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Nationalism and Culture

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Nationalism and Culture is a nonfiction book by German anarcho-syndicalist writer Rudolf Rocker
Rudolf Rocker
Johann Rudolf Rocker was an anarcho-syndicalist writer and activist. A self-professed anarchist without adjectives, Rocker believed that anarchist schools of thought represented "only different methods of economy" and that the first objective for anarchists was "to secure the personal and social...

. In this book, Rocker's best known work, he criticizes religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, statism
Statism is a term usually describing a political philosophy, whether of the right or the left, that emphasises the role of the state in politics or supports the use of the state to achieve economic, military or social goals...

, nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

, and centralism from an anarchist perspective.


The ideas expressed in the book, Rocker claimed, dated back to the time before World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, when he was a leader in the Jewish anarchist labor movement in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Over the years, many parts of Nationalism and Culture were published in various essays and lectures. Rocker started working on the book around 1925, while he was still living in Germany. At first, he only planned a short book on nationalism, but over the years the material grew. At the time, Rocker was becoming more and more disillusioned as a wave of nationalism spread about Germany. This development culminated when the Nazi Party under Hitler came to power in 1933. Meanwhile, the German anarchist movement and the Free Workers' Union of Germany
Free Workers' Union of Germany
The Free Workers' Union of Germany was an anarcho-syndicalist trade union, which existed from the renaming of the Free Association of German Trade Unions on September 15, 1919 to its official disbandment in January 1933 after the Nazis came into power, although many of its members continued to be...

 (FAUD), an anarcho-syndicalist trade union Rocker was active in, were waning. This led Rocker to even question whether Germans were at all capable of anarchist thought.

Part I

Rocker begins the first part of Nationalism and Culture with a chapter attacking the Insufficiency of Economic Materialism as it was called. Rocker maintained that there is a distinct difference between natural science and the humanities. While the former was concerned with "a causality of physical necessity", the latter with "a matter of a causality of human aims and ends". He criticizes Marxism for attempting to describe human interactions with scientific terms thus neglecting the will to power
Will to power
The will to power is widely seen as a prominent concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. The will to power describes what Nietzsche may have believed to be the main driving force in man; achievement, ambition, the striving to reach the highest possible position in life; these are all...

, a term borrowed from Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

, as a motor for historical development.

The book continues by describing the emergence and development of religion. Rockers claims religion to enslave its very creator, man, since man submits himself to a mysterious power over which he has no control. He also applies this criticism to modern-day politics. According to Nationalism and Culture, man is submitted to an all-powerful state just as he is to an all-powerful god. "Thus", Rocker claims, "we arrive at the very foundations of every system of rulership and recognize that all politics is in the last instance religion, and as such tries to hold the spirit of man in the chains of dependence." He adds that nationalism is the ideology, which justifies man's coercion by the state, pointing to the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

, whose ideas greatly influenced the nationalist ideology. According to Rousseau, the citizen's freedom presupposes his submission under the common good embodies by the state. The state claims to be the creator of culture, when in truth, according to Nationalism and Culture, it is quite the opposite. The Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 is considered a mixed blessing, because on the hand it was a period of high cultural productivity, but on the other hand the basis of the modern state. Similarly, Rocker gives Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 the credit of having liberated the individual from the Catholic Church, but accuses it of having subdued it under the absolutist state
Absolutism (European history)
Absolutism or The Age of Absolutism is a historiographical term used to describe a form of monarchical power that is unrestrained by all other institutions, such as churches, legislatures, or social elites...

. In his analysis of the Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, Rocker distinguishes between liberal
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 and democratic ideals. Liberalism reduced government to the night watchman state
Night watchman state
A night watchman state, or a minimal state, has been variously defined by sources. In the strictest sense, it is a form of government in political philosophy where the state's only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and the...

 and thus contributed to individual liberty, while democracy is based on the general will
General will
The general will , made famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a concept in political philosophy referring to the desire or interest of a people as a whole. As used by Rousseau, the "general will" is identical to the rule of law, and to Spinoza's mens una.The notion of the general will is wholly...

 and the collective rather than the individual and is therefore no more than a new form of despotism
Despotism is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy...

. This dichotomy between authoritarian democratic and libertarian ideas can also be seen in the history of the socialist movement, Rocker claims. While in Germany, Hegelian Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

, which Rocker considers to be authoritarian, dominated the movement, the French socialists were influenced by the more liberal Proudhon. The consequence of Marx's authoritarian socialism is the Soviet regime
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, a twin evil of fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

, according to Rudolf Rocker.

Part II

The second part of Nationalism and Culture begins by refuting the various justifications for the nation: namely, the nation as a community of ideals, as a community of language, and as a racial collective. He concludes: "The nation is not the cause, but the result, of the state", it is not a natural institution but trained unto man much like a religion: "one is a German, a Frenchman, an Italian, just as one is a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew." The book proceeds by championing the idea that power is essentially detrimental to cultural development and Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 is cited as one of many examples for this. One chapter is devoted to architecture
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

, as the "most social of all arts". Rocker concludes by pointing to the rise of new dictatorships, Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 and Soviet communism, which take the place of people's unconditional trust in the infallibility of the Church. This trust leads them to support the "rape of all human rights". Against this authoritarianism, Rocker advocates a "new humanitarian socialism".

