Imagined community

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One night in New York City I went to Strand on Broadway.

The first book I saw was Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson with an out of print sticker on it. I instantly got nostalgic. It was one of the main books in my master’s thesis over ten years ago. So I bought it.

From New York we flew to Miami. From Miami to Atlanta. From Atlanta to Chicago. From Chicago to Austin. From Austin to San Francisco. From San Francisco to Los Angeles. And whenever I had time, I read Anderson. In the beginning it was to make me feel young again. But that changed.

Anderson’s main thesis is that nations are imagined communities “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”.

Although the jury is still out whether Americans constitute a nation, Anderson helped me on the way. People in New York are pretty different from people in Atlanta and people in Texas do not have much in common with people in San Francisco. We met many people who were angry and felt American political system is broken. If that was agreed upon, the culprits seem to vary.

That was all very interesting. In Europe countries are smaller and more homogenous, and the national consensus is often stronger even if political debates are fierce. Oftentimes here it felt as if I had flown from one country to another one (think of the gun debate in Texas and in New York City). But it was also clear that there are some fundaments people share – even if they do not agree on nearly anything. They all still felt they are American and were proud of that even if they disagreed. Because “in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”.

 

And even though Washington DC seems to be pretty dysfunctional, the people that make America great are still there. And they are just wonderful.