The Importance of Mythologies in the 21st Century

An anti-modernists perspective that the reason why globalisation has not taken over is because of the power of mythologies.

The purpose of this article is to highlight to you the importance of nationalism in the 21st Century, the role nationalism plays in mythologies, and these two topics will explain to you, from my perspective why globalisation has not and should not ‘take over.’ Globalisation is an economic, geo-political phenomenon which characterized the new world order, according to various authors in Savage et al (2004), as a result of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of socialist regimes [(Robertson, 1992)], countries were able to move towards a free market economy [(Bauman, 1989)] (p.14). Globalisation maybe on its way to take over the world economically, however this piece argues that globalisation has not succeeded in social life, and the reason for this is due to mythologies empowering nations and subsequently nationalism. 


Due to the broad definitions and different interpretations of nationalism, the following section will give you three definitions of nationalism. The reason for this is nationalism is a complex ideology which has made the modern world and according to Smith (1995) emerged in the eighteenth century, starting in Europe and slowly spreading out to the rest of the world although it has its roots in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (p.55). The significance of this is that nationalism has different meanings to different philosophers, historians, theorists and academics.


The first definition of nationalism is from a social theorist, Max Weber in Hutchinson and Smith, who defines nationalism as “[affiliations of] nations to ethnic communities as populations unidentified by a myth of common descent. What distinguishes the nation is a commitment to a political project” (1994, p.15). What does this mean? One may interpret this to mean nations are formed because of ethnicities, using your skin colour to unite people of different tongues and religions against another.  


Secondly, Ernest Gellers definition and belief of nationalism comes from believing that different cultures are used by God to classify men, from different cultures, nations are created and sometimes cultures are obliterated to create newer, better nations (Hutchinson and Smith, 1994, pp.63-4). This is important because nations were only really formed at the end of the 20th Century, and they were used to unite people against others – therefore they needed to be strong. 


The final explanation is Benedict Andersons Theory of ‘Imagined Communities’. The theory explains nations being a community and regardless of whether you know every member of that community; the fact you live on the same land and share some of the same values, means it is a ‘imagined community’ additionally “it is as a community, because regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation, that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (p.6-7). later in this piece, examples of Patron Saints will be used to show the imagined community in action.  


Understanding an Anti-Modernist and Modernists points of view.


My own view of nationalism is a combination of ideas from Ernest Geller and Benedict Anderson. Why may you ask? My answer is that nations came into existence to unify people against the ‘others’ who do not have the same values as us, we are one community against ‘them.’ Furthermore, as the role of religion in society is declining, I think this is wrong, it is the core reason as to my reason for being an anti-modernist. 


To understand what makes an anti-modernist is, the first thing that needs to be established is a definition of a modernist because “modernism comes first” (Antohi and Trencsenyi 2014, p.3) and according to historian Eric Hobsbawm in the Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (1995) nations are a product of modernism. An excellent example of a good paradigm of modernism can be found in Conversi (2012) who points to “‘the mad scientist’ who is blinded by an absolute faith in progress, crafts Frankenstein like monsters in his secluded laboratory” (p.18). Hobsbawm reinforces the destruction of society being a result of modernism because he identifies the “disintegration of the old patterns of human social relationships and with it, incidentally, the snapping of links between generations” (1995, p.15). I want to challenge this and show you that the disintegration is not as bad as it may seem, and the reason for that is because of mythologies are the connection between the past and present and are championed by anti-modernists. 


According to Antohi and Trencsenyi (2014) there is a double definition of what an anti-modernist is, which is “(a) the negative double of modernism and (b) the critique of modernism within modernism, not outside of or separated from it” (p.3).  An explanation for this could be due to the decline of religion, there is no hierarchical social order or respect, families are no longer at the core of everyday life and the general effects of urbanisation and modernism need to be avoided at all costs - because of the first and second reason as to why I am an anti-modernist. Being an anti-modernist is not something to be ashamed of in the 21st century and it definitely should not be looked down on, rather it should be looked too - to help regain control of values and the importance of respect and tradition, rather than making lots of money which globalisation and modernism encourages.


Why are mythologies important? 


Having introduced you to the different views there are on nationalism, given my view and briefly explained why I am an anti-modernist, it is now time to explore the importance of mythologies and their role in preventing globalisation from taking over. To begin, I want to be very clear and highlight that I do understand mythologies can be used as a propaganda tool to instil a feeling of passion and pride for the teachings of the mythology; however the analysis and importance of them should not be dismissed because they can be used as a propaganda tool; they are used to lead people down a path when they are lost and give people a sense of belonging.


When you think of a mythology, you think back to being a small child, and being told tale about “the heroic past” of a communities history which has been constructed to highlight “varying degrees of documented fact and political myth, stressing elements of romance [and] heroism” (Smith, 1995, p.63). It filled you with pride, comfort, strength and a sense of ‘I can achieve anything.’ As you got older and faced various challenges in life, mythologies have comforted you (Mark, 2018) and as you celebrate Patron Saint Days such as St Georges Day, Andersons ‘Theory of the Imagined Community’ is no longer a theory, but a feeling because the sense of pride you get from nationalism is big, but not as big as having a connection with the soul of your Motherland. 


