Author Anthony Smith’s “Myth and Memories of the Nation” speaks to the issue of whether nationalism is on the rise or on the decline in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the rise of a new, nearly borderless world. Smith contends that to liberals and socialists, the creation of nations and sentiments of nationalism are a halfway point toward global politics because it requires organization and a sophisticated understanding of how interconnected nations are at the economic level. As well, Smith goes on to say that, ” . . . On one hand, the nation can be commended for superseding all those local . . . ties and communities that have restricted innovation . . . On the other hand, the nation today has become a barrier to progress, seeking vainly to control the flow of information and the channels of mass communication . . . ” In essence, Smith sees the problem as the lack of a collective understanding of the public and its leaders about how extensive and unpredictable nationalism can be and how difficult it is to fit nationalism with a globalized world.
Smith makes several points to the contention that nationalism was on the rise following the Cold War. Nationalism had spread to every continent, originating from western Europe and the Americas to every corner of the globe. The emergence of nationalism at different times and places was called “serial and wavelike” by Smith, receding and succeeding throughout history but always maintaining outposts throughout the world. Perhaps the most important part of Smith’s analysis is how he associates nationalism with the cultural aspects of a global society. The state has become a ‘national’ state, which means that governments have gone to great lengths of homogenize the population out of disparate parts. In all, according to Smith, potential for nationalist movements has been consistent over the last two decades and has been one of the most enduring political forces over the past two centuries. Smith certainly makes the argument for the rise of nationalism intriguing, but the arguments for a decline in nationalism seem to make more sense.
Smith makes three points in defense of the declining nationalism thesis. The first point is that economic globalization has made the nation less of a figure in world affairs and more of a pawn in a larger economic battle. Certainly, nations still have roles in regulating home markets and protecting the individual, but national leaders that are fully aware of the implications of their actions have the leg up on more parochial leaders. The greater migration of people today has caused social hybridization has eroded cultural tradition, decreasing the possibility of nationalistic movements and creating islands, rather than continents, of cultural identity. Finally, the preceding two points lead to the conclusion that a standard consumer culture has replaced the more traditional cultural icons of history and religion.
The more persuasive argument seems to be in the latter thesis, that nationalism is trumped by globalization in almost every case. As well, it seems that the fall of nations forged during a colonial era (for example, many of the colonial African nations) has shown the failure of nationalism and the rise of regionalism and tribalism. Starbucks, McDonalds, and Coca Cola have penetrated every part of the globe and are more readily identifiable than any local or national icon and English has spread as an important language in everyday commerce. It seems that nationalism is on the backburner until a time when the economy returns to regional or continental influence, which would require some drastic change. Don’t count on this happening anytime soon; while globalization rose quickly to a place of prominence, dismantling the mechanisms and nomenclature of globalization will take much longer.