Nations and Nationalism, Second Edition Paperback – Feb 10 2009
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"Breuilly's new introduction provides an excellent critical overview of Gellner's writings on nationalism, judiciously evaluating his ideas while also providing insights into their place and continuing significance within the wider historiography of nationalism studies."—Paul Lawrence, Open University
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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
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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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
At first I thought this was going to be an enjoyable, positive reading exercise since Chapter 1 was clear and thought provoking. Read morePublished on June 4 2004 by Amazon Customer