A lively examination of the intransigent persistence of nationalism.


Liberal Quicksand

A debut book offers a history of nationalism and its application to contemporary global affairs.

Especially since the creation of the European Union, it’s become popular to discuss this political age as post-national, meaning that the division of the world into sovereign entities has been transcended for the sake of geopolitical cooperation. Decock avers, however, that the new international theater has been built on top of the nation-state rather than supplanting it. The author begins this impressively wide-ranging study with a history of nationalism, which developed over a 200-year swath of time, forged out of the bloody French Revolution. Decock discusses nationalism not only as a political form, but also as an ideology, a psychological construct, a consequence of evolving socio-economic realities, and a cultural phenomenon. The author contends that nationalism is spawned by a historically peculiar emphasis on national self-determination, which was impossible without the establishment of a homogenously shared language. One of the most intriguing discussions in the book examines the tension between “Lockean democrats,” who believe a certain incarnation of the modern nation is possible despite extraordinary cultural and linguistic diversity, and acolytes of John Stuart Mill, who see that as a fantastical pipe dream. Decock makes his own position abundantly clear: “The contradiction between the multilingual society and the monolingual state constitutes the nationalist challenge, paradox, or dilemma.” And while the author largely avoids in-depth analysis of either Africa or Asia, there are still memorable aperçus about the difficulty of understanding China, India, or Indonesia through the filter of a political model that seems simply inapplicable. Given the technicality of the subject, Decock mercifully avoids foreboding academic language and doggedly pursues a thesis without devolving into strident dogmatism. One could have hoped for a more searching and philosophically nuanced history of the origins of nationalism—many scholars trace the germ of its emergence as far back as Machiavelli’s The Prince. But the treatment of contemporary political affairs, especially of the future of the U.S. in light of its own potentially multilinguistic citizenry, is razor-sharp. This is a rigorous, thorough, and timely contribution to an oft-misunderstood subject.

A lively examination of the intransigent persistence of nationalism.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5049-9794-2

Page Count: 340

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet