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Nations and Nationalism

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2001 at 09:08 AM CT

About the book


"Gellner argues that nationalism is characteristic of industrial society, not solely because of economics, but also owing to the interaction of education, power, and culture." (Choice) Bibliography. Index.


From D.T. Studlar - Choice Building upon his chapter on nationalism in Thought and Change {BRD 1965}, Gellner constructs a broad and stimulating theory of nationalism, useful both historically and contemporaneously. . . . He develops a typology of nationalism with appropriate examples, but more empirical applications would be helpful. This circumstantialist perspective on nationalism can be contrasted with the essentialist view of Dov Ronen, The Quest for Self-Determination {BRD 1980}. Despite inadequate footnotes and bibliography, the clear, concise language on a difficult subject makes this book suitable for both undergraduates and graduates.

From John Dunn - The Times Literary Supplement
While his model will hardly suffice to explain the history of nationalism and may indeed offer rather little help in understanding some aspects of this which we need to understand with particular urgency, Gellner does, as he claims, provide a better explanation than anyone else has yet offered of why nationalism is such a prominent principle of political legitimacy today. Nations and Nationalism is a terse and forceful work. But although it is the product of great intellectual energy and an impressive range of knowledge, it is not a complete success. . . . The main weakness of {this} book as a whole is a failure to maintain a clear and precise sense of just what it is seeking to explain.

From Geoff Eley - Contemporary Sociology
{This book} begins with a strong developmental distinction between 'structure' and 'culture,' abstracted from a typological contrast between agrarian and industrial societies. . . . {This} is a slightly frustrating book. The discrete expositions are as good as one has come to expect from the author. But the organizing distinction between 'agrarian' and 'industrial' society remains a terribly blunt instrument and 'modernization' (which seems to be used interchangeably with 'industrialization') is the usual portmanteau concept. We should remain grateful for this new product of Gellner's restless and irreverent theoretical mind. But it would be wonderful to see such an exquisite intellectual draftsman muddy his hands in some history.

From Bernard Crick - New Statesman
This is the first book in a promising new series. . . . The general editor, R.I. Moore, could not have found a more versatile specialist for the difficult task of getting a modern reader to imagine what a flourishing world was like without either nationalism or nation states, and of explaining how all this changed so very recently in human history. All Gellner lacks is much interest in the history either of ideas or of politics: these he tends to see as 'banana skin' explanations of fundamental social conditions. . . . There is no discussion of nationalism and racialism, the myth of common culture contrasted with the myth of common blood. And if nationalism was not an invention, the speed of its spread surely owed much to Napoleon and the tactics of the dynasties in popularising resistance to him. Some contingencies are important. Our basic dilemmas still mirror the Napoleonic contradictions of nationalism, the rights of man, democracy, equality of opportunity and egalitarianism. So here are brilliant, provocative and irritatingly incomplete notes towards what could have been a great book. Is it unfair or unwise to ask for more?

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