The world of identities, affiliations, and allegiances is elusive. Nations and peoples have formed and reformed themselves with astonishing variety over much of the twentieth century, calling into question older orthodoxies that had been buttressed, perhaps, by traditional nation-state projects. It has become truistic, even ritualistic, to reject primordial depictions of human attachment as hopelessly out of touch with its socially constructed character. Anyone willing to look knows that primordialism involves bad anthropology that is all too easily pressed into the service of dubious ideological projects.
If we can speak with confidence about what human attachment is not, things rapidly become more difficult when we try to pin down what it is. Indeed, trying to answer this question in general terms may be a hopeless endeavor. In any event, it will not occupy us here. Our concern is with the political dimensions of human attachment, with why people identify and affiliate themselves with the political projects that they do, how and why these allegiances change, and how and why they should change – to the extent that they can be consciously influenced if not directed.
Pressing as these questions might be, we seek less to supply definitive answers to them than to illuminate some of the complexities that those who aspire to come up with definitive answers will need to take into account. A degree of humility is likely a precondition for progress in this field, given the lamentable track record of prior scholarship.