Case Study: “This is 2014”
I chose that title for this case study because it’s what President Obama has said repeatedly throughout his political career, most recently and memorably in a speech he gave on ISIS (or ISIL, or IS, or…) in which he committed the US to a bombing campaign, while at the same time going to great pains to make it clear that (1), he really really did NOT want to do this, an attitude for which even the liberal media took him to task for, and (2), that, “This is 2014.”
Period. There was no more argument. What Obama was doing by invoking a date on a calendar to denounce ISIS, as at other times during his presidency, was using a progressive model of history to say that something had passed its expiration date. Nationalism has often come under the same criticism (think of Fukuyama suggesting that we had reached the end of history, or US President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference). Yet like military conflict, nationalism persists, and in some aspects has even grown.
As much of the discussions in our seminars so far have focused on the long term viability and applicability of each theorist’s ideas, and with Mann providing a more nuanced framework for understanding nationalism and how it is intertwined with state competition, national economy, domestic politics, and ethnicity, I wanted to see if Mann’s theories can explain the persistence of nationalism. Is there something in his history of the rise of nationalism and the modern state, specifically in the military and industrial capitalist phases (3 and 4 of 4), that can explain the persistence of nationalism today?
Read this short essay by conservative writer Doug Bandow for one take on this question:
Pay particular attention to the tension between Europe’s elite and the national populace. Is there something in Mann’s theory of nations that explains why citizens might be so resistant to further transnational integration? What role does competition play in creating divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’? Did the way that the modern state system came into being, especially Mann’s idea of the representative element in creating a national citizenry, include something that permanently entrenches nationalism in our world?
Finally, is there anything in Mann that could lead to a fifth phase in the development of the nation that allows us to move beyond nationalism? Or does Mann’s theory suggest that perhaps the nation is the best way to order societies, because in one form or another (protonations, regionalism, etc), it’s how we’ve always been ordered? Is “the persistence of nationalism” really how the question should be framed, like it’s a staph infection that we just can’t shake?
Michael Mann and you
Michael Mann lays out his compelling and highly-readable thesis in his book The Dark-Side of Democracy. In this blog and in the subsequent group discussion I will further familiarise you with his definitions and engage in a discussion about its oversights, or, at least, its under-emphasis of certain points. I believe this is an under-emphasis within much of the discussions of nationalism we thus far engaged in. As will be laid out, Michael Mann is a Weberian, which largely implies that he considers society as the materialisation of certain ideas within that society. Thus, and Mann is supported by scientific evidence here, ethnicities are a social construct.
Let’s begin with, Mr. Professor Mann’s definitions:
Ethnicity is not “objective”. Ethnic groups are normally defined as groups sharing a common culture and common descent [….] This book is concerned with “macro-ethnicities”, formed by social relations other than biology or kinship. None of these ethnic conflicts considered here are truly “natural” or “primordial”. Ethnic groups and their conflicts are socially created (Mann, 15)
Mann states that common language, religion, ideological theories of “civilisation” and “race”, economic exploitation, military power and finally political power are instrumentalised in the construction of ethnic identities. Due to this diversity Mann posits that it is best to define ethnicities subjectively. As such:
- An ethnicity is a group which defines itself or is defined by others as sharing common descent and culture
- Ethnic cleansing is the removal by members of a self-identifying ethnic group of those they consider an ethnic out-group from a community they define as their own.
Mann points to a key element in the study of nation(s) which, to my mind, requires highlighting: as important as self-identification is the identification by others. This has real-world implications.
Upon entering this nationalism course, I, like the rest of you, came, largely unbeknownst to ourselves, with certain cultural baggage. It began when, at the bar, the suggestion was made (to much rancour) that I should drink a Fosters. I would remind the readers that Forster’s is marketed as Australian beer, but it is brewed in Manchester, fully controlled by British companies and the majority of their Foster’s product is drunk in the UK. But I am not beating a drum here. How much of our identities are constructed “outside”? The example I mentioned is delivered by (a certain evil in and of themselves) but most potent example of this is located not-too-distant past and comes from actors dedicated to Nationalism.
Let’s consider Jews under National Socialism. I choose this example because it is one of the most well-known.
We are aware of the consequences such negative stereotyping had on European Jews. What needs further elucidation, particularly for our purposes as students of nationalism, is the self-identification of Jews who saw themselves as German. A higher percentage of German Jews fought in World War I than that of any other ethnic, religious or political group in Germany; some 12,000 died for their country. Ironically, it was a Jewish lieutenant, Hugo Gutmann, who awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, to a 29-year-old corporal named Adolf Hitler.
A number of the authors we have read so far indicate that self-identification is key. Liah Greenfeld, for example, believes that “an essential characteristic of any identity is that is it necessarily the view the concerned actor has of him or herself” (Greenfeld 1992, 13). However, are we to believe that the Jews could have avoided the gas chamber by identifying thoroughly enough as German? Not only does tap into Mann’s discussion on the causes of ethnic cleansing, but it also indicates the urgency of our question, “how much of our identities are constructed from the “outside”?
This pressure has not vanished from contemporary society. For the sake of group discussion I want you to consider the following image:
Imagine that the Australian flag was replaced with your country’s flag.
- Do you really “choose” your national identity or are you given it?
- What would happen if you opted out? Is this practical? Where do you fit into the nationalist discourse?
