Nationalism and Social Theory

The Distinction between Community and Society

Authored by: Steven Grosby

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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During the last 25 years approximately, an enormous amount has been written on nations and nationalism, largely in response to the recognition, at times grudging, that the so-called “age of nationalism”, once thought by many as a designation of the nineteenth century, persists with vigor into the twenty-first. Hardly a year passes without numerous books and articles on these subjects appearing – too many for any one scholar to read. There are seven journals devoted exclusively to the study of nationality, the most prominent of which is Nations and Nationalism, edited by Anthony Smith; and one finds articles on nationality in many other journals of the most diverse areas of scholarship. Despite this flood of publications that includes myriad investigations of putatively theoretical scope, the study of nationality remains curiously isolated from the modest contributions of social and political theory to the clarification of human conduct. In fact, the majority of the analyses of nationality are theoretically primitive, confined to the antiquated schema of a sharp historical disjunction between status and contract, as formulated by Henry Sumner Maine in Ancient Law, or between Gemeinschaft (“community”) and Gesellschaft (“society”), as formulated by Ferdinand TÅ‘nnies in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Thus, social theory and political theory have pressingly important contributions to make in clarifying both this significant social phenomenon of our time, nationality (a term I shall use to designate the character of otherwise historically and constitutively diverse nations), and the uncivil ideology of nationalism; however, in order to do so, this historically simplistic disjunction must be put aside.

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