Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Problem with Nationalism?

Joseph Roth

Writing for the New York Times (September 3, 2015), George Prochnik reviews Michael Hofmann's translation of Joseph Roth's long lament over the fall of the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire in "The Hotel Years":
He had a passion for hotels, which he considered remnant microcosms of that multiethnic ideal savaged by the Great War. In an essay titled "Arrival in the Hotel," Roth proudly enumerates the nationalities represented at one establishment: "The waiter is from Upper Austria. The porter is a Frenchman from Provence. The receptionist is from Normandy. The headwaiter is Bavarian. The chambermaid is Swiss. The valet is Dutch. The manager is Levantine; and for years I've suspected the cook of being Czech." Its guests, who included "Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists," found themselves in the hotel "slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land," seemingly restored by these precincts to "what they should always be: children of the world."
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was not only multiethnic, it was multicultural in a way that almost worked - having worked for about 1000 years - because it was European and unified by loyalty to the Christian emperor, but the rise of ethnic nationalism put an end to all that and engendered genocidal ethnic cleansing at the 20th-century's beginning that was picked up again in the Balkan wars of the 20th-century's end.

In raising resistance to radical Islamism, then, one should be wary about inflaming ethnic tensions . . .

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