After the Revolution: 
The Fate of Nationalism in the New States


Clifford Geertz



Between 1945 and 1968 sixty-six "countries"--the actualities demand the quotation marks--attained political independence from colonial rule. Unless one counts the American engagement in Vietnam, an ambiguous case, the last great struggle for national liberation was that which triumphed in Algeria in the summer of 1962. Though a few other collisions are apparently still to come--in the Portuguese territories of Africa, for example--the great revolution against Western governance of Third World peoples is essentially over. Politically, morally, and sociologically, the results are mixed. But from the Congo to Guyana the wards of imperialism are, formally anyway, free.1


Considering all that independence seemed to promise--popular rule, rapid economic growth, social equality, cultural regeneration, national greatness and, above all, an end to the ascendancy of the West--it is not surprising that its actual advent has been anticlimactic. It is not that nothing has happened, that a new era has not been entered. Rather, that era having been entered, it is necessary now to live in it rather than merely imagine it, and that is inevitably a deflating experience.


The signs of this darkened mood are everywhere: in nostalgia for the emphatic personalities and well-made dramas of the revolutionary struggle; in disenchantment with party politics, parliamentarianism, bureaucracy, and the new class of soldiers, clerks, and local powers; in uncertainty of direction, ideological weariness, and the steady spread of random violence; and, not the least, in a dawning realization that things are more complicated than they look, that social, economic, and political problems, once thought to be mere reflexes of colonial rule, to disappear when it disappeared, have less superficial roots. Philosophically, the lines between realism and cynicism, between prudence and apathy, and between maturity and despair may be very broad; but sociologically, they are always very narrow. And in most of the new states right now they have thinned almost to the vanishing point.


Behind the mood, which is of course not unmixed, lie the realities of postcolonial social life. The sacred leaders of the national struggle are either gone ( Gandhi, Nehru, Sukarno, Nkrumah, Muhammed V, U Nu, Jinnah, Ben Bella, Keita, Azikiwe, Nasser, Bandaranaike), replaced by less confident heirs or less theatrical generals, or have been diminished to mere heads of state ( Kenyatta, Nyerere, Bourguiba, Lee, Sekou Touré, Castro). The near-millennial hopes of political deliverance once invested in a handful of extraordinary men are not only now diffused among a larger number of distinctly less extraordinary ones but are themselves attenuated. The enormous concentration of social energies that charismatic leadership can, whatever its other defects, clearly accomplish, dissolves when such leadership disappears. The passing of the generation of prophet-liberators in the last decade has been nearly as momentous, if not quite as dramatic, an event in the history of the new states as was their appearance in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Here and there, new ones will doubtless from time to time emerge, and some may make a considerable impact upon the world. But, unless a wave of Communist uprisings, of which there is now little indication, sweeps through the Third World throwing up a cloud of Che Guevaras, there will not soon again be such a galaxy of successful revolutionary heroes as there were in the Olympian days of the Bandung Conference. Most new states are in for a period of commonplace rulers.


In addition to the reduction in the grandeur of leadership, there has been a solidification of the white collar patriciate--what American sociologists like to call "the new middle class" and the French, less euphemistic, call la classe dirigeante--which surrounds and in many places engulfs that leadership. Just as colonial rule tended almost everywhere to transform those who happened to be socially ascendant (and submissive to its demands) at the time of its advent into a privileged corps of officials and overseers, so independence tended almost everywhere to create a similar, though larger, corps out of those who happened to be ascendant (and responsive to its spirit) at its advent. In some cases, the class continuity between the new elite and the old is great, in some less great; determining its composition has been the major internal political struggle of the revolutionary and immediate postrevolutionary periods. But accommodative, parvenu, or something in between, it is now rather definitely in place, and the avenues of mobility that for a moment seemed so wide open seem now, to most people, distinctly less so. As political leadership has slipped back toward the "normal," or anyway appearing such, so too has the stratification system.


So too, indeed, has society as a whole. The consciousness of massive, univocal, irresistible movement, the stirring to action of an entire people, that the attack upon colonialism almost everywhere induced has not wholly disappeared, but it has powerfully lessened. There is much less talk, both inside the new states and in the scholarly literature concerning them, about "social mobilization" than there was five, not to say ten, years ago (and what there is seems increasingly hollow). And this is because there is in fact much less social mobilization. Change continues, and indeed may even be accelerating under a general illusion that nothing much is happening, an illusion in good part generated by the great expectations that accompanied liberation in the first place.2 But the general forward motion of "the nation as a whole" has been replaced by a complex, uneven, and many-directioned movement by its various parts, which conduces to a sense less of progress than of agitated stagnation.


Yet, despite the sense of diluted leadership, renascent privilege, and arrested movement, the force of the great political emotion upon which the independence movement was everywhere built remains but slightly dimmed. Nationalism--amorphous, uncertainly focused, half-articulated, but for all that highly inflammable--is still the major collective passion in most new states, and in some it is virtually the only one. That, like the Trojan War, the world revolution may not take place as scheduled, that poverty, inequality, exploitation, superstition, and great power politics are going to be around for a while, is an idea, however galling, that most people at least can somehow contrive to live with. But, once aroused, the desire to become a people rather than a population, a recognized and respected somebody in the world who counts and is attended to, is, short of its satisfaction, apparently unappeasable. At least it has nowhere yet been appeased.


