Book review

Sadmir Sisic

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Eric. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge
University Press, 2.nd. ed. 1992, UK

Biography of author:

„ Eric Hobsbawm was born into a Jewish
family in 1927 to an Austrian mother British Father.
When Hitler came into power in 1933, they moved to England. He
experienced the rise of fascism in Vienna and Berlin. His political stance and
historiography were likely affected by this cosmopolite background. In 1994
during an interview he claimed that if the Soviet Union had succeeded in
creating a true communist society, it would have been worth the deaths of the
twenty million people who perished under Stalin. Additionally, he never denied
Stalin’s truculence and never criticized Stalin for being a nationalist. But it
should be remembered that he never chose to become a Zionist either. On the
other hand, during another interview in 2002 he said; “In Germany there wasn’t
any alternative left. Liberalism was failing. If I’d been German and not a Jew,
I could see I might have become a Nazi, a German nationalist. I could see how
they’d become passionate about saving the nation. It was a time when you didn’t
believe there was a future unless the world was fundamentally transformed.”
Hobsbawm also paid dearly for his Marxism in terms of a reportedly decade-long
stymied career trajectory.”1

In the introduction, I would like to put some ideas
of the book, because I consider it is important having a general attitude of
book. His general attitude is that one cannot be a good historian of the nation
and nationalist at the same time, which backs up the following:

requires too much belief in what is patently not so. 2

Hobsbawm´s story is rich of examples of history of
almost every nation, on the European continent (because he apparently believes
that it comes from here, and he doesn´t put in focus other regions). But what
is interesting? He never mention the whole story, just part of it, presenting
us the real picture of it; nationalism is incorrect, and more precisely, that
it has  wicked verity. It show us the
theory behind, what actually makes a nation. This is  his great contribution.

In first chapter of his book, on so many pages he
explain that nation, actually, doesn´t have its nascency, which means that is
recent phenomenon. This is totally opposite the way how teaches us, and how
historians, politicians talk about it. Verily, encouragement on national
feeling, depends from its conception of being primordial. This is the way how
today´s presents to public are shown. The beginnings of nation are found in
French Revolution, which would make modern nation-states and overcoming
capitalism. Basically, this the period of upbuilding nation, which political
element is more importantly than cultural, because it was important to overcome
loyalities, standing on the way to progress. Author gives here a facts, but
also put us in the way of thinking that nation is recent.

Opposite to Anderson (which accomplishments mentions
in introduction of book), and his syntagm imagined
community, ( the termin which Anderson himself never used like phrase of dissent), Hobsbawm argues that
this syntagm tends ineffectively to fill
the emotional void left by the retreat or disintegration…of real human
To better explain this, relationships we have to other nation and their members
at all, are conceived and developed- they are based on ideas. But what makes it
(nation) so important  from the view of
social and political movements, which would make a nationalism a force? Why and
how it overcame the imagination of masses? Answers relates to governments and
their encourgments of nationalism and its directions accordingly their needs.
Hobsbawm claims that if regimes, at least, in theory do not identify with their
nationalities they are non-national. So: as
we can now see in melancholy retrospect, it was the great achievment of the
communist regimes in multinational countries to limit the disastrous effects on
nationalism within them.4  He made a connection, which seems like a very
good comparation, and good example of religious nationalism, a Russian
nationalism, and the elements that fused into it, were curch and holy icons. Icons,
as Hobsbawm claim, are essential part of nationalism, either religious or not.

give a palpable reality to otherwise imaginary community.5

He concludes, inducing supra-local bonds, and
political bonds, that proto-nationalism is neither satisfying neither needful
for nationalism.

number of national movements, with or without states, is patently much smaller
than the number of human groups capable of forming such movements by current
criteria of potential nationhood, and certainly smaller than the number of
communities with a sense of belonging together in a manner which is hard to
distinguish from proto-national. 6

Hobsbawm´s directions of analysis, seems to me, are
on the good way. He never talk more, that can be backed up with informations
and arguments. This is good, but his approach to the facts or stories, is hard
to understand, so, in one  moment it  can brings out loosing the focus.  Also, he doesn´t put in so much attention on
sense which nationalism spans national patriotism to express social
anomalies  like xenophobia. What makes a fabulous job here, is his knowledge based on series
of lectures, but not trying to give all answers. In one point
of book he relies on other Authors, such are Anderson and Gellener, and their
definitions of these expression ( e.g., Gellner´s definition of nationalism: … primarily a principle which holds that
the political and national unit should be congurent. )7 which
forced me to think deeper about this and similar topics.

 If we return
to first premise that  nations are not crucial and everlasting elements of civilization, his
treatment of first premise (The basic
charateristic of the modern nation and everything connected with it is its
modernity. Pg.15:1992) is a bit tautological.

However, this helps us to understand that studies of
nation before Hobsbamw´s  (which closely
describes nation´s history like ancient, and had natural herritage) are

In conclusion, I am in agreement that nations and
nationalism are modern, and I apsolutely uphold his view based on Marxist
theory that they are appeared under bourgeois ascendancy in Europe. Hobsbawm´s
definitions are too suitable, and also, they are historically helpful. His approach is chronological. Nationalism,
as Author pervades through book, doesn´t have durable tradition and its    necessarily establishment is not in
supra-local bonds (language, ethnicity or religion), as he mentions. Despite my
misunderstandings about some parts of book, I gladly emphasize his analysis are
source of inestimable education.




Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism
since 1780, Cambridge University Press, 2nd.ed. 1992, pg. 12

Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism
since 1780, Cambridge University Press, pg.46

Ibid, pg. 180

Ibid, pg. 71

Ibid, pg. 77

Ibid, pg. 9


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