Monthly Archives: March 2007

‘Imagining Postcolonial Communities’


Imagining Postcolonial Communities
Thoughts on Benedict Anderson

Imagined Communities.
Benedict Anderson.
London: Verso, 2006 [1983].

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.
Dipesh Chakrabarty.
Princeton: Princeton, 2000.


In setting out to criticize the arguments of a book as influential and as justly celebrated as Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, one is right to proceed cautiously. It is impossible to calculate the value of a book which, in addition to launching a whole series of hotly-contested discourses on the emergence of nationalism, remains after more than two decades the undisputed classic of the field. Yet for all its obvious merits, the foundations upon which Anderson constructs his thesis are far from solid, as reviewing that thesis with the help of Dipesh Chakrabarty will demonstrate.

Nationalism and the West — Anderson’s Contribution

Anderson begins his account by reflecting on the then-recent invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam and the problem that this conflict posed for Marxist historiography. The difficulty lay in the demonstrable lack of proletarian solidarity and obvious national interest motivating the attack—i.e., by an utter inability to justify the action in Marxist-historical terms. Setting aside the thin rationalisations for previous inter-Marxian conflict, the record of violence in and betwixt Marxist régimes plainly shows that a revolutionary consciousness has never taken root in the way foreseen by Marx and Engels, and Anderson sets out to explain the countervailing force upsetting these calculations—that is, nationalism.1 Rightly noting that “since World War II every successful revolution has defined itself in national terms”, Anderson applies an overdue corrective to an ideological blindness affecting, not only Marxists, but Western planners as well.2 Nationalism is, indeed, to be found everywhere in the world to-day, animating states of tremendous cultural and historical diversity.

Acknowledging from the outset that this ubiquitous presence—nations, nationalities, nationalisms—has “proved notoriously difficult to define”, Anderson sets about proposing a new definition: a nation “is an imagined political community… [that is] both inherently limited and sovereign.”3 They are imagined in the sense that they are abstract, in the way that “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact” are, and in their being specific creations or inventions;4 and they are limited by finite populations and borders, but assumed fully to command what lies within them. But as communities, they are heir to that fraternity shared at the smaller scale of personal (objective) community. In this they have often been imagined to have an ancient or timeless appearance, have exercised an universal jurisdiction—all lands falling under the control of some nation—and, critically, they have come to possess a powerful, magnetic attraction, arousing “deep attachments” in their members despite “their philosophical poverty and even incoherence”.5

But as we will see, these “artefacts” are a peculiar creation of Western European culture, which have simply been universalized in the centuries since first emerging in the Americas. In Anderson’s formulation, the nation depended for its emergence upon three historical factors: secularism, language, and print-capital. Each of these changes was in turn conditioned by the decline of three elements of the Ancien Régime social structure: the fading away of sacred script languages (particularly Latin, but also Greek and Hebrew); the loss of faith in divine monarchy; and the end of “what Benjamin calls Messianic time, a simultaneity of past and future in the instantaneous present.”6 Each of these factors is contingent upon circumstances in the West, and Anderson’s attempt to globalize nationalism on these bases is convincing only in a context of a Western intellectual hegemony. Without digressing needlessly, one might casually note the persistence of Arabic as a “particular script language offer[ing] privileged access to ontological truth”, and perhaps the presence of Hirohito as a living god during the high point of modern Japanese nationalism.7

An expression pioneered by Anderson, ‘print-capital’ refers to the development and profitable exploitation of the written word, as in newspapers and popular novels. Print-capital, and the social-administrative transformation that accompanied it, set the stage for the modern state. Early printing was mostly in Latin, but in the cultural revolution set off by easier access to religious texts (i.e., the Reformation) printing quickly spread to the vernacular.8 This growth of written material helped to stabilize languages and slow the normal course of ‘drift’. This in turn led to the evolution of “languages-of-power”, which, taking advantage of the new technology, hedged out the mostly-spoken and relatively easily-assimilable dialects on the fringes of a given power structure.9 A common vernacular tongue was, according to Anderson, essential in the first phase of nationalist development, and only in later forms could a polyglot nationalism survive. However, despite significant mention of the difficulties in establishing a vernacular in the Habsburg realms, he does not seem to notice the existence of modern nationalism within that empire; even without a true common tongue, there was little shortage of soldiers in the Great War. But finally, with the rise of vernacular printing, especially in the new languages-of-power, sacred script tongues began rapidly to give way, accelerating the conditions for a secular modernity.

It is in the treatment of religion that Anderson’s thesis is most in need of extension, for whilst he wishes to make use of the new ‘secular’ culture of Europe, what has in fact developed is anything but secular. It is to transformations of religious identity and concept that we must turn, as has been noted by some of Anderson’s followers.10 But within that transformation, at the widening gap betwixt the religious and new-born secular-scientific spheres, came one of the most significant developments in this transition—a subtle change in the ‘apprehension of time’ itself.11 Building on the apocalyptic eschatology of the early Christian communities, mediaeval civilizations had paid little heed to the passing years; all of time was already present and connected in G-d’s plan. Novels and newsprint led the way to a new conception of time, one linking together the many peoples of the earth beneath a single, linear stream with simultaneous action in differing parts. In the memorable phrase Anderson borrowed from Walter Benjamin, we were now to conceive of a ‘homogeneous, empty time’, wherein simultaneity is “transverse, cross-time, marked not by prefiguring and fulfilment, but by temporal coincidence, and measured by clock and calendar.”12 We all, therefore, share a single temporality; we all exist in the same world.

But this world was still ruled according to a ‘stagist’ view of time, a neo-Hegelian view of progress and development. Civilizations that had not evolved the same kind of secularism, or reached the same level of technical brilliance, were treated as ‘immature’ and in need of ‘assistance’. We are concerned here not with the particulars of colonial ideology, but with their basis in the same transitional qualities Anderson is keen to recognize in nationalism, for it is in this realm that Anderson’s ideas become noticeably problematic. It is well and good to note the way in which Western nationalism emerged, and it is vitally important that we understand the nature of that nationalism in order to see how it has fared as a universal model for the world in the centuries since. But that conception maintains, amongst other difficulties, a fundamentally secular view of time and space: What happens to Anderson’s model of secular nationalism when it is applied to a civilization with radically different experiences of religious modernity?

