They offer a very insightful and at the same time entertaining view on nations and nationalisms as each of them tend to argue a different point-of-view.
Ernest Gellner is considered to be a theorist of the modern comprehension of the idea of nationalism. In this sense, one of the most important aspects of his theory revolves around the discussion of several time periods. More precisely, he advocated the belief that the society was in its history split in three major eras: "The hunter-gatherer; the agro-literate, and the industrial" (Revision Notes, n.d.). This is a consideration of the history of our civilization from an economic point-of-view which has an echo at the political level as well. Before moving any further it must be said from the beginning that Gellner takes on a different approach which includes this differentiation from an economic point-of-view and consider that in fact nations were born at the end of the agro-literate era and during the industrial period.
This line of thought can be considered to include economic theory as well. In this sense, during the first period of evolution, the hunter-gatherers society there was no need for people to unite under a single common language or culture. Moreover, the limited means of communication as well as the differentiated resources did not allow the interaction of people at a very profound level. In most situations this was reduced to tribes and local communities.
The agro-literate period is considered by Gellner to be an evolution from the previous stage. The theorist points out the need to evolve in order to achieve a sense of development at all the levels of the society, both economically and politically. In this sense, "in the second stage, there is no incentive for the ruling classes to impose cultural homogeneity on the masses - indeed, they benefit from diversity as it means that there will be no challenge to their power" (Revision Notes, n.d.). However, at this moment there are historical events which determine the change in power, from the ruling classes to the masses. The French Revolution allowed this change to take place and enabled the masses to determine their desires and aspirations under a common belief in a common language, history, and culture. At this point, the first signs of nationalism appeared.
The industrial period however is considered to be the actual cradle of nationalism. The development which took place immediately after the major inventions of science and technology became universal was determinant for the evolution of the idea of nations and nationalisms. Moreover, it was considered by the ruling classes that homogeneity was essential for the development of the economy and for economic success. Thus, "in industrial societies, "a high culture pervades the whole of society, defines it, and needs to be sustained by the polity." In industrial society, the changing nature of work demands cultural homogeneity. There is a need for impersonal, context-free communication" (Revision Notes, n.d.).
Nations and nationalism are seen by Gellner as a means of achieving economic development. It was imperative that a diversification of the working strategies be achieved and at the same time that in a definite realm the respective community could develop on its own and be able to face other challenges coming from the neighboring ones. Therefore, it can be considered that Gellner's approach is not determined by a consideration of the inevitable result of history in the sense that the creation of nations and the emergence of nationalism is not the inherent development of the historical context, but rather that in fact the creation of nations was a calculated and well established process thought of in terms of economic prospects and development.
As a result of this belief, Gellner goes further on his theory and considers the world to be differentiated according to geographical lines as well which is determined by the way in which nations emerged in those respective areas. More precisely, "Ernest Gellner, has characterized the time-zones of Europe, from the westernmost zone I where dynastic realms created states which were by and large culturally uniform; to zone II (such as in Italy and Germany) which, though politically fragmented, were well-equipped with pre-existing and codified high cultures; through zone III (Central/Eastern Europe) in which the mix of diverse cultures in social and geographical terms failed to map on to cultural and religious boundaries; and finally to zone IV, the territories of the old Tsarist empire in which the old religious order was peremptorily replaced by the new secular communism." (Mccrone, 1998, 9) Therefore, in terms of nations and nationalism there is a clear distinction between different parts of Europe and consequently of the world. A lack of homogeneity in terms of cultural aspects attracts a limited economic capacity as well.
According to Gellner's geographical determination, it can be said that the states from Zones I and II are the most viable states in terms of economic conditions as history has pointed out. There is a cultural unity which offers consistency in terms of development and a common belief in economic ideals; moreover, the fact that a united political force is exercising its power over a uniform population is all the more relevant for the existence of a strong economic environment. This could be one of the explanations for the way in which countries from Western Europe emerged as economic forces whereas states from Eastern Europe and Eurasia struggled to find its economic tempo.
Gellner is part of the modernist theory on nations and states. He is the strong proponent of the idea that nations were a necessity for the evolution of the world, a prerequisite for its development. In general terms the idea of modernity concerning the state focuses on the fact that "nationalism is a cultural and political ideology of 'modernity', a crucial vehicle in the Great Transformation from traditionalism to industrialism, and in particular the making of the modern state" (Mccrone, 1998, 10). However, they do not exclude the existence of nationalism in the pre-modern era; they just consider it to be of limited importance for the discussion of nationalism in its current form. In this sense, nationalism in its traditional sense implied the allegiance to different other connecting elements such as religion and God, whereas modern nationalism as supported by Gellner and others, derives its legitimate power from the will of the people and from democracy. Moreover, whereas nations were often associated with countries in the past, in the modern times they imply unified structural forms organized according to a political principle which allows for economic development to take place.
A different perspective on the way in which nations were creation and the actual meaning of nationalism is offered by theorists who argue an ethno-symbolist approach. More precisely, it is considered that in fact the history of nations and that of nationalism is not a creation but rather an obvious consequence of the way in which history evolved. Even more, Anthony Smith one of the strongest proponents of the idea of nationalism as an ethnic symbol points out that in fact nations were an inherent thing and an obvious consequence of history.
One of the major arguments presented by Smith takes into account the passion nationalism arises which cannot be stirred by an artificial establishment of a nation. Thus, nations fight for their right to self-determination out of a desire and passion which is embedded in a common culture, in the idea of belonging to a well defined set of values and norms that have been created since the middle ages and the dawn of a common conscience. In this sense, Smith considers that "to belong to a "community of history and destiny" has become for many people a surrogate for religious faith, over and above any individual worldly ends that the collective action it inspires may serve'. Above all, it is the sense of a common past and a shared destiny which is the ideological motor driving the modern state forward" (Mccrone, 1998, 12). Therefore, his argument relies on the perpetuation of certain traits which are common to a particular group that in the end forms the nation. Despite the fact that there is a need for a sparkle to light the fire of nationalism, this sparkle takes advantage of an environment which is the result of centuries of history and common suffering.
Critique of the theories
There have been several critics concerning the idea of modernity and the extent to which this theory is valid for the explanation of the rise of nations and nationalism. The theoretical aspects have been constructed according to the major elements presented by the modernists as opposed to the ethno-symbolist approach.
On the one hand, there is a wide discussion concerning the actual birth of nations and nationalism. In this sense, while the modernists believe that indeed they represent a creation of modern times and that of the industrial world, those arguing for an ethno-symbolist approach consider that these two elements are the result…