Actually, the novelties of the postrevolutionary period have, in many ways, exacerbated it. The realization that the power imbalance between the new states and the West has not only not been corrected by the destruction of colonialism, but has in some respects increased, while at the same time the buffer colonial rule provided against the direct impact of that imbalance has been removed, leaving fledgling states to fend for themselves against stronger, more practiced, established states, renders nationalist sensitivity to "outside interference" just that much more intense and that much more general. In the same way, emerging into the world as an independent state has led to a similar sensitivization to the acts and intentions of neighboring states--most of them likewise just emerged--that was not present when such states were not free agents but, as oneself, "belonged" to a distant power. And internally, removing European rule has liberated the nationalisms within nationalisms that virtually all the new states contain and produced as provincialism or separatism, a direct and in some cases--Nigeria, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan--immediate threat to the new-wrought national identity in whose name the revolution was made.


The effects of this persistent nationalistic sentiment amid national disappointment have been naturally varied: a withdrawal into don'ttouch-me isolationism, as in Burma; a surge of neotraditionalism, as in Algeria; a turn toward regional imperialism, as in precoup Indonesia; an obsession with a neighboring enemy, as in Pakistan; a collapse into ethnic civil war, as in Nigeria; or, in the majority of the cases where the conflict is for the moment less severe, an underdeveloped version of muddling-through, which contains a little of all these plus a certain amount of whistling in the dark. The postrevolutionary period was envisioned to be one of organizing rapid, large-scale, broadly coordinated social, economic, and political advance. But it has turned out to be rather more a continuation, under changed, and in some ways even less propitious, circumstances, of the main theme of the revolutionary and immediate prerevolutionary periods: the definition, creation, and solidification of a viable collective identity.


In this process, the formal liberation from colonial rule turns out not to have been the climax but a stage; a critical and necessary stage, but a stage nonetheless, and quite possibly far from the most consequential one. As in medicine the severity of surface symptoms and the severity of underlying pathology are not always in close correlation, so in sociology the drama of public events and the magnitude of structural change are not always in precise accord. Some of the greatest revolutions occur in the dark.



Four Phases of Nationalism


The tendency for the velocities of outward change and inward transformation to be out of phase with one another is clearly enough demonstrated in the general history of decolonization.


If, keeping all the limitations of periodization in mind, one divides that history into four major phases--that in which the nationalist movements formed and crystallized; that in which they triumphed; that in which they organized themselves into states; and that (the present one) in which, organized into states, they find themselves obliged to define and stabilize their relationships both to other states and to the irregular societies out of which they arose--this incongruence comes plainly into view. The most obvious changes, those which caught and held the attention of the entire world, occurred in the second and third of these phases. But the bulk of the more far-reaching changes, those altering the general shape and direction of social evolution, occurred or are occurring in the less spectacular first and fourth


The first, formative stage of nationalism consisted essentially of confronting the dense assemblage of cultural, racial, local, and linguistic categories of self-identification and social loyalty that centuries of uninstructed history had produced with a simple, abstract, deliberately constructed, and almost painfully self-conscious concept of political ethnicity--a proper "nationality" in the modern manner. The granular images into which individuals' views of who they are and who they aren't are so intensely bound in traditional society, were challenged by the more general, vaguer, but no less charged conceptions of collective identity, based on a diffuse sense of common destiny, that tend to characterize industrialized states. The men who raised this challenge, the nationalist intellectuals, were thus launching a revolution as much cultural, even epistemological, as it was political. They were attempting to transform the symbolic framework through which people experienced social reality, and thus, to the extent that life is what we make of it all, that reality itself.


That this effort to revise the frames of self-perception was an uphill battle, that in most places it was hardly more than just begun, and that in all it remained confused and incomplete goes without saying--or would, had not the contrary so often been asserted. Indeed, the very success of the independence movements in rousing the enthusiasm of the masses and directing it against foreign domination tended to obscure the frailty and narrowness of the cultural foundations upon which those movements rested, because it led to the notion that anticolonialism and collective redefinition are the same thing. But for all the intimacy (and complexity) of their interconnections, they are not. Most Tamils, Karens, Brahmins, Malays, Sikhs, Ibos, Muslims, Chinese, Nilotes, Bengalis, or Ashantis found it a good deal easier to grasp the idea that they were not Englishmen than that they were Indians, Burmese, Malayans, Ghanaians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, or Sudanese.