Empty, Homogeneous Time? — The Challenge of Pluralism

Dipesh Chakrabarty, in his tour de force intervention in post-colonial historiography, injects some much-needed pluralism into Anderson’s project. He takes issue with the way ‘imagination’ is used in that author’s title, seeking to “open up the word for further interrogation” and to “breathe heterogeneity” into it by allowing “for the possibility that the field of the political”—in which communities are to be imagined—”is constitutively not singular.”13 His approach involves a kind of anti-modernist stance (though Chakrabarty refuses the post-modernist appellation), drawing heavily on Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and Foucault. For Chakrabarty, modernity is a Eurocentric metanarrative, which has been presumed to have universal and unquestionable applicability, and which is assumed to take a standard form. His scepticism with regard to such a position means that his intervention will extend well beyond the Marxian discourse that inspired Anderson, though it would be impossible to develop in the absence of such.

The Europe that Chakrabarty wishes to ‘provincialize’ is not a place, but a reified, “imaginary figure that remains deeply embedded in clichéd and shorthand forms in some everyday habits of thought that invariably subtend attempts in the social sciences to address questions of political modernity in South Asia.”14 Although his stated concern and disciplinary background limit his project, it does not hamper his thesis, as the “habits of thought” that he describes occlude opportunities for change in strictly European terms as well. They are found in the unavoidable discourses of modernity—”citizenship, the state, civil society, public sphere, human rights”, and so forth. As Chakrabarty notes, “one simply cannot think of political modernity without these and other related concepts that found a climactic form in the course of the European Enlightenment and the nineteenth century.”15 But as he is also quick to point out, “European thought has a contradictory relationship” to the rest of the world, and he finds that it is “both indispensable and inadequate in helping… to think through the various life practices that constitute the political and the historical” outside of the West.16 Chakrabarty thus engages the entire Western model of political development, and suggests ways in which it can be adapted and modified.

To do so, he “challenges us to rethink two conceptual gifts of nineteenth-century Europe… One is historicism… the other is the very idea of the political”.17 The first of these must take account of the way time is broached in common usage, for the ‘stagist’ view of time noted above carries the considerable weight of an imperialist origin. Chakrabarty cites two immediate examples: that to imagine the discourse of post-colonialism as following on post-modern / post-structuralist thought is to practice historicism; i.e., to continue the argument “first in the West, and then elsewhere”; and, in critical theories of economics, “nobody sees ‘late capitalism’ as a system whose driving engine may be in the third world.18 The word ‘late’ has very different connotations when applied to the developed countries and to those seen as still ‘developing'”—i.e., they are ‘late’ because they are ‘behind schedule’ in relation to the West.19 The problem lies in the argument’s construction: Does the West represent the way forward, and all other parts of the world are ‘behind’ her in linear time? Or are there as many ways ‘forward’ as there are peoples?

For most theorists hitherto, including (it would appear) Benedict Anderson, and for the economic structures of global capital, the former has been the preferred approach. Chakrabarty sees in such formulae the universalizing tendency of colonial discourse, and draws attention to small details that, under analysis, highlight the underlying assumptions. For example, he quotes E. P. Thompson on one aspect of the modernity project: “Without time-discipline we could not have the insistent energies of the industrial man; and whether this discipline comes in the form of Methodism, or of Stalinism, or of nationalism, it will come to the developing world.” But, even “if Thompson’s prediction were to come true… we would never know for sure whether this condition had come about because [time-discipline] was a genuinely universal, functional characteristic of capital, or whether world capitalism represented a forced globalization of a particular fragment of European history.”20

Questioning the nature of historical time and its flow forces us also to challenge the nature of the political subject constructed within it. “Imaginations of socially just futures for humans usually take the idea of single, homogeneous, and secular historical time for granted. Modern politics is often justified as a story of human sovereignty acted out in the context of a ceaseless unfolding of unitary historical time.”21 But if time is not secular, if spirits and powers are immanent, if one believes they are ‘seeing beyond the real’ in a transcendental sense, then secular historical time may not be a sufficiently complex analytic. Anderson has used the word ‘imagined’ in an “enormously suggestive” form that may be self-evident for Westerners, but is complicated by other ways of perceiving, such as the “divine sight” he describes in Bengali practice. Chakrabarty asserts that Anderson’s use of ‘imagined’ is a “subject-centered category”, whereas “divine sight” does not even require one “to erect a category called ‘the mind'” (here he invokes, for comparison in the Western tradition, Spinoza and Deleuze, both for their immanent ontological theories).22

This may seem, on the surface, to be a rather esoteric point, but it has deep implications for the way in which the political is constructed in modern nationalist discourse, for the Western mode of political thinking more generally, and for the capitalist enterprise itself. “One empirically knows of no society in which humans have existed without gods and spirits accompanying them.”23 Whatever one may feel about the validity of various creeds—or, indeed, of religion itself—any system of thought which consigns the religious to a ‘pre-modern’ oblivion was not designed with human beings in mind. Even in the West, where secularism runs like a mighty current in the ocean of modernity, religion continues to play an omnipresent rôle in public discourse. That religion is generally of the sort accommodated by Western political norms, but not exclusively so24; and the question is far more urgent for cultures in which there exists no historical divide betwixt the spiritual and personal, or in which no division betwixt religion and politics is possible. This last is a persistent problem in Western confrontations with Islamist states and groups, and a subtle critique of their entire Weltanschauung cannot fail to creep into bilateral discussions.

These differences in basic outlook necessarily force the adaptation of Western modernity to differing contexts—and these alternations often sits poorly with the underlying civilisation, and can leave open wounds for later generations. “Capital brings into every history some of the universal themes of the European Enlightenment, but on inspection the universal turns out to be an empty place holder”, and the particular will need to be accommodated.25 What is generally called the “transition to capitalism” involves an often-painful “process of translation of diverse life-worlds and conceptual horizons about being human into the categories of Enlightenment thought that inhere in the logic of capital.”26 Forced by colonial powers or modern institutions of global capital to assume a direction that it ‘intelligible’ in the West, the colonial subject is nevertheless not on a direct path that will land him at the same ‘level’ of development as his present or former masters; in fact, “this single subject” who is meant to change himself to live in this world “breaks up, on examination, into multiple ways of being human, which makes it impossible for us to reduce this moment to any summary narrative of transition from a premodern stage to modernity.”27 Caught betwixt the value and the logic of modernity, and the insistence of ancient tradition and cultural context, the (post-)colonial subject is in a double-bind; and that, to echo Chakrabarty, is simply a fact of life in “the restless and inescapable politics of historical difference to which global capital consigns us.”28

