Friday, 11 November 2011

Hobsbawm on Nations and Nationalism

After really enjoying Eric Hobsbawm’s Interesting Times (2002), I discovered one of his older books in my collection on nationalism which I had never read. So I began reading his Nations and Nationalism Since 1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) which is a very intelligent account of modern nationalism.

Although very clearly written from a Marxist perspective many of Hobsbawm’s points are equally valid for Christians who feel uncomfortable with nationalism. Further, he makes it clear that the death of nationalism is an illusion even though he feels that eventually the appeal of nationalism will decline.

In particular I liked his analysis of the failures of the Versailles Treaty, which he rightly calls the “Versailles peace settlement,” and the misguided policies of President Wilson in promoting “the principle of nationality” after the end of World War I (Hobsbawm 1990:32; 122-133).

Overall this is a useful book even though his Marxism intrudes at times and has been overtaken by later events. Still, it is hard to find a Christian writer with such a clear sense of the idolotary of modern nationalism.

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