In This Review

Banal Nationalism

Banal Nationalism
By Michael Billig
200 pp, Sage, 1995

The author points out that in recent years nationalism has been associated almost exclusively with its extreme manifestations, such as in Serbia and Russia, leading most commentators to assume that globalization has been steadily weakening nationalism throughout the rest of the developed world. But as he quite correctly observes, national identity remains deeply embedded in the concepts, images, and very language of democracies like the United States and Britain. Starting from Ernest Gellner’s observation that national identities are socially constructed, Billig presents fascinating instances in which national self-images of relatively recent vintage are wrongly taken to be primordial characteristics. Even cosmopolitan philosophers like Richard Rorty, the author notes, assume a framework of American national values. Billig’s attitude toward banal nationalism tends to be negative (he is rankled by the American patriotism stirred by the Gulf War). But he does not consider some of the positive aspects of a sense of national community.