Qu'est-ce qu'une refutation?Issue: Winter 1997-1998
Anatol Lieven's article "Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?" (Fall 1997) is, like the curate's boiled egg in the old Punch cartoon, good in parts. The good parts are the generalities: his account of the difference between "primordialist" and "constructionist" theories of national identity is admirably lucid, and so too is his general argument that the "construction" of such identities is far from being the mechanical or arbitrary process that the term is sometimes taken to imply. No doubt the full explanation of the development of national identity must involve, where most nations or peoples are concerned, both the material of pre-existing realities (of language, culture, religion, political history, et cetera) and the more active workings of imagination and ideology. Doubtless, too, the mix will vary from case to case; local factors are never quite the same, and each national identity will be, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, national in its own different way.