Book recommendation: ‘Blood and Belonging’, Michael Ignatieff
For me, nationalism has always been the most fascinating and horrifying part of politics – it is the secret that lies at the heart of humanity, the arrangement of words that will pit neighbour against neighbour.
I do not remember what essay I was working on when I found picked up Michael Ignatieff’s Blood and Belonging in the library at Goldsmiths. (I have a vague memory that it was not an essay for which this book was necessarily relevant…) However, when I picked it up and started reading, that was not my immediate concern.
When nationalists claim that national belonging is the overridingly important form of belonging, they mean that there is no other form of belonging – to your family, work or friends –which is secure if you do no have a nation to protect you. this is what warrants sacrifice on the nation’s behalf. without a nation’s protection, everything that an individual values can be rendered worthless. belonging, on this account, is first and foremost protection from violence. where you belong is where you are safe; and where you are safe is where you belong. if nationalism is persuasive because it warrants violence, it is also persuasive because it offers protection from violence. the warlord is his people’s protector; if he kills he does so in defence of the noblest cause: the protection of the innocent.
Michael Ignatieff, Blood And Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Vintage, 1994, pg. 6.
This book resonated and translated so much more than dry and inaccessible theories. People are people – everyone is made of flesh and blood and bone. We were all born and we will all die. Is there anything so different between us? What causes people to take a hoe and hack their neighbour to death? Or to join militias that rape and kill civilians? Why do humans break the norms and values that hold our societies together, just to wreak fear and violence on other humans?
Ignatieff visits Northern Ireland, Germany, Quebec, Kurdistan, the Ukraine and the Former Yugoslavia on a quest to find out more about the impact of nationalism on everyday lives. For any students that are studying matter relating to identity, nationalism, genocide, representation, the far right, propaganda, information operations and a whole host of other topics, this book is an excellent read. It would also quite possibly be of interest to those with an interest in current affairs and the rise of the political right.
We must think and talk about these matters if we are to make progress on alleviating the causes. Until we learn to identify and counter the dog whistle politics of nationalists, our responses will inevitably fail.
Author: Michael Ignatieff
Title: Blood And Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism