Solitary Amnesia as National Memory: From Habermas to Luhmann

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Tzanelli, R (2007)
  • Publisher: Common Ground

The repressive mechanisms of collective memory have been the subject of a fierce debate in the human sciences - especially, but not exclusively, in the study of nationalism. This paper re-investigates the nature of national memory in the context of European nationalisms by drawing on contemporary national cases of remembering and forgetting. The explored instances are mobilized in the study of remembering/forgetting on a factual, rather than ideal level. Theoretically, it is argued that the Habermassian call for fostering ‘anamnestic solidarity’ with the past often fails in practice because of its normative undertones that disagree with Realpolitic demands. This is so because nationalist discourse, which serves to preserve the political interests of the national community, has to present itself to political forces that reside outside the community as a closed, autopoetic system akin to that theorized by Niklas Luhmann. Although the Luhmannian thesis (which would gesture towards the autonomisation of national memory) also fails to explain the nature of nationalist remembering/forgetting tout court, it allows more space for an exploration of nationalist self-presentation than Habermas’ normative stance. The argument in this study, which combines an appreciation of hermeneutics and autopoeia, is that the practice of (re)producing the ‘nation’s’ solitary amnesia enables nationalist discourse to respond to external political pressures. This presents the latter as a dialogical/hermeneutic project despite its solipsistic ‘façade’.
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