Ethnic Nationalism and Civic Nationalism


The discrimination between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism is common in writings on nationalism and nations, whether it be as the civic-ethnic division, the political-cultural, or the Western-Eastern division. Writers, both modernists and ethnicists working within the paradigm of modernity, such as Hans Kohn, Liah Greenfeld, John Plamenatz, John Hutchinson, Ernest Gellner and Anthony Smith have all included this distinction in their writings. The historical differences in the development of the nation-state between the West and the East in Europe have enforced these theoretical-cum-practical divisions. In fact the East-West divide is less a geographic divide than an historic one. I am not disputing this historic divide, but my argument is that this divide does not justify the theoretical schism in writings on nationalism, nor does this divide extend to perpetuating the notion of two types of nationalism in practice. A "definitional antithesis" does exist but this should not lead, as it has done in literature, to the "set of analytical cliches" of which it does1 denying ‘civic’ nations of ethnic virtues and denying those nations categorised as ‘ethnic’ of ‘civic’ virtues.2

According to modernists (with the exception of Benedict Anderson), Britain and France, as the first examples of modern nation-states in Europe, developed the rational, civic, political units of modernity and followed later with the development of a unique national consciousness housed within this.3 The nation-states of the East however, such as Germany and Russia, began as more fluid apolitical units whose national consciousness developed first, only later to seek to enclose it within a political form, in aspiration of the progress achieved by the West.4 These two separate routes to the nation-state are apparently the original examples of the exercise of the two separate types of nationalism.

The argument behind this discrimination poses that though the end result for both sides was the modern nation-state the routes they took differed, which would terminally ordain the manner in which these nation-states expressed themselves as a unit of modernity. That is, the formation of a nation would determine the national expression of a community. Therefore the basis of the nationalism is determined by whether the national feeling among the population emerged before or after the development of a nation-state. And since every nation-state is inherently nationalistic5 the timing of this development will in turn determine the motivations of continuity of the nation-state, thus its nationalism. This chapter will initially present the principles of civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism separately and then provide suggestions of how the interplay of the principles of each is necessary to certify the success of the practice of nationalism. I shall conclude by examining culture (high culture and popular culture) as the common ground forming the foundation for both the categories.

The first thing we need to do is briefly examine the relationship between civic and ethnic nationalism and the connection to cultural homogeneity. The proposal by those whom I will term the dichotomists (those who divide nationalism into two types) is that both civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism pursue mutually exclusive forms of cultural homogeneity. Within civic nationalism cultural standardisation is achieved via a particular level of communication and education, what Gellner labelled the ‘high culture’ and which we will use here. In communities where these tools are unsuccessful or unavailable the elite draw elements from the people developing a populist movement driven by the seduction of myths and symbols deliberately forming a shared memory and shared destiny with which to unite the people. The minimal appearance of high culture is compensated with an over-zealous popular culture. They manufacture a social glue from the Volk in the absence of other instruments. Cultural standardisation is then achieved through the ethnie and so the theoretical aim of ethnic nationalism is ethnic homogeneity.

In this modernist view, the ‘true’ exercise of nationalism within modernity is a social condition where political practice is married with a cultural phenomenon. Culture "introduces a mode of transmission of traits or activities from generation to generation which is no longer dependent on being inscribed into the genetic constitution of the members of the group."6 This means the association of culture with geneticism is completely removed in modernity. The removal of this dependency indicates the cultural break that modernity heralded and which modernists argue is crucial to the understanding of the functioning of nationalism. Ethnicity is perceived as linked to this genetic constitution of culture, or at least the perennial component of it. This explains why (as a consequence of this cultural break) modernists such as Gellner rule out the necessity and relevance of ethnicity in determining nationalism.

