Tom Nairn, the eminent Scottish scholar of nationalism, has a provocative piece over on OurKingdom. He revisits Ernest Gellner's modernist theory of nations in which former "imperial" polities - dubbed "Megalomanias" - would give way to more limited, ethnically-delineated states, or "Ruritanias". The transition, for instance, from the Austro-Hungarian empire to the patchwork of states that included Gellner's native Czechoslovakia was that of a single megalomania to a number of ruritanias. So too would the devolution of the United Kingdom - and the rise of small states like Scotland and Wales - follow this trajectory. Nairn goes further, probing how the heartlands of former "megalomanias" are coping with the strains of contemporary globalisation, and in the process he takes a backhanded swipe at Barack Obama.
Globalisation has thus far been cramped and distorted by such left-overs. That is, the residual areas and populations of ex-Megalomanes forced to abandon Bigger-is-Better, but without (so far) discovering any coherent alternative. Ex-heartlands like "Spain" (Castile-Aragon), "England" (United Kingdom minus its archipelago peripheries), hexagonal "France" as distinct from the Bretons, Occitans and Savoiards, peninsular "Italy" (famously distinct from actual "Italians"), Federal-Russians deprived of some of their "other Russias", and Americans less concerned with leading and inspiring Mankind (along the lines favoured by Presidential candidate Obama). Over-addicted to Greatness, such light-house populations (and above all their intellectual elites) find (e.g.) ‘little Spain’, ‘little England’, ‘isolationist’ USA etc. uninspiring. [emphasis added]
The inclusion of America and Obama here is quite unfair. I'm not quite convinced in the first place that the US counts as a "megalomania" in the same way as its trans-Atlantic counterparts (Gellner and Nairn seem to operate with an understanding of the nation and the state mostly informed by the 20th century European experience). But even if we were to accept Gellner's and Nairn's taxonomy, it is incorrect and far too casual to think of Obama as simply some icon of the coasts, the ambassador of America's urbane "light-house populations".
Of course, Obama is incredibly popular in cosmopolitan America, and uniquely mistrusted in the deepest of American ruritanias, the Appalachians. But the very fact that the McCain campaign has already surrendered Michigan - one of the many post-industrial peripheries created by globalisation in the country - suggests that there is real "provincial" substance to Obama. He can win in ruritania. Neither Obama nor McCain exclusively embody the internationalist or isolationist tendencies of American politics. Nor do the hinterlands of America uniformly clamour for some anachronistic separation from the world. To assume otherwise is to fall into that trap - to which Europeans have proven dispiritingly vulnerable - of simplifying American politics and, worse, simplifying American people.