Fault Lines — Comments and Conclusions

By now we have seen that Benedict Anderson has offered a clever analysis of the origins of nationalism is the West, and we have seen why such a formula would not likely have developed in the same way elsewhere in the world. And, given the colonial past and economically-hierarchical present, the Western model has been pressed upon much of the planet, with varying degrees of success. Dipesh Chakrabarty has suggested that for the regions in which this model is inadequate, a new interpretation should be developed, in dialogue with the intellectual legacy and analytical tools bequeathed to the world by the West. And yet the source of those tools has led to a privileging of European history and thought above all others, forcing a basic engagement with its critical moments and thinkers—as Chakrabarty notes in his introduction, non-Western historians are expected to have assimilated the canon of Western history, but no such reciprocity is on offer. Additionally, the formerly-colonized nations have thus far failed to develop many competing tools that have been adopted by the West (which would help to forge the two-way communication needed for a truly pluralistic academy).29 Chakrabarty notes that “insofar as the academic discourse of history… is concerned, ‘Europe’ remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories”30

With this last in mind, one could argue that—whether guided by Marxian, Hegelian, Christian, or some other set of principles—every major institution of Western domination has been conceived within an inherently teleological model, presenting (and often perceiving) itself as the logical outgrowth of some profound process, fit to be adapted for use anywhere in the world. Chakrabarty quotes Meaghan Morris: “The modern [will continue to be seen] as a known history, something which has already happened elsewhere, and which is to be reproduced, mechanically or otherwise, with a local context.”31 Failure consciously to adapt the useful aspects of Western modernity has led to conflict, and often outright failure in the process of nation-building; and where such values have nevertheless been brought into operation, they have frequently been altered as a result of such conflict.

Put succinctly, the history of nation-states and nationalism is the history of the West. The imposition of that history, and of its ultimate productions, on the entire world has provided, seemingly, a basis for mutual intercourse amongst humans of every race and creed. But as this imposed history is founded on a lie—viz. that the Western experience of secular political development makes sense in any cultural milieu—it is by definition unstable and contested. Chakrabarty’s basic intervention “is to write into the history of modernity the ambivalences, contradictions, the use of force, and the tragedies and ironies that attend it.”32 Urging recognition of the “irreducible pluralities” that inform the “constitutional heterogeneity of the political”, we are to try building into the means of inscribing history a proper mechanism for retention of the contradictions and coercions that created the modern world.33 This “nontotalizing conception of the political” will then presumably open the door to a new kind of history—one that does not, as yet, exist.34

Epilogue — “My Country, Right or Wrong”…?

The need to stick closely to the two texts used in our seminar prevented several features of this analysis from being developed more fully. One of these seemed pertinent enough to warrant a brief exposition here, even if it is now entirely disconnected from the arguments above.

In a more recent work—The Spectre of Comparison—Anderson makes a significant addition to the argument in Imagined Communities. Dealing with the thorny issue of identity, he develops the language of “two profoundly contrasting types of seriality”, which he calls ‘bound’ and ‘unbound’. Anderson explains the distinction thus: “Unbound seriality, which has its origins in the print market, especially in the newspapers, and in the representations of popular performance, is exemplified by such open-to-the-world plurals as nationalists, anarchists, bureaucrats, and workers… Bound seriality, [by contrast,] has its origins in governmentality, especially in such institutions as the census and elections, and is exemplified by finite series like Asian-Americans, beurs, and Tutsis.”35 This definition accompanies and amplifies his effort to “draw as clear an analytic line as feasible between nationalism and ethnicity.”36 In both of these tasks his approach is seriously misguided.

Unless one is to lapse into metaphysics and postulate an a priori category for every possible bureaucratic distinction, we must face the fact that they are socially constructed—as much so in most cases as the supposedly “liberating” unbound serialities. The process that forms both types of seriality is simple ‘Othering’, one need go no further into psycho-analytic theory than that; identities such as those he describes are all created negatively—that is, through exclusion. One is an anarchist because she is not a statist; a French national because he is not a German. It is possible to change these categories in most cases—and this is an area of the original Imagined Communities thesis that needed work—through such things as emigration, so they must be understood as fluid and consensual. But this is their only substantive difference.

Bound serialities are ostensibly ‘bad’ because they are assigned from the outside, according to conditions one cannot change. Are not the unbound type managed in much the same fashion? Each of his examples of unbound seriality rely upon the consent of others to recognise a chosen status. Likewise each of the examples listed for bound seriality involve artificial designations created by society for its own purposes. We need look only to the Rwandan genocide to see the lack of objective bases—the Tutsis are not a ‘race’ distinct from the Hutus, but the result of an arbitrary distinction forced upon them by European conquerors. This allows, admittedly, for socially-constructed categories of external oppression—but could not the same apply to unbound serialities? Were not anarchists at times persecuted merely because they were anarchists? because someone identified them as anarchists? Are not brutal wars waged betwixt patriots of opposing nationalities? and men gunned down in ‘cold blood’ because they were of the wrong nationality? This is especially problematic when combined with Anderson’s observation of universal applicability—in his words, “everyone can, should, will ‘have’ a nationality, [just] as he or she ‘has’ a gender”37 What of nationalities that are forced upon individuals, such as through conquest and annexation, or the creation of new states?38 Only by neglecting the rôle of state coercion can unbound serialities escape the criticism Anderson levels at ‘ethnic politics’.

The whole distinction betwixt serialities seems informed, more than anything else, by Anderson’s desire to salvage some inherent value in the venerable conception of nationalism—as if the violent excesses of the past two centuries had been undertaken in the name of mere corruptions to their essential purity! In his conclusion to The Spectre of Comparison, Anderson observes that from the perspective of the common man, “no matter what crimes a nation’s government commits and its passing citizenry endorses, My Country is ultimately Good.” He then asks, in these troubled times in which we live, “can such Goodness be profitably discarded?”39 If we are ever to accept the rights of all humans to live as they choose, without their being targeted for destruction on the basis of purely contingent matters such as their place of birth, the answer is an unqualified ‘yes’.

