The Wrath of Nations
William Pfaff’s THE WRATH OF NATIONS: CIVILIZATION AND THE FURIES OF NATIONALISM is a powerful examination of the ways in which nationalism molds the destiny of the world. Pfaff, a highly regarded, prizewinning journalist, writes with authority. Taking a dispassionate, even ironic tone, Pfaff assumes a tragic view of history, arguing that material and moral progress are not synonymous, and that human folly is eternal. Pfaff challenges any complacency about the beneficent direction of events late in the twentieth century. He sees us trapped in our blind passions, caught in the web of nationalism.
Nationalism is a relatively new phenomena. Traditionally people lived in transnational monarchies. Gradually a few peoples like the English and French began to take on a national identity. The United States emerged as a nation in the eighteenth century, founded on Enlightenment ideals. But the real blossoming of nationalism came in the nineteenth century, when all across Europe intellectuals stimulated by the French Revolution began exploring and exalting the folkways of the “people.” This soon led to movements for national expression, and such spectacular political events as the births of Italy and Germany as unified states. The twentieth century has seen an increase in nationalism’s momentum, with World War I breaking up the last traditional empires in Europe, and Western colonial regimes retreating in the Third World, leaving behind scores of new national states. Pfaff disputes the view that institutions like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Community are pointing the way to a post-national world. He observes that the member states of these organizations failed to agree on many foreign policy issues during the 1980’s. The tragic unwillingness of the Western powers to stop the Serbian aggression in Bosnia merely underscores the impotence of international opinion and the continuing primacy of national ardor. THE WRATH OF NATIONS is a sobering, but highly important book.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XC, October 1, 1993, p.227.
The Christian Science Monitor. December 8, 1993, p.15.
Commonweal. CXX, November 5, 1993, p.26.
Foreign Affairs. LXXII, November, 1993, p.142.
Library Journal. CXVIII, November 15, 1993, p.89.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, November 7, 1993, p.25.
Publishers Weekly. CCXL, September27, 1993, p.51.