Week 2

Essay Abstracts

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What is the relationship between the concepts of sovereignty and nationalism?
Matt Howard
This essay considers political theorists’ comments about sovereignty and the similarities between this and the concept of nationalism. The essence of nationalism is the distinction between “us” and “them.” Schmitt proposed that the political (sovereignty) would not survive without a friend/enemy distinction which is easily enforced if a group of people belong to a nation and identify themselves as a group as being inherently different from the people belonging to another nation. This is also present in early writings like Hobbes and Rousseau. Though nationalism differs from early sovereignty in that a nationalist believes sovereignty was instituted in the populace, Machiavelli recognised the importance for the ruler of a people to have a convergence of ideas with his people in The Prince. The essay argues that sovereignty is an integral tool when carving out a national identity, and the American Revolution is a good illustration of this. It also considers how sovereignty can be used to suppress nationalism too, and the colonial example of sovereignty subjugating a national identity used was Algeria.

Lecture Reading

Gellner, E. 1983. Nations and Nationalism.

You'll have to get this book from the university library, but you can find a limited preview of the text at Google Books.

Summary of Lecture

Edit this page to add notes here! Need inspiration? Try sharing a memorable quote from your notes, or something that you didn't quite understand or would like some help with.

Seminar Reading

Gellner, E. 1983. Nations and Nationalism.

For secondary material analyzing Gellner's work, see the work of sociologist John A. Hall (McGill U), such as:

Hall, J.A. (1998). The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. (Google Books) (Templeman Library Catalogue)

Summaries and Notes from Seminar and Reading

Edit this page to add notes here! Need inspiration? Try sharing a memorable quote from your notes, or something that you didn't quite understand or would like some help with.

As an example for this week, here are the quotes from Gellner that I (Fran) shared with you in the seminars this week:

Excerpts from Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983)

On agrarian society:

“… perhaps the central, most important fact about agro-literate society is this: almost everything in it militates against the definition of political units in terms of cultural boundaries.” p.11

“In brief, cultures proliferate in this world, but its conditions do not generally encourage what might be called cultural imperialisms, the efforts of one culture or another to dominate and expand to fill out a political unit. Culture tends to be branded either horizontally (by social caste), or vertically, to define very small local communities.” p.12

On industrial society:

“The immediate consequence of this new kind of mobility is a certain kind of egalitarianism. Modern society is not mobile because it is egalitarian; it is egalitarian because it is mobile. Moreover, it has to be mobile whether it wishes to be so or not, because this is required by the satisfaction of its terrible and overwhelming thirst for economic growth.” p.24-25

On exo-socialization:

“The fact that sub-units of society are no longer capable of self-reproduction, that centralized exo-education is the obligatory norm, that such education complements (though it does not wholly replace) localized acculturation, is of the very first importance for the political sociology of the modern world; and its implications have, strangely enough, been seldom understood or appreciated or even examined. At the base of the modern social order stands not the executioner but the professor. Not the guillotine, but the (aptly named) doctorat d'état is the main tool and symbol of state power. The monopoly of legitimate education is now more important, more central than is the monopoly of legitimate violence. When this is understood, then the imperative of nationalism, its roots, not in human nature as such, but in a certain kind of now pervasive social order, can also be understood.” p.34

“The imperative of exo-socialization is the main clue to why state and culture must now be linked, whereas in the past their connection was thin, fortuitous, varied, loose, and often minimal. Now it is unavoidable. That is what nationalism is about, and why we live in an age of nationalism.” p.38

On nationalism and nations:

“It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round.” p.55

“… nationalism is about entry to, participation in, identification with, a literate high culture which is co-extensive with an entire political unit and its total populations, and which must be of this kind if it is to be compatible with the kind of division of labour, the type or mode of production, on which this society is based.” p.95

“It [nationalism] is the establishment of an anonymous impersonal society, with mutually substitutable atomised individuals, held together above all by a shared culture of this kind, in place of the previous complex structure of local groups, sustained by folk cultures reproduced locally and idiosyncratically by the micro-groups themselves.” p.57

“What then is this contingent, but in our age seemingly universal and normative, idea of the nation? Discussion of two very makeshift, temporary definitions will help to pinpoint this elusive concept.
1. “Two men are of the same nation if and only if they share the same culture, where culture in turn means a system of ideas and signs and associations and ways of behaving and communicating.
2. “Two men are of the same nation if and only if they recognize each other as belonging to the same nation. In other words, nations maketh man; nations are the artefacts of men's convictions and loyalties and solidarities. A mere category of persons … becomes a nation if and when the members of the category firmly recognize certain mutual rights and duties to each other in virtue of their shared membership of it.” pp. 6-7.

External Materials and Links

Recommended: Smith, A. 1994. ‘The politics of culture: Ethnicity and Nationalism’. In Ingold, T. Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology, pp. 706-33.

Mentioned in the seminar:

O'Leary, Brendan. (1997). "On the Nature of Nationalism: An Appraisal of Ernest Gellner's Writings on Nationalism", British Journal of Political Science 27:191-222.

Ernest Gellner's is the best-known modernist explanatory theory of nationalism. This article summarizes its expression and development before considering its strengths and weaknesses. Discussion centres on Gellner's functionalist mode of explanation, the place of nationalism in his philosophy of history, the predictive and retrodictive nature of his theory, and the merits of his typology of nationalism. The apolitical character of his writings is emphasized: in particular, though Gellner established the connections between nationalism and egalitarianism in modern societies, he did not emphasize the mutually reinforcing relationships between nationalism, egalitarianism and democratization; moreover, his contempt for nationalist doctrines is not something liberals, socialists and conservatives need share. (link to journal host server)

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