1      Anderson,Benedict. Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 2006. 1-2.
2      Anderson. Imagined. 2.
It is arguable that the US government’s failure to perceive the nationalist character of Vietnamese ambitions led to a ‘domino theory’ of engagement that left two million dead.
3      Anderson. Imagined. 6.
4      Anderson. Imagined. 6.
An interesting rationale for this can be found in evolutionary psychology, which suggests that the maximum number for human social groupings is around 150—any larger and normal social processes can no longer keep order, and hierarchy and violence will emerge. See, e.g.,Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language,Harvard 1998.
5      Anderson. Imagined. 5.
6      Anderson. Imagined. 24.
7      Anderson. Imagined. 36.
8      Anderson. Imagined. 37-40.
9      Anderson. Imagined. 45.
He gives an example in High German (e.g.,that of the Habsburg court) and Platt-Deutsch (or, more properly, Niederdeutsch)spoken in the north-western lowlands. As the two are orthographically almost identical, the latter could not compete successfully as a print form.
10    For the use of religion in setting up a nationalist contrast with theOther, see Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1701-1837;for the use of religious themes and techniques in the development of a parallel secular identity, see David Bell, The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800.
11    Anderson. Imagined. 22-26.
12    Anderson. Imagined. 24.
13    Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought andHistorical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. 149.
14    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 4.
15    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 4.
16    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 6. emphasis added.
17    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 6.
18    On the other hand, it could be argued that a refusal to acknowledge the debt to certain Western intellectual currents informing post-colonialism is simply a denial of legitimate influence. It is difficult to see here why it is inadmissible to identity a post-modern cast but perfectly appropriate to suggest working with and through the Western canon as a whole.
19    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 7.
20    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 69.
21    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 15.
22    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 174-5.
23    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 16.
24    One might think here of Pentecostalism, which privileges ‘speaking in tongues’ and the ‘direct experience of G-d’s presence’, as being in many ways incompatible with modernity.
25    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 70.
26    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 71.
27    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 148.
28    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 70.
29    Notable exceptions, of course, are post-colonial and subaltern studies, yet the use of these new analytics by European historians in their ownwork has been fairly limited, and those analytics themselves depend for their coherence upon the Western Marxist tradition.
30    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 27. emphasis added.
31    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 39.
32    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 43.
33    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 179.
34    Chakrabarty. Provincializing. 149.
35    Anderson,Benedict. The Spectre of Comparison: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World. London:Verso, 1998. 29.
36    Anderson. Spectre. 29.
37    Anderson. Imagined. 5.
38    And whilst we’re assigning nationalities, what of those with multiple passports? If I hold Israeli and American citizenship, is my nationality as clear-cut as most people would like to consider their gender?
39    Anderson. Spectre. 368.

‘Nations And Nationalisms, Forged And Invented’

Nations and Nationalisms, Forged and Invented
Thoughts on Linda Colley and David A. Bell

Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837.
Linda Colley.
London: Pimlico, 2003 [1992].

The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800.
David A. Bell.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

1.0 Introduction — Commonalities: Religion, War, and Homogeneity

It is a clear testament to the enduring influence of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities that nearly every work on nationalism to follow has been either set within its thesis or has constructed itself in dialogue with that work. It is used in ways both strikingly similar and occasionally differing in two landmarks of eighteenth-century scholarship: David Bell’s Cult of the Nation in France and Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation. In moving through these works, it will be helpful at times to recall Anderson’s basic arguments and identify their moments of salience. This review will bring the texts together, discussing their respective problematizing of three common themes; explore some of the particularities each text contains; locate the rôle played by sources in each argument’s construction; and end with an analysis of the contribution these authors have made to our understanding of nationalism and the process of state-formation.

Despite their many differences, Britons and Cult of the Nation are, in some sense, paired opposites in both their subject matter and theme. Each advances an explanation for the emergence of nationalism and a national identity (though in Bell more of the former, Colley more of the latter) that deals comprehensively with the religious make-up of the great majority; with the affects of war and the Other as national enemy par excellence; and the ethno-cultural diversity of the domestic populace. Each will be addressed in turn below.

2.0 Religion and National Identity — Protestants and Catholics

Great Britain, as Colley asserts, was by law “a pluralist yet aggressively Protestant polity.”1 For a century and a half, practically the entire duration under discussion in Britons, Catholics were officially discriminated against, and in time of war or national distress they were at times scape-goated by rowdy English nationalists—assaulted, dunked in the river like witches, their property seized or destroyed.2 The reasoning can be found in the way Britons chose to construct their past; a long parade of national disasters were laid at the feet of Catholics, from Guido Fawkes to the Great Fire of London. The trials of Protestants on the Continent were used as object lessons in ‘popish’ tyranny, and events as far apart as the Great Armada and the Glorious Revolution were thought to be signs of God’s special favour in sparing the English the ‘pain’ of Catholic domination.

There was, of course, no imminent danger posed by Catholics towards their majority fellow subjects, but fear was nonetheless consistently fed in the popular imagination and by official legislation (how else to interpret the prohibition against Catholics possessing weapons?). Fear turns easily to hate, and hate to persistent prejudice and stereotyping—Colley quotes a poem declaring that to be Catholic “was to be economically inept: wasteful, indolent and oppressive if powerful, poor and exploited if not.”3 Against this powerful ‘Other’, the constituent peoples of Great Britain could look to a common identity as Protestants (albeit of differing flavours), and Colley draws attention to this shared religious identity repeatedly in her account, seeing in it a major source of ‘national’ identification. In particular, the language of religious difference was invoked when Britain was at war with Catholic France; however, Colley’s interpretation of this specifically religious dimension to war neglects the fact that Britain was usually allied to one or more Catholic powers against France (Habsburg Austria, Spain, etc.). This was further complicated when Britain went to war with Revolutionary France, as the same antagonistic language often leapt to the fore but without the religious or absolutist context, which greatly complicates Colley’s reading.

Religion did, however, act to shape the developing Constitution and views on society expressed at all levels. As the power of Parliament grew, “apologists [for state power] abandoned appeals to the divine right of kings, a doctrine that had always posed enormous problems, and took their stand instead on both divine providence and the people’s will”, with some eye toward the former directing the latter, no doubt.4 As the first site of industrial development, the interplay of religion and work in Britain has occupied historians for some time. “All too often, economic growth… has been seen as a modernising agent and therefore antipathetic to religion. But… in practice, economic growth co-existed very comfortably with a profoundly Protestant patriotism”.5 In this sense, Colley echoes both Max Weber6 and Edward Thompson7, with the religious sensibilities of the British people seeping into their industrious lifestyle.

