Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism , which was published in 1983, is a core reading for the study of eighteenth and nineteenth-century European history for it cleverly conceptualizes notions –namely nationalism and nation-state- that are essential components of that period. The course Culture and Politics in Europe 1700-1870 embraces historical events as well as cultural, social, economic and politic trends and among all, the birth of the nation-state is one of the major concepts it studies. The review will mainly focus on chapters one to seven of Gellner's book for they are the only chapters relevant for the course. The aim is to show to what extent this text is essential to the study of culture and politics in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe and, consequently, how it helped me in my studies and why it was selected by the lecturer.
[...] In the years 1880-1914, European nationalism shifted to the right wing; the consciousness of belonging to a nation involved the materialization of far-right nationalism. The coexistence of more or less equally powerful (and interested in colonialism) nation-states in Europe stimulated exclusive feelings of love and pride for one's nation and another type of nationalism emerged. Later, in a time of world (mostly European) war, state nationalism was aimed at reinforcing national consciousness and cohesion relatively to foreigners, that is to say, enemies. [...]
[...] The four first chapters of Nations and Nationalism, as well as Anderson and Hobsbawm theories are thus indispensable to understand the needs for the formation of nation-states in nineteenth-century Europe. Nationalism consequently emerged in Europe in order to convince people that they were sharing cultural features and that they should gather into a nation-state. If educated liberal bourgeois were conscious that capitalism required a unified state, they still had to convince other classes. To achieve this aim, they had to conceptualize similarities between people and make them willing to be united. [...]
[...] But as I may see it after reading Nations and Nationalism, nationalism is most of the time an attempt to renew and reaffirm the existence of a nation. It is not a widely spread sentiment whenever the nation is harmoniously cohesive and not threaten by external allegiances (as it is today with the European Union). What turned out to be quite difficult for me was that this text is almost only theoretical. Few examples taken from real history are used in order to prove or illustrate the theory. [...]
[...] In his typology of nationalism (chapter Gellner employed the term ‘unificatory nationalism' to describe the movement that utilized pre- existing, historically inherited proliferation of cultures or cultural wealth, though it used them very selectively, and most often transformed them radically” in order to foster the unification of people which supposedly belonged to the same ‘nation'. In this situation, a given social group was provided with the same level of education as the dominant group but did not have any access to power, thus it fought for the formation of its own nation-state. [...]
[...] In other words, the need for homogeneity led to nationalism and to the emergence of the idea of a nation. Notwithstanding, even within rather ethnically homogenous entities, nationalism developed during the age of industrialization. Gellner underscored that capitalism in general fostered national consciousness. Some authors, whose theories were also used in the lecture, came to the same conclusion through the analysis of more specific trends. Benedict Anderson for instance showed how the development of print played a major role in the expansion of ‘languages-of-power' -that replaced Latin in centralized administrations- and in providing greater fixity to languages. [...]
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