The problems is that ethnicity is not just an example of a continuum in culture from premodern times. It is both a part of culture and a part of politics within modernity. Gellner removes it from the core of nationalism, whilst still acknowledging that it may influence the nature of nationalism.7 But if ethnicity influences nationalism then will it not in some way determine the nature and character of nationalism, and thus the exercise of nationalism? Gellner tells us that "[n]ationalism is a political principle which maintains that similarity of culture is the basic social bond."8 Ethnicity is an element that can provide this required similarity of culture, though not to the extent of crowding out the civic elements of nationalism in order to possess one of its own. The proposal by some more extreme ethnicists9 is that ethnicity possesses its own form of nationalism absent of any civic elements. This would mean a nationalism that is unsuccessful and unfulfilled. By contrast, it is the argument of this thesis that nationalism is a political and cultural phenomenon, and embedded in this is the influences of ethnicity. The ethnic rationale is as much a component of nationalism as the civic. Both demonstrate methods by which culture is unifying.

One particular practical example is the Basque lands of Spain whose nationalism may be categorised as ethnic nationalism, but also possesses representations of civic nationalism. Membership of the Basque society is based on descent but the nationalism would not exist were it not for the strength of some of the principal features of civic nationalism. The nationalism is most virulent in regions where economic development and prosperity is greatest – a decidedly civic feature. In fact the epicentre of Basque nationalism has shifted this century, and particularly since the 1970s, in an eastward direction following the movement of economic wealth. This is a direct reflection of the importance of heavy industry and the generation of wealth.10 It is the significance of the components of civic nationalism and the existence of a civil society that is vital for this nationalism to have survived and to continue. The institutions that are integral components to the development and functioning of a civil society are also necessary components of Basque nationalism in Spain. Hence the more potent regions of Basque nationalism are not necessarily those that carry particular historical significance, or are the cradle of its inception according to myth, as ethnic nationalism would suggest.

The argument can be generalised. Nationalism in Europe, particularly that exercised in the second half of this century, is proving not to be compatible with the civic-ethnic dichotomy. The dichotomy itself is far too normative. The ethnic rationale in nationalism is becoming more and more prominent, however it still does not solely define nationalism, but it is certainly demonstrating that it is not just a method of classification nor an apolitical component. Not only has culture, and with it ethnicity, been politicised in modernity, ethnicity itself has become a form of politics, not unto itself, but in conjunction with the civic elements of the politics of nationalism.


The Difference – Civic Nationalism
Civic nationalism in its classical modern form represents the pursuit towards attaining a unified culturally homogenous group housed within already existent specific political boundaries. The starting point for civic nationalism is the state, and nationalism is the pursuit by this state of its own nation congruent with its territorial borders. Until this is achieved nationalism will remain a noisy component of society. In pursuing the establishment of a nation the role of the state is elevated, for it is no longer just a territorial region but a unit whose function is to house and protect its culturally homogeneous inhabitants. The political nation-state then is the starting point for civic nationalism and pivotal to its definition. The nation-state, as the nucleus of civic nationalism and the focus of the modernist camp, is defined by Gellner as:

the protector, not of a faith, but of a culture, and the maintainer of the inescapably homogeneous and standardizing educational system, which alone can turn out the kind of personnel capable of switching from one job to another within a growing economy and a mobile society, and indeed of performing jobs which involve manipulating meanings and people rather than things. 11

The principles of civic nationalism – the state-to-nation route – were those that provided the first modern notion of the nation-state and the first experience of nationalism. 12

The focal point of civic nationalism is the nation-state promoting the belief in a society united by the concept and importance of territoriality, citizenship, civic rights and legal codes transmitted to all members of the group. Significantly, all the members are now equal citizens and equal before the law. No longer are the mass a part of the ‘low’ culture and the elite a part of the ‘high’ culture, rather modernity has eliminated these cultural cleavages and formed a new ‘high culture’. What the onset of modernity signified was a cultural break with the past, which subsequently meant an end to these cleavages. Public culture of this type is one that is a product of the modern world – the culture that emerges from factors such as advanced communication and education, rather than the vernacular characteristics of the people, or an ethnic group. This means that nationalism is "about entry to, participation in, identification with, a literate high culture which is co-extensive with an entire political unit, and its total population."13 The social glue is provided by a commonality based upon shared traits not of the genealogical type but a fraternity of shared language, experiences, rules, law, food, education, etc. The fraternity requires no common paternity but a bond formed out of exposure to these same elements.