At several points Colley makes excellent use of a long tradition reading England as a new Israel, citing patriotic sermons equating the two and a popular translation of the psalms whose author “thought nothing of replacing references to ‘Israel’ in the original text with the words ‘Great Britain’.”8 This “special destiny” would crop up regularly until late in the nineteenth century, much as it would in the American experience, and it merits mention by Bell. Religious and racial exceptionalism contributed mightily to the violent xenophobia directed outward from Britain, with Bell citing, by way of example, a “comparison of British and French colonial policies in North America, which shows that an exclusionary Britain set up much stricter boundaries than France did between white settlers and Indians and made it far more difficult for Indians to integrate into colonial society”.9 As he goes on to note, this “prejudice formed an integral element of the British national idiom in a way that had no French equivalent.”10

Bell also sees religion as central to the construction of French national identity, though in markedly different fashions. Taking his cue from Marcel Gauchet’s book The Disenchantment of the World, Bell sees the modern nation-state emerging at precisely the moment that Europeans were experiencing a crisis of self-conception brought on by a sense of God’s “withdrawal” from the world. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, “the world had become a place which could be apprehended on its own terms, allowing mankind to develop new forms of knowledge, a new relationship with nature, and—especially—a new politics.”11 But this was not just a crisis of God’s absence, but of the memory of a very different religious presence—the sixteenth-century Wars of Religion. Bell follows J. G. A. Pocock in holding that changes in Enlightenment France were derived in part from a powerful desire to strengthen civil society and prevent a recurrence of such savagery.12

Nationalism appears, in this context, as a counterpart to religion—couched often in the same language and bearing remarkable similarities. Bell observes that nationalism and religion “have employed the same sorts of symbolic practices, both as aides to belief and commitment and as a means of delineating what is sacred and beyond criticism from what is corruptible and profane. Flags, holy days, parades, processions, shrines, and pilgrimages: all belong to nationalist and patriotic movements, and to religions alike.”13 It is here that Bell suggests Imagined Communities is most inadequate to explain nationalism, for whilst Anderson makes a “suggestive remark” on the dynamics of religion, out of which nationalism grew, “he never really abandons a simple functionalism which holds religion and nationalism commensurate because each, in its way, helps people cope with ‘the overwhelming burden of human suffering’.”14 The new way of perceiving the world that developed in eighteenth-century France—a world which “God has created and then left to its own devices, with natural objects obeying strict laws that human observation can presumably uncover”—demanded a radically new vision of Christian divinity.15

That vision in turn allowed for elaboration of the “new or newly redefined foundational concepts of société, civilization, patrie, nation, and public. Each allowed [the French] to imagine an arena of harmonious human co-existence whose principles did not ultimately derive from the dictates of an (increasingly absent) God.”16 This was not part of a simple ‘de-Christianization’, but a shift in the place of religion in human life. With it came a new emphasis on living well together, on an “idea that membership in a properly constituted community… did not depend on religion, but on customs… and cultivation. Religion had become a private matter, an affair of conscience. It… no longer [structured] international relations.”17 It did, however, inform the approach taken toward the nation-state, and Bell argues that French efforts to make patriotism broadly compatible with both monarchy and a “love of humanity and human progress” grew out of “the Catholic commitment to a universal human community”.18 The French, in contrast to the British, could not see religion and fatherland merge together in shared affection, but rather needed to extend the affection held for the Church to include, on a different order, the state.

2.1 War, Expansion, and ‘the Other’ — The Villain in the Mirror

Of potentially equal importance in the development of these states, though in a far less problematic manner, is the rôle of warfare in the construction of identity. Britons and Cult of the Nation each depict one half of an antagonistic pair that spent the greater part of two centuries at war with one-another. Both authors explicitly state that the opposite nation was a key component in forming the nation; that each one fed off of the existence—and antipathy—of the other. But a critical difference lay in their respective manner of doing so. Colley states that: “Time and time again, war with France brought Britons, whether they hailed from Wales or Scotland or England, into confrontation with an obviously hostile Other and encouraged them to define themselves collectively against it.”19 Bell, however, counters that “vilification of national enemies and assertions of France’s superiority had very narrow applications under the old regime… The French did not define themselves primarily by ‘othering’ foreigners.”20 This is no scholarly riposte or apology for cosmopolitan France, but evidence of a genuine divergence in the forms of nationalism developed in these two states—the latter very likely stemming from the Catholic universalism mentioned previously.

Though careful not to suggest that the British were blindly xenophobic, Colley does draw attention to the “vast superstructure of prejudice” that suffused the British state.21 This could take the form of racist caricatures of their fellow-islanders (documented, in the Scots case, very ably by Colley; in the Irish case, not at all), but was especially fierce when directed at the French. Britain’s early part in the slave trade, genocidal policies with respect to Native American’s, and noticeably more vulgar form of colonial occupation in Africa all seemingly point to a fundamental intolerance in the English character.* And clearly the fact of being an island nation played a major rôle in shaping a Weltanschauung that ritually excluded foreigners.22 To say, as Colley does, that Britishness was constructed “in response to overseas developments” is really, in one sense, only to acknowledge this geographic isolation—when trade and technology finally brought the inhabitants of the islands too close together, they could look only beyond their shores for comparison and competition.23

In Ancien Régime France, conversely, the emphasis was always on the Continent; as the preëminent Catholic state and land power, France could hardly afford to look away from the affairs of her neighbours for long. But, with few to contest French power in isolation, it was in competition with Britain—a perennial ally to France’s enemies—that the French nation was to define itself. One resource entirely neglected by Colley, and very profitably exploited by Bell, is war propaganda.24 Over the course of the eighteenth century, the French state mobilized tremendous print resources to justify its wars in foreign capitals, and to its own subjects; indeed, “the mass of Anglophobic works printed during the wars… owed their existence to concerted propaganda campaigns on the part of France’s foreign ministry.”25 In times of war or “national insult”, the print shoppes churned out virulently anti-English tracts, including even distant ancestors of the “atrocity literature” that figured so prominently in twentieth-century conflicts. During these periods, “the cosmopolitanism so often associated with eighteenth-century French culture abruptly disappeared from books and periodicals, to be replaced by snarling hostility to France’s enemies,” surely at least some part of which owed to public sentiment as well as government desire.26

Bell describes significant alterations in the manner affected by French polemicists betwixt the War of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years’ War; the “first presented a war of kings, of royal houses. […] In contrast, the literature of the Seven Years’ War… presented a conflict between France and Britain in quite a different manner, as a war of nations.”27 This was remarked on at the time by one newspaper:

There are wars in which the nation only takes an interest because of its submission to the Prince; this war is of a different nature; it is the English nation which, by unanimous agreement, has attacked our nation to deprive us of something which belongs to each of us.28

For Bell, the “difference between the two bodies of propaganda shows just how much had changed in France”, and suggests that the latter war “contributed to the concept of the nation as a political artifact, something consciously constructed through an act of political will,” and “as a collectivity possessed of its own internal unity and of certain legitimate ‘rights’.”29