As the mass attack (more massive, and more violent, in some places than others) upon colonialism developed, it seemed to create, in and of itself, the basis of a new national identity that independence would merely ratify. The popular rallying behind a common, extremely specific political aim--an occurrence that surprised the nationalists nearly as much as it did the colonialists--was taken for a sign of a deeper solidarity, which produced by it would yet outlive it. Nationalism came to mean, purely and simply, the desire--and the demand--for freedom. Transforming a people's view of themselves, their society, and their culture--the sort of thing that absorbed Gandhi, Jinnah, Fanon, Sukarno, Senghor, and indeed all the bitter theorists of national awakening--was identified, to a large extent by some of these same men, with the access of such peoples to self-government. "Seek ye first the political kingdom"--the nationalists would make the state, and the state would make the nation.


The task of making the state turned out to be exacting enough to permit this illusion, indeed the whole moral atmosphere of the revolution, to be sustained for some time beyond the transfer of sovereignty. The degree to which this proved possible, necessary, or even advisable, varied widely from Indonesia or Ghana at one extreme to Malaysia or Tunisia at the other. But, with a few exceptions, by now all the new states have organized governments that maintain general dominion within their borders, and well or badly, function. And as government shakes down into some reasonably recognizable institutional form-party oligarchy, presidential autocracy, military dictatorship, reconditioned monarchism, or, very partially in the best of cases, representative democracy--it becomes less and less easy to avoid confronting the fact that to make Italy is not to make Italians. Once the political revolution is accomplished, and a state, if hardly consolidated, is at least established, the question: Who are we, who have done all this? re-emerges from the easy populism of the last years of decolonization and the first of independence.


Now that there is a local state rather than a mere dream of one, the task of nationalist ideologizing radically changes. It no longer consists in stimulating popular alienation from a foreign-dominated political order, nor with orchestrating a mass celebration of that order's demise. It consists in defining, or trying to define, a collective subject to whom the actions of the state can be internally connected, in creating, or trying to create, an experiential "we" from whose will the activities of government seem spontaneously to flow. And as such, it tends to revolve around the question of the content, relative weight, and proper relationship of two rather towering abstractions: "The Indigenous Way of Life" and "The Spirit of the Age."


To stress the first of these is to look to local mores, established institutions, and the unities of common experience--to "tradition," "culture," "national character," or even "race"--for the roots of a new identity. To stress the second is to look to the general outlines of the history of our time, and in particular to what one takes to be the overall direction and significance of that history. There is no new state in which both these themes (which, merely to have names for them, I shall call "essentialism" and "epochalism") are not present; few in which they are not thoroughly entangled with one another; and only a small, incompletely decolonized minority in which the tension between them is not invading every aspect of national life from language choice to foreign policy.


Language choice is, in fact, a good, even a paradigmatic, example. I cannot think of a new state in which this question has not in some form or other risen to the level of national policy.3 The intensity of the disturbance it has thereby generated, as well as the effectiveness with which it has been handled, varies quite widely; but for all the diversity of its expressions, the "language issue" turns precisely on the essentialism-epochalism dilemma.


For any speaker of it, a given language is at once either more or less his own or more or less someone else's, and either more or less cosmopolitan or more or less parochial--a borrowing or a heritage; a passport or a citadel. The question of whether, when, and for what purposes to use it is thus also the question of how far a people should form itself by the bent of its genius and how far by the demands of its times.


The tendency to approach the "language issue" from the linguistic standpoint, homemade or scientific, has somewhat obscured this fact. Most discussion, inside the new states and out, concerning the "suitability" of a given language for national use has suffered from the notion that this suitability turns on the inherent nature of the language--on the adequacy of its grammatical, lexical, or "cultural" resources to the expression of complex philosophical, scientific, political, or moral ideas. But what it really turns on is the relative importance of being able to give one's thoughts, however crude or subtle, the kind of force that speaking one's mother tongue permits as against being able to participate in movements of thought to which only "foreign," or in some cases "literary," languages can give access.


It doesn't matter therefore whether, in concrete form, the problem is the status of classical as against colloquial Arabic in Middle Eastern countries; the place of an "elite" Western language amid a collection of "tribal" languages in sub-Saharan Africa; the complex stratification of local, regional, national, and international languages in India or the Philippines; or the replacement of a European language of limited world significance by others of greater significance in Indonesia. The underlying issue is the same. It is not whether this or that language is "developed" or "capable of development"; it is whether this or that language is psychologically immediate and whether it is an avenue to the wider community of modern culture.


It is not because Swahili lacks a stable syntax or Arabic cannot build combining forms--dubious propositions in any case4 --that language problems are so prominent in the Third World: it is because, for the overwhelming majority of speakers of the overwhelming majority of languages in the new states, the two sides of this double question tend to work out inversely. What, from the ordinary speaker's view, is the natural vehicle of thought and feeling (and particularly in cases like Arabic, Hindi, Amharic, Khmer, or Javanese--the repository of an advanced religious, literary, and artistic tradition to boot) is, from the view of the main current of twentieth century civilization, virtually a patois. And what for that current are the established vehicles of its expression, are for that ordinary speaker at best but half-familiar languages of even less familiar peoples.5


Formulated this way, the "language problem" is only the "nationality problem" writ small, though in some places the conflicts arising from it are intense enough to make the relationship seem reversed. Generalized, the "who are we" question asks what cultural forms--what systems of meaningful symbols--to employ to give value and significance to the activities of the state, and by extension to the civil life of its citizens. Nationalist ideologies built out of symbolic forms drawn from local traditions--which are, that is, essentialist--tend, like vernaculars, to be psychologically immediate but socially isolating; built out of forms implicated in the general movement of contemporary history--that is, epochalist--they tend, like lingua francas, to be socially deprovincializing but psychologically forced.


