ness” reallv a timeless Platonic form?rnIf Allensworth thinks that Americansrnare defined by “language, culture, andrnvorldiew, as well as . . . all those qualities,rnincluding the way a people walk andrntalk, that set them apart from all others,”rnhe must have a pretty dim view of hisrncountrymen as mass produced by somernassembly line in Thailand. Not only willrnhe have a hard time differentiating hisrnsimplistic caricature from a lot of Canadiansrnand Englishmen, but he excludesrnfrom his definition the most Americanrnof Americans—those rugged individualsrnwho not only walk and talk differently,rnbut haye heterogeneous cultures andrnworldicws not reducible to “mostrnAmericans,” a category useful only tornmarket researchers seeking ways to sellrnsome other piece of junk.rnIdentity is always a dynamic category,rnconstantly constituted anew by the concreternsocial relations within which individualsrnand groups operate. It freezes intornparticular constructs only when thernconcept is mistaken for that which itrnseeks to capture, thus distorting andrnfalsifing it. There were no “Americans”rnin the 14th century (the natives neverrnthought of themselves in these terms);rnthere were a few pilgrims and a lot ofrn”Indians” later on, and more Englishrnsubjects when colonization began inrnearnest. Americans as we know themrndid not even come into being with thernDeclaration of Independence—a documentrnstill appealing to abstract universalistsrn—but only with the successful outcomernof the Reyolution and the eventualrnratification of the Constitution. Whateverrnone may think of “Americanness,” itrnis always an extremely mutable cjualitr.rnWe arc not carbon copies of our grandparents,rnand our grandchildren will notrnbe carbon copies of us, in the same wayrnthat we are not the same people we werern20 years ago or will be 20 years from now.rnTo Allensworth’s credit, he noticesrnthat things do change, since he acknowledgesrn”The America that [Bowie] belongedrnto was not something that manyrnof us \x)uld recognize as such,” but therernis no ineyitability as to how and in whichrndirection. Thus it is disingenuous to recyclernthe Turner thesis about “the inevitablernmarch of the Americans tornunsettled areas.” One can imagine arnnumber of possible geopolitical scenarios,rnwhich would have led to radicallyrndifferent results. “Inevitability” is alwaysrnthe legitimating form the present impartsrnon the past to dismiss challenges itrncan no longer openly confront. Worsernvet, Allensworth’s “inevitable imperialism”rndid not “help to fuse the Christian,rnEnglish-speaking, northern Europeanrncommunities” into a “nation,” but forcedrnthem through a bloody civil war to givernup their “cultural particularity”—rnprecisely what they sought to maintainrnwhen they originally ran away from a corruptrnold continent allowing no freedomrnto be different and to practice theirrnpeculiar brands of Protestantism. Allensworth’srn”Christian, English-speaking,rnnorthern European communities”rndid not want a “nation.” When they hadrna choice, they formed a “federation,”rnprecisely in order to avoid the kind ofrn”Americanization” imposed on them byrnan increasingly powerful central governmentrnfrom the Civil War to the present.rnUnfortunately, the change in this casernwas not always an improvement: the nationrnhas meant homogenization, loss ofrnfreedom and self-determination, as wellrnas the eradication of that individualismrnand self-sufficiency which is still in somernsense the most distinguishing Americanrnideal.rnWhen Allensworth shifts from thernanecdotal to the theoretical mode, thernquality of his account deteriorates. Hernwants to define nations as “large groupsrnof people who are conscious of suchrnbond,” i.e., family, clan, and tribal ties, torna larger group—something that allegedlyrnexisted with the “ancient Egyptians,rnHebrews, Greeks, and Romans,” who allegedlyrnall possessed “a sense of identity,rnuniqueness, and destiny.” This he seesrnas a “national extension of kinship.”rnThe main problem with this is thatrnthese kinds of “national” bonds are alwaysrnexternally imposed. The “natural”rnthing is for those small communities tornfederate into larger units, while retainingrntheir cultural particularity. Nations, asrnwe know them, homogenize all units belongingrnto them and flatten all culturerninto the national standard—somethingrnusually imposed by an intellectual eliternfrom the center outward. It does notrnhelp Allensworth’s case to fudge byrnthrowing in the ancients, e.g., the Romans.rnUsually, these were empires andrnnot nations, i.e., aggregations of smallerrncommunities usually subjugated by forcernand only subsequently integrated, neverrnaltogether successfully.rnIf Allensworth thinks that all wasrn”hunky-dory” within those empires andrnthat there were some transcendentalrnbonds, then he better guess again. ThernRoman Empire was never a nation and,rnwith the exception of the patricians livingrnin the seven hills in the center, thernrest of the subjects were never altogetherrnhappy with the arrangements—particularlyrnwhen it came to paying taxes andrnputting up manpower to fight wars in farawayrnlands. Roman law did become thernlingua franca of all Europe, but thatrnhardly constitutes a European “nation.”rnTo shift a little closer to the present, itrnis not immediately obvious that the residentsrnof Buffalo, New York—probably arnbunch of ethnic mongrels with no clearrnancestral lineage—share more with peoplernin San Diego or Miami than withrntheir friends and relatives in Toronto orrnHamilton on the other side of the border.rnAnyway, it is clear that Southernersrnhave never been very fond of the kind ofrnYankee ties and bonds imposed on themrnsince the last century. The same can bernsaid of Canadians from Newfoundlandrnand their conationals in Alberta, thernPrussians and the Bavarians in Germany,rnPiedmontese and Sicilians in Italy, etc.rnIn a nutshell, ethnonationalism is utterrnnonsense. Ethnicity itself is nothingrnbut the cultural specificity that obtainsrnas a result of people coexisting within arnparticular territory and sharing commonrnproblems. It is always being reconstituted,rneven in the most “primordial” communitiesrnwhere often the assimilatedrnoutsiders end up taking the name of thernplace from which they originally came.rnIt has nothing to do with race or biologyrnand everything to do with territory andrnthe concrete institutional order that hasrndeveloped over time in the form of traditions,rncustoms, cuisine, festivals, dialects,rnetc. There is no need to trace ancestralrnrelations back to Adam and Eve to constituterna community. When all is saidrnand done, ethnonationalism is but arnbadly recycled version of that old-fashionedrnracism according to which somerngroups (usually all others but one’s own)rnare deemed inferior and, consequently,rncandidates for domination, exploitation,rnor in the case of Nazi Germany, seapegoating.rnAllensworth’s archaic approach is,rnhowever, consistent, even in its recyclingrnof crypto-Heideggerian ravings againstrntechnology and industrialism as the fonsrnet origo malorum. He longs for an agrarian,rnpreindustrial, and precapitalist societyrnwhich he sees as the only alternativernto the present state of degeneracy. Yetrnhe lacks the imagination to prefigure arnpostmodern, truly federal system with-rnJUNE 1996/5rnrnrn