Across the Channel, another kind of legitimacy was being established. Colley touches repeatedly on the vital rôle played by foreign war in ‘forging Britishness’, and of the dizzying opportunities opened up by success in the Seven Years’ War there was no historical precedent. Commentators at the time were suddenly given to comparing their homeland with the Roman Empire, and Colley cleverly points out that Edward Gibbon’s decision to chronicle that world’s demise came “just one year after the signing of the Treaty of Paris.” Deep structural changes would need to follow this conflict—Britain’s “pre-war empire had been sufficiently informal and sufficiently cheap for Parliament to claim authority over it without having to concern itself too much about what this authority entailed.”30

These changes would have to take account of the Scottish contribution to the war, and address the previous conditions of life under the Union. During the Seven Years’ War, “for the first time ever, the British army had been able to recruit men on a massive scale from the Scottish Highlands. Those clans that had taken up arms against the Union in 1715 and in 1745 had been wooed to the British cause by way of favours and promotions for their former chieftains, and transformed into the cannon-fodder of imperial war.”31 But what Colley neglects to mention here is the speed and brutality with which the British state suppressed Highland culture after the ’45, though it is hinted at by reference to “former chieftains”.32 The part this violent coercion and lack of viable alternatives for advancement played in bringing the Highland Scots into the imperial project is overlooked in her account, though it surely has some parallel with the Irish experience of assimilation in the colonial service (discussed briefly in Colley’s text).

Regardless, the new empire certainly made the fullest use of Scotland’s “impressive reserves of talent”, including that of its Enlightenment thinkers—above all, the century to come would be ruled according to the idea of Adam Smith—and the genius of the Scots would figure prominently in the nascent Industrial Revolution.33 This greater engagement with trade and imperial responsibilities perhaps did more than any other single factor to bring the ancient enemies of Britain together, and soon, rather than resenting their impoverish and hostile neighbours to the north, the English were complaining about the Scots’ increasing affluence and influence (e.g., in the Indian colonies).34 Throughout the empire and the world, “the mechanisms of trade helped to bring together the different regions of Great Britain” and, as Colley notes, “in moving south” to take up positions in the new economy the Scots “helped construct what being British was all about.”35

But if the Seven Years’ War finally cemented the Union, it was the American War of Independence that forced a thorough re-consideration of what it meant to be British. In wars against Continental enemies, British polemicists had made good use of the spectre of Catholic ‘tyranny’, but the Americans were not only Protestant, they were British! Through the eighteenth century, the Americans of the Thirteen Colonies “had yet to evolve a recognisable and autonomous identity of their own”, and many early American folk-ways attest to the deep ties that existed then.36 Colley describes the war, accurately, as a civil war that divided the British nation against itself, both across the Atlantic and within the respective geographies. Unsurprisingly, this “compromised enthusiasm for the war” and attracted significant popular opposition—as demonstrated, for example, by the volume of petitions to Parliament.37 But with the Scottish presence in government and commerce now so substantial, and the history of violence and distrust so long, “many influential Scots… seized on the American war as a means to underline their political reliability to London, deliberately contrasting their own ostentatious loyalty with American disobedience, and with the anti-war activity of English radicals.”38

The intemperate remarks of John Wilkes aside, much of the British public closed ranks around the war, seeing in it a real crisis, and a test of their national unity and character. Given the changes to the British Constitution over the past half-century, it was no longer possible to understand the objections put forward by the American colonists (Colley uncovers references to supporters of America being beaten in the streets of London); and, despite the close kinship, a war that soon involved France, Spain, and Holland brought the isolated British closer together.39 As Colley observes, “defeat proved more constructive in the long term”, allowing for the resolution of many recent uncertainties at home, and bringing Parliament to clarify and strengthen the imperial administration in Canada, India, and Ireland.40 More importantly, “the half-century that followed… would be one of the most formative and violent periods in the making of modern Britain and in the making of the modern world—a time of accelerating industrialisation and urbanisation, of growing class consciousness and demand for reform”, and during which the British form of government reinvented itself.41 The monarchy steadily took on a more symbolic function as more power accreted to Parliament, and the longevity (and apotheosis) of George III, followed by Victoria, lent an aura of stability and strength to the British throne.42

Having joined the Americans against their ancient enemy, in this—the last Franco-British war prior to the Revolution—Paris propagandists were unusually restrained; Bell suggests that they “criticized the English mostly for excessive pride and for trying to establish a universal empire of the seas.”43 But as regards possible French xenophobic materials, Bell becomes uncharacteristically circumspect, stating that “except in a very few cases, we do not know how widely any particular text circulated, let alone how readers responded to it.”44 Under circumstances more favourable to his interpretations, he shows far fewer qualms about the paucity of hard data regarding readership (occasionally building complex generalisations from admittedly insignificant texts).

Intriguingly, Bell does choose to speculate on the “essentializing of ethnic and racial differences” betwixt the French and the English. Though most often invoked in the sense of a “moral” degeneracy, “a failing of the spirit”, it is reasonable to read the sources of the period as positing a genuine human variability that can be seen in racial terms.45 He speculates that, despite “making national difference into something as fierce and unforgiving as religious difference had been during… the Reformation”, French polemicists were “[helping] readers to think of human diversity” in terms of “common origin”, and as bequeathing individuals with “characteristics which temperature and humidity could not explain, and which shifts in climate could not alter.”46 We can see clearly in this stance the early signs of a new ‘scientific’ racism, which—in the nineteenth century—was to justify imperialism in biological terms. However, the degree of racism was again quite different to that seen in England; as has been profitably demonstrated elsewhere*, “even ‘savage’ Indians did not ultimately stand beyond the reach of the French civilizing mission.”47

2.2 Unity in Difference? — The Question of Internal Homogeneity

Using Imagined Communities as her jumping-off point, Colley suggests that, “historically speaking, most nations have always been culturally and ethnically diverse, problematic, protean and artificial constructs that take shape very quickly and come apart just as fast”.48 Bell extends Anderson’s framework somewhat by stating that “nationalism is a political program which has as its goal not merely to praise, or defend, or strengthen a nation, but actively to construct one, casting its human raw material into a fundamentally new form.”49 Both authors agree that the modern nation-state emerged in the eighteenth century, and both follow Anderson on the means taken to build one, but each extends his model by addressing not just the formation of these nations, but their attendant nationalisms. Bell is more explicit about this project, but Colley’s intent is just as plain, and both trace the development of nationalism primarily from political responses taken to combat external, existential threats to the nation.

