Varieties of National Style

Few intellectuals write as eloquently as Benedict Anderson, a thinker whose well-turned sentences surely belong in the tradition of Hume, Burke, and Ruskin. (Among late twentieth-century academics, perhaps only Said was his equal.) In this recent review, he considers topics as diverse as alien abduction and Irish pubs: “If one wished to see modern world history as an endless soap opera, in every country the one character centrally cast in each interminable episode would be one’s own nation. Newspapers everywhere are invariably divided between national news, on the one hand, and international and local news on the other. Television exhibits exactly the same morphology. A tyro visitor to the United States, absorbing the American mass media, will feel the terrifying force of every-minute ‘banal nationalism’, but for most nationals the cultural-political air will seem almost windless. There is nothing peculiarly American about this.”