The Nation or Nationalism? A less than helpful Very Short Introduction (4/100)

*I am attempting to read 100 books in 2020 hence the x/100 in the titles of these posts*

In a bout of focus I decided toward the end of last year to read a couple of books on a unified subject: nationalism.  I read Rich Lowry’s The Case for Nationalism, Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, and semi-related Give Me Liberty by Richard Brookhiser.  More on those books later.

I also decided to read Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction by Steven Grosby in an attempt at putting these books in a larger context.

This book examines the political and moral challenges that face the vast majority of human beings who consider themselves to be members of various nations. It explores nationality through the difficulties and conflicts that have arisen throughout history, and discusses nations and nationalism from social, philosophical, and anthropological perspectives.

In this fascinating Very Short Introduction, Steven Grosby looks at the nation in history, the territorial element in nationality, and the complex ways nationality has co-existed with religion, and shows how closely linked the concept of nationalism is with being human.

I should have read the publisher’s description a little more closely…

This volume turned out to be a much more academic approach than previous works I had read (perhaps understandably so) and thus much harder to get through despite it’s designed shortness.

It is also focused on whether the nation is a modern phenomena or a part of human nature (biological versus sociological, etc.).

The only “review” I could find online with a few minutes on Google is helpful, if also academic, and gets to the main issue:

Grosby takes a strong stance against the argument that the formation of nations is historically novel. He acknowledges the important relationship between the modern nation and the relatively recent developments of democratic conceptions of political participation, the social mobility made possible by industrial capitalism, and the impact of technological advancements on transportation and communication. (57) However, he argues that scholars who base their analyses of the origin of the nation on these factors alone are guilty of being selective in their evidence and of disregarding important earlier developments, such as “the emergence of a national law of the land in medieval England.”

I don’t have the energy to go into the details of this argument as it was not really what I was after.

My impression is that this Very Short Introduction is not for the casual reader nor those looking to get more deeply at nationalism in the sense of the political or cultural phenomenon.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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