However, rarely is such an ideology anywhere purely essentialist or purely epochalist. All are mixed and one can speak at best only of a bias in one direction or another, and often not even of that. Nehru's image of "India" was doubtless heavily epochalist, Gandhi's doubtless heavily essentialist; but the fact that the first was the disciple of the second and the second the patron of the first (and neither managed to convince all Indians that he was not, in the one case, a brown Englishman, or, in the other, a medieval reactionary) demonstrates that the relation between these two routes to self-discovery is a subtle and even paradoxical one. Indeed, the more ideologized new states--Indonesia, Ghana, Algeria, Egypt, Ceylon, and the like--have tended to be both intensely epochalist and intensely essentialist at the same time, whereas countries more purely essentialist like Somalia or Cambodia, or epochalist like Tunisia or the Philippines, have been rather the exceptions.


The tension between these two impulses--to move with the tide of the present and to hold to an inherited course--gives new state nationalism its peculiar air of being at once hell-bent toward modernity and morally outraged by its manifestations. There is a certain irrationality in this. But it is more than a collective derangement; it is a social cataclysm in the process of happening.



Essentialism and Epochalism


The interplay of essentialism and epochalism is not, therefore, a kind of cultural dialectic, a logistic of abstract ideas, but a historical process as concrete as industrialization and as tangible as war. The issues are being fought out not simply at the doctrine and argument level--though there is a great deal of both--but much more importantly in the material transformations that the social structures of all the new states are undergoing. Ideological change is not an independent stream of thought running alongside social process and reflecting (or determining) it, it is a dimension of that process itself.


The impact within any new state society of the desire for coherence and continuity on the one hand and for dynamism and contemporaneity on the other is both extremely uneven and highly nuanced. The pull of indigenous tradition is felt most heavily by its appointed, and these days rather besieged, guardians--monks, mandarins, pandits, chiefs, ulema, and so on; that of what is usually referred to (not altogether accurately) as "the West," by the urban youth, the troubled schoolboys of Cairo, Djakarta, or Kinshasa who have surrounded words like shabb, pemuda, and jeunesse with an aura of energy, idealism, impatience, and menace. But stretching out between these all-too-visible extremes is the great bulk of the population, among whom essentialist and epochalist sentiments are scrambled into a vast confusion of outlooks, which, because the current of social change produced it, only the current of social change can sort out.


As illustrative cases, compressed to the dimensions of historical anecdotes, of the generation of this confusion and of the efforts now being made to dissolve it, Indonesia and Morocco can serve as well as any. My reason for choosing them is that they are the cases I happen to know firsthand and, in dealing with the interplay between institutional change and cultural reconstruction, the degree to which one can substitute a synoptic vision for an intimate one is limited. Their experiences are, as all social experiences, unique. But they are not so different either from one another or from those of new states as a whole as to be unable to reveal, in their very particularity, some generic outlines of the problems faced by societies struggling to bring what they like to call their "personality" into a workable alignment with what they like to call their "destiny."


In Indonesia, the essentialist element is, and long has been, extremely unhomogeneous. To an extent, this is true for virtually all the new states, which tend to be bundles of competing traditions gathered accidentally into concocted political frameworks rather than organically evolving civilizations. But in Indonesia, the outlands at once of India, China, Oceania, Europe, and the Middle East, cultural diversity has been for centuries both especially great and especially complex. The edge of everything classical, it has been itself shamelessly eclectic.


pended in a kind of half-solution in which contrasting, even opposed styles of life and world outlooks managed to coexist, if not wholly without tension, or even without violence, at least in some sort of usually workable, to-each-his-own sort of arrangement. This modus vivendi began to show signs of strain as early as the mid-nineteenth century, but its dissolution got genuinely under way only with the rise, from 1912 on, of nationalism; its collapse, which is still not complete, only in the revolutionary and postrevolutionary periods. For then what had been parallel traditionalisms, encapsulated in localities and classes, became competing definitions of the essence of the New Indonesia. What was once, to employ a term I have used elsewhere, a kind of "cultural balance of power" became an ideological war of a peculiarly implacable sort.


Thus, in apparent paradox (though, in fact, it has been a nearly universal occurrence in the new states) the move toward national unity intensified group tensions within the society by raising settled cultural forms out of their particular contexts, expanding them into general allegiances, and politicizing them. As the nationalist movement developed, it separated into strands. In the Revolution these strands became parties, each promoting a different aspect of the eclectic tradition as the only true basis of Indonesian identity. Marxists looked mainly to the folk melange of peasant life for the essence of the national heritage; the technicians, clerks, and administrators of the classe dirigeante to the Indic aestheticism of the Javanese aristocracy; and the more substantial merchants and landholders to Islam. Village populism, cultural elitism, religious puritanism: some differences of ideological opinion can perhaps be adjusted, but not these.


