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Nations and Nationalism [Paperback]

Ernest Gellner
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 10 2009 New Perspectives on the Past

From reviews of the first edition:

"Brilliant, provocative . . . a great book."-New Statesman

"An important book . . . It is a new starting line from which all subsequent discussions of nationalism will have to begin."-New Society

"A better explanation than anyone has yet offered of why nationalism is such a prominent principle of political legitimacy today. This is a terse and forceful work . . . the product of great intellectual energy and an impressive range of knowledge."-Times Literary Supplement

"Periodically, an important book emerges that makes us, through the uniqueness of its theory, perceive history as we have not seen it before. Ernest Gellner has written such a volume. Students of nationalism will have to come to grips with his interpretation of the causes for the emergence of nationalism, since he has declared that most of the previous explanations are largely mythical."-American Historical Review

First published in 1983,Nations and Nationalismremains one of the most influential explanations of the emergence of nationalism ever written. This updated edition of Ernest Gellner's now-canonical work includes a new introductory essay from John Breuilly, tracing the way the field has evolved over the past two decades, and a bibliography of important work on nationalism since 1983.

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"Brilliant, provocative ... a great book." New Statesman

<!--end-->"An important book ... a new starting line from which all subsequent discussions of nationalism will have to begin." New Society

"A better explanation than anyone has yet offered of why nationalism is such a prominent principle of political legitimacy today ... a terse and forceful work ... the product of great intellectual energy and an impressive range of knowledge." Times Literary Supplement

"Gellner's short book is an incisive, penetrating and persuasive discussion of how the nation-states of the modern industrial world differ from earlier states ... Gellner uses this analysis to explain the force of nationalism in the modern world." International Security

"Gellner's range is wide, covering the ideas of some modern thinkers from Marx, Malinowski and Carr to heideggar, Hroch, Havel and Said." Race and Class --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

Nationalism is one of the most powerful forces in the modern world, yet it is surprisingly little studied and only imperfectly understood, either by its adherents or its opponents. Its irruption into the modern world is often explained as a resurgence of primitive, atavistic instincts, or as a delusion fostered by a few theoreticians, politicians or propagandists.

The present volume interprets nationalism in terms of its social roots, which it locates in industrial social organization. A society that aims for affluence and economic growth, Professor Gellner argues, depends on innovation, occupational mobility, mass media, universal literacy, and education in a shared, standard idiom. Taken together these transform the relationship between culture and the state. The functioning of the society depends on an all-embracing educational system, tied to one culture and protected by a state identified with that culture. The principle one state, one culture makes itself felt, and political units which do not conform to it feel the strain in the form of nationalist activity. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Siren Call of Nationalism June 11 2001
A densely-written and concise book, as befitting Gellner's style, which is not usual in English writing. There is for example, a paucity in examples, unlike (say) Benedict Anderson's "The Imagined Community", another modern work on nationalism.
As an Irishman, I can see that parts of Gellner's thesis does fit Ireland. I can see how Irish Nationalism developed in the last century from the aspirations of working-class and middle-class townsmen adopting a metropolitan culture, and shifting away from their former communal and rural bonds. However, I am less sure that some historical memory did not play any part in this, the struggles of post-Reformation Ireland to maintain some independence from the English crown in the 17th century must have had its own influence. However, the arrival of French Revolutionary ideology at the end of the 18th century set the stage definitely for Nationalism, which at the time allied itself with democracy/ republicanism, possibly because as national communities were majorities in their own territories, these ideologies lent themselves to the nationalist case.
This is a facinating subject, and this book is a major contribution.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Standard reference work, though not exciting April 6 1999
By A Customer
As one of the most widely-cited works on nationalism, Gellner's book is certainly worth reading just for the sheer reference value. However, as a scholarly work, it fails to answer the question it seeks to demystify. Basically, it says that nationalism rose in industrial societies where people "needed" a new standardized form of identity -- which the "high culture" of the nation happily provided. It is a great macro-theory, but when put to the test of historical evidence, it falls short. Why do people love and die for particular national identities? If they just needed some modern standardized form of identity, most any form that enables dynamic communication and interchangability in society would do. In short, Gellner fails to take into account the specific historical cases where group identity, rooted in previous historical experiences, has acquired a national character that has withstood enormous historical changes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars classic modernist account of nationalism Aug. 16 2000
By A Customer
Truly one of the most important books ever written about nationalism, this is also one of the few modernist accounts of nationalism that ages well. While this book was published in 1983, it is basically an expanded version of a chapter from Gellner's earlier _Thought and Change_ (1964) with some alterations. However, even 36 years later his thesis is still as strong as ever: nationalism is a result of the transformation from agrarianism to industrialization. I'll try to summarize his thesis briefly.
Gellner describes the agrarian society as one where power is concentrated at the top with a complex division of labor and an emphasis on informality and intimacy. Basically each group lives in their own happy little world cut off from the rest.
But then things begin to change. The transformation to modernity involves a huge number of changes in society: the peasants have to pick up and move to the city for work. There mobility, formality (the 'Diploma Disease') and a universalised high culture replace intimacy, informality and various low cultures, and the peasants feel alienated (a touch of Marx?). The intelligentsia of the peasant group then decide to save their low culture by turning it into a high culture, which can only survive through state-supported education. Thus the peasant people decide to return home, seceed to form a new state and - presto - they've become a nation. This part of the story is obviously the violent part: Gellner claims that things will get better in late industrialism, where we'll have 'muted nationalism' after all those secessions have taken place.
While simplistic, there is a lot of truth to this story, which is well documented in the large number of nations which emerged in this way, especially in eastern Europe.
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