‘German nationalism has, from its beginnings, […] always been a transnational nationalism’. Conrad makes this statement in the introduction of his iconic monograph Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany (p.20). He justifies his claim by describing how the mobilisation of groups of people – from bourgeoisie grockles to working migrants – caused the idea of ‘nation’ to emerge as a ‘need for particularity.’ His argument is of course convincing – in a globalising world, how does one cling onto their identity established in a certain space? How does one feel superior to others if everyone is interconnected?

Indeed, superiority complexes ruled nationalisation movements. Conrad mentions that, In Germany, Polish immigrants became a sub-class below the German working class, which the bourgeoisie hoped would ‘elevate German workers to a higher level of civilisation’. In other words, the bourgeoisie promoted xenophobia in the German working class to promote tension between them and migrant workers, and to promote a sense of German superiority among the German working class. Ultimately, this system aimed to make Germans feel “better” than other people, promoting nationalism.

And it wasn’t just in Germany, or in the nineteenth century that this manipulation of the working class occurred. I am reminded of an essay I wrote asking why socio-economic background impacted racial bias towards colonial immigrants in Post-was Europe, primarily Britain. I concluded that, because socio-economic background impacted and forged a person’s relationship to the national economy, in turn affecting the way you perceived new workers. The working class in Britain were told that the influx of new workers from the Commonwealth would make them less economically secure, fuelling racism out of fear of unemployment. Thus, the British working class saw themselves as separate to this new workforce, forging a sense of nationalism. Conrad explains that, in Germany, there was a close connection between the economy and nationalist ideas, and my essay showed how this trend was not just German. 

Similarly, this nationalism as a result of transnationalism – as per Conrad’s explanation – links to last week’s article by Ruger, which discusses the German and British origins of OXO stock cubes. It concludes that the practice of ‘national’ history is still important; it should influence and complement transnational historical methods. I think Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany does exactly that! Conrad argues that the nation did not become obsolete, but became quite the opposite during nineteenth century globalising movements. Together, these publications remind the historian to steer clear of post-national histories, as we have not yet reached a post-national global society.

Overall, then, Conrad’s publication can remind us how nationalism relies on transnationalism. It feeds on superiority complexes, xenophobia, and racism. Of course, I would take a cynical approach to defining nationalism (if you couldn’t tell by now), but still fully enjoyed and recommend the work done by Conrad on German nationalism.

Being Different: Nationalism Constructed by Transnationalism