Books By Author


  • Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983.

    Summary: This is Gellner's classic modernization argument explaining the origin of nations. The author argues that nations are completely modern constructions borne of nationalism which is "primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent" (1). Nations were the result of pressures created by the demands of the industrial revolution. As soon as people from widely different backgrounds began to converge on cities, it was necessary to create some form of common identity for them. Perhaps more importantly, the demands of capitalism, specifically the need for constant retraining, demanded that there be a common language among workers. These demands were met by creating a common past, common culture (created by turning "low" folk cultures into "high" state cultures) and requiring a common language. With these common experiences as a motive, workers were more willing to work hard, not only for their own good, but for the good of their country. Further, it became possible to quickly retrain and move workers around the nation - after all, whether in Paris or Nice, Berlin or Dresden, London or Liverpool, a common culture, language and history united the newly mobile workforce. Finally, it is worth noting that Gellner saw this book as a reaction to Elie Kedourie's theory which Gellner believed lacked any real comprehension of the reality of nationalism as a result of its overly intellectual focus. [E. Zuelow]

  • Return to Reviews/Abstracts

    Summary: In this important and original book, Paul Gilbert marries a concern for the explanation of nationalist movements with an examination of their moral justifications. Gilbert posits what he calls "the constitutive principle of nationalism": the view that the widely varying types of nationalism we see in today’s world "can best be explained by regarding the nation as a group of a kind that has a right to statehood" (1). The book therefore attempts "to classify the accounts of nationhood that can be given in terms of the kinds of argument for statehood they support" (1). This approach has the merit of avoiding the pitfalls suffered by Ernest Gellner’s dictum that nationalism is the principle which holds that "the political and national unit should be congruent." As Gilbert points out, not all nationalists hold that only nations are entitled to statehood (17).

    In nine chapters, Gilbert takes the reader through a variety of nationalisms—or, rather, of differing answers to Ernest Renan’s celebrated question, "What is a nation?" He surveys nominalist ("a nation is whatever a group of people who consider themselves a nation say it is"), naturalist ("a nation is a group of people whose grouping is given by nature"), voluntarist ("a nation is a group of people bound by a commonly-willed union"), territorial ("a nation is a group of people attached to a specific territory"), linguistic ("a nation is a group of people who share a common language"), axiological ("a nation is a group of people who share distinctive values"), and destinarian ("a nation is a group of people who have a common history and a common mission") views of the nation-concept. Gilbert also examines what he terms "political" nationalism (i.e., what is generally called "civic" nationalism); unhappily, this label is imprecise because, as we saw, Gilbert had already explicitly defined nationalism as a movement that believes that national groups have a right to a polity.

    That very minor problem aside, this important classificatory work should be of interest to all students of nationalism who are looking to give their studies a philosophical foundation. [Tom Donahue]

    Return to Reviews/Abstracts

  • Greenfeld, Liah. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge (USA) and London (UK): Harvard University Press, 1992.

    Summary: Liah Greenfeld's "Five Roads to Modernity" theory fits roughly into the modernization school of nationalism, but with a slight twist. Greenfeld sees nations as beginning with Henry VIII's nationalization of the church during the early sixteenth century (earlier than most modernization theorists would place it) when the word "nation," which had meant "elite:" was transformed to mean "the people." Once this had taken root (which took a bit of time after the initial act), other states, hoping to compete with the original nation, had to create their own: "Because the model [of English nationalism] was superior to the imitator in the latter's own perception (its being a model implied that), and the contact itself more often than not served to emphasize the latter's inferiority, the reaction commonly assumed the form of ressentiment . A term coined be Nietzsche and later defined and developed by Max Scheler, ressentiment refers to a psychological state resulting from suppressing feelings of envy and hatred (existential envy) and the impossibility of satisfying these feelings..." (15). As one got further from "God's first born" (England), the ressentiment with having to form this alien structure became greater. The net result is that the further one got from the original, the more volatile and nasty a given state's nationalism would be. The majority of Greenfeld's book is taken up with five case studies: Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and America. These case studies have proved controversial among historians of each country - especially among German and Russian historians.[E. Zuelow]

  • Return to Reviews/Abstracts

    Summary: This analysis of Western sub-state nationalisms under conditions of globalization takes as its starting point Montserrat Guibernau’s view of contemporary politics as defined by a dialectic in which the Western state is being squeezed from above by supra-state organizations that demand the cession of some of the state’s sovereignty, and from below by sub-state nationalisms that challenge the state’s legitimacy. It is within the framework of this dialectic that she proposes to consider the current situation and the etiologies of Western "nations without states [ i.e., those] cultural communities sharing a common past, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, and wishing to decide upon their political future which lack a state of their own" (1).