Rather than adjusted they were accentuated, as each strand attempted to graft a modernist appeal onto its traditionalist base. For the populist element, this was Communism; and the Indonesian Communist party, professing to discern an indigenous radical tradition in the collectivism, social egalitarianism, and anticiericalism of rural life, became the chief spokesman both for peasant essentialism, especially Javanese peasant essentialism, and for a revolutionary epochalism of the usual "rise of the masses" sort. For the salaried element, the modernist appeal was industrial society as found (or imagined) in Europe and the United States, and it proposed a marriage of convenience between oriental spirituality and occidental drive, between "wisdom" and "technique," that would somehow preserve cherished values while transforming the material basis of the society out of which those values had arisen. And for the pious, it was naturally enough religious reform, a celebration of the effort to renovate Islamic civilization in such a way as to regain its lost, rightful leadership of the moral, material, and intellectual progress of mankind. But, in the event, none of these things--Peasant Revolution, The Meeting of East and West, or The Cultural Resurgence of Islam-happened. What happened was the mass slaughter of 1965, in which somewhere between a quarter and three-quarters of a million people lost their lives. The blood bath in which the Sukarno regime with painful slowness drowned was the result of a vast complex of causes, and it would be absurd to reduce it to an ideological explosion. Yet, whatever the role of economic, political, psychological, or--for that matter-accidental factors in bringing it on (and, what is even harder to explain, sustaining it), it marked the end of a distinct phase in the progress of Indonesian nationalism. Not only were the slogans of unity ("one people, one language, one nation"; "from many, one"; "collective harmony"; and so on), which had not been easy to credit in the first place, now rendered implausible altogether, but the theory that the native eclecticism of Indonesian culture would yield easily to a generalized modernism clamped onto one or another element of it was definitively disproved. Multiform in the past, it would seem also to have to be multiform in the present.


In Morocco, the main obstacle to defining an integral national self has not been cultural heterogeneity, which in comparative terms has not been so very great, but social particularism, which in comparative terms has been extreme. Traditional Morocco consisted of an enormous, illorganized field of rapidly forming and rapidly dissolving political constellations on every level from the court to the camp, every basis from the mystical to the occupational, and every scale from the grand to the microscopic. The continuity of the social order lay less in any durability of the arrangements composing it or the groups embodying it, for the sturdiest of them were fugitive, than in the constancy of the processes by which, incessantly reworking those arrangements and redefining those groups, it formed, reformed, and re-reformed itself.


Insofar as this unsettled society had a center, it was the Alawite monarchy. But even in the best times the monarchy was hardly more than the largest bear in the garden. Embedded in a patrimonial bureaucracy of the most classic sort, a haphazard assortment of courtiers, chieftains, scribes, and judges, it struggled continuously to bring competing centers of power--of which there were literally hundreds, each resting on slightly different ground from the next--within its control. Although between its founding in the seventeenth century and its submission in 1912 it never altogether failed in this, it also never more than very partially succeeded. Not quite an anarchy and not quite a polity, the Moroccan state had, with its endemic particularism, just enough reality to persist.


Initially the effect of colonial domination, which only formally lasted about forty years, was to eviscerate the monarchy and turn it into a kind of Moorish tableau vivant; but intentions are one thing and events are another, and the ultimate result of European rule was to establish the king as the axis of the Moroccan political system rather more emphatically than had originally been the case. Though the earliest movements toward independence were undertaken by an uneasy, and as it turned out unstable, coalition of Western-educated intellectuals and neotraditional Muslim reformers, it was the arrest, exile, and triumphant restoration of Muhammed V in 1953-1955 that finally secured the independence movement, and, in securing it, turned the throne into the focus of Morocco's growing but still intermittent sense of nationhood. The country got, revived, ideologized, and better organized, its center back. But, it soon turned out, it also got, similarly improved, its particularism back.


Much postrevolutionary political history has demonstrated this fact: that however transformed, the crucial struggle still consists in an attempt by the king and his staff to sustain the monarchy as a viable institution in a society in which everything from landscape and kinship structure to religion and national character conspires to partition political life into disparate and disconnected exhibitions of parochial power. The first such exhibitions came with a series of so-called tribal uprisings--in part foreign-stimulated, in part the result of domestic political maneuvering, in part a return of the culturally repressed--that harried the new state during the first few years of independence. These were eventually put down with a combination of royal force and royal intrigue. But they were merely the first, rather elemental indications of what life was going to be like for a classical monarchy that, returning from the limbo of colonial subservience, had to establish itself as at once the authentic expression of the nation's soul and the appropriate vehicle of its modernization.


