Benedict Anderson quotes that changed my world view

I am deeply saddened to learn that Benedict Anderson, the author of Imagined Communities, has passed away on Sunday, December 13, 2015. I caught wind of the news on the same day through Evan Laksamana, moderator of Indonesian Political Science Research Group. At the time, I was attending a lecture at Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang some 10 kilometres away from where Anderson drew his last breath.

Imagined Communities is an influential piece of work that I first read as a required material for an introduction to mass communication class 9 years ago at Ateneo de Davao University. At first, the title was daunting as I suspected it to be a heavy social science reading. But unlike other many authors, Anderson’s writing were intelligible to me. Perhaps because he was treading on a topic that we all live through: nationalism.

Nationalism is a concept that caught my interest ever since I read Imagined Communities. You see, I was born and raised in Davao City in Southern Philippines, where the primary language spoken is not my first language. My parents are migrants and don’t share the same mother tongue (my mother speaks Cebuano as her first language — although she is not a Cebuano, while my father speaks English most of the time more than he speaks his native tongue Ilonggo). This kind of mixed cultural identity had me ask what I personally think as an important question: if nationalism arises, where do I stand? I am a Filipino, yet I do not speak the national language fluently. Could there be more other things that I possess which I can use to prove to the world that I belong to this country?

More than an academic work, Anderson’s Imagined Communities and his other writings on nationalism helped me find answers to my questions that linger on my mind. And it is his ideas that informed many of my past and current work — both as a journalist and a researcher.

In this post, I am curating some of the his quotes that has forever changed how I see the world. To those who are studying nationalism, may these words inspire you.

Chen Cheng-Chang, Taipei Times

If you feel no shame for your country you cannot be a nationalist.

In a 2005 debate, Anderson admitted to being ashamed of England. “I first became politically engaged when I was 20 and a student at Cambridge University. I witnessed how the arrogant upper class lads beat up Sri Lankan students demonstrating against Britain’s role in the Suez Crisis. It made me ashamed. To think that an englishman could behave like that!”

Photo courtesy of Yan Martel

What, then, really is nationalism? If one studies its brief global history, one can say that it is not something inherited from the ancient past, but is rather a ‘common project’ for the present and the future. And this project demands self-sacrifice, not the sacrificing of others.

Taken from his work, Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future

Photo courtesy of Shaz Rasul

If nationalism is a common project for the present and the future, its fulfilment is never finally complete. It must be struggled for in every generation.

Taken from his work, Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future

Photo coutesy of

In an age when it is common for progressive cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love.

From his book, Imagined Communities.

What the eye is to the lover — that particular, ordinary eye he or she is born with language — whatever language history has made his or her mother-tongue — is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed.

From his book, Imagined Communities.

You have lived a great life, Ben. Thank you for inspiring us.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s