Cover of Rethinking the End of Empire by Lynn M. Tesser
Rethinking the End of Empire
Nationalism, State Formation, and Great Power Politics
Lynn M. Tesser


May 2024
310 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638105
Paperback ISBN: 9781503638891
Ebook ISBN: 9781503638907

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Excerpts and More

Why did a nation-state order emerge when nationalist activism was usually an elitist pursuit in the age of empire? Ordinary inhabitants and even most indigenous elites tended to possess religious, ethnic, or status-based identities rather than national identities. Why then did the desires of a typically small number result in wave after wave of new states? The answer has customarily centered on the actions of "nationalists" against weakening empires during a time of proliferating beliefs that "peoples" should control their own destiny. This book upends conventional wisdom by demonstrating that nationalism often existed more in the perceptions of external observers than of local activists and insurgents. Lynn M. Tesser adds nuance to scholarship that assumes most, if not all, pre-independence unrest was nationalist and separatist, and sheds light on why the various demands for change eventually coalesced around independence in some cases but not others.

About the author

Lynn M. Tesser teaches international relations at the Marine Corps University and is the author of Ethnic Cleansing and the European Union (2013).

"Exactly how the international state system transitioned from empire-dominated to being composed of nation-states is fundamental to our understanding of the world we live in. Lynn M. Tesser leverages recent advances in historiography to formulate a provocative argument stressing the surprising role of empires themselves in triggering the worldwide transition that caused their end."

—Stathis N. Kalyvas, University of Oxford

"This book offers a fresh and thought-provoking perspective on the history of national independence across the globe. The world stumbled into its current nation-state form, Lynn M. Tesser argues. She emphasizes contingency, the crucial role of great powers, and the lack of popular support or a clear vision for national independence among anti-imperial elites."

—Andreas Wimmer, Columbia University

"Lynn M. Tesser rewrites the history of the nation-state system of the late 20th century not as a long-term, self-propelled process, but as a recent and contingent one. She makes clear that not only were empires viable and dynamic forms of politics up until World War II, but that a variety of alternatives were in play, from federalism to world communism. Nationalism could be a powerful force, but not the only one and always in relation to other aspirations. The task for the social scientist or historian, then, is to explain the specific patterns in which nationally based states emerged amidst other political forms and how—in the period after 1945—alternatives to the nation-state form were gradually narrowed. Tesser sets herself this task, explaining both the advance of national forms and their limitations. This book will generate useful controversy and help to provoke a rethinking of 'big picture' analyses in political science, international relations, and history."

—Frederick Cooper, author of Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945–1960