is leadership, not people, who inherit old switchboards and palaces” (Anderson, 1983:159). Therefore, money, portrayed as the “booty”” of the victorious, is at the base of nationalism (historical materialism). It is a “procedure of empathy” (Benjamin, 1940:VII).