Nations And Nationalism

Nations and Nationalism is an influential 1983 book by the philosopher Ernest Gellner, in which the author expands on his theory of nationalism.[1] O'Leary describes the book as "Gellner's most elaborate statement on the subject (of nationalism); because it is largely an expansion of the themes first sketched in Thought and Change.... he never repudiated any of the core propositions advanced in these texts", but he clarifies and qualifies some of them further in his Encounters with Nationalism (1994).

Cosma Shalizi reviews Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism. This book contains the most convincing theory of nationalism I've seen, and has profound implications for anyone concerned with modern history, contemporary politics, or the possibilities of multi-culturalism. (cultural pluralism)

It is Gellner's thesis that economic change requires cultural homogeneity, and that the demand for cultural homogeneity, and the state apparatus to provide it, is what drives nationalism. (monoculture)

Because industrial economies continually make and put into practice technical and organizational innovations, they continually change how they employ resources

In Agraria, training could be left to families or guilds... different parts of the same society could be almost unintelligible to each other,

None of this will do in an industrial, changing society, in which training must be much more explicit, be couched in a far more universal idiom, and emphasize understanding and manipulating nearly context-free symbols. (legibility?)

this training must be received by the entire economically effective population

So far, such training, on such a scale, has always needed at least elementary literacy, and it hasn't been reliably provided by any institutions weaker and smaller than states

States become the protectors of High Cultures, of "idioms"; nationalism is the demand that each state succor and contain one and only one nation, one idiom.

To be without such an idiom is to be cut off from all prospects of a decent life. To have the wrong idiom, that is, a different one than those in charge about you, adds the constant humiliations

Thus the passion behind nationalism derives, not from some atavistic feeling of tribal belonging...but from the hope of a tolerable life, or the fear of an intolerable one.

Thus industrialism begets nationalism, and nationalism begets nations. (nation-state)

Agraria was a mess of partially overlapping ethnic, religious, linguistic, political and cultural distinctions

It is an error to suppose that nations have always existed, or even that modern nations are very old.

To recap: industrialism demands a homogeneous High Culture; a homogeneous High Culture demands an educational system; an educational system demands a state which protects it; and the demand for such a state is nationalism. The theory is coherent, simple, widely applicable, convincing, and empirically testable.

It is hard to decide whether nationalists or anti-nationalists will find Nations and Nationalism more disturbing; rootless cosmopolitan though I am, it changed my mind on a great many subjects

Even if Gellner was talking utter rubbish, Nations and Nationalism would be worth reading simply for his style, a trademark Bertrand-Russell-meets-Grucho-Marx combination of powerful logic working from very general premises and laugh-out-loud (literally) wit. Unfortunately for those of us not enamoured of nationalism, he wasn't talking rubbish at all.

N.B. This book is not to be confused with the same author's Nationalism, finished just before his death

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