Review of Warwick Debates on Nationalism

2386 Words Oct 30th, 2012 10 Pages
On October 24th, 1995, two of the best-known scholars of nationalism participated in what has now become known as the “Warwick Debate on Nationalism” under the host of Edward Mortimer at the Warwick University. Each respected speaker presented thoughts and approaches to the study of nationalism that have laid the foundation for two separate, yet prevalent suppositions toward nationalism: Anthony Smith’s primordial approach and Ernest Gellner’s modernist theory.
When reviewing the discussions of intellectual masters, it is important to establish the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments before determining a superior concept. Without having any previous knowledge of nationalism, one could easily understand Anthony Smith’s
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Besides his assertion that nationalism existed before the pre-modern period, Smith distinguishes three major flaws within the modernist theory of nationalism. First, is that such theories are broad and abstract, lacking the ability to relate to specific cases or areas. Next, Smith finds flaw in the theme of materialism that modern nationalism often creates. Smith believes that nationalism can begin in “all kinds of socioeconomic milieux” and that this materialism is often “misleading.” However the most dominant flaw in the modernist’s theory is the complete denial of the role ethnic ties and cultural sentiments in nationalism.
In an intellectually thrilling contrast, Ernest Gellner responds to Smith’s idea of a pre-modern nationalism by posing the question, “do nations have navels?” This question literally attempts to find the source of creation of a nation, or ‘do nations have a creator(s)?’ Gellner strongly establishes that nationalism gave birth to nations, and not vice versa. And nationalism itself does not have an intended creator, as it is a direct result of the economic and scientific changes that ensued with the modern period of the 18th century. Thus, Gellner’s main objective is delineated, that nationalism is a purely modern phenomena. Gellner then defends this concept against what Smith would see as irrefutable evidence written in history by defining the role of culture in…

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