Liah Greenfeld
"Five Roads to Modernity"


NOTE: Liah Greenfeld is the author of Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity—an important, if controversial, book—which attempts to explain the increasing violence of nationalism by offering the model summarized below.


"I shall very briefly recapitulate certain parts of the argument I made in Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. The inventors of nationalism were members of the new Tudor aristocracy in England in the sixteenth century. Upwardly mobile commoners who reached the top of the social ladder, they found unacceptable the traditional image of society in which social mobility was an anomaly and substituted a new image for it, that of a nation as it came to be understood in modern times. Before this happened, the word "nation" meant something entirely different; it referred to a political and cultural elite, rather than to a society as a whole. Tudor aristocrats, however, made the "nation" synonymous with the English "people," a concept which previously-in English as in other languages referred specifically to the lower orders of society, the commons (or worse: the rabble or plebs), as members of which so many of the new aristocrats were born. As a result of this redefinition, every member of the people was elevated to the dignity of the elite becoming, in principle, equal to any other member, as well as free, in vested with the right of self-government, or, in other words, sovereignty, and the people or the nation collectively was, in turn, defined as sovereign.

"It is important to recognize that the sovereignty of the nation was, in this case, derived from the assumed sovereignties of each member in the national collectivity. The nation was defined as a composite entity existing only insofar as its members kept the social compact and had neither interests nor will separate from the individual interests and wills of these members. This original nationalism, therefore, was essentially individualistic (which, it should be noted, in no way prevented it from serving as a very firm foundation for social solidarity). It was also civic in the sense that national identity-nationality-was in effect identical with citizenship, and since the nation existed only insofar as its members kept the social compact, could be in principle acquired or abandoned of one's free will.

"The principles of this original individualistic and civic nationalism, the location of sovereignty within a people defined as a social compact of free and equal individuals, are the fundamental tenets of liberal democracy, which is considered the essential characteristic of a Western society. This type of nationalism, however, though historically first, is the rarest type of all. Much more often a nation is defined not as a composite entity but as a collective individual, endowed with a will and interest of its own, which are independent of and take priority over the wills and interests of human individuals within the nation. Such a definition of the nation results in collectivistic nationalism. Collectivistic nationalisms tend to be authoritarian and imply a fundamental in equality between a small group of self-appointed interpreters of the will of the nation-the leaders-and the masses, who have to adapt to the elite's interpretations. Collectivistic nationalisms thus favor the political culture of populist democracy or socialism, and as such furnish the ideological bases of modern tyrannies.

"Collective nationalisms can be civic. French nationalism is a nationalism of a collectivistic and civic type, which was historically the second type of nationalism to evolve. The civic criteria of national membership acknowledge the freedom of the individual members, which the collectivistic definition of the nation denies. Collectivistic and civic nationalism is therefore an ambivalent, problematic type, necessarily plagued by internal contradictions. The turbulent political history of the French nation is eloquent testimony to these contradictions. Few would doubt the West European and simply Western identity of France, and yet it is interesting that French nationalism began as an anti-English-and by derivation anti- Western -sentiment. France, therefore, at least in the days of its national infancy, could be seen as the first anti-Western nation.

"The purely anti-Western (and thus Eastern?) type of nationalism, however, was historically the third and the latest type to appear. It developed first in Russia and very soon after that in Germany. It also became the most common type of nationalism, today characteristic of all East European nations (with the possible exception of the Czech Republic) and, no doubt, of some West European nations as well. This type combines ~w collectivistic definition of the nation with ethnic criteria of nationality. Ethnic nationalism sees nationality as determined genetically, entirely independent of the individual volition, and thus inherent. It can be neither acquired, if one is not born with it, nor lost, if one is. The freedom of the individual in this type of nationalism is denied consistently, or rather it is redefined as inner freedom or as recognized necessity. This denial and redefinition are predicated on the rejection of the individual as a rational being and an autonomous actor. Individuality itself is equated with the true human nature, which expresses itself in self-abnegation and submersion or dissolution in the collectivity.