- Do you agree that identities can be constructed “outside”?
Case Study: Is Nationalism a Friend of Democracy?
“Nationalism becomes very dangerous only when it is politicized, when it represents the perversion of modern aspirations to democracy in the nation-state” (Mann, 2005: 3)
The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) broke out after the Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiri denounced the autonomy of South Sudan, which had been granted in the 1972 Peace Agreement to settle the First Civil War. This article consists of two parts. The first part is a brief analysis of the causes of the 2nd Sudanese Civil War with Mann’s IEMP theory. The second part elicits three discussion questions about the relation between nationalism and democratisation from the above analysis. For the sake of class discussion, you do not necessarily read the first part. Just focus on the three questions in the 2nd part.
1. Mann’s IEMP theory and causes of civil wars
1.1 Ideological and Political Power
One root of the civil war can be traced back to ethno-cultural differences between the north and the south. Arabs predominantly resided in the north and they aspired to build a Muslim Arab state (Fahmi 2012). In the south, people built their identity as Black Africans through resistance to the imposition of Islamism from the north. Their ethnic identity was crystallised around the anti-North and anti-Islam sentiment. This was a reactionary formation of identity, which was very ‘combustible’ as it germinated from hostility toward the north. The coupling of nationalism and democratisation could be observed in this case as South Sudan utilised the sense of Black African-ness to combat against Northern Arabs in order to gain their independence.
1.2 Military Power
Jonglei, a state in South Sudan, provides an example of the tyranny of majority. Broadly speaking, two ethnic groups lived in Jonglei. The majority was called the Lou Nuer and the minority was the Murle, who originally migrated from Ethiopia and they tended to retain their ethno-cultural differences from other ethnic groups. They had a tradition of cattle raiding and the dispute between two ethnic groups could be traced back to long time ago. As the Civil War intensified, The Lou Nuer radicalised and intended “[to] invade Murleland and wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth [to defend their land and cattle].”(IRIN 2014). This escalation resulted in murder, torture and rape of civilians of the Murle. It was alleged that South Sudan was an accomplice of the atrocity by providing arms to the Lou Nuer. The attempt to create national solidarity in South Sudan led to the exclusion and attempted elimination of the minority who tried to retain their difference from the other groups.
1.3 Economic Power
1979 saw the discovery of oil in the border region of Abyei (U.S. Energy Information Association, 2014) and this added another motive to denounce the autonomy of South Sudan. From hindsight, we can assume the economic significance of oil for Sudan as it suffered from a huge loss of revenue after the 2011 independence of South Sudan (ibid). The demarcation of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan didn’t see an agreement as the former leader of the South Sudan rebel, John Garang, died in a plane clash, which reignited the dispute between the north and the south. Abyei became one of the intense battle fields, which produced the displacement of 25,000 civilians during 2007-8 and displacement of 110,000 traditional tribe members in 2011.
2. Issues to Ponder
Through this case study, I want you to think about the role of nationalism in democratisation. Nationalism creates the boundary between “us” and “them” through injection of the concept of nation and democratisation has to rely on a group to achieve its success. (1) How strong do you think the tie between nationalism and the idea of democratisation/national self-determination is?
One of the serious problems of coupling of nationalism and democratisation is the arbitrary nature of nation. Take Sudan as an example, Sudan was originally multi-ethnic country having 50 ethnic groups and 114 languages (Mann, 2005: 429), but nationalism exploited pre-existing differences between ethnic groups and drew a clear distinction between the north and the south. (2) Is the emergence of underrepresented minorities an inevitable consequence of democratisation?
Finally, nationalism provides a nation-centred mindset, which prioritises the interests of one’s own nation before others. Both Sudan and South Sudan pursued their “national” interests ideologically, politically, militarily and economically. Despite the wide condemnation of nationalism as a bad idea, this centrality of national interest still has a pivotal influence on our democratic society. (3) What do you think the implications of this phenomenon are?
-Mann, M. 2005. The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Civil Wars
-An analysis of historical and social background of Sudanese Civil Wars in relation with identity formation. Chapter One is especially helpful to understand the causes and social background of the Wars.
Fahmi, M. 2012. Is Identity the Root Cause of Sudan’s Civil Wars? [online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from:
-A brief introduction of South Sudan by BBC. Timeline section helps you grasp the basic flow of the wars.
BBC. 2014. South Sudan Profile. [Online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from:
-Data on the role of oil in Sudanese and South Sudanese economy. Overview and History sections describe Abyeni’s importance for the both sides of the wars.
U.S. Energy Information Administration. Sudan and South Sudan. [Online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from:
-A brief introduction to the history of Abyei and its current situation.
Zapata, M. 2013. Enough 101: What is Abyei Area and Why is it Disputed? [Online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from:
-The following two sources’ content basically overlaps each other. The slight difference is the first source includes the White Army’s genocidal intent and the second contains more details on the atrocity incurred upon the Murle and of sociological analysis.
IRIN. South Sudan: Briefing on Jonglei violence. [Online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from:
IRIN, Briefing: Why the violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei State. [Online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from:
-A report on South Sudan’s involvement in the atrocity in Jonglei.
Human Rights Watch. 2013. South Sudan: Army Making Ethnic Conflict Worse: Abusive Tactics, Lack of Protection, Send Civilians Fleeing. [Online]. [Accessed 1 November 2014]. Available from: