Anthropology Paper


The idea is that nationalism understood and interpreted in the writing of nationalism theorist in different ways: Ernest Gellner said it drives from cultural necessities, Hobsbawm said it is a recrudescence of local ideas and interest, and Kemper said nationalism is a local response employing local cultural forms to new circumstances. Lie Kedourie said it is European phenomena carried out to the rest of the world by colonial circumstances. prefered references are Elie Kedourie: nationalism1966, Ernest Gellner: nation and nationalism1983, and other three references.


The term “nationalism” has been defined in different ways. Today, debate on the meaning of this term is still ongoing. Many people agree that it remains one of the strongest forces in the contemporary world. However, it has for a long time been neglected by the academic world. In recent times, a number of theorists have used different perspectives in an attempt to define it. The aim of this paper is to discuss the meaning of nationalism according to various theorists.

Elie Kedourie

One of the pioneering scholars in the subject of nationalism is Elie Kedourie. According to Kedourie, nationalism was initially a European phenomenon[1]. Colonial circumstances led to the transfer of this phenomenon to other parts of the world. In Kedourie’s view, nationalism is a transportable phenomenon. Moreover, it can be imitated by people from different backgrounds. In Kedoure’s view, the invention of nationalism as a doctrine occurred in Europe in the early nineteenth century. In this concept, humanity was divided into distinct, independent nations.

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Kedourie argued that for one to understand nationalism, one first needed to understand the philosophy of history[2]. It is for this reason that he was against all academics who meddled with political affairs. Kedourie advocated for the continued existence of long-lasting hegemonies. According to him, such hegemonies were necessary to avoid the global conflicts and misery that had been caused by the ideology of nationalism.

Ernest Gellner

According to Ernest Gellner, nationalism derives from various cultural necessities. In Gellner’s view, there is a structural relationship between society’s needs and the emergence of nationalism. Gellner argues that in today’s society, nationalism leads to the establishment of the social homogeneity required for division of labor to occur in highly complex environments[3]. Like Kedourie, Gellner assumes that a crucial feature of nationalist movements is their imitative character. Gellner is of the view that nations rarely create nationalism; rather, nationalism is the one that leads to the establishment of nations.

However, Gellner criticizes Kedourie for adopting an overly intellectual perspective while failing to comprehend the reality surrounding various elements of nationalism. He opposed Kedourie’s argument that nationalism arose out of historical anomalies. Gellner instead suggests nationalism was one of the unintended outcomes of economic progress. Moreover, Gellner rejects Kedourie’s idea that Immanuel Kant’s philosophy was the basis upon which the idea of nationalism was founded. Ernest Gellner views nationalism as the strongest principle being used in the modern world by seekers of political legitimacy.

Eric Hobsbawm

            According to Hobsbawm, nationalism emerges when local ideas recrudesce. To start with, he agrees with the definition provided by Gellner. In this regard, nationalism is defined a principle that emphasizes on the need for congruence between national and political aspects of governance. In this definition, the idea being expressed is that any group that possesses some unique characteristics should be accorded the status of statehood. Using a chronological approach, Hobsbawm provides an analysis of the various revolutions that led to the birth of various nations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this context, the speculation being exhibited regarding the continued relevance of nationalism today is considered a continuation of the evolution process that started during the eighteenth century.

Hobsbawm views nationalism as a recent phenomenon. His views are contrary to those of most historical observers to whom nationalism remains an ancient phenomenon. To emphasize this point, Hobsbawm points out the uncertainties that at one time existed regarding the characteristics that any group needed to possess to be regarded as a nation. He highlights three criteria that any group needs to meet to be considered a nation[4]. The first criterion is that the group must have existed as a historic state. In this regard, most people would agree that Russia and England are both modern nations. The second criterion is the presence of culturally cohesive elitist sections. The best examples in this regard include Italy and Germany. The third factor is the ability to conquer, which has always been a critical factor in the quest for survival.

Steven Kemper

Steven Kemper defines nationalism from a “localized” perspective. According to Kemper, people resort to nationalism as a way of responding locally to new circumstances[5]. In this effort, they make use of only those cultural forms that that fit in with local contexts. In this approach, Kemper pays attention to the cultural aspects of individual societies. These cultural aspects play a critical in the rise of nationalism.

Kemper criticizes other conceptions of this notion by arguing that they fail to focus on particular political phenomena. Such conceptions fail to explain the factors that led the citizens of various states to take certain political phenomena seriously to the extent of wanting them to be an integral part of their identity. According to Kemper, it is important for scholars to focus on the way different cultural groups have traditionally been interacting with conceptions of morality and political leadership. In conclusion, it is evident that scholars are not in agreement regarding the best definition of nationalism. This explains why the debate on the best definition is still ongoing.


Gellner, E. (1983). Nation and nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1983).

Hobsbawm, E., Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Kedourie, E, (Ed.), Nationalism in Asia and Africa (New York: World Publishing Company, 2013).

Kedourie, E., Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1966).

Kemper, S., ‘Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia’, American Ethnologist, 27 / 3 (2000), 765–767.

End Notes

[1] Kedourie, E., Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1966).

[2] Kedourie, E, (Ed.)., Nationalism in Asia and Africa (New York: World Publishing Company, 2013).

[3] Gellner, E. (1983). Nation and nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1983).

[4] Hobsbawm, E., Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[5] Kemper, S., ‘Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia’, American Ethnologist, 27 / 3 (2000), 765–767

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