As Samuel Huntington has pointed out, the peculiar fate of traditional monarchies almost everywhere in the new states is to have also to be modernizing monarchies, or at least to look like such.6 A king content merely to reign can remain a political icon, a piece of cultural bric-abrac. But if he wants also to rule, as Moroccan kings have always very much wanted to do, he must make himself the expression of a powerful force in contemporary social life. For Muhammed V, and, since 1961, his son Hassan II, this force has been the emergence for the first time in the country's history of a Western-educated class large enough to permeate the entire society and discrete enough to represent a distinctive interest. Though their styles have been somewhat different--Hassan is remote where Muhammed was paternal--they have each struggled at once to organize and to place themselves at the head of The New Middle Class, The Intermediate Sectors, La Classe Dirigeante, The National Elite, or whatever this forming crowd of officials, officers, managers, educators, technicians, and publicists ought properly to be called.


Suppressing the tribal rebellions was thus less the end of the old order than the end of an ineffective strategy for dominating it. After 1958, the essentials of what has become the palace's established approach to securing a firmer grip on the Moroccan half-polity emerged --the construction of a constitutional monarchy, constitutional enough to attract the support of the educated elite and monarchical enough to maintain the substance of royal power. Desiring the fate of neither the English monarchy nor the Iraqi, Muhammed V, and even more Hassan II, have sought to create an institution which, invoking Islam, Arabism, and three centuries of Alawite rule, could draw its legitimacy from the past and, calling for rationalism, dirigisme, and technocracy, its authority from the present.


The stages in the recent history of this effort to turn Morocco, by a kind of political miscegenation, into what can only be called a royalist republic--the separation of the secularist, religious, and traditionalist wings of the nationalist movement and the consequent formation of a multiparty system in 1958-1959; the failure of the king's own coalition party, the Front for the Defense of Constitutional Institutions, to gain a parliamentary majority in the 1963 general elections; the royal suspension, ostensibly temporary, of parliament in 1965; the dime-novel murder (in France) of the major opponent of the whole project, Mehdi Ben Barka, in 1968--need not be traced out here. The point is that the tension between essentialism and epochalism is as observable in the vicissitudes of the postrevolutionary Moroccan political system as in those of the Indonesian; and if it has not as yet attained so flamboyant a denouement, and one may hope never will, it has been moving in the same direction of increasing unmanageability, as the relationship between what Edward Shils has called the "will to be modern" and what Mazzini called the "need to exist and have a name" grows steadily more involved.7 And though the form it takes and the speed at which it moves naturally vary, the same process is occurring in, if perhaps not all, at least the overwhelming majority of the new states as, the revolution accomplished, the point of it is sought.



Concepts of Culture


Until Talcott Parsons, carrying forward Weber's double rejection (and double acceptance) of German idealism and Marxist materialism, provided a viable alternative, the dominant concept of culture in American social science identified culture with learned behavior. This concept can hardly be called "wrong"--isolated concepts are neither "wrong" nor "right"--and for many, rather routine purposes it was, and remains, serviceable. But it is now clear to virtually everyone whose interests extend any distance beyond the descriptive that it is very difficult to generate analyses of much theoretical power from such a diffuse, empiricist notion. The day when social phenomena were explained by redescribing them as culture patterns and noting that such patterns are handed down from generation to generation is very nearly past. And Parsons, insisting in his grave and toneless voice that to interpret the way a group of human beings behave as an expression of their culture while defining their culture as the sum of the ways in which they have learned to behave is not terribly informative, is as responsible for its passing as any single figure in contemporary social science.


In place of this near-idea, Parsons, following not only Weber but a line of thought stretching back at least to Vico, has elaborated a concept of culture as a system of symbols by which man confers significance upon his own experience. Symbol systems, man-created, shared, conventional, ordered, and indeed learned, provide human beings with a meaningful framework for orienting themselves to one another, to the world around them, and to themselves. At once a product and a determinant of social interaction, they are to the process of social life as a computer's program is to its operations, the genic helix to the development of the organism, the blueprint to the construction of the bridge, the score to the performance of the symphony, or, to choose a humbler analogy, the recipe to the baking of the cake--so the symbol system is the information source that, to some measurable extent, gives shape, direction, particularity, and point to an ongoing flow of activity.


Yet these analogies, which suggest a pre-existing template stamping form onto a process external to it, pass rather facilely over what has emerged as the central theoretical problem for this more sophisticated approach: namely, how to conceptualize the dialectic between the crystallization of such directive "patterns of meaning" and the concrete course of social life.


There is a sense in which a computer's program is an outcome of prior developments in the technology of computing, a particular helix of phylogenetic history, a blueprint of earlier experiments in bridge building, a score of the evolution of musical performance, and a recipe of a long series of successful and unsucccessful cakes. But the simple fact that the information elements in these cases are materially separable from the processual--one can, in principle anyhow, write out the program, isolate the helix, draw the blueprint, publish the score, note down the recipe--makes them less useful as models for the interaction of cultural patterns and social processes where, a few more intellectualized realms like music and cake-baking in part aside, the very question at issue is precisely how such a separation is, even in thought, actually to be effected. The workability of the Parsonian concept of culture rests almost entirely on the degree to which such a model can be constructed --on the degree to which the relationship between the development of symbol systems and the dynamics of social process can be circumstantially exposed, thereby rendering the depiction of technologies, rituals, myths, and kinship terminologies as man-made information sources for the directive ordering of human conduct more than a metaphor.


