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New Left Review 23, September-October 2003

To when should the emergence of nationalism be dated? How should its distinctive ideological features be characterized? What consequences follow for ethnic conflicts today? Kedourie, Oakeshott and Gellner as markers in the rival views that followed.



Kenneth Minogue has paid my article ‘In Praise of Empires Past: Myths and Method of Kedourie’s Nationalism’ the tribute of a critical response, even if the compliment is somewhat back-handed, since he taxes me with pedantry, illogic and lack of control. He hopes, nevertheless, that he is still a friend. He is: but among the lesser duties of friendship are to tell a friend when he has missed the point, and when egocentricity goes so far that it threatens identity loss. My critic presents himself as the doughty defender of Kedourie’s Nationalism; in fact he is defending a less famous text, Nationalism, written some years later by one K. R. Minogue, [1] Minogue’s Nationalism was the sincerest form of flattery towards Kedourie’s book of the same title: it has a similar structure, the same number of chapters, and similar prejudices. It even begins, as did Kedourie’s, with a quote from Yeats, albeit 1916 rather than 1919. But Minogue was not Kedourie’s parrot, even if at times he can sound like Oakeshott’s. and what he has modestly subtitled ‘Minogue’s Theory of Nationalism’ in a recent encyclopaedia. [2] Kenneth Minogue, ‘Nationalism and Patriotism: Minogue’s Theory of Nationalism’, in Athena Leoussi, ed., Encylopaedia of Nationalism, New Brunswick 2001, pp. 230–2. Let me remove initial confusions. He and I (with Kedourie and Gellner) agree that nationalism, understood as a doctrine about the legitimate foundation of states, is modern. Minogue responds as if I wish to ‘dismantle’ the modernist theory of nationalism. I do not. I want to throw out the bathwater, not the baby. By this I mean that, unlike Gellner, [3] Brendan O’Leary, ‘Gellner’s Diagnoses of Nationalism: A Critical Overview or What is Living and What is Dead in Gellner’s Philosophy of Nationalism?’ in John Hall, ed., The State of the Nation, Cambridge 2000, pp. 40–90. Kedourie or Minogue I recognize the significant difficulties in that theory, to which Anthony Smith has devoted his life’s labour. [4] See his The Ethnic Origins of Nations, Oxford 1986; Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism, London 1996; and The Nation in History: Historiographical Debates About Ethnicity and Nationalism, Oxford 2000. My argument was that Kedourie did not achieve the decisive clarification that Minogue suggests; that he erred as an historian of ideas; and that his later work in Nationalism in Asia and Africa plainly contradicts his earlier claims in ways that he appears not to have noticed.

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Brendan O'Leary, ‘Status Quo Patriotism’, NLR 23: £3

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