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Capsule Review

Faith in Nation: Exclusionary Origins of Nationalism

In This Review

Faith in Nation: Exclusionary Origins of Nationalism

Faith in Nation: Exclusionary Origins of Nationalism
By Anthony W. Marx
Oxford University Press, 2003, 258 pp. $26.00 Purchase

This book is a major addition to the social science literature on nationalism; it is also a powerful argument against many of the most celebrated contemporary writers on the subject. Among the theses Marx refutes are those of the "unifying mass sentiment and cohesion" that is supposedly nationalism's precondition and those of the close link between Western "civic" nationalism and democracy. Moreover, Marx's focus is not on the "modern" age of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, but on the earlier period of the sixteenth and seventeenth. He defines nationalism as the "political sentiment of popular solidarity intended to coincide with states" -- which "does not require fully developed homogenization or popular rule and democratic self-determination." Indeed, his interest lies in the efforts of states, struggling with divisions and conflicts, to obtain a social cohesion that is fragile or absent, and in looking for the origins of nationalism in political actions by the states and by masses whose "allegiance to centralized authority could not be taken for granted." This leads him to reject views of nations as "imagined communities" and views of nationalism as a product of economic modernization and capitalism: they fail to "incorporate the role of the state." The central point of the book is that nationalism results from a process of exclusion (most other writers have stressed inclusion), and particularly from internal discord over religion. In Marx's view, the state consolidates its power by excluding different kinds of heretics and by "turning religious passions into nationalism." Thus, common memory is selective, "with projections of unity often depending on" selective amnesia. As both a political scientist and a scrupulous historian, Marx uses this powerful scheme to explain and differentiate events that occurred in Spain, France, and England in the age of domestic religious conflicts. In this remarkable book, it is Saint Bartholomew whom the author proposes as the patron of nationalism. A grim view, but a rich and persuasive argument.

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