Nationalism – Ethnicity – Racism? Thinking History in a World of Nations
Bärbel Völkel

The (post)modern world is ambivalent. On the one hand, it is characterized by a global structure that enables people to view themselves as citizens of the world. On the other, it is organized in the form of nation states that bind citizens to their nation. Nations are historical entities and, in order to have the necessary legitimization as such, each of them requires a history of its own. The task of this history is to commit the members of the nation to itself by means of a historical identity. At the same time it provides a framework orientation by means of which the members of a nation can substantiate their actions empirically. Taking NiklasLuhmann’s systems theory as a basis, the present study formulates and discusses the thesis that this way of thinking, which is apparently self-evident in the present-day world, entails very serious and undesirable secondary effects. History oriented towards a nation state thus has an interest in moulding the historical consciousness of the members of the nation both by means of institutionalized learning about history and through the articulations within the historical culture. However, the resulting dominant culture produces in its shadow ethnocentric and also racist thinking. This seems to be “necessary” in order not to fall into the trap of value relativism. Accordingly nationalist, ethnocentric and racist thinking are not symptoms of a lack of education and the inability to reflect. Rather, they can be seen as the consequence of a certain way of thinking about history.

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