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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

‘MANAGING’ NATIONALISM

Nationalism is a will-o-the-wisp. Now you see it, now you don’t. Or, more precisely, now you see something reasonably definite, clearly demarcated from other things, and now you see it all over the place. Writers talk of British or English nationalism in the eighteenth century, a passion expressing hostility to the French. But nationalism only makes sense as a criterion of the proper composition of a modern state, and nothing of the kind was involved in British feeling against the French at that time. The term ‘nationalism’ is a problem because it has been used to cover both collective self-regard expressing itself as enmity to another collectivity, and a doctrine about the criterion for a proper state. The first meaning finds instances at many times and places, the second is modern.

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