In practice, however, this civic model of nationalism cannot succeed without more substantial elements of the above principles. Citizenship for example is more than just a legal identity and a matter of common rights and codes within a society. It is about allegiance, participation and residence within the territory, and a feeling of solidarity and affiliation towards the community. As Smith points out, the will to participate in this community could only be found among those who were themselves residents and, just as importantly, whose parents were residents also.14 This is an important point, as nationalism in this form – where the emphasis is on an historical community based not only on an individual’s residence but their own ancestry, and hence their own genealogy - moves beyond the structure of civic nationalism in its pure form and towards that of the principles and characteristics carried by the theory of ethnic nationalism.

Within civic nationalism, citizenship can be elected and is what determines one’s nationality. But this does not rule out nationality determined by other elements and it is difficult to locate an example of where it might actually do so. Britain and France, historically, are the main contenders for where citizenship determines nationality, but more contemporary examples demonstrate just how much their nationalism can deviate from the confines of civic nationalism as they place importance on the ethnic rationale. In Britain, for example, in order to obtain a British passport by someone who is not born in Britain nor is a citizen one need only to prove that one’s grandparent is/was a British citizen, which lays weight to the importance of ancestry. But the true importance of genealogical descent is pushed even further. Recently a young woman seeking a British passport in the above mentioned manner was refused because she was adopted and so her grandparents were not her biological grandparents, thus she had no real genealogical ties to Britain and hence no claim to a passport.15 Of course there are numerous such examples throughout Europe, but they have been generally attributed to the more central and eastern nation-states. The point here of course is that though a nation-state may have taken one particular route towards their formation and development they are not confined to these principles. In fact in order to survive, in order to practice nationalism successfully, they must move beyond the boundaries of civic nationalism set up by theorists.

The components of civic nationalism are not new. Notions of citizenship and territoriality existed in many cases in premodern times as with the existence of the state and notions of patriotic consciousness. The pursuit of uniting these components into one entity, the territorial association of citizens that share one public culture,16 is what differentiates it with past examples. Citizenship is the foundation of civic nationalism that "conveyed the sense of solidarity and fraternity through active social and political participation."17 It is perceived as the political definition of nationality.18 However, the exercise of civic nationalism where the emphasis is on territory, and the actual practice of citizenship, indicates a shift away from the authority and sovereignty of citizenship based solely on social and political participation. The exercise of nationalism requires a communal attachment that transcends the sovereignty of the citizen for nationalism requires more than just social and political participation, it necessitates social and political attachment also.

An attachment to a specific land and to a specific community is necessary for there to be a will to participate socially and politically. But the particular attachment by a community is usually not one randomly chosen (though an individual may choose their nationality, their attachment or feeling is not often a rational choice); it is the feeling of nationality by a whole community (rather than just focusing on an individual) from which the attachment must derive from and is something that must develop over time. So where an individual may choose their nationality and be embraced by their new nation-state as one of their own (a citizen), the exercise of nationalism by the whole community is not one selected, but one developed. This means that this affiliation by a whole people, this sense of kinship, is something inherited and was felt in some form by the parents and grandparents of the current generation.19 This suggests that citizenship, as nationality in practice, does not exist in its pure definitional form as it possesses concepts that move beyond the rational notion of choice.


Ethnic Nationalism
The principles of civic nationalism represented the first experience of the nature of nationalism as a movement, it is the principles of ethnic nationalism, however, that have become the more powerful and vigorous elements of nationalism this century. Ethnic nationalism lends popular appeal to the nationalist movement drawing its ideological bonds from the people and their native history. Subsequently, in its ideal state this second route to nationhood is undertaken under the power of popular mobilisation. Appealing to elements ‘naturally’ unique to a group gives the movement an emotional allure. The elements that are at the core of ethnicity and ethnic nationalism - memory, value, myth and symbolism20 - draw from blood ties, bonds to the land and native traditions inferring that ethnic nationalism represents that which is subjective within nationalism. Nationality is embodied in the individual whereas in civic nationalism the individual "can move in and out of pre-existing national space."21

This path towards nationhood possesses a different grounding than civic nationalism and thus occupies a different perspective of the nation, and a different structure of national identity. This is due to the different core conceptions of each ideal. Ethnic nationalism is presented as a nationalism that perceives the nation as a community bounded by genealogical descent. The national identity in turn draws its characteristics from the ethnic identity, myths and memories make up national identities imprisoned in the community’s ancestry. Thus national identity is defined as a perennial feature within the theory of ethnic nationalism, and is a reflection of the populist nature of ethnic nationalism.

In explaining populism, Anthony Smith claims that he approaches the definition in the same manner that Tom Nairn does by describing it as a coalition between the masses and the elite.22 It is a product of their interaction and contingency upon one another, i.e. they are dependent upon one another to progress. In the birth of ethnic nationalism the mass is left out of the high culture - it is only the elite who can participate, manipulating the masses rather than managing them, in order to mobilise them. But this mobilisation must take place in response to the demands of the mass - the demands for progress. Hence the contingency. Mobilisation could only take place with the tools available or via methods that would compensate for the tools unavailable such as the necessary economic and political institutions. The use of compensatory tools often meant the use of the uniqueness of the people themselves - characteristics that they regarded as distinguishing themselves from others. "The peripheric elites had no option but to try and satisfy such demands by taking things into their own hands."23 Elite manipulation then serves to crystallise mass discontent.

However, this mobilisation towards progress and as a process of development was a reactionary measure against the dominance (and nationalism) of the ‘Western’ or civic nations, as proposed by the theory of ethnic nationalism. The foreign element of the ‘West’ was made attractive by the dignity it lent to the people and became a necessity for the preservation of communities. Reacting against this foreign element meant that it was also reacting against the progress it was aspiring towards.24 Therefore this drive towards progress, the motivation of nationalism, was consequently then a reaction to other dominant forces (perhaps even other civic nationalisms), particularly as the concept of the nation for these type of nationalisms is predominantly an imported idea. The presentation of ethnic nationalism, or similar nationalisms, as reactionary is one promoted by writers such as Greenfeld and Nairn, though the nature of the reaction varies amongst writers. Greenfeld labels this importation as ressentiment – a reaction to external elements as a result of repressed existential envy.25 Thus it is not just the importation of ideas but a reaction to the mere implantation of foreign ideas. And as Nairn identifies, this meant that nationalisms which were born out of reaction are marked by profound ambiguity and ambivalence.26 Hutchinson is another writer who has occasionally suggested ethnic nationalism to be a reactionary nationalism, construed as negative.

This borrowing of ideas however meant that these groups had to fit their social character into the desired foreign social form. This necessitated a level of invention in order to create a history that made their aspirations appear natural and legitimate and intrinsic in their inherent development. This required mobilising the masses not just in response to their demands, but to meet their demands by issuing a history to them. Just as they needed a shortcut towards a high culture they also needed a short-cut to a history which would lend the necessary legitimacy to this nationalism. "The new middle-class intelligentsia of nationalism had to invite the masses into history; and the invitation card had to be written in a language they understood."27 Forcing this process of development and creating a high culture and history due to necessity suggests that the role of the elite in more ethnic-flavoured nationalisms was more conscious and manipulatory. This further suggests a requirement to rise above the law, which is why ethnic nationalism is seen to sometimes act as a bulwark to liberal democracy and lend itself more easily to authoritarian rule. Being vulnerable to these influences also impacts on the character of nationalism and the psychology of the group.

