Invented nations serve collective, not cultural, interests

Editors report
10/31/08

The current postmodern and social science academic literature suggests that nations are social inventions designed to serve the interests of ethnic or social groups. By “invented,” it is meant groups form bonds of social or political community to serve their political or economic needs and goals. The “invented” nation or culture argument is based on Marxist theory suggesting that cultural or national identities are secondary or are, to a large extent, fictions of group economic or political interests.

In this view, peoples invent cultures or nations to serve collective interests. Much of the current social science and postmodern literature assumes that cultures and nations are invented, or are constructions, and therefore in some sense not authentic. This is a way of devaluing culture, nationality and cultural diversity. The viewpoint of invented nations is deeply seeded in Western culture and intellectual thought, where in recent centuries individualist philosophies suggest that all knowledge is a matter of interpretation and subject to multiple interpretations.

The “invented tradition” argument conflicts directly with the cultural understandings of most historical Native communities, where cultures, nations and cosmological entities are real and powerful forces. While indigenous nations can make arguments for cultural uniqueness and diversity, such arguments alone do not wholly justify claims for cultural autonomy, land rights and political sovereignty, since other racial and ethnic groups can make similar claims to unique histories and cultures. Similarly, while the “invented tradition” argument suggests that all peoples are equal, it strips away all cultural diversity claims and serves the purposes of nation-state unity and assimilation.

In the “invented tradition” view, as indigenous peoples are colonized and enter the world of political and economic competition, indigenous cultures will be marginalized, destroyed and transformed by human interests.


While indigenous peoples are not opposed to participation in nation-states, they do want their traditions, cultures, political sovereignty and land rights respected. Indigenous philosophies seek to secure human equality through mutual respect for human cultural, political and territorial diversity, while the “invented tradition” argument seeks to establish human equality through development of common universal understandings.

In the “invented tradition” approach, human interests are more powerful and will prevail over human values; while in indigenous communities, human values constrain and focus human interests. In the “invented tradition” view, as indigenous peoples are colonized and enter the world of political and economic competition, indigenous cultures will be marginalized, destroyed and transformed by human interests.

Even the most contemporary postmodern and neo-Marxist theories continue to view indigenous communities as doomed to destruction, marginalization and nation-state assimilation. Contemporary academic theories do not account for or support indigenous viewpoints on cultural diversity, political continuity, or human and territorial rights. Nevertheless, there are at least 400 million people who live within indigenous communities and uphold indigenous rights to territory, cultural and political autonomy, and intend to carry on into the indefinite future.

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