-1Tyrone Schiff Understanding a Nation The year 1859 was a revolution in culture.

The year was marked with a wealth of new and fresh ideas being presented and broached for the public’s consumption. The medium in which this information was catapulted into the lives of those who lived during this historic year was via literature. All sorts of literature were used in order to convey the thoughts of the time. Some were skillfully crafted pieces of fiction, others were political manifestos, and there was even a scientific proclamation that changed society’s outlook then and even today. While all of these pieces of literature seem to speak to diverse audiences and address significantly different schools of thought, there is a central theme to which they all seem to address. In particular, the idea that percolates within some very important texts from the year 1859 is the idea of the nation. Benedict Anderson, a professor emeritus at Cornell University, provided a resounding definition of the nation in his book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, and it states, “[the nation] is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (7). Anderson’s definition of the nation will be definitively supported and proven by four specific texts that each speak to a particular claim presented by Anderson. Each of the four texts specifically discusses the more detailed explanation that Anderson provides, which will be examined further on. Self-Help by Samuel Smiles addresses the imagined portion of Anderson’s definition of the nation because of the extreme size and scope that is intrinsic to all nations. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens explores the limitations of a nation. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill addresses the sovereignty of the nation, and the individual’s purpose within the nation. Finally, The

-2Tyrone Schiff Origin of Species by Charles Darwin will be used to illustrate the sense of community that manifests itself in a nation. All of these works were critical to the revolution in culture that occurred in the year 1859, and work to support the definition set forth by Anderson. Anderson’s first point of emphasis within his definition is that of an imagined nation. This concept will be upheld by the literary work of Samuel Smiles, Self-Help. Anderson begins his analysis of an imagined nation in stating, “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 images of their communion […]” (7). The point that is being emphasized here is that nations are typically very large, but even when this is the case people within a given nation find a sense of solace in the fact that they are all a part of the same group. Smiles talks to Anderson’s elaboration on various points. When considering the book, Self-Help, one will notice the great expanse of individuals that it covers. It discusses people from all walks of life who contribute to society in a multitude of ways. However, it is important to be cognizant of the great deal of people that are left from the book. While Smiles may have tried to educate those about the people within their nation, there is no possible way for him to discuss everybody. Smiles generally only discussed famous people, and did not once discuss women. Self-Help is therefore a perfect illustration of Anderson’s point that within a nation one will typically not be able to meet or hear about a great deal of their fellow members. Even though members of a nation will not have the opportunity to meet one another, there is this great sense of communion. This sense of communion can be accurately portrayed by the government of a nation. The way in which a nation decides to

-3Tyrone Schiff be governed depicts a great deal about the individuals that make up the nation. Smiles speaks to this point in saying, “The Government of a nation itself is usually found to be but the reflex of the individuals composing it. The Government that is ahead of the people will inevitably be dragged down to their level, as the Government that is behind them will in the long run be dragged up” (19). Smiles advocates here that the way in which a nation governs itself is due to the individuals that make it up. Though all individuals within a nation clearly cannot meet one another, they can still come to a consensus as to what government works best to benefit the greatest number. This talks to the sense of communion that exists within a nation. People will work with one another in order to achieve the best result. Smiles provides an excellent illustration of this sense of communion and how it is formulated in the nation with the example of Josiah Wedgwood. Smiles explains, “Josiah Wedgwood was one of those indefatigable men […] by their energetic character not only practically educate the working population in habits of industry, but by the example of diligence and perseverance which they set before them, largely influence the public activity in all directions, and contribute in a great degree to form the national character” (73). The point of discussing the life of Wedgwood was that it revealed an individual could have a great deal of impact on the society at large and help to develop the nation as a whole. Smiles showed how it was the contributions of each individual that ultimately formulated the nation. This idea of an individual having the ability to construct their nation is what drove the communion that Anderson speaks of. This individuality and responsibility that was bestowed on each person in a society gave them a collective identity. Even though the constituents of a nation may not know everyone else within

-4Tyrone Schiff their nation, having a common purpose brought them together. This is the idea that Samuel Smiles speaks to in his book, Self-Help, and thus works to prove the first tenet of Anderson’s definition of the nation. The next portion of Anderson’s definition of the nation deals with how it is limited. This precept will be defended by Charles Dickens’s novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Anderson explains that the reason that the nation is limited is, “because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind […]” (7). Anderson portrays the nation as something that inherently has bounds and limitations to it. Furthermore, there is a distinction made between one nation and another. Anderson asserts that a nation develops its own identity and dissociates itself from an overall view of mankind. These ideas are supported by the story told by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. Very early on in the book the idea of nations being separated from one another is established. Nations are seen to be independent without any overlap between two of them. This separation of nations is depicted in the second paragraph of the novel where it states, “There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever” (Dickens, 5). This excerpt speaks directly to the limited realm of a nation. Although the descriptions of the royalty of both nations sound similar, it is a point emphasized by Dickens that they are indeed different. To be English means something significantly different from being French, and

