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Community and identity in late modernity: Part Six

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 15, 2008

Another issue is the question of the evolution of what constitutes a given national identity over time.

For example, Polish society in the last hundred or so years could be roughly divided into these distinct sociocultural periods:

1870-1918, Late Partition Period; 1918-1939, Second Republic; 1939-1949, War, Occupation, and Twilight of the Second Republic; 1949-1956, People's Republic under Stalinism; 1956-1965, People's Republic II (ascendancy of Gomulka); 1965-1979, People's Republic III (late Sixties' Crisis and Gierek ascendancy); 1979-1990, Solidarity Era and Twilight of the People's Republic; 1990 to today, Third Republic.

The sociocultural evolution of English-speaking Canada could be traced roughly in the following fashion:

c. 1780-1867, "British North America"; 1867-1965, "Dominion of Canada"; 1965-1982, "Pearson's Canada"; 1982-1993, Beginning of "Charter Canada"; 1993-2006, Chretien Hegemony; 2006 to today, Conservative Interlude. 

Persons born in different sociocultural periods are likely to have highly divergent values, even though the nation they live in is ostensibly the same one.

Another question to be considered is of "territorial nationalities" vs. "ethnic groups". Some traditionalists would tend to valorize so-called "territorial nationalities", mostly based in the countryside, over mostly urban-based "ethnic groups". Another important question is that of "long-established minorities" or "traditional minorities" vs. newly-arrived or arriving groups.

It might be noted that the principles of premodernity, which tolerate the existence of hierarchy and inequality, usually allow for the comparatively long-lived coexistence of ethnic groups in a given territory. The dominant nationality accepts the existence of the ethnic group, while the ethnic group accepts its subordinate status as the price of survival. Therefore, in premodernity, minorities can usually exist for centuries, despite sporadic persecution. On the other hand, the principles typical of modernity -- homogenization, autonomy and equality – tend to make for constant ethnic friction: the dominant nationality typically wants to bring all society under its undivided control – while formerly subordinate ethnic groups demand equal or superequal status, or else want to break away from the society.

Because of, among other factors, that part of the modern impulse that drives towards social, cultural, and political totality, it could be argued that many of the most horrible ethnic genocides actually took place in modernity; not in premodernity. It may be difficult to understand for some people that the typically premodern patchwork quilt of multiple sovereignties and influences, did not lend itself to projects of mass-genocide.

Along with measuring a person's identity in terms of their membership in various communities, one might also have a possible scale for a person's relations to others, which of course fluctuates over time. After intensified attachment to one's parents and immediate relatives, one normally moves on to attachments to peers and significant others, and then in most cases to one's spouse and children, as well as to post-secondary school and work associates, and eventually to grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren.

One could also try to calculate one's adherence to an identity on the basis of cash spent (money) towards a given activity or cause, or time spent (time) on a given activity or cause, which might prima facie be the most scientific calculation possible.
It is an important question whether so-called liberal values are to be held as universal, or if they are said to apply only to so-called Western political communities. John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971) was highly universalistic. However, after 1980, Rawls apparently acknowledged (at the famous Dewey lectures) that his famous theory of justice applied only to Western political communities, especially the American. He was severely criticized for this by many, more universalistically-minded liberal theorists.
Another issue to be considered is that different nations have different traditions of tolerance or intolerance. There are some obvious sociopolitical facts in history, for example, that a society like Canada has always been more tolerant than a society like Germany. With its lack of any real historical sense or context, the determination by some to construe traditional Canada as a nexus of presumed "white evil" must be seen as absurd.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.






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