"In Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, I analyzed how the three types of nationalism developed and how they acquired their specific forms in England and the United States (which represent the first type of the individualistic and civic nationalism), in France (the model of the second type of collectivistic and civic nationalism), and in Russia and Germany (which represent the third, the collectivistic and ethnic type). Here I shall only note some general tendencies. The initial definition of the nation in every case (whether it is defined as a composite entity or in unitary terms) depends on the nature of the groups actively involved in the articulation of the new ideology, and the situations they face. The individualistic type of nationalism is likely to develop if during its formative period nationalism appeals to and serves the interests of wide sectors of the population (e.g., the English squires and newly literate urban masses, the American colonists, the French bourgeoisie, etc.), and new, open, upwardly mobile influential groups. (Examples in this case are the sixteenth-century English aristocracy and squirearchy. The German Bildungsbiirger as a group were new, fairly open, and upwardly mobile, but before the intellectuals were incorporated into the traditional elite, they had no influence.) The collectivistic type is to be expected if originally the social basis of nationalism is limited: that is, if nationalism is adopted by and serves the interests of a narrow traditional elite intent on preserving its status (such as the French or the Russian nobility), or a new group trying to attain status within the traditional social framework (German Bildungsbiirgertum), which then transmits it to the masses by indoctrination. A significant change in the situation of the relevant participants may result in a change in the definition of the nation (the American South provides an example of this). But such changes are extremely rare. It must be noted that geography plays no part in this process and, what is perhaps more important, neither does the date of the emergence of a particular nationalism relative to other nationalisms: a society which is among the first to define itself as a nation may develop a collectivistic nationalism, and a recent nation may have an individualistic nationalism.

"What does play a part, and especially in determining whether a particularnationalism will be defined as Civic Or as ethnic, is the perception of a nation's status relative to other nations, or its symbolic place-specifically, whether it is perceived as a part of the West or not. To a certain extent, such perception is dependent on the traditional, prenational beliefs in the society in question, which in all cases exert a significant formative influence on the nature of the developing national identity. Sometimes, as in Russia, the central factor in the development of ethnic nationalisms has been ressentiment, a sustained sentiment of existential envy and resentment based on a sense of one's inferiority vis-a-vis the societies from which the ideas of nationalism were imported, and which therefore were originally seen as models. Historically, the sources of importation were to the west of the importers and, more important, were invariably defined as parts of the symbolic West. In consequence, ethnic nationalisms developed as variants of an explicitly anti-Western ideology. Societies which imported national ideas from elsewherewhether they defined themselves as nations early or late-but which did not at the moment of the adoption of national identity believe themselves to be inferior to their models, tended to define themselves in civic terms. In such cases, the record of their achievement provided them with sufficient reasons for national pride, and they had no need to resort to the claim that their superiority was inherent (in their blood, soul, soil, unadulterated language, or whatnot).

"It is therefore possible to distinguish between Western, less Western, and anti-Western nationalisms in Europe and elsewhere. But the geographical location of a nation does not tell us which type of nationalism is characteristic of it. On the contrary, the type of nationalism characteristic of a given society allows one to locate it on the symbolic map as we have charted it, and define it as a part of the West or of the East, and of Western or Eastern Europe.

"For the purposes of this volume it is, of course, important to compare Eastern and Western Europe. And the crucial question to ask is whether it is likely at East European societies, recently liberated from the Soviet yoke, will go the way of the West and, like the core West European societies, develop into liberal democracies. Since this is directly related to the kind of nationalism in these societies, the question may be reformulated to inquire about the likelihood that East European nations will exchange their ethnic nationalisms for nationalisms characteristic of some West European nations, for example the individualistic and civic nationalism of the English, or the collectivistic but civic nationalism of the French.

"It must be understood that what this implies is nothing less than a transformation of the identities of these nations. Such transformations, while possible, do not seem likely in most of the East European societies and former Soviet republics today. They are unlikely, first of all, because the respective social elites of these societies, namely their intelligentsias, have a vested interest in ethnic nationalism (to which they owe their position as social elites). By the same token, they have absolutely no interest, whatever they may say, in democratization, which implies equality and therefore leveling of their group status with that of the rest of the population. Of course, an identity may also be transformed under pressure from outside. Germany, which was the quintessential example of ethnic nationalism, may be the model of a successful transformation of identity under pressure from without. But as Germany proves, a transformation of identity from without requires a very heavy pressure indeed-as heavy as a long-term occupation or partition. The sad experience of Bosnia-Herzegovina teaches us that the international community is not ready for such measures even under the worst of circumstances."

Greenfeld, Liah. "Nationalism in Western and Eastern Europe Compared," in Can Europe Work? Germany & the Reconstruction of Postcommunist Societies, eds. Stephen E. Hanson and Willfried Spohn. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 1995.