Additionally, it is important here to note the myths of Saints are shared across different nations and I think that is fine. The reason why this is fine is because if there ever comes a time when we (England) must make decisions for what is best for the nation, countries who share the same Patron Saint understands better why such a decision would be made. Saint Georges Day for example is celebrated in England, Venice, Portugal, Ethiopia, and many other places (English Heritage). I can understand why one might perceive mythologies as a propaganda tool, but I ask you, are they really a bad thing? According to Mensching (2016) “Saints are believed to be connected in a special manner with what is viewed as sacred reality” In times of uncertainty, such as war or global health pandemics, we can look to our mythological heroes to provide us with knowledge and strength to keep going. 


Finally, mythologies are important because they help us to make sense of new phenomena, such as globalisation. Take a moment to think to yourself, how far globalization has absorbed modern society? William Greider’s idea in Conversi (2012) he indicates “globalisation is about power, not ideology” and its focus is on the self-interested deals of businesses to make them more money (p.26). Hobsbawm supports this by highlighting how quickly humans evolved to coming to terms with globalisation, and how well the adjustment to a new world of  “satellite television, email, holidays in the Seychelles and trans-oceanic commuting” (1995, p.15). As a result of globalisation sadly, there has been a decline in shared experiences, memories, and histories with our neighbours, whether those shared experiences were joyful or ones of suffering (Smith, 1995, p.56)


The link between Anti-Modernising and mythologies to nationalism.


As already mentioned, being an anti-modernist in the 21st Century is an odd feeling, you are made to feel like the odd one out for not conforming to society's norms, especially being a young person. It is expected that young people do not feel the pride for their nation, that they would rather be a ‘citizen of the world’ with no moral obligation to the place they were fortunate to grow up, and to me, this is “where evolution and revolution had failed” and can only be reconciled with  “spiritual solutions, from transfiguration to transubstantiation appeared to be worth trying” (Antohi and Trencsenyi, 2014, p.12).  Of course, this is not to say anti-modernists are against what the future has to hold and are rather excited by it (Antohi and Trencsenyi, 2014, p.3), it just means there is a strong sense of national identity and according to Fukyama (2012) “national identity has been pivotal to the fortunes of modern society. Weak national identity has been a major problem in the greater Middle East… [where they] have suffered from internal insurgency and chaos” (p.6), the legends and teachings of mythologies that are tied to a land, gives people a purpose to continue on in life when they do not feel like they can continue on in life. 


The 21st Century needs nationalism and mythologies, not globalization.


As we come to the end of this piece, I will now explain to you why I believe there needs to be a revival of nationalism and a celebration of mythologies in the 21st Century and not globalisation. 


The first reason is related to Ernest Geller, God gives us a purpose - not technology, not travelling, not anything globalisation has to offer. The reason why globalisation has nothing of value to offer is in comparison to religion, for example, is because God and religion gives us values, traditions, and respect which in return give us a collective identity, instead of being “private human beings” (Hobsbawm, 1995, p.15). The importance of identity is highlighted by Fukyama (2018) “identity is rooted in thymos, Plato’s term for the aspect of the human soul that is experienced emotionally through feelings of pride, shame, and anger and that craves recognition of dignity.” (p.11). Nationalism gives you an allegiance for your Motherland and everything that is great about it.


The second reason lies with the pride of the nation being bigger than us due to the nation’s history that has been passed down through generations, the culture and everything that makes that nation great. According to the Bulgarian Philosopher Janko Janev, it is the divine presence of “the blood and soil, together with the (national) Soul” (Antohi and Trencsenyi, 2014, p.337) binds us together. An example is Britain’s pride of the heroic achievements of the war effort in both World War Two. Winston Churchill rallied the nation simply by telling citizens “We are fighting for England” (Orwell, 1941, p.9), filling people with determination and the ‘Us v Them’ rhetoric, and resulting in Churchills leadership being mythological because of the “heroic past” and “comfort and strength” (Mark, 2018) his leadership bought to British people during the Second World War. 

With the movement of people that comes about due to the economic prosperities globalisation brings, to me, it is highly unlikely people have a nation that they call ‘home’ and looking back to the War effort; people really gave their maximum effort because “Men will not die for it in anything like the numbers that will die for King and Country” (Orwell, 1941, p.9). An allegiance and duty to the land is a personal feeling. 

The final reason and concluding thought to the 21st Century needing nationalism and mythologies and not globalisation is due to the “erosion of traditional societies and religions” (Hobsbawm, 1995, p.15), that has been the result of globalisation. And according to John Gray in Žižek (2009) highlighted “we have been thrown into a time in which everything is provisional… the traditions of the past cannot be retrieved” (p.63), one of the reasons behind this is because of mass movements of people around due to globalisation has been traced back to the Great Ion Dragoumis of the Pole Roman Dmowski (Antohi and Trencsenyi, 2014, p.27). The reason for this is because mass movements of people from one group dilutes a community and there is a loss of commonality and local identity. Perhaps this is a reason why people in the modern age travel to “find themselves” because they do not have the same levels of love and respect for their homeland as older generations have. And this is what the 21st Century is missing, love, respect, passion, and pride for the nation which is instilled through the legends of mythologies.