This problem has haunted Parsons' writings on culture from the earliest days when he regarded it as a set of Whiteheadian "external objects" psychologically incorporated into personalities and thus, by extension, institutionalized in social systems, to the most recent where he sees it more in the control-mechanism terms of cybernetics. But nowhere has it come home more to roost than in discussing ideology; for, of all the realms of culture, ideology is the one in which the relationship between symbolic structures and collective behavior is at once the most conspicuous and the least clear.


For Parsons, an ideology is but a special sort of symbol system:

A system of beliefs held in common by members of a collectivity . . . which is oriented to the evaluative integration of the collectivity, by interpretation of the empirical nature of the collectivity and of the situation in which it is placed, the processes by which it developed to its given state, the goals to which its members are collectively oriented, and their relation to the future course of events.8

Yet, left at that, this formulation fuses together modes of self-interpretation that do not entirely go together, and, glossing over the moral tension inherent in ideological activity, obscures the interior sources of its enormous sociological dynamism. In particular, the two clauses I have underscored, the "interpretation of the empirical nature of the collectivity," and "[the interpretation] of the situation in which [that collectivity] is placed," are not, as I hope I have by now demonstrated, as coordinate as practical enterprises in social self-definition as the mere "and" conjoining them might suggest. So far as new state nationalism is concerned, they are in fact very deeply, in some places irreconcilably, at odds. To deduce what the nation is from a conception of the world-historical situation in which it is thought to be enclosed-"epochalism"--produces one sort of moral-political universe; to diagnose the situation with which the nation is faced from a prior conception of what it is intrinsically--"essentialism"--produces quite another; and to combine the two (the most common approach) produces a confused assortment of mixed cases. For this reason, among others, nationalism is not a mere by-product but the very stuff of social change in so many new states; not its reflection, its cause, its expression, or its engine, but the thing itself.


To see one's country as the product of "the processes by which it developed to its given state," or, alternatively, to see it as the ground of "the future course of events," is, in short, to see it rather differently. But, more than that, it is to look in rather different places to see it: to parents, to traditional authority figures, to custom and legend; or, to secular intellectuals, to the oncoming generation, to "current events," and the mass media. Fundamentally, the tension between essentialist and epochalist strains in new state nationalism is not a tension between intellectual passions but between social institutions charged with discordant cultural meanings. An increase in newspaper circulation, an upsurge of religious activity, a decline in family cohesion, an expansion of universities, a reassertion of hereditary privilege, a proliferation of folklore societies are--like their contraries--themselves elements in the process by which the character and content of that nationalism as an "information source" for collective behavior are determined. The organized "systems of belief" propagated by professional ideologists represent attempts to raise aspects of this process to the level of conscious thought and so deliberately control it.


But, no more than consciousness exhausts mentality does nationalist ideology exhaust nationalism; what it does, selectively and incompletely, is articulate it. The images, metaphors, and rhetorical turns from which nationalist ideologies are built are essentially devices, cultural devices designed to render one or another aspect of the broad process of collective self-redefinition explicit, to cast essentialist pride or epochalist hope into specific symbolic forms, where more than dimly felt, they can be described, developed, celebrated, and used. To formulate an ideological doctrine is to make (or try to make--there are more failures than successes) what was a generalized mood into a practical force.


The scuffle of political sects in Indonesia and the shifting foundations of monarchy in Morocco, the first so far an apparent failure, the second so far an ambiguous success, represent such attempts to draw the intangibilities of conceptual change into articulate cultural forms. They represent, also, of course, and even more immediately, a struggle for power, place, privilege, wealth, fame, and all the other so-called "real" rewards of life. Indeed, it is because of the fact that they also represent this that their ability to focus and transform men's views of who they are and how they should act is so great.


The "patterns of meaning" by which social change is formed grow from the processes of that change itself and, crystallized into proper ideologies or embedded in popular attitudes, serve in turn, to some inevitably limited degree, to guide it. The progress from cultural diversity to ideological combat to mass violence in Indonesia, or the attempt to dominate a field of social particularisms by fusing the values of a republic with the facts of an autocracy in Morocco, are without doubt the hardest of hard political, economic, and stratificatory realities; real blood has flowed, real dungeons have been built--and, to be fair, real pain has been relieved. But they are also without doubt the record of those would-be countries' efforts to breathe intelligibility into an idea of "nationhood," in terms of which these realities, and worse to come, can be confronted, shaped, and understood.