However, unlike the young populations amongst which Anderson observes the first modern nationalist thinking, Britain and France were ancient, with collective histories far pre-dating their political forms in the eighteenth century. As a consequence, they were sites wherein power was sharply contested amongst linguistic and ethnic groups that had long been vying for domination (or merely struggling to survive). Because they are concerned with what became the dominant culture in a multi-ethnic state, both authors neglect the stories of the many tiny minorities within their borders (Bretons, Basque, Scots Gaels, Manx, Corsicans, etc.), but this is a significant omission in a study of nationalism and the nation’s origins. All of the minority groups in these states—including especially the massive ‘minorities’ in the Languedoc and Ireland—played a part in shaping the national fabric, and it is unfortunate that Colley and Bell chose to disregard their contributions.

One powerful force for social cohesion—despite the fractious nature of debates within it—is the so-called ‘bourgeois public sphere’ that emerged with ‘print-capital’ during the eighteenth century. It has been long-argued—going back to the original formulation of the analytic by Jürgen Habermas—that France essentially lacked a functional public sphere in the eighteenth century.50 According to Habermas, in the absence of representative government to influence and a genuinely free press to do the influencing, the literate bourgeoisie in France could not engage in the sort of constructive dialogue then emerging in Britain. Bell challenges this characterisation, and suggests that coffee houses and private salons served that purpose in France (though we cannot, of course, know much of what was said).51 This distinction is critically important to Bell’s thesis, as the ideas he asserts were used to shape the French polity would have required, in addition to direct government transmission, the polite reception by the middling classes needed to bring them into being. Much of the evidence marshalled by Bell to document the birth of nationalism in France come from books (often obscure ones), foreign or underground newspapers, and small-press pamphlets (sometimes anonymous); if this material was not being read and discussed, his back-dating of the nationalist enterprise to the Ancien Régime cannot stand.

In Britain, countless groups were taking advantage of the Habermasian public sphere to put forward ideas for change, and both printing and readership were increasing by leaps and bounds.52 For her purposes, a focus on the Wilkite Radicals provides a useful barometer of integration; as she observes, “Wilkes became the personification of liberty, and liberty was the hallmark of Englishness.”53 Wilkes put forward a specifically English nationalism, and the “Scots, so the Wilkite argument went, were inherently, unchangeably alien, never ever to be confused or integrated with the English.”54 Their claim to detect a difference of “political temperaments” betwixt English and Scots echoes the ‘racial’ theorising alluded to in France earlier.55 The Scots, for their part, were far from pleased by this lack of good faith in the ‘Great Britain’ project; Colley cites a Welsh traveller in Scotland as having been “appalled to discover just how bitter more informed Scots felt at being so constantly and crudely misrepresented in the south.”56 In Colley’s analysis,

Wilkes functioned as an English nationalist administering comfort to a people in flux… He offered a reassurance to his more intolerant and worried countrymen that they wouldn’t be absorbed into an all-embracing and non-Anglocentric Great Britain… This was exactly what large numbers of English men and women wanted to hear. Yet… it was a deeply misleading reassurance. For… the real significance of Wilkite complaints that Scots were invading the British polity to an unprecedented extent is, quite simply, that they were true.57

It would take a good many years before this sort of prejudice could be put to rest, and popular culture played as much a part in perpetuating as extinguishing it; but it would, indeed, fade away with time. Witness the muted response to the ’45: Colley challenges presumed indifference by arguing that “the English poor seem to have responded to the invasion with seething passivity, until, that it, the army broke up and retreated. Then they struck.” This was, as she says, hate: “hate by the poor and vulnerable for outsiders who had dared to shatter the peace of their communities.”58 But where just a century before one could have been assured that this hatred would follow on from the invaders’ race, this seems to have diminished in the interim; and as the official reaction to the ’45 concentrated on Highland culture, the Scots as a whole were absolved of wrongdoing. The “Scottophobia” accompanying the rise of that people in the imperial project was short-lived, leaving only the Irish as inter-island racial underdogs. Colley documents the massive Irish immigration to meet rising industrial demands, but neglects entirely to probe the deeper relationship betwixt Britons and Irish.59 She manages to cover the shifting attitudes toward Catholicism in the lead-up to emancipation, but this surely had more to do with British Catholics than Irish; and she does note briefly the tensions in cities with large Irish worker populations.60 But this absence in its larger dimension, and the implications for race-theorising in her construction of nationalism, is perhaps the text’s most glaring omission.

Whether or not we accept Bell’s conclusions about public readership in France, print was without doubt a critical medium for change in eighteenth century. Not only did it allow the philosophes a forum for debating (in the abstract, of course) what forms of government and society were most conducive to virtue, etc., but it provided the Revolutionaries with a ready supply of material to inspire nation-building projects. Timothy Tackett may be right about deputies to the Estates General lacking extensive exposure to the political and philosophical debates of the time, but they did not remain so ignorant for long.61 And there were more populist forms of print material appearing for sale in the capital, such as the volumes of compiled biographies of ‘Great Men’. Bell contends that such hagiographic projects created “models” for living one’s life, and “recalled nothing so much as the saints of the Roman Catholic Church.”62 Holding up a mirror to the French people, novelists and journalists usually described the national character as one defined by cheerfulness and sociability, as against the gloomy English; but also as effeminate, flighty, and superficial.63

These traits often stood in opposition to the radical programmes of civil reformers, and critiques of the day “associated supposedly typical French traits with the corporeal failings of lethargy, sickness, physical corruption, and old age.” It was widely recognised that reforms should be encouraged, but no clear consensus on how; schemes often involved a return to some mythical, uncorrupted past.”64 What emerged in the end was a series of publications on the proper place of Man in relation to his patrie, which culminated in the Revolutionary slogans and programmes. Having in mind what a good republican system needed from its citizenry, the Revolutionary government lacked only the means of spreading it—their solution is one of Bell’s most significant interventions. “In undertaking this vastly ambitious project, the Jacobins had only one clear model before them”: The Catholic Church. Drawing heavily on Jesuit experiences of Christian education, the Revolutionaries appropriated the language of “error and slavery” to spread a new gospel through “apostles of liberty and equality”.65 And, interestingly, Bell rejects Eugen Weber’s research (and that of others) on the linguistic diversity of France in this period—insisting instead that the problem was essentially ‘invented’ in the capital to justify one transformative scheme.66 Having drawn on the Church for a model of evangelizing, Bell might as well have looked at their experience of preaching in the Languedoc. As it stands, he dramatically downplays the problem of intelligibility in the provinces, which serves to minimize heterogeneity in at least one crucial (nationalism-thwarting) way; for if, as has been asserted elsewhere, the entire south of France and many other regions besides were firmly entrenched in various patois, the French-language print projects would have had a much slower impact on the nation.67

Ultimately, of course, the purpose of Revolutionary educational schemes was to reduce the diversity of France to a manageable, homogeneous civilization, and they cannot in any sense be said to have succeeded until late in the nineteenth century. But Bell is not attempting to trace such thinking through its implementation: he is concerned only with its early articulation, and this is one of the areas in which the book loses power. Had such an exhaustive discourse analysis been combined with more substantive explorations of the evolving facts ‘on the ground’, Bell’s book may have approached Colley’s scope, wedding a history of nationalism to the genuine emergence of a nation-state. But whereas Colley starts her account too late (leaving out the Glorious Revolution, re-organisation of public finance, and the earlier stages of empire, amongst other things), Bell ends his too soon; by the end of his account, a good case for the early enunciation of nationalism has been made, but the values have in no sense been imparted successfully to a national population.

