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Nations and Nationalism (New Perspectives on the Past) [Paperback]

by Ernest Gellner
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)


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There is a newer edition of this item:
Nations and Nationalism, Second Edition (New Perspectives on the Past) Nations and Nationalism, Second Edition (New Perspectives on the Past) 4.1 out of 5 stars (16)
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Book Description

November 1983 0801492637 978-0801492631

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 Nationalism remains 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.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Editorial Reviews

Review

"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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

"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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Series: New Perspectives on the Past
  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (November 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801492637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801492631
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic modernist account of nationalism August 16, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Standard reference work, though not exciting April 6, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
First, a few words on nationalism itself. Nationalism is important to study because during the 20th century, it has been one of the most despicable forces to ever hit this world and as such, needs to be understood. (And yes, I consider fascism a form of nationalism).

The twin founding fathers of nationalism, Hans Kohn and Carleton Hayes, construct the skeleton on which other authors (Gellner, Smith, Hobsbawm, Hutchinson, Breuilly, Armstrong, Anderson, etc.) try to fill in the gaps by narrowing one component, and exploring that area in extreme detail. Breuilly looks at solely the political aspects, Hutchinson and Anderson look at the cultural, etc. Gellner looks at the political tied to the cultural. In short, culture for Gellner is everything.

As Mel Brooks says in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, "the short, short version..." Gellner thinks that industrialization homogenized cultures, which in turn was bound to state-led educational facilities (schools, etc.). Teaching everyone the same thing, having them dress the same way, in short, nurturing a single identity created nationalism. Once culture bound with politics, nations emerged. Then nationalism came (independently).

Now for the more detailed review:

Gellner asserts the following explanation for the rise of nations and nationalism (two distinct things):

Nations are self-defined by the inhabitants within them. All nations share a culture.

Nationalism is a modern force which holds that politics and nations are congruent and inseparable.

Without one, you cannot have the other.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic...but classic isn't necessarily good June 4, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At first I thought this was going to be an enjoyable, positive reading exercise since Chapter 1 was clear and thought provoking. But by the sixth chapter I literally wanted to tear the book to pieces. Gellner's book is considered "a classic" in the literature on nationalism, but I contend that its weaknesses equal or outweigh its contributions. I found Gellner's theory extremely Euro-centric and remarkably exasperating. Moreover, Gellner's style of writing was excessively repetitive, "tedious and pedantic" (something he claimed in his conclusion to have avoided), besides being overly assertive.
Gellner's typology, in my opinion, is based on the faulty idea that there are only two types of societies: agrarian and industrial, and that the modern state is omnipotent vis a vis the society. While agrarian Europe was stagnating, other areas of the world had flourishing cultures based on trade *and* agriculture *and* small-scale industry. Some even had local identities (early ersatz nationalisms) that set them apart from the other localities with which they had regular contact through trade, diplomacy, wars and exploration. And while modern European societies are fully industrialized, with omnipotent states, many modern "third-world" societies are mixed agrarian/industrial, and the state vies with other groups in society for loyalty.
I do agree with Gellner's appraisal that nationalism and nationalities are not inevitable aspects of the human condition. But I disagree with his theory that industrial society led to the homogenization of cultures and appearance of nationalism. Much of my disagreement lies in his a priori assumption that the state is "only too conspicuously present" and that power is highly centralized in the state of the industrial era.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Nations and violence
Gellner researche the origin of the nations and they sentment and movement, the nationalism. The autors dialogue with Max Weber and he's idea of the State as the "monopoly of... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Kaíque Agostineti
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work. It's a must have.
"Ignorance has many forms, and all of them are dangerous. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries our chief effort has been to free ourselves from tradition and superstition in... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Red Eyes
4.0 out of 5 stars Wandering
Gellner tries to show the origins and development of nationalism. He makes some good points. At the same time, the book seems a bit unfocused and meandering. Read more
Published on February 3, 2012 by Enjolras
4.0 out of 5 stars NAtions and Nationalism by Ernest Gellner
The ideas contained in this book were most simulating. They gave me a deeper understanding of the ideas and forces that shaped the present world situation. Read more
Published on February 17, 2011 by Barney
5.0 out of 5 stars A political science and international relation must read
I would not suggest considering not reading this if you have an interest in International Relations and Political Science.
Published on October 24, 2010 by writer'sblock
4.0 out of 5 stars Some thoughts on Ernest Gellner's _Nations and Nationalism_
Nationalism is something that has interested me recently, especially as I see it as a major stumbling-block in improving the course of mankind in the world. Read more
Published on March 31, 2010 by J. Edgar Mihelic
5.0 out of 5 stars Nationalism, a By-product of Industrialization
Gellner charged that nationalism `is not the awakening of an old latent, dormant force,' but is rather `the general imposition of a high culture on society, where previously low... Read more
Published on September 14, 2009 by Patrick Yeung
3.0 out of 5 stars Old Wine in a New Bottle
For its 25th Anniversary Ernest Gellner's "Nations and Nationalism" is repackaged with a new introduction by John Breuilly. Read more
Published on June 23, 2009 by Todd Bartholomew
3.0 out of 5 stars Modernist musings on the origins and evolution of nationalism
Gellner is perhaps one of the strongest proponents of the modernist approach regarding the origins of nationalism, arguing that nations are a by-product of industrialization, and... Read more
Published on May 29, 2009 by Todd Bartholomew
5.0 out of 5 stars The most influential theorist of nationalism
Start with Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities" to understand the contingency of modern nations, but then read Gellner. Read more
Published on December 15, 2006 by ivy grad student
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