Publication and reception

Nationalism and Culture was originally supposed to be published in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 in 1933, but the Machtergreifung
Machtergreifung is a German word meaning "seizure of power". It is normally used specifically to refer to the Nazi takeover of power in the democratic Weimar Republic on 30 January 1933, the day Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, turning it into the Nazi German dictatorship.-Term:The...

 and Rocker's emigration intervened. It was not published until 1937, by the Spanish anarchist Diego Abad de Santillán
Diego Abad de Santillán
Diego Abad de Santillán , born Sinesio Vaudilio García Fernández, was an author, economist and leading figure in the Spanish and Argentine anarchist movements.-Early years:...

 and the publishing house Tierra y Libertad. Soon after the release, however, the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 made the book hard to sell. Alexander Berkman
Alexander Berkman
Alexander Berkman was an anarchist known for his political activism and writing. He was a leading member of the anarchist movement in the early 20th century....

, one of Rocker's friends and also a well-known anarchist, started an English translation. Rocker, however, was unhappy with Berkman's work. With the help of anarchists he had met on a lecture tour in the United States, Rocker contacted Ray E. Chase, a professor at the University of California
University of California
The University of California is a public university system in the U.S. state of California. Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the University of California is a part of the state's three-tier public higher education system, which also includes the California State University...

, who agreed to translate the book. This translation was published by the Rocker Publication Committee, which had been formed for this purpose, and the Covici-Friede publishing house in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, despite Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman was an anarchist known for her political activism, writing and speeches. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century....

 having warned Rocker of Covici-Friede's bad reputation. Rocker's bad luck continued and the publishing house declared bankruptcy just a year after Nationalism and Culture was released. Nevertheless, the book was soon translated into Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

, Swedish
Swedish language
Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along its coast and on the Åland islands. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

. It could not be published in Rocker's native Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 until 1949, after the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. There it was published under the title Die Entscheidung des Abendlandes (The Decision of the West).

Nationalism and Culture was received very well in the anarchist movement. Many compared Rocker to the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin
Peter Kropotkin was a Russian prince and anarchist.Kropotkin may also refer to:*Pyotr Nikolayevich Kropotkin , Soviet/Russian geologist, tectonician, and geophysicist*Mount Kropotkin, a peak in Antarctica...

 to underline the work's importance for anarchism. Augustin Souchy
Augustin Souchy
Augustin Souchy was a German anarchist, antimilitarist, and journalist.- First World War :At the outbreak of the First World War he moved in Austria. From there he was deported to and forced to wear a sign around his neck that read "Beware: Anarchist!", which later became the title of his...

 claimed Rocker deserved the Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel.-Background:According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who...

 for the book. It has some influence to this day. For example, Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

 was greatly influenced by Rocker and Nationalism and Culture in particular. In the socialist spectrum, the book was lauded by Willi Eichler
Willi Eichler
Willi Eichler was a German journalist and politician with the Social Democratic Party of Germany .-Before 1945:Eichler was born in Berlin, the son of a postal worker. He attended Volksschule and then became a clerk...

's magazine Geist und Tat and F. A. Ridley
F. A. Ridley
Francis Ambrose Ridley, usually known as Frank Ridley was a marxist and secularist of the United Kingdom.- Life :...

 of the Socialist Leader. Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford was an American historian, philosopher of technology, and influential literary critic. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer...

 also expressed admiration for the book. The English socialist philosopher Bertrand Russel considered Nationalism and Culture an important contribution to political philosophy.

Both Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 and Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

, despite disagreeing with Rocker on many points, considered the book significant and wished it be read by as many people as possible. Solomon F. Bloom, reviewing the book in The New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

 considered the book "a most welcome contribution" and conceded that Rocker "supports his position with a wealth of information of encyclopedic range", but criticized that "[c]rucial concepts such as will, nation and religion are inadequately defined". Hans Rothfels
Hans Rothfels
Hans Rothfels was a nationalist conservative German historian. He supported an idea of authoritarian German state, dominance of Germany over Europe and was hostile to Germany's eastern neighbours...

 in the American Historical Review
American Historical Review
The American Historical Review is the official publication of the American Historical Association, established in 1895 "for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research." It targets readers...

 criticized that "[o]bvious misstatements and misinterpretations are not infrequent", but called it "a combative book, but [...] not one of rattling bones nor a mere rehash of enlightened misconceptions about dark ages or the great impostors" and attributed "a wealth of information not easily accessible, and a sharply focused insight into cultural dynamics, which too often has been obscured by conventional theories of progress or of an organic or any other sort of determinism" to it. The American Sociological Review
American Sociological Review
The American Sociological Review is a bimonthly, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all aspects of sociology, including new theoretical developments, results of research that advance the understanding of fundamental social processes, and methodological innovations. It is published by SAGE...

s recension is largely positive: "The book gives the historical and philosophical description of the problem. Its solution is still a challenge to the future", the reviewer C. R. Hoffer claims. The American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin
Pitirim Sorokin
Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin was a Russian-American sociologist born in Komi . Academic and political activist in Russia, he emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1923. He founded the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. He was a vocal opponent of Talcott Parsons' theories...

, although he disagreed with Rocker's condemnation of the state, conceded that Nationalism and Culture included some interesting ideas. T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

's The Criterion compared Nationalism and Culture to Oswald Spengler
Oswald Spengler
Oswald Manuel Arnold Gottfried Spengler was a German historian and philosopher whose interests also included mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West , published in 1918, which puts forth a cyclical theory of the rise and decline of civilizations...

's The Decline of the West
The Decline of the West
The Decline of the West , or The Downfall of the Occident, is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler, the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918...

. Rocker and Spengler agreed in that there are no "eternal truths" and both considered there to be an antagonism between culture and power. While Rocker affirmed the former, Spengler considered the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

's imperial power a model for modern society. Nationalism and Culture became one of very few anarchist works to be used by university professors; several American professors had students read it for discussions about nationalism.