Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, (1983


1 – DEFINITIONS “Nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent.” It “is a theory of political legitimacy.”(1) Gellner works with Weber’s definition of the state as that agency within society that possesses the monopoly of legitimate violence. He notes that states only exist where there is division of labour, and the state “is that instit or set of instits specifically concerned with the enforcement of order (whatever else they may also be concerned with).” (4) Stateless societies cannot, conceptually, experience nationalism. The state is a prior to nationalism. (4) The concept of nation is more complicated, as it is seen as natural. “Having a nation is not an inherent attribute of humanity, but it has now come to appear as such.” (6) “The state has certainly emerged without the help of the nation. Some nations have certainly emerged without the blessings of their own state. It is more debatable whether the normative idea of the nation, in its modern sense, did not presuppose the prior existence of the state.” (6) Thus for two men to be in the same nation requires two things: a common culture, understandings, meanings etc; and the acknowledgement that the other is a fellow national and the recognition of mutual rights and duties to each other in virtue of shared membership in it. (7)

4 – THE TRANSITION TO AN AGE OF NATIONALISM The modern economy needs substitutable and thus mobile people on a large scale, it needs all people to be specialised but to move between specialisations. Therefore it is required that all have a common education, a similar culture. “It is not the case, as Elie Kedourie claims, that nationalism imposes homogeneity; it is rather that a homogeneity imposed by objective, inescapable imperative eventually appears on the surface in the form of nationalism.” (39) “Early industrialism means population explosion, rapid urbanisation, labour migration, and also the economic and political penetration of previously more or less inward-turned communities, by a global economy and a centralising polity. (...) a new kind of Babel, with new cultural boundaries that are not stable but in constant and dramatic movement, and which are seldom hallowed by any kind of custom.” (42) “It is not the case that nationalism imposes homogeneity out of a wilful cultural Machtbedürfniss; it is the objective need for homogeneity which is reflected in nationalism. If it is the case that a modern industrial state can only function with a mobile, literate, culturally standardised, interchangeable population, as we have argued, then the illiterate, half-starved populations sucked from their erstwhile rural cultural ghettoes into the melting pots of shanty-towns yearn for incorporation into some one of those cultural pools which already has, or looks as if it might acquire, a state of its own, with the subsequent promise of full cultural citizenship, access to primary schools, employment, and all.” (46) Thus his argument is not ‘functionalist’: this quote reveals the argument’s compatibility with incentive compatibility constraints. Often these people can vacillate btw two or more cultures for a while. Choosing the culture often depends on whether you (and your children) can assimilate and stop being prejudiced, which makes ostensible physical traits and “deeply engrained religious-cultural habits” relevant for national membership. (46)

Most die out. which sometimes takes pre-existing cultures and turns them into nations. (56) “Nationalism is. sometimes invents them . but rather brings one together: “Nations as a natural. etc. essentially. or at least don’t become ‘national’ (South Germans.” Thus. Those who are its historic agents know not what they do.There are tons of cultures that could potentially become nations. Nationalism creates nations.e. the general imposition of a high culture on society. nationalism. gangs. for he does not awaken a latent nation. for better or worse. The thinker-elites just filled in (incarnated) a(n objective) void that was asking to be filled: we needed a common culture (see the incentive compatibility comment given above). nationalism is the crystallisation of new cultures. a name.” (57) . where previously low cultures had taken up the lives of the majority (.). The concept of the national awakener (awakening a latent nation) is thus a bad image. small Scottish villages.. (52) 5 – WHAT IS A NATION? The two aspects of a definition of nation given before (the voluntary aspect and the cultural aspect) are not co-extensive with what we mean by nation. but that is another matter. but only in the era of nationalism. The voluntary aspect makes no sense given sub-cultures. i. (49) The reason we don’t have a global state is that industrialisation came unequally and the required critical masses are sufficient in current states. (55-) Nations are thus defined in terms of will and culture. He mentions in passing that having out-groups allowed nations to have a token. and some succeed. But this doesn’t mean that they are merely thinker-elite driven constructs: they are necessities of the historical phenomenon which is industrialisation. and often obliterates pre-existing cultures: that is a reality. as an inherent though long-delayed political destiny. and one can’t tell beforehand which will succeed.) of the population. acquire a state.. not the other way around. God-given way of classifying men. etc. and in general an inescapable one. the cultural aspect makes no sense if we consider previous eras where cultural allegiances were independent of ‘national’ ones. are a myth. not the awakening of old ones.