Nationalism has a great psychological depth. It appears to individuals of all types who are members of a nation and evokes emotion beyond that which may be considered just patriotic. The psychology of nationalism is important for the group as a unit for what it inspires and motivates from the group. Exploring the psychology of nationalism is important for the group as a unit for what it inspires and motivates from the group. Exploring the psychology of nationalism and what it may or may not promote exposes those nationalisms classified as ethnic to be regarded as potentially or actually pathological.28 It is a careless assumption that it is a ‘natural’ part of human behaviour to fight and resort to violence in order to defend territory and family, and that ethnic sentiments are intrinsic in the human psyche. Scholarly theories do steer away from such assumptions, unfortunately to such as extent that psychological understanding of nationalism is little explored.29 One still has to account for the emotion provoked by nationalism, the will of people to partake in nationalistic behaviour and the loyalty it demands. This, complementing the structural components of the theory of nationalism, helps to explain its perpetuation, and more importantly the national character and national consciousness of each group which distinguishes it from the next. Perhaps then we may understand better the national consciousness of areas such as the Balkans, rather than reducing it to a consequence of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’; or the passion behind the Irish Republican movement without declaring it as simply religious xenophobia.

National consciousness in Eastern Europe formed prior to the politicisation of the community (including both the elite and the mass). Due to this different point of inception the focal point of nationalism has meant a greater emphasis is placed on the components of the prepolitical time – namely the ethnie. Under the theories that dichotomise the practice and ideology of nationalism they are sentenced to practise ethnic nationalism. What this means is the recognition and "demand that the natural divisions within the nation – sexual, occupational, religious and regional – be respected, for the impulse to differentiation is the dynamo of national creativity".30 This is paramount in the exercise of nationalism by those nation-states whose political formation was preceded by its national formation. But does this condemnation mean that the ‘Eastern’ nation-states will always practice only ethnic nationalism, with no access to the civic components of nationalism merely because of their conception? Hutchinson believes so when he states that cultural nationalists reject "the ideal of universal citizenship rights of political nationalism"31 for the nation is a living whole and continuous. Politics cannot give justification or legitimisation to this. It was not that the nationalists of the East "rejected" these ideals, but that these ideals developed at a different time, at a different pace, and consequently took on a slightly different form to that of the West. To Hutchinson the nation in Eastern Europe, and thus the nation-state, was not a political fact but an ethnocultural one.32 It was an ethnocultural fact in search of political legitimacy. If we are to succumb to distinctions this was the nationalism of the East.

The emphasis on the ethnie and the belief in its continuity from agrarian to modern times is the main distinction between the two ideals of civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism. The ethnic rationale has little weight in theories of civic nationalism and is also not supported by the modernists (to be explored in the next chapter). Whereas the primordialists and perennialists see no break between the agrarian and the modern age and see nations as built upon the pre-existing structures of ethnic identities. By recognising continuity with the past greater importance is attached to history. Ethnicists working within the modernist framework acknowledge a change in culture with the onset of modernity but rather than regarding it as a cultural break perceive it as the politicisation of culture, therefore still acknowledging the importance of history and of the ethnic rationale. The principles promoted by civic nationalism, principles born out of modernity, demonstrate a definite cultural break with the pre-modern age. Within the ideal of civic nationalism the national identity stems from the concept of an ideology based on the imagined political community united by their public culture, and not by native history.


Though the starting point for various nationalisms is varied civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism became overlaying dominant ideologies such classifications exclusively applied are false. In practice it would mean that the actual exercise of nationalism would ultimately fail in attaining and reaffirming the goal of a nation-state. The ‘pure forms’ of civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism stem from different reference points and different concepts of the nation. For example, observing ethnic nationalism in this scenario and using the position of the primordialists (and temporarily stepping out of the modernist framework), the theory suggests that the ethnic groups of the past would naturally evolve into nations as a part of the ‘natural’ process of a community, or an extension of kinship ties. The process of nationalism however lends a twist in the conception for it implies the desire to detain a nation within a state. The nation-state having a civic quality in order to achieve this civic quality would mean adopting characteristics of civic nationalism. In this way ethnic nationalism – in practice as a mongrelised form of its theoretically pure self – accommodates to the concept of abstract territoriality in order to satisfy its goals. An interplay is necessary for the nationalism to be successful.

