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The Ethnic Origins of Nations Reprint Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631161691
ISBN-10: 0631161694
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The scope of Smith's work is breathtaking ... Part I is in some respects the most original part of the book; to my knowledge there is no comparable survey." Journal of American Ethnic History

"Unquestionably an important contribution to the literature on nationalism ... this is a thoughtful, insightful investigation into the roots and strengths of ethnonational identity. ... I recommend it unhesitatingly to all students of nationalism." Walker Connor, Trinity College, Hartford

A well-researched, perceptive study of an important subject. It discusses comprehensively ethnic communities in pre-modern eras and ethnic and nations in modern ones. In addition to being based on solid facts, it is methodologically sound and conceptually provocative ... no political scientist, historian or sociologist can do without it." A. Jacob M. Landau, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Smith's depth of learning is awe-inspiring, and this work deserves a prominent place wherever nationalism is discussed." Michael Levin, Ethnic and Racial Studies

From the Back Cover

This book is an excellent, comprehensive account of the ways in which nations and nationhood have evolved over time. Successful in hardback, it is now available in paperback for a student audience.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; Reprint edition (January 8, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631161694
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631161691
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this book Anthony Smith does exactly what he sets out to do, namely show how important ethnic groups have been for setting the foundation of modern nations. Neglected by such modernists as Anderson, Hobsbawm and Kedourie, ethnic groups have been around for as long as the written word: Smith digs into the past and comes out with gobs of them in the ancient Middle East alone, some of them quite obscure: you definitely deserve a prize if you've heard of the Arameans, Hurrians, Urartians and Amorites.
Smith creates a whole typology about ethnic groups. He claims that all ethnic groups (or, as he calls them, 'ethnies', from the French for 'ethnic community') have several key aspects, including a name, common myth of descent, shared history and culture, territory and a sense of solidarity. They also fit into two main categories: lateral ethnies, which are based on an aristocracy and clerisy and rule over an indefinite but often large area, and the vertical ethnies, based on a urban, priestly or artisan class which rule over a small but clearly marked area.
Smith discusses the development of nations in the context of the French Revolution, when the modern concept of citizenship entered the picture, and here his narrative lets up a bit. Devoting most of the book to ethnicity, when he comes to discussing the two main types of modern nations - territorial (or non-ethnic) and ethnic - he spends too much time on the latter and not enough on former. This is an important flaw, since he thereby almost dismisses those nations like the U.S. which do not have an ethnic foundation and thus do not fit his theory.
Nonetheless this book is useful for the sole but important purpose of reinforcing the link between many nations and their ethnic pasts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The thesis of The Ethnic Origins of Nations is relatively simple. Smith argues that nations are not particularly new phenomena, and that they have a long history in what he calls the ethnie. Depending on your theoretical commitments, this may seem an obvious truth or nonsensical drivel. For those not devoted to a fundamentalist position on the matter, Smith provides a broad display of examples documenting the existence of a stable ethnie throughout history.
Smith positions himself in the crossfire between between two competing views in the literature on nationalism. On the one hand, there are the ‘modernists,’ who conceive of the nation instrumentally, as a contingent entity with its roots in the 18th century. On the other hand, there are the ‘primordialists’ who argue that nations are long-standing, naturally existing entities, and that the modern-day nation is an expression of this fact. Smith’s own argument attempts to achieve a middle ground between the two camps, although it often appears closer to that of the primordialists. On this point, Smith must be commended for avoiding the sociobiological and demographic pitfalls that have typically plagued such treatments of nationalism. Smith focuses on one particular element of ethnic consciousness, which he finds in the “myths, memories, values and the symbols” characteristic of certain historical configurations of populations (15). Curiously, Smith’s most explicit formulation of what his core concept of ethnicity entails comes nearly 100 pages into the book. It is worth quoting at length:
The approach adopted here defines ethnie as clusters of the population with similar perceptions and sentiments generated by, and encoded in, specific beliefs, values and practices. Here the demographic element is important, but secondary.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A comprehensive, nuanced, and ultimately very useful exploration of a topic largely shunned by most analysts of nationalism, who treat it as if the phenomenon of nationalism was born purely of the economics of capitalism and modernity.
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Format: Paperback
The author (review based on the 1987 edition) provides a wealth of information and analysis, and I can only focus on a few topics. Although the modernist position appears to be correct in that current concepts of nation-state, nationality, nationalism, etc., date back only a few centuries, there is also evidence for the antiquity of these "modern" notions. Smith introduces ETHNIE as an ethnic community (p. 4), and then supports the primordialist position, which states that nationalism is of ancient origin.

The author shows how the nation was, or became, an extension of ETHNIE. He writes, (quote) The nation is far more inclusive and far more able to mobilize its membership than any ETHNIE...In antiquity, too, ETHNIE sought to maintain themselves within fairly compact borders and utilize their mineral and agricultural resources: Sumerians, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Jews and Romans were all convinced of their superiority and advantages of their terrain, and Pliny the Elder thought the people of Rome outstanding, POPULUS VICTOR GENIUM. The only difference with modern nations in this respect is their greater ability in harnessing the homeland's resources...So far, then, modern nations simply extend, deepen, and streamline the ways in which member of ETHNIE associated and communicated. They do not introduce startingly novel elements, or change the goals of human association and communication. (unquote). (p. 215).

In addition, Smith comments, (quote) Again, in the ancient world, we find movements that appear to resemble modern nationalism in several respects, notably a desire to liberate territories conquered by aliens, or to resist foreign encroachments, like the Ionian resistance to Persian expansion in the late sixth century B. C. or the Gallic resistance to Caesar's campaigns.
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