-5Tyrone Schiff this point is articulated by Dickens from the outset of his novel. There is a definite identity that is associated with any given nation and certain connotations that are broached depending on what nation is being discussed. For instance, Darnay has a great deal of admiration for George Washington and the United States. This figurehead and nation means something completely different to Darnay than does the French system which he escaped. Though a nation is just an arbitrary boundary that is contrived by human beings, the ideals, feelings, and associations related to a nation are significantly different. A further example of Anderson’s idea of a limited nation comes up later in A Tale of Two Cities when Darnay is put to trial for being an emigrant. The passage which is of most pertinence to the idea presented by Anderson is the following, “Darnay, was accused by the public prosecutor as an emigrant, whose life was forfeit to the Republic, under the decree which banished all emigrants on pain of Death” (Dickens, 293). Darnay was being prosecuted in this situation because of his status as an emigrant. This gives a great deal of insight into how a nation views itself as being exclusive. In this situation, being an immigrant was punishable by death. This is a clear example of how there is a definite boundary that exists between nations, and individuals are not readily able or encouraged to venture outside of their nations confines. To give this a modern day context, consider the great lengths that the United States goes through in order to maintain its border with Mexico. This is an effort by the United States to maintain its own nation and limit it to outsiders. George W. Bush signed a bill in October of 2006 which planned to add 700 miles of new fencing to the United States and Mexico border in order to keep out illegal immigrants (Riechmann, 2006). Clearly, even today, the same ideas

-6Tyrone Schiff that were present in A Tale of Two Cities and Darnay’s circumstance persist. Based on this analysis, Anderson’s definition of a limited nation hold true as a result of the ideas in Charles Dickens’s novel and further elaborated on by current events in the United States. Furthermore, Benedict Anderson gives the attribute of sovereign to the nation. Anderson specifically discusses sovereign in the following sense, “[The nation] is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm […]” (7). Anderson asserts that the idea of the nation came about during a period in which the ongoing tradition of a dynasty was starting to be reassessed. Sovereignty was considered more desirable than having royalty or a group of elite rule over society. The concept of the nation grew out of individuals longing to wield more control. The analysis provided by John Stuart Mill in his political manifesto, On Liberty, provides a superb context in which to understand this portion of Anderson. According to Anderson’s definition, in order for a nation to be sovereign the “divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm” needs to be destroyed (Anderson, 7). This is outlined by the writings of John Stuart Mill. On page 183 of On Liberty, Mill explains the progression of a nation from a dynastic regime to a more sovereign society, “In countries of more advanced civilization and of a more insurrectionary spirit the public, accustomed to expect everything to be done for them by the State, or at least to do nothing for themselves without asking from the State not only leave to do it […] naturally hold the State responsible for all evil which befalls them, and when the evil exceeds their amount of patience, they rise against the government and make what is called a revolution” (183). This series of events outlines how nations gain sovereignty, which is a

-7Tyrone Schiff fundamental component to a nation in the eyes of Anderson. In further congruence with Anderson, Mill realizes and articulates that the way to break free of state control is via revolution. Mill explains how society will eventually grow tiresome of the way they are treated by the state and will rise up against it. This idea is very much in line with Mill’s ideas regarding utility. John Stuart Mill would agree with Anderson that sovereignty is a means to greater utility and integral to the progress of the nation. Mill also provides an illustration as to why a dynasty is not a desirable thing to have in a nation and rather champions sovereignty. Mill negates the idea of a dynasty in suggesting, “it is almost commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life […] Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity” (110). Mill makes the case here that it is far better and more typical to have an array of options when it comes to political ideologies. A nation devoid of these options would clearly be a dynasty with a pre-ordained ruler. Under this circumstance, individuals are unable to make choices regarding political ideology, because there is only one choice, nor is the alternative of deviation desirable, because they could be persecuted. On the other hand, Mill expresses how having these options in political thought, and thus sovereignty over one’s own ideologies, is a far more desirable thing. This obviously indicates a complete approval on Mill’s part of Anderson’s definition regarding the nation being sovereign. The final portion of Anderson’s definition of the nation involves the nation as a community. Anderson describes the nation as a community in the following way,