Similarly, as mentioned above, civic nationalism must draw from the characteristics of ethnic nationalism to confer popular appeal, drawing upon myths and symbols, and recognising the importance of heritage in the will to belong and participate both socially and politically in a group. So in order to be accomplished and fulfilled each nationalism in practice must borrow from one another. Thus in various combinations the first route of nationalism, civic nationalism, "joined hands"33 with the second route of nationalism, ethnic nationalism. These borrowed elements are not just elements of influence but are essential components necessary to make the nationalism work.

Civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism as demonstrated may be analytically different but in practice they are intermeshing. Every individual nationalism is a hybrid construct, a synthesis of the civic and the ethnic. This means that each nationalism is civic and ethnic to some extent in that they carry different elements and characteristics of civic nationalism and different elements and characteristics of ethnic nationalism. Using France and Germany again as representations of the classical division, France representing civic nationalism and Germany ethnic nationalism, they are each perceived as archetypal examples of each respective category of nationalism. Though decidedly civic in principle or ethnic in flavour they are not purely such. The sophisticated dichotomists do not dispute this dilution, but they rarely follow through the consequences of the interplay. Brubaker himself acknowledges that each nation-state does not represent a purely political or purely apolitical understanding of nationhood. In Germany for example political authority was so limited that it could not enter into the understanding of nationhood, this responsibility was thus carried by ethnicity.34 But this was only at the period of nation formation. As Germany developed to form one united national unit its political authority also developed. Initially in Germany identification with the instruments and institutions of the state were absent, as modernity progressed they developed and were integrated in the overall understanding of nationhood, even if led by the ethnocultural conception. Nationhood in Germany was then perhaps predominantly an ethnocultural concept at its inception, but the understanding, and more importantly the exercise of nationalism in Germany was never purely ethnocultural or just a dilution of it, but an interplay of the dominant ethnocultural feature of nationalism with its civic components. Likewise in France, the inception of nationhood was never purely political, though its foundations were based on political understanding. For France as a nation-state to progress and for its members to practice its nationalism – for the members to possess the will to partake in it – the emotive features possessed by ethnicity as a form of culture were necessary. France and Germany perhaps exercise different variations of nationalism, but the fact remains that they both do exercise and partake in nationalism. They both partake in this ideological movement in order to progress in modernity, thus rather than examining what differentiates the two nation-states, there is something that both France and Germany possess that makes their nationalism successful. This similarity is the successful interplay of the pressures on nationalism, which include the civic components and the ethnic components.

The degree of concentration of each category of nationalism varies widely. It is these variations in the make-up of each nationalism that distinguishes them from one another, and consequently sentences the ideology of nationalism to no clear-cut theory. Thus the ideological movement of nationalism is a hybrid of the civic character and the ethnic character of nationalism, meaning a hybrid of history and culture, the territorial and the genealogical, the engineered and the discovered. Writers who dichotomise nationalism use various European examples to demonstrate the schism, in much the way that Brubaker does with France and Germany. But by over-focusing on the differences in nationalisms within Europe, and attempting to categorise them, often the similarities are overlooked. It is the similarities that make nationalism successful and why, contrary to literary opinion,35 has still failed to fade away. The more fervent type of nationalism experienced in the latter half of the twentieth century in Europe has been categorised as ethnic nationalism.

Modernity has meant that culture has been politicised. Claiming that one nationalism is cultural and another political (or ethnic and civic, or Eastern or Western) refutes this unmistakable link. I am not disputing that the nation-states we know today formed in different ways – this is not the thesis – different routes do and did exist unique to each community. What I am stressing is that nationalism is the same sport on both sides of the fence – the civic and the ethnic, the political and the cultural, are all components of this game and not exclusive to any particular side, regardless of how the game originally emerged. Certainly, as we are witnessing towards the end of this century, some nationalisms concentrate more heavily on some components than others – but without all the components together there would not be a nationalism.