And this is true for the new states generally. As the heroic excitements of the political revolution against colonial domination recede into an inspirational past to be replaced by the shabbier, but no less convulsive movements of the dispiriting present, the secular analogues of Weber's famous "problems of meaning" grow more and more desperate. It is not only in religion that things are not "merely there and happen" but "have a 'meaning' and are there because of this meaning," but in politics as well, and in new-state politics in particular. The questions "What is it all for?" "What's the use?" and "Why go on?" arise in the context of mass poverty, official corruption, or tribal violence as much as in those of wasting illness, defeated hope, or premature death. They get no better answers, but insofar as they get any at all it is from images of a heritage worth preserving or a promise worth pursuing, and though these need not necessarily be nationalist images, almost all of them-Marxist ones included--are.9


Rather like religion, nationalism has a bad name in the modern world, and, rather like religion, it more or less deserves it. Between them (and sometimes in combination) religious bigotry and nationalist hatred have probably brought more havoc upon humanity than any two forces in history, and doubtless will bring a great deal more. Yet also rather like religion, nationalism has been a driving force in some of the most creative changes in history, and doubtless will be so again in many yet to come. It would seem, then, well to spend less time decrying it-which is a little like cursing the winds--and more in trying to figure out why it takes the forms it does and how it might be prevented from tearing apart even as it creates the societies in which it arises, and beyond that the whole fabric of modern civilization. For in the new states the age of ideology is not only not over, but, as the inchoate changes of self-conception wrought by the dramatic events of the past forty years emerge into the public light of explicit doctrine, only just beginning. In preparing ourselves to understand and deal with it, or perhaps only to survive it, the Parsonian theory of culture, suitably emended, is one of our most powerful intellectual tools.





The term "new states," indeterminate to begin with, becomes even more so as time passes and the states age. Though my main referent is the countries that have gained independence since World War II, I do not hesitate, where it suits my purposes and seems realistic, to extend the term to cover states like those of the Middle East, whose formal independence came earlier, or even those, like Ethiopia, Iran, or Thailand, which in the strict sense were never colonies at all.


For an incisive, if anecdotal, discussion of the way in which contemporary social conditions in the Third World hamper the recognition of change on the part of "the natives" and foreign observers alike, see A. Hirschman, "Underdevelopment, Obstacles to the Perception of Change, and Leadership," Daedalus 97 ( 1968): 925-937. For some comments of my own relative to the tendency of Western scholars--and, inferentially, Third World intellectuals--to underestimate the present rate (and to misconceive the direction) of change in the new states, see "Myrdal's Mythology," Encounter, June 1969, pp. 26-34.


For a general review, see J. A. Fishman et al., eds., Language Problems of Developing Nations ( New York, 1968).


For the first (not accepted, but attacked), see L. Harries, "Swahili in Modern East Africa," in Fishman et al., Language Problems, p. 426. For the second (accepted during an incisive discussion along the general lines here being developed), see C. Gallagher, "North African Problems and Prospects: Language and Identity," in Language Problems, p. 140. My point, of course, is not that technical linguistic matters have no relevance to language problems in the new states, but merely that the roots of those problems are much deeper and that expanding lexicons, standardizing usages, improving writing systems, and rationalizing instruction, though valuable in themselves, do not touch the central difficulty.


The main exception so far as the Third World generally is concerned is Latin America, but there--proving the rule--language issues are very much less prominent than in the new states proper and tend to reduce to education and minority group problems. (For an example, see D. H. Burns, "Bilingual Education in the Andes of Peru," in Fishman et al., Language Problems, pp. 403-413.) To what degree the fact that Spanish (or, more, Portuguese) is just enough of a carrier of modern thought to be felt to be an avenue to it and just marginal enough a carrier of it not actually to be a very good one has played a part in the intellectual provincialization of Latin America--so that it has in fact had a language problem without quite realizing it--is an interesting and separate question.


S. P. Huntington, "The Political Modernization of Traditional Monarchies," Daedalus 95 ( 1966):763-768; see also his Political Order in Changing Societies ( New Haven, 1968). With Huntington's general analysis, too much influenced, in my opinion, by the analogy of the king vs. aristocracy struggle in premodern Europe, I am, however, in some disagreement. For Morocco, anyway, the image of a populist monarchy "out of style in middle-class circles," appealing over the heads of "local privilege, corporate autonomy [and] feudal power" to the masses in the interests of progressive reform, seems to me very nearly the reverse of the truth. For more realistic views of postindependence Moroccan politics, see J. Waterbury, The Commander of the Faithful ( London, 1970).


E. Shils, "Political Development in the New States," Comparative Studies in Society and History 2 ( 1960): 265-292, 379-411.


T. Parsons, The Social System ( Glencoe, III., 1951), p. 349. Italics added.


The question of the relationship between Marxism and nationalism is a vexed one which it would take another essay even to outline. Suffice it here to say that, as far as the new states are concerned, Marxist movements, Communist or non-Communist, have almost everywhere been heavily nationalistic in both aim and idiom, and there is very little sign that they are becoming any less so. Actually, the same point could be made about religio-political movements-Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or whatever; they too tend to be as localized in fact as they are placeless in principle.



After the revolution: the fate of nationalism in the new states, in: Barber, Bernard/ Inkeles, Alex (eds.): Stability and social change: a volume in honor of Talcott Parsons. Boston/Ma./USA etc. 1971: Little, Brown & Co., pp. 357-376.

cf. The interpretation of cultures: selected essays, New-York/N.Y./USA etc. 1973: Basic Books, pp. 234-254.


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