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Contemporary Review of Rudolf Rocker's "Nationalism and Culture"

category elsewhere | history | non-anarchist press author Sunday November 25, 2007 09:00author by C. R. HOFFER Report this post to the editors

Originally published in the American Sociological Review, Vol. 3, (Feb., 1938), pp. 103-104.

Nationalism and Culture. By RUDOLF ROCKER. New York: Covici-Friede,1937. PP. 574. 63.50.

This book, originally intended for a German circle of readers, was to have appeared in Berlin in the autumn of 1933, but the turn of events in Germany prevented its publication. Subsequently, it was translated into English and thus has become available to a large number of readers. The author, born in Germany in 1873, was initiated as a youth into the Socialist movement in that country. The Socialist movement, however, did not hold him long because its interpretations were considered too dogmatic and narrow. He then came in contact with the libertarian movement and gradually became identified with libertarian circles in various countries.

Nationalism and Culture is a study of the destruction of man's cultural achievements by his quest for power. It is a large volume including over 500 pages of text, an extended bibliography, mainly from the German language, and an index. The treatment is philosophical in nature. The result is a thorough investigation of the philosophic truths pertaining to the subject as they emerge from the study of history. It is a scholarly production free from emotional bias.

The thesis of this work is that the quest for power, no matter what its source may be, tends to express itself through the medium of nationalism and all forms of culture are directed eventually toward this goal. The crystal-clear illustration of this trend is fascism, the last result of nationalistic ideology. This theory gives sanction to the slogan, "Everything for the state, nothing outside of the state, nothing against the state!" (p. 244). Even the democratic movement according to the author has not been free from the danger of misusing power, the justification for power being the common will. "Nothing," we read, "has so confirmed the internal and external security of the state as the religious beliefs in the sovereignty of the nation, confirmed and sanctioned by universal franchise" (p. 241).

While we may agree that the nation is not the cause, but the result of the state, it seems impossible to believe that "every state organization, however, is an artificial mechanism imposed on men from above by some ruler, and it never pursues any other ends but to defend and make secure the interests of privileged minorities in society" (p. zoo). In the opinion of this reviewer the author does not establish the validity of this statement as a general proposition, notwithstanding the fact that nations may reflect at times the interest of a privileged group. Nevertheless, this book is an important contribution to political philosophy and as such will be of interest to sociologists. It is an excellent criticism and analysis of state worship, a phenomenon which deserves careful consideration today not only by sociologists but other social scientists as well. As a sociologist, one wishes that the author might have turned his search in history and philosophy to the pattern of national organization which would be divested of the evil desire for power, but which could develop and express the interest of people in the entity called the state.

This is truly a problem of serious concern. For, "in spite of all social convulsions we have not yet succeeded in finding an inner adjustment of the manifold desires and needs of the individual and the social ties of the community whereby they shall compliment each other and grow together. This is the first requisite of every great social culture" (p. 94). The balance between freedom of the individual and demands of the various groups of which he is a member constitute a perennial problem in social organization. The book gives the historical and philosophical description of the problem. Its solution is still a challenge to the future.

Michigan State College

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