In December last year Benedict Anderson died. Or he "went to his world," as we say in Hebrew.
Anderson was ire, but born in China and educated in England, and spoke several South Asian languages fluently. He had a great influence on my intellectual worldview. This is largely due to the book Imagined Communities.
Most of us have a few books that have largely shaped our view of the world. In my young years I read Oswald Spengler's great works The downfall of the West. It left its lasting traces.
Spengler, who is now almost forgotten, believed that world history consists of a number of "cultures". These cultures reflect the evolution of humans: they are born, they mature, they grow old and they die within a period of 1000 years.
The ancient cultures of Greece and the Roman Empire lasted from 500 before our time to 500 years after our time, and were replaced by the "magical" Eastern culture that culminated in Islam, which lasted until the West grew – which is now about to be replaced by Russia. (If Spengler were alive today, he probably would have replaced Russia with China.) Spengler, a kind of universal genius, also recognized other cultures on other continents.
The next big thing to influence my worldview was Arnold Toynbees A Study of History. Like Spengler, Toynbee believed that history consists of civilizations growing and aging, but he also added some extra stages to Spengler's list. The German Spengler was as obnoxious and pessimistic as the British Toynbee was cheerful and optimistic. Nor did the latter accept the theory that civilizations are doomed to die after a given life cycle. According to him, this has happened so far, but he also believed that people can learn from past mistakes and change courses.
Benedict Anderson was involved only with one part of history: the birth of the nation. For him, the nation is something that humans have created over the past centuries. He disputes that nations have always existed and adapted to different times, as we learned in school. He certainly claims that the nation was created about 350 years ago.
According to a Eurocentric view, the nations were created during the French Revolution, or immediately afterwards. Until then, the population of the Earth was organized in other ways.
Primitive people lived in tribes that usually consisted of around 800 people – few enough to fit in a small territory, and enough to defend themselves against neighboring tribes who tried to steal the territory from them. From this emerged various forms of human community, such as the Greek city-states, the Persian and Roman empires, the composite Byzantine state, the Islamic ummah, the European multinational monarchies, and the Western colonial empires.
All these community constructions suited their time and the reality of their time. The modern nation-state came as a reaction to modern challenges ("challenges + reaction" was Toynbee's apparatus of change). New realities – the industrial revolution, the invention of the railway and the steamship, and the more deadly such as modern weapons and so on – made small principalities obsolete. A new design was needed, and it eventually found its optimal form in a state of millions of people – large enough to maintain a modern industrial economy, to defend the territory with large armies, and to develop a common language as a basis for communication between all citizens. (Forgive me if I mix my own thoughts with Andersons's. I'm too lazy to separate them.)
Even before With the rise of new nations, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were forcibly united into Britain – a large nation strong enough to conquer large parts of the world. The French, Brittany, Provencal, Corsican and many others joined forces to form France, proud of their common language nurtured by the print media and the mass media.
Germany, which was late, consisted of dozens of independent kingdoms and principalities. Prussia and Bavaria hated each other, while cities such as Hamburg were proud and independent. During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the new German Empire was founded – literally on the battlefield. The unification of "Italy" took place even later. Each of these new entities needed a unified consciousness and a common language, and this is where "nationalism" came in. "Deutschland über alles", which was written before the country was united, basically did not mean that Germany was above all nations, but that the common German fatherland was above all principalities.
All these new "nations" wanted to conquer, but first of all they conquered and annexed their own past. Philosophers, historians, teachers and politicians began to write about their past and to turn everything into national history. An example of this is the battle of the Teutoburg Forest (year 9 possibly), where three German tribes superiorly defeated a Roman army. This was rewritten to be a national German event. Chief Hermann (Arminius) posthumously became an early national hero. This is how Anderson imagined that society came into being.
The authorities will now introduce a law replacing the existing "Jewish and democratic state" with a "nation state for the Jewish people."
But according to Anderson, "the modern nation" was not created in Europe, but in the western hemisphere. When white immigrant communities in South and North America grew tired of their oppressive European bosses, they developed a local (white) patriotism and became new nations. Argentina, Brazil, the United States and all the others – each with its own national history. From there, the idea invaded Europe, until all of humanity was divided into nations.
By the time Anderson died, the nations had already begun to crack like Antarctic icebergs. The nation state has become obsolete and on its way to becoming a mere saga. A global economy, supranational military alliances, space travel, worldwide communications, climate change and many other factors are creating a new reality. Organizations such as the EU and NATO take over the functions that the nation states once fulfilled.
The union of geographical and ideological blocks is, not coincidentally, followed by what may appear to be an opposite tendency. But in reality it is a complementary process. The nation states are falling apart. Scots, Basques, Catalans, Kurds, Quebecers and many others want independence after the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Serbia, Sudan and several other supranational units. Why do Catalonia and the Basque Country have to live under the same Spanish roof if each of them can become an independent, separate EU member?
100 years After the French Revolution, Teodor Herzl and his colleagues invented the Jewish nation.
The timing was not random. The whole of Europe was about to be nationalized. The Jews were an international, ethnic-religious diaspora, a remnant of the ethnic-religious Byzantine Empire. By virtue of this proliferation, they created suspicion and hostility. Herzl, an ardent admirer of both the German Empire and the British Empire, believed that redefining Jews as a territorial nation would put an end to anti-Semitism.
Herzl and his disciples therefore underwent a slightly delayed repetition of what all the other nations had done before them: They created a national history based on a mixture of biblical myths, legends, and reality. They called it Zionism, based on the slogan "if you want it enough, it's not just a fairy tale."
Aided by intense anti-Semitism, Zionism became a great success. Jews established themselves in Palestine, created their own state, and eventually became a separate nation. "A nation like any other," as one famous saying goes.
The only problem was that Zionist nationalism never properly defeated the old religious identity. Since the new state wanted to take advantage of the power and economy of the Jews of the world, it was reluctant to cut ties, and therefore pretended that the new nation in Palestine ("Eretz Israel") was just one of several Jewish communities, albeit the most dominant .
Unlike the process of isolating oneself from the motherland, as Anderson described it, failed the futile attempts to create a new Hebrew state in Palestine.
Under the current Israeli government, Israel is becoming less and less Israel, and more and more Jewish. Kippah-bearing religious Jews are taking over more and more of the function of government. The education is becoming more and more religious.
The authorities will now introduce a law replacing the existing "Jewish and democratic state" with "a nation state for the Jewish people." The battle for this law may become the final battle for Israel's identity.
The principle itself is, of course, ridiculous. A nation state is a territorial unit belonging to its inhabitants. It cannot belong to members of a worldwide society that belong to different nations, serve in different armies and play their blood for different causes.
This also deprives at least 20 percent of the inhabitants, those who are not Jews, ownership of their own land. Can one imagine a constitutional amendment in the United States declaring that all Anglo – Saxons around the world are American citizens, while African Americans are not?
Maybe Donald Trump can. Maybe not.
I never met Benedict Anderson in person. It is a pity. It would have been nice to discuss some of these concepts with him.