-8Tyrone Schiff “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings” (7). Anderson places a great deal of weight on the fact that people are willing to die for this ideal because of the apparent connection that individuals have to the nation. The scientist and revolutionary thinker, Charles Darwin, deals with this idea of working for the betterment of society in his scientific treatise, The Origin of Species. In this book, Darwin explores the way that communities progress over great expanses of time in order to improve. A lot of his analysis can be rooted back to the ideas of the nation and especially the community to which Anderson alludes. Charles Darwin developed a concept of natural selection, which generally states that over time the fittest individuals within a population will survive. Charles Darwin states the following, “Natural selection will modify the structure of the young in relation to the parent, and of the parent in relation to the young. In social animals it will adapt the structure of each individual for the benefit of the community; if each in consequence profits by the selected change” (72). Here, Darwin explains the scientific premise behind natural selection; change will occur if the adaptation is in fact positive. The improvement is made due to the interactions that one makes within the community, and the improvement is further reinforced if it dually benefits the individual and the community. There is a great deal of exploitation that occurs in natural selection, all organisms are intrinsically in competition with one another. However, the competition that occurs amongst individuals within a population ultimately ends up benefiting the community

-9Tyrone Schiff that they are in. Therefore, without even trying, individuals are contributing to the overall success of their community. There is a great deal of solidarity that comes from this. There is a great sense of collective identity that is to be gained from contributing to one’s nation. Everyone is trying to improve themselves, which ultimately ends up improving the community, which in turn works to benefit the nation altogether. It is easy to see just how committed someone can become to their nation with this analysis. One’s life practically becomes overlapped with the success of the nation. To think about this in a different context, Darwin provides his readers with an example of this sense of community that exists in the animal kingdom. Darwin’s illustration of the queen-bee is an exceptional case to further affirm Anderson, “It may be difficult, but we ought to admire the savage instinctive hatred of the queen-bee, which urges her instantly to destroy the young queens her daughters as soon as born, or to perish herself in the combat; for undoubtedly this is for the good of the community” (165). This example depicts Anderson’s idea of being willing to die for the nation. The queen-bee in this situation is putting her life on the line for the good of the community. If she dies while fighting one of her daughters, it is better for the community as a whole to have a new queen-bee. The victor will clearly be stronger and more fit to head up this post. There is a great deal to admire about this amount of commitment. Darwin is espousing an intense sense of community with this example. He believes it to be inherent to all organisms. Darwin, therefore, speaks directly to Anderson’s definition of community as it relates to the nation. This sense of community is important to the well being and future success of any nation. Darwin understood that these qualities of natural selection and

- 10 Tyrone Schiff community were true of all organisms, including humans. With this in mind, Anderson’s definition of the nation is further upheld by the scientific findings of Charles Darwin. At this point, it is quite evident that the definition set forth by Benedict Anderson has been proven accurate based on the four texts that have been discussed. This has powerful and important implications for a number of reasons. Consider first that if Anderson’s definition of a nation is substantiated, and clearly has been, are there further aspects to what contribute to a nation? While Anderson’s definition is supported again and again, it is entirely possible for there to be other criteria on which to base a nation. Anderson’s definition is very detailed, but takes a much more macro perspective at looking at the nation. A lot of the analysis in this paper had to extrapolate and deduce from the wording and phrasing that Anderson used. In order for this definition to be even better it should incorporate aspects about the individual contribution to the nation. This insight from Anderson would then attack the definition of the nation on both the macro and micro fronts. While the four books mentioned in this paper all play an integral role in proving Anderson’s definition of the nation, it speaks volumes more about the books that they all relate to the idea of the nation. This unquestionably points to the fact that during this time in Victorian England, there was a great deal that needed to be conveyed about the nation. These books, collectively, give an all-encompassing view of the intricacies that ultimately shape a nation. Self-Help and On Liberty address the ideas of a nation from an individual level. They speak to the individual and illustrate how they work into the greater framework of the nation. On Liberty is unique in the way that it also speaks to the nation as a whole. It talks about the potential harms of the nation and how an individual ought to

- 11 Tyrone Schiff react to any conflicts with it. A Tale of Two Cities is a fictional story but is also rooted in historical events. It gives perspective on what occurs in the progression towards revolution. It provides a road map of the sort of events that may transpire prior to revolution. The Origin of Species, while entrenched in science, speaks to a nation’s evolution into the future. It delves into the players who contribute to a nation, and how a nation can move forward over time as a result of natural selection. The reason that this message of the nation is even further significant is that it was shared with people of all types of backgrounds. The idea of the nation that oozed from these books spoke to people involved in politics, science, the low class, the upper class, and those who just felt like reading a fictional story. This concept was so far reaching because of the immense audience that encountered its message. These four books were all published and purchased by the public starting in the year 1859. Though it has been close to 150 years since the publication of these books, they still resonate with a modern day audience. The reason that 1859 was a cultural revolution in literature was because it inspired those living at the time and even today, about themselves, their capabilities, and their potential contributions to society. These books called those who read it to action and placed the responsibility of the nation in their hands.


- 12 Tyrone Schiff Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983. Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: Oxford World Classics, 1996. Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Penguin Classics, 2000. Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. New York: Penguin Classics, 1974. Riechmann, Deb. “Bush Signs US-Mexico Border Fence Bill.” ABC News Online. 2006. 18 April 2007 <http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=2607329>. Smiles, Samuel. Self-Help. USA: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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