3.0 Conclusions

This review has concentrated on ways in which Bell and Colley’s books can be contrasted to provide a fuller picture of the origins of nationalism in the tumult of eighteenth-century war. It has, as a consequence, neglected many of the particularities each contributes. Each intervention was, and remains, deeply significant in their respective specialisations, and together they lay a firm foundation for further study of the origins of nationalism in Europe. Benedict Anderson and other before him (Gellner, Seton-Watson, etc.) have sketched out theoretical approaches to the problem of nationalism and nation-building, and the best test of these theories is the construction of convincing histories that conform to them. Bell and Colley both succeed in this to varying degrees, and each in turn set the stage for deeper studies into particular manifestations of the nationalist programme; we will conclude by examining some of their successes and failures.

For such recent histories, it is striking that both authors largely neglect the Atlantic world. Colley thoughtfully includes the Americans, and deals at some length with question of slavery and emancipation, but there is no direct connexion betwixt the British metropole and the colonial periphery.68 As many recent studies have shown, the integration of such outlying spaces significantly alters the historical picture; settlers and the colonized live in dialogue with the imperial power, and the older view of one-way cultural transmission (the ‘civilizing mission’) does not stand up to scrutiny. Bell’s failures in this regard are more manifest, but can be excused on some level given the intellectual contours of his project. But sources aside, French authors were undoubtedly touched by Atlantic issues in substantial ways: How, e.g., did slavery figure into Republican views of the ideal polity?

Bell’s book is a classic of revisionist historiography; almost entirely an intellectual history, he draws extensively on print culture to trace the appearance and spread of words and concepts. Some of his inferences seem questionable, such as the ‘lack’ of significant linguistic diversity, the influence of texts with a demonstrably-poor circulation (he seems almost to take a mimetic conception of ideas and their propagation), and the appearance in France of a ‘public sphere’ analogue. For this, and for basic reasons of methodology, the book ends up being extremely limited in its ambitions—and its successes. For whilst Bell would like to say that his research identifies the ‘origin’ of nationalism, without some exploration of how those ideas were disseminated and ‘lived in’, one is left wondering if popular nationalism has been located, or merely the dream of nationalism. That is, in the absence of nationalist action and intercourse, one is restricted in analysis to what was, in France, a very limited print audience. Nationalism may very well pre-date the Revolution, as Bell believes, but a study such as this cannot conclusively prove that point.

Colley’s work is at once more ambitious and successful and—ultimately—frustrating. Documenting the origins both of nationalism and the nation itself, she presents a much fuller picture. Her reliance on secondary sources for many aspects is occasionally troubling, but understandable given the breadth of her study; and the original research she includes is often brilliant and first-rate (such as her analysis of the ‘Defence of the Realm’ returns). And whilst theory is muted in both authors’ work, her approach is noticeably clearer about its influences and prejudices. The greatest criticisms easily levelled at Britons involve errors of omission, as these often imply significant revisions of her narrative. She does not, e.g., deal with corruption in the Edinburgh parliament’s decision to sign onto the Union, or the military suppression of the Highland lifestyle, leaving the question of coercion outside of her conception of Scottish participation; she does not, as mentioned above, deal with the Irish at anything like an appropriate level; and her chapter on women is unconvincing in the face of Victorian sexual dynamics and the emerging ‘separate spheres’. But what most leaves the book unsatisfying, in the end, is the basic problematic; at the end of a magnificent read, one is left wondering just how different British nationalism was from English nationalism. She notes that, in certain circumstances, Welsh and Scots were able to identify as English—but did the English ever think of themselves as somehow Scottish or Welsh?69 And if not, how much of what became the British national identity was simply an expanded and pluralized version of the English?

1      Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. London: Pimlico, 2003. 19.
2      Colley. 22-3.
4      Colley. 48.
5      Colley. 43.
6      The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
7      The Making of the English Working Class.
8      Colley. 30.
9      Bell, David. The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. 46.
10    Bell. 46.
11    Bell. 28.
12    Bell. 30.
13    Bell. 22.
14    Bell. 23.
15    Bell. 29.
16    Bell. 35-6.
17    Bell. 102.
18    Bell. 47.
19    Colley. 5.
20    Bell. 44.
21    Colley. 36.
*    ‘English’, in this instance, to trace the feature further back, and to highlight the application of such intolerance to ostensible partners in the British nations.
22    Colley. 17.
23    Colley. xv.
24    see, e.g., Bell, 43-6 & 78-91.
25    Bell. 44.
26    Bell. 82.
27    Bell. 90.
28    Bell. 90.
29    Bell. 91.
30    Colley. 102.
31    Colley. 103.
32    There is a line about tartans being suppressed on page 114, but it is buried, not deliberate. Of all the minority groups Colley ignores in constructing her ‘Britons’, the Scots Highlanders stand beside the Irish as the most conspicuous and glaring errors.
33    Colley. 124.
34    Colley. 128.
35    Colley. 100 & 125.
36    Colley. 134-5.
37    Colley. 137-9.
38    Colley. 140.
39    Colley. 142.
40    Colley. 143-5.
41    Colley. 149.
42    Colley. 195.
43    Bell. 99.
44    Bell. 44.
45    Bell. 104.
46    Bell. 105.
*    See, e.g., Alice Conklin, A Mission to Civilise: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930.
47    Bell. 98.
48    Colley. 5.
49    Bell. 3.
50    The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (orig. 1962).
51    Bell. 34-5.
52    Colley. 40-1, 108-117.
53    Colley. 111.
54    Colley. 113-4.
55    Colley. 116.
56    Colley. 118.
57    Colley. 117.
58    Colley. 77.
59    Colley. 329.
60    Colley. 328-9.
61    Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789-1790).
62    Bell. 119.
63    Bell. 147-150.
64    Bell. 150-154.
65    Bell. 161.
66    Bell. 178-180.
67    see, e.g., Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914.
68    Colley. 350-360.
69    Colley. 162.