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  • Nationalism in Europe and America: Politics, Cultures, and Identities since 1775 by Lloyd Kramer
  • Frank Schumacher
Nationalism in Europe and America: Politics, Cultures, and Identities since 1775. By Lloyd Kramer. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. 272pp. $65.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

The amount of scholarly literature on the concept of nationalism is daunting. Rarely does a single volume explore the history and culture of nationalism as concise, precise, and eloquent as Lloyd Kramer’s Nationalism in Europe and America. In this substantially revised, updated, and expanded version of his earlier work, Kramer, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examines the influence of nationalism on modern history with a focus on the Atlantic world. He argues that the similarities in political themes and cultural underpinnings [End Page 887] of nationalism have outweighed the spatial and temporal differences in the evolution of this concept since the eighteenth century.

The author makes his case in eight chapters: the first five explore common political and cultural themes that have shaped most modern nationalisms while the final three chapters provide case studies of early American nationalist thought, the high tide of aggressive nationalism during the first half of the twentieth century, and the evolution of nationalist thought since 1945, with particular emphasis on decolonization movements and the emergence of new transnational forms of political organization.

The study’s historiographical and theoretical parameters are laid out in chapter 1. Kramer argues that the twists and turns of nationalism’s complicated history have obscured much of its continuities. He suggests that historically constructed national identities emerged in the late eighteenth century in very similar ways on both sides of the Atlantic through a combination of cultural and political ideas that connected individual welfare to collective identities. Such “imagined communities” gained their enduring cohesion through the cultural production of nationalist narratives in symbols, literature, art, and festive cultures.

Chapter 2 explores the discursive origins of the ideology of nationalism from the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau to the American and French Revolutions and respective British and German responses to the new ideological construct. At the heart of nationalism was the notion that each nation should have its state and conversely that states should represent sovereign nations. In addition, liberal nationalism also connected questions of collective political legitimacy to ideas about individual human rights of members of a nation. Despite the concept’s inherent contradictions and its frequent violations, this linkage, according to Kramer, explains much of nationalism’s enduring global appeal into the twenty-first century.

The third chapter examines the importance of philosophical, historical, and literary contributions to discourses of difference in writings on the nation up to the mid nineteenth century based on a wide reading of German (Herder, Fichte, Ranke), Italian (Mazzini), French (Gregoire, Michelet), Polish (Mickiewicz), British (Scott), and American (Emerson, Cooper) commentators. Kramer shows how ideas about distinctive cultural and linguistic traits and celebrations of national geographic spaces infused the cultural production of nationalism. Moments of heightened international tensions, such as the wars of Napoleonic conquest, substantially accelerated the spread of nationalist productions. [End Page 888]

Chapter 4 connects nationalism and notions of difference to religion. Kramer suggests that nationalist ideologies did not displace religious beliefs but rather drew on religious themes and symbols to create a stronger emotional bond among members of a national group. Nations aimed at a fusion of religion and nationalism through the invocation of sacrifice in times of war and hardship, the narration of sacred texts (that is national constitutions), and the mystification of national heroes and shrines of national significance.

In chapter 5 the author demonstrates how nationalist ideals overlapped with individual or group identities in nationalist discourses on gender, the family, and race. Kramer concisely explains how contrasting and connected identities of women, men, and nations reached prominence in the nineteenth century. Discussions of reproduction, sexual mores, gender roles, family organization, ethnicity, and race became a staple of nationalist commentary in Europe and America. Much of those discussions conveniently reinforced notions of exceptionalism that infused all nationalist ideologies and whose long shadow still lingers in much writing on the United States.

The author takes issue...


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