Tuesday, December 5, 2017

ANTHONY D. SMITH: CULTURIST HERO

Anthony D. Smith (1939-2016) is a culturist hero.  Alongside, Samuel P. Huntington  (1927 – 2008), Smith inspired me as I wrote ‘Culturism,’ in 2006.  Many will recognize Harvard’s Huntington for his having created the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ model.  But, though he taught at the London School of Economics, very few know about or appreciate Smith’s ‘ethno-symbolism’ model of nationalism.

Leftist controlled academia sees the nation as an, ‘imagined,’ ‘construct,’ that was invented by the West in the 18th century and subsequently exported to the rest of the world.    This view, (not incidentally), portrays nations, (like masculinity, literature, race – and all else the left discusses), as illegitimate and oppressive.

Smith, by contrast argued that nationalism’s power comes from the myths, memories, traditions and symbols of their ethnic heritages. The characteristics of ethnic communities, by his definition were:

1.     An identifying name or emblem.
2.     A myth of common ancestry.
3.     Shared historical memories and traditions.
4.     One or more elements of common culture.
5.     A link with an historic territory or ‘homeland.’
6.     A measure of solidarity, at least among the elites.

Among symbolic building blocks of nationalism, Smith includes songs, images, literature, art, history, monuments, buildings, tomb styles, myths, belief in a golden age, religion, states, films, the dead, heroes and the virtues they inspire, feeling chosen, language, redemptive hopes, coercion, clothes,
 traditions, habits, laws and institutions. [i] 

While mainstream historians reasoned, if all this is needed to sustain nationalism, it must be false; Smith reasoned that if all this was needed to sustain nationalism, we had better get to it!   He wrote that, as nations were universal, essential and a source of identity, maintaining them gives historians, artists, archeologists, linguists, philosophers and others a culturist mission – reify the nation!

Smith helped invent the distinction between ‘ethnic’ and ‘civic’ nationalism.[ii]  Interestingly, he noted that Western European nations developed towards civic nationalism in rebellion against absolute monarchs; Whereas Eastern Europeans veered towards ethnic nationalism to challenge empires.  And, whereas he acknowledged that ethnic nationalism could create refugees, he also acknowledged that it was the firmest basis for a nation. 

Of potential interest to alt-right readers, Smith considered biological ethnic purity a myth based on his reading of ancient migration, endogamy patterns and cultural openness.  He looked at how the British, for example, looked Roman predecessors in the 16th century, to British, Saxon and Danish ancestors in 1685, and Germanic roots under Burke.[iii]  For Smith, ethnicity was the subjective belief that those in the nation were part of a continuous ethnic group.  But, DNA based or not, that the French, for example, think of themselves as a people, is the main basis of their ethno-state.

But, Smith's main achievement was to stand up to an entire academic myth!  He said, nations are not just 'imagined' products of modern nationalist projects, designed to centralize an economy.  No!  The French culture pulls on real and long-lasting myths.  If modern nation builders said, the French culture is rooted in Confucian belly dancing, it wouldn't have flown.  They built on pre-existing, long memories of Charlemagne, Roman, Greek and Christian heritage.   The French ethno-state is real and merits veneration.

Smith denounced global culture an oxymoron.  And, as a nationalist, he questioned the viability of ‘European culture’ as a basis for solvency. His questions about the DNA and subjective nature of ethnos are still cutting-edge.  But, going beyond questions, Smith called for culturism in arts and academia.  And, by championing ‘ethno-symbolism’ – in the heart of academia – he led by example.  Anthony D. Smith is an inspiring culturist hero.
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[i] Smith, Anthony, D., “Nationalism and Modernism,” (London: Routledge, 2003), 138.
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_D._Smith
[iii] Smith, Anthony, D., “Myths and Memories of the Nation,” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 71.
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