The death of custom ctd.
Much of the pushback to my earlier post comes down to essentially this comment from Chris:
Nationalism is less a product of the loss of custom, I think, than it is the product of perceived threat, be it internal or external. One sort of internal threat is a loss of custom, so it’s not that your hypothesis is wrong, it’s just only one part of the story. I’m not sure it really explains India and Pakistan (there is a whole hell of a lot going on there), but it probably has something to do with a lot of examples of radical nationalism in the last century or so, including Germany in the late 19th century and the 1930s.
A couple things should be noted. First, I’m not saying that the loss of custom is the only factor in the rise of nationalism. However I do think that in any place where nationalism is on the rise you will find some instance where custom has been broken or disrupted. Rufus brings up Spain during the Inquisition. Civil strife in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, radical Islam in the Middle East, and genocide in Africa are all other good examples of post-colonial nationalism. Ethnic and religious groups were forced into artificial borders with one another, and outside order was imposed by disrupting local tradition.
This alone does not account for the nationalism that followed the exodus of the colonial powers or Soviet troops. But what this death of custom did do is provide a serious weakness in the cultural armor of these places. The absence of community elders, the missing link between generations – these have to be replaced with something. In Eastern Europe the tenuous peace between ethnic groups that had lasted under the Soviets erupted into violence not long after the Soviets had departed. The voices of prudence had all been silenced during the Soviet occupation. Generations of cautious prejudice were replaced with a single generation of fear – and yes, of reaction to threat, but a reaction which might have been tempered had the customs of these people not been mangled.
Similarly, it is quite possible that a more moderate Islam would have taken root in the Middle East had the Ottomans not faced such utter defeat and decline in the early 20th century. Where the Empire had once been, new nation-states emerged. Where Imperial prudence had once reigned supreme, new radicals now reigned. And the moderate Turkish Islam was replaced by pockets of radicalism.
Or think of the rise of the Taliban in post-Soviet Afghanistan. Even the unsuccessful attempts by Soviets to dominate that region opened the doors for far more radical elements than had previously governed the Afghan people.
The death of custom is not the only reason nationalism takes root, but it is the weakness that allows nationalists to advocate their cause. Post-WWI Germany was far more vulnerable to the National Socialist party than pre-WWI Germany. Economic disaster is largely to blame in this instance, but obviously the German public was more open to fascism than they would have been prior to their defeat in the first world war.
Or look to instances where colonial powers attempt to eradicate a culture altogether. Think of the attempt by whites in the Americas to dismantle indigenous languages. Or the line in Braveheart from King Edward: “If we can’t get them out, we’ll breed them out.”