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New Left Review I/198, March-April 1993


Miroslav Hroch

From National Movement to the Fully-formed Nation

the nation-building process in Europe

The nation has been an inseparable accompaniment of modern European history. It is not difficult to ironize over the record of ‘nationalism’ in past and present, to criticize its role and to award good or bad marks to different groups, personalities or even nations, in the process. There is a public that finds this procedure to its taste, but it is not to be confused with a scientific approach to the subject. Historians are not judges; their task is to explain actual historical transformations. There has been a significant amount of new literature on nations and nationalism in recent years, much of it produced by social scientists developing theoretical frameworks, and then illustrating their generalizations with selected examples. Historians prefer to start with empirical research, and then move to broader conclusions. My own work has not sought to advance a theory of nation-building, but rather to develop effective methods for the classification and assessment of experiences of nation-building as a process set within a wider social and cultural history—treated not as so many singular and unrepeatable events, but as part of a broad transformation of society that is amenable to controlled generalizations. [1] See, by this author, Social Conditions of National Revival in Europe. A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations, Cambridge 1985, and Nardodni Hnuti v Evrope 19. Stoleti, Prague 1986. But it is important to stress at the outset that we are very far from being able to explain all the major problems posed by the formation of modern nations. Every historian of national movements agrees there are numerous data gaps in our understanding of them. In this sense, all defensible conclusions still remain no more than partial findings, and all ‘theories’ should be taken as projects for further research. Polemically, one might say that at the moment we have an over-production of theories and a stagnation of comparative research on the topic.

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