Ernest Gellner’s thesis in his book Nations and Nationalism is that economic change requires cultural homogeneity, and that the demand for cultural homogeneity, and the state apparatus to provide it, is what drives nationalism. Ernest Gellner was a philosopher and a social anthropologist. He was once referred to as a “one-man crusade for critical rationalism”. He produced many works that have prompted deep thought.
His first book Words and Things, A Critical Account of Linguistic Philosophy and a Study in Ideology caused a month long correspondence on the letters page of The Times of London. He spent most of his time as a professor of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics for 35 years. Gellner constantly fought against beliefs that he saw as closed minded. These ideas being communism, relativism, and free markets (factarchive. com). His most famous piece of work has got to be his analysis of nationalism and its causes, Nations and Nationalism.
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Ernest Gellner believed that nationalism is the byproduct and precondition of industrialism. He makes several different arguments to prove his point. Gellner defines nationalism as “a theory of political legitimacy, which requires that ethnic boundaries should not cut across political ones and that ethnic boundaries within a given state should not separate the power holders from the rest”. Gellner believed that nationalism was caused by nationalism. He describes the transition to industrialism on page 40.
All this being so, the age of transition to industrialism was bound, according to our model, also to be an age of nationalism, a period of turbulent readjustment, in which either political boundaries, or cultural ones, or both, were being modified, so as to satisfy the new nationalist imperative which now, for the first time, was making itself felt. Gellner was clearly making a connection between the rise of industrialization and the emergence of nationalism. Gellner also described what caused nationalism to emerge the way it did. He uses the example of “agrarian society” to describe nationalism.
He says that in agrarian society, literacy is a necessity to nationalism. However he admits that the resources are not available to fully implement a system to provide full literacy to its citizens (17). He believed that the industrial society strengthened the boundaries between nations. He said that only prior to the rise of industrialization was there any horizontal differentiation within society (12). Gellner separates culture as high (literary) culture and folk culture. The former is what links industrialization and nationalism. The latter is what nationalism uses for disguise and legitimacy.
Bend on proving culture is not a real foundation of nationalism. However, sometimes contradicting with himself throughout the book: “admittedly” culture was used to form nation, culture distance was used to counter economic exploitation (55). Gellner breaks world history down to three stages (Hunting-gathering, agrarian, and the industrial. ) and constantly barks against Marx. But the whole nationalism and industrialization study can be said to prove the super-structure theory. So is the way to view history according to productive methods (114).
Gellner obviously has passionate views on this subject and uses some decently convincing arguments to strengthen his case. I thought the book was very well written and can give someone who may not be familiar with the idea of nationalism and its relationship with the rise of industrialism a good base of knowledge. Gellner used language that was easy to understand and it was a very interesting read. However I do believe that there are some flaws in Gellners theory. I thought that the idea of nationalism just appearing as a result of the advancement of industrial technology was rather simple and kind of hard to believe.
This is especially true when you see that Gellner did not account for societies without advanced industry that have a rampant level of nationalism. To me, the entire idea of nationalism as a result of industrialism is far too simple. Nationalism at its definition existed before the industrial revolution and it also exists now in places in which the revolution did not effect. Gellners views and beliefs are remembered and revered as the first major thoughts on the idea of nationalism, and they should be because they are indeed innovative. But it certainly is not the only explanation for the emergence of nationalism.