    The book, Guibernau says, has "four main aims. First, to offer a definition and a typology of the different political scenarios in which nations without states find themselves in the West. Second, to advance a systematic analysis of the processes leading to the generation of nationalist movements in nations without states paying particular attention to the role of intellectuals and the impact of the media in the construction and reproduction of nationalist messages. Third, to establish a clear-cut distinction between cultural resistance and armed struggle as major strategies employed by different nationalist groups in the advancement of their goals. Fourth, to assess the factors which might contribute to generating a completely new political environment in which nations without states are likely to become global political actors" (10).

    Perhaps the most important contributions of the book are (i) its examination of the rise and current situation of Catalan nationalism (a subject that has not received much attention from Anglophone theorists of nationalism), and (ii) its chapter on the nationalisms of the aboriginal peoples of North America (a subject that, to this reviewer’s knowledge, has received decidedly short shrift from Anglophone analytical theorists of nationalism, though some political philosophers have considered it). [Tom Donahue]

    Return to Reviews/Abstracts

    Summary: This is a multidisciplinary study of the borderland that intersects the territory of the Polish, Czech, and Slovak languages. Teschen Silesia is a region of transitional language and culture that is today divided between the Czech Republic and Poland. This work examines the complex historical development of this region, as well as offers a detailed study of the development of its traditional Slavic dialect. The book explores the complex relation linking language, culture, social networks and ethnic consciousness in a borderland. The book was awarded an Orbis Book Prize in 1996. [K. Hannan]

    Return to Reviews/Abstracts


  • Hechter, Michael. Containing Nationalism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Summary: Nationalism has become the most prevalent source of political conflict and violence in the world. Scholarship has provided scant guidance about the prospects of containing the dark side of nationalism -- its widely publicized excesses of violence, such as ethnic cleansing and genocide. Departing from the usual practice of considering only a few examples of nationalism drawn from a limited geographical and historical canvas, this book is based on fundamental theoretical ideas about the formation and solidarity of groups. Containing Nationalism offers a unified explanation of the dynamics of nationalism across the broad sweep of time and space. Among other things, it explains why nationalism is largely confined to modern history, why it is supported by specific forms of inequality between cultural groups, and why it is inclusive at some times and exclusive at others.

    Nationalism is the attempt of culturally-distinct peoples to attain political self-determination. Self-determination was generally afforded by traditional states, which employed a form of governance based on indirect rule. After the late 18th century, the rise of the modern state led to a new form of governance characterized by direct rule. Containing Nationalism argues that the impetus for the most common type of nationalism arises from the imposition of direct rule in culturally heterogeneous societies. Direct rule stimulates national identity by making cultural distinctions more salient for individuals' life chances. At the same time it reduces the resources of local elites, giving them a motive to mobilize nationalist opposition to central authorities. All told, these effects heighten the demand for sovereignty. The book suggests that political institutions that reintroduce indirect rule offer the leaders of modern countries the best available means of containing nationalist violence within their borders. [M. Hechter]

    Return to Reviews/Abstracts

  • Summary: Prior to World War I, most of the Irish population favored constitutional reform (devolution) rather than complete independence from Great Britain. The Great War transformed public opinion and led the public to support the formation of a free Irish republic rather than a parliament devolved from the British parliament at Westminster. Thomas Hennessey examines this important change and the resulting realignment of the relationship between unionists and nationalists. While other scholars have seen the Northern conflict in terms of religious or class division, Hennessey argues that the polarisation of Irish and British identities during the war are actually at the root of the problem. Rather than a Catholic/Protestant conflict, the war in Northern Ireland is the result of contested national identity. The fundamental difference between Loyalists and Nationalists is that Loyalists have a "Britannic identity" while Irish nationalists do not. [E. Zuelow]

    Return to Reviews/Abstracts

  • Hobsbawm, Eric J. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    Summary: Nations and Nationalism is an important book in the historiography on nationalism as it is one of the best accounts by a Marxist of the development of nations. Hobsbawm defines nationalism as "primarily a principle which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent" (9). He argues that nations are a modern construction and that they are not unchanging social entities. Hobsbawm views the development of nations as "situated at the point of intersection of politics, technology and social transformation" (10) and he argues that they must be seen as such. He claims that nations have traditionally been understood as top-down constructions and argues that they must also be looked at from the bottom up. Building on this idea, he claims that: 1) ideologies of states are not guides to how the people feel; 2) we cannot assume that most people place national identity above other identities which constitute the social being; and, 3) that national identification changes over time. Finally, Hobsbawm argues that the nationalism in developed nations has not been adequately studied. Hobsbawm spends particular time on the importance of language. He places particular importance on the development of class consciousness which, in turn, led to the development of the mass politics which made nations possible.[E. Zuelow]