Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson

Infobox Person
name = Benedict Anderson

caption =
image_size =
birth_date = birth date and age|1936|8|26
education = B.A., Cambridge University; Ph.D., Cornell University
occupation = Political scientist
title = Professor Emeritus
employer = Cornell University
relations=Perry Anderson (brother)

Benedict Richard O'Gorman Anderson (born August 26, 1936) is Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Government & Asian Studies at Cornell University, and is best known for his celebrated book "Imagined Communities", first published in 1983. Anderson was born in Kunming, China to James O'Gorman and Veronica Beatrice Mary Anderson, and in 1941 the family moved to California. In 1957, Anderson received a Bachelor of Arts in Classics from Cambridge University, and he later earned a Ph.D. from Cornell's Indonesian Studies program. He is the brother of historian Perry Anderson.


Anderson was born in 1936 in Kunming, China, to an Anglo-Irish father and English mother. He was brought up mainly in California, and studied at the University of Cambridge. His graduate work in politics at Cornell resulted in a paper (the "Cornell Paper") detailing the political situation in Indonesia for which he was barred from the country.

He is best known for his book "Imagined Communities", in which he systematically describes using an historical materialist or Marxist approach, the major factors contributing to the emergence of nationalism in the world during the past three centuries. Anderson defined a nation as "an imagined political community [that is] imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign".Anderson, Benedict. "Imagined Communities", p. 6. ISBN 0-86091-329-5]

Anderson is currently professor emeritus of International Studies at Cornell University, and head of its Indonesian program. He is also widely regarded as an authority on twentieth-century Indonesian history and politics, and is the brother of the Marxist intellectual Perry Anderson.

"Imagined Communities"

He argues that the main causes of nationalism and the creation of an imagined community are the reduction of privileged access to particular script languages (e.g. Latin), the movement to abolish the ideas of divine rule and monarchy, as well as the emergence of the printing press under a system of capitalism (or, as Anderson calls it, 'print-capitalism').

Anderson’s theory belongs among those that have come to be known as a ‘modernist’ view of nationalism. Anderson similarly places the roots of the notion of 'nation' at the end of the 18th century. While Ernest Gellner considers the spread of nationalism in connection with industrialism in Western Europe (and thus not explaining sufficiently nationalism in the eastern non-industrialised European regions), Elie Kedourie connects nationalism with ideas of the Enlightenment, with the French revolution and the birth of the centralised French state, Anderson contends that the European nation-state came into being as the response to nationalism in the European Diaspora beyond the ocean, in colonies, namely in both Americas. He considers nation state building as somehow ‘imitative’ action, in which new political entities somehow were ‘pirating’ the model of nation state according to its models (mostly U.S. but also South America). The large cluster of political entities that sprang up in the west between 1778 and 1838, all of which self-consciously defined themselves as nations, were historically the first such states to emerge and therefore inevitably provided the first real model of what such states should ‘look like’. If for the more elitist theorizing of Kedourie it was the Enlightenment and Kant who produced the ‘nation’, Anderson holds that nationalism, as an instrument of nation-state building was an American invention.

Nationalism and Print

Of particular importance to Anderson’s theory is his stress on the role of printed literature and its dissemination. The rise of nationalism is in Anderson's mind closely connected with the growth of printed books and with technical development of print on the whole.

According to Anderson, a new emerging nation imagines itself antique. In this he somewhat takes the point of Anthony D. Smith, who considers the nation-building mythology and national myths of the ‘origin‘ in rather functionalist terms - they are more invented narratives than real stories. Anderson supposes that ’antiquity’ were, at a certain historical juncture, the necessary consequence of ‘novelty’. Though after the 1820s, atavistic fantasizing characteristics of most nationalists appear an epiphenomenon: what is really important is the structural alignment of post 1820s nationalist ‘memory’ with the inner premises and conventions of modern biography and autobiography.

Multi-ethnic Empires

Anderson, more than other theoreticians, focuses his attention on the official nationalism in multiethnic empires. He introduces an important concept: “naturalization” of Europe's dynasties that represented retention of power over huge polyglot domains.Some of them, e.g. Romanov empire, successfully transformed into “national” empires. According to Anderson, in the course of the 19th century, the philological-lexicographic revolution and the rise of nationalist movements, themselves the products not only of capitalism, but of the hypertrophy of the dynastic states, created increasing cultural and therefore political difficulties for many “dynasts”. Until that time the legitimacy of these dynasties had nothing to do with nationalness. Yet these dynasties, for exclusively administrative purposes, tried to settle on certain print-vernaculars before the nationalist big-bang. Simultaneously with the rise of nationalism in Europe, there were tendencies among Central and Eastern Europe and Balkan monarchies to re-identify themselves, to re-legitimise themselves on nationalist grounds. This will for re-identification caused in fact, well-know crises of legitimacy of multiethnic empires. Dynasties and monarchies, re-identifying themselves as members of the particular ethno-linguistic group, lost their universalistic legitimacy and became only the most privileged members of the one large family.

Anderson's historical materialist approach may be contrasted with Liah Greenfeld's methodological individualist or Weberian approach in "Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity".


Anderson was banned from Indonesia during the Suharto era because of his treatment of materials relevant to the Overthrow of Sukarno. Wrote the "Jakarta Post": "Anderson... was banned from entering Indonesia in 1973 after he and colleague Ruth McVey at Cornell produced a paper disputing Indonesia's claim that the Sept. 30, 1965 Movement was the work of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)." ["Indonesia Needs to Own Up to Past Sins," "Jakarta Post," 5 March 1999. Archived online:] . He returned to the country in 1999. ["Indonesia Needs to Own Up to Past Sins," "Jakarta Post," 5 March 1999. Archived online:]


*cite book|title=Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944-1946|year=1972|publisher=Cornell University Press|location=Ithaca, N.Y.|id=ISBN 0-8014-0687-0
*cite book|title=Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism|year=1991|origyear=1983|edition=rev. ed.|publisher=Verso|location=London|id=ISBN 0-86091-329-5
*(1985) "In the Mirror: Literature and Politics in Siam in the American Era". Bangkok: Editions Duang Kamol.
*cite book|title=Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia|year=1990|publisher=Cornell University Press|location=Ithaca, N.Y.|id=ISBN 0-8014-2354-6
*cite book|title=The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World|year=1998|publisher=Verso|location=London|id=ISBN 1-85984-813-3
*cite book|title=Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-colonial Imagination|year=2005|publisher=Verso|location=London|id=ISBN 1-84467-037-6

ee also



* Quoted in Waking Life


External links

* [ A short biography]
* [ "The Nation as Imagined Community"] An excerpt from "Imagined Communities"
* [ "When the Virtual Becomes the Real"] : A Talk with Benedict Anderson, (Spring 1996).
* [ "Democratic Fatalism in South East Asia Today"] by Anderson, (May 11, 2001).
* [,Benedict.html Review] of "Imagined Communities" by Fadia Rafeedie.
* [ "The Current Crisis in Indonesia"] Interview with Benedict Anderson by William Seaman.
* [ "Sam's Club"] Anderson on Anti-Americanisms, a book review in "BOOKFORUM", (December/January 2005).
* [ Archive of articles] written by Anderson in the "New Left Review", (requires subscription).
* [ Interview with Anderson: "I like nationalism's utopian elements"] (University of Oslo)
* [ Review] of "Under Three Flags" by Meredith L. Weiss.
* [ "Petruk Dadi Ratu"] New Left Review Article on Indonesia G30S Coup D'État

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