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Nations Out of Empires: European Nationalism and the Transformation of Asia

Nations Out of Empires: European Nationalism and the Transformation of Asia
By Harry G. Gelber
263 pp, Palgrave, 2001
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In this thoughtful and masterly synthesis, Gelber argues that European imperial expansion in Asia resulted from interstate competition -- an effect of rising nationalism rather than of clashing economic interests. At first, the European imperial conquest was relatively easy, thanks to the fragmentation of Asian societies and the virulence of European-brought diseases. But even before 1914, postcolonial nationalisms had developed that both imitated and rejected the nationalisms of their colonizers. Over time, the European powers contributed to their own demise by inadvertently encouraging these nationalisms, especially by promoting "secular liberalism's focus on modernization, social amelioration and reform." The result was cultural intervention that stimulated resistance. But when decolonization finally came, it did not liberate individuals. Instead, it only strengthened the role of the state, local nationalisms, and the reliance on force to preserve national unity. Gelber also underscores Asia's ironic reliance today on the ex-colonizers "for markets, technology transfer, capital, investment and, not least, military protection." Asian nations, he writes, still need to play the traditional power games despite "their protestations of superior sensitivity and virtue."