Aleida Assmann’s book “The reinvention of the nation”

Un the impression of globalization and the increasing challenges, which, like climate change, can only be tackled cross-nationally, the idea that state and nation are outdated ideas that no longer played a role in the 21st century has prevailed over the past decades: There is rule “beyond the state”, and the nation no longer plays a major role as a projection surface for collective identities. In the meantime, of course, it has been shown that a group of social scientists committed to theories of modernization and intellectuals connected to them – who, as they found, were tired of the provincial narrowness of the national – have confused their own living situation with that of a large majority of the population. In doing so, they fell for the suggestive drafts of a cosmopolitan neoliberal idea.

In the times of Corona, states have become visible as the decisive regulators of ways of life and chances of survival, and under the pressure of growing migration movements, the idea of ​​national affiliation has dramatically gained in importance again. The formula of “social cohesion”, which has been on everyone’s lips for some time, essentially refers to the compound nation-state, which provides the framework for this cohesion and is intended to guarantee it with socio-political interventions. The predominant prospects for the future have become smaller and more short-term.


Aleida Assmann: “The reinvention of the nation”. Why we fear them and why we need them
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Image: CH Beck Verlag

But how should we imagine the idea of ​​the nation at a time when global economic exchange determines our lives, we users of a global communication system and the pressing challenges can only be mastered globally? Aleida Assmann, a renowned cultural scientist, keeps her distance from the problems of operational politics in her new book. It breaks down the compound nation-state into its components and focuses on the nation: How should inclusion and exclusion be connected in it? How much identity politics for minorities strengthens the plurality within the nation, and when does identity politics turn into a division of society? How can the Germans identify with their nation, which has brought so much abuse and shame on itself – or is pride and honor, as it is now demanded by right-wing populists everywhere, a socio-psychological dead end, not just for the Germans?

The value of immigration

Aleida Assmann, who has dealt with the concept of a collective memory for decades and is an expert on national identity in this respect, engages with questions that have long been on the political agenda of the left-liberal center and most of which are interested in answering them but have pushed around. For some the topic is embarrassing, for others it is forever yesterday, for most it is contaminated by nationalism and Nazism – but should that be left to right-wing populists, so Assmann’s objection? Or continue to bet that the nation will merge into “Europe”?

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