Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ernest Gellner (1925- 1995)

An important theorist of nationalism, Gellner explains the development of nationalism as a functional response to the Great Transformation from the Agrarian-Literate society, with its High and Low cultures, privileged guilds, and cultural specificity; and Advanced Industrial Society, with its unversal, standardized, context-free communication. This creates a standardized high culture for everyone. Social positions are mobile. Economic growth is based in constant innovation. There is one culture for one state. Gellner sees nationalism as a phase in the transformation; nationalism works to destroy pluralism and then diminishes- it is part of a transitional phase. To create One Culture, people can be changed, they can be killed, they can be moved, or borders can be moved.

''It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round.''

Gellner differs from Mirolslav Hroch, who he often is associated with, because he doesn't believe that the nation ''really exists'', nor that the transition made was as simple as Feudalism to Capitalism. Also instead of seeing the scholarly work of remembering as central to the formation of a nation, Gellner follows Renan in seeing forgetting as being of equal importance. Gellner also notes the connection to class conflict. As compared to doctrinaire Marxists who see class conflict behind everything, Gellner notes that class conflict only really took off when aided by cultural differences.

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