Perhaps the most challenging nationalism with which this may be difficult to reconcile is the case of the Balkans today, particularly the former Yugoslavia. Serb nationalism has infiltrated destruction in Bosnia and now in Kosovo (though Croat nationalism, Bosnian nationalism and Kosovar/Albanian nationalism has been just as potent at times). These nationalisms and their violent consequences are attributed to perennial conflicts in the region based on ethnic divisions. However, these conflicts were never perennial. Past prejudices were not motivated by ethnic or religious difference but were "largely a socio-political one, involving the exercise and abuse of local political power for the sake of political gain."36 Ethnic divisions did not become issues of tension and conflict until they were politicised and in the Balkans this did not occur until the nineteenth century. Therefore the nationalisms in the Balkans were not the consequence of perennial ethnic tensions. The conflict-ridden nature is attributed to the manipulation and exploitation of ethnic divisions and history and the creation of myths and cults for ideological purposes. Nationalism in this case is not the ideology itself but acts as a vehicle by which the ideology can survive. The nationalism then is a modern phenomenon in the Balkan region and without elements of the civic components of nationalism it would not survive nor would this nationalism have been so successful.

As I will argue later in more detail, the exercise of nationalism would not exist in the Balkans, and in other regions of Europe were it not for the interplay of both the civic and ethnic components of nationalism. The interplay of the ethnic and civic components of nationalism is centred on the need for cultural homogeneity. A community enclosed in a political space must be united by uniformity in culture and this is what the intermeshing of the ethnic and civic components strive towards in order for a successful exercise of nationalism.


The ground linking modern civic and ethnic nationalism is culture: not ‘culture’ understood as a perennial unchanging base, but culture as emphasising a changing form of social relations. A common culture is a necessary feature of nationalism (both civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism), and is also the link between the modernists and the ethnicists. It is the concept of what this common unifying culture represents and what it is comprised of that differentiates the two camps and leaves them unable to reconcile their respective perspectives. Adopting Ernest Gellner’s definition of culture it is "a shared style of expression in words, facial expression, body language, style of clothing, preparation and consumption of food, and so forth."37 According to him there are two types of culture, those that are "patterns of conduct transmitted through emulation" and those that are the "interaction of genetic endowment with the environment".38 This second type of culture is disregarded by most modernists for it is not one from which a ‘high’ culture can emerge, an essential component of nationalism in the modernist framework. Therefore the two types of culture exist on different planes and only one is politically and socially relevant in modernity. There certainly is a clear distinction between cultural transmission and genetic transmission, and it is cultural transmission that makes nationalism possible. It is this, and not genetic ethnicity, that perpetuates the phenomenon.39 But can this cultural transmission be organic?40 Perhaps not, but surely if culture is transmitted then some of its characteristics can be reproduced from pre-modern times with remnants of its ‘genetic’ base. Existing remnants may not have been eliminated with the onset of modernity, but they have certainly been politicised. A "specific genetic base is required before culture is possible: once it is possible, it permits developments unconstrained by the usual rules of governing genetic change."41

What Gellner recognised as linking a people together was not some genetic, biological or ethnic trait that make a people physically similar, but rather culture, or more specifically, a ‘high’ culture that made people socially alike and was capable of creating and maintaining a political bond. What differentiates high cultures from each other is decided by the development of a group and their specific response to the introduction of modernity. In particular, this may be a consequence of whether the population is at the core of industrialisation or a peripheral society. Their historical development and experiences act as a precursor to how nationalism will be exercised. The method of elevation of both the elite and the mass to a high culture, that is the elected educational process, is what inevitably distinguishes one high culture from the next. Societies are different due to the different circumstances of a political/cultural nature experienced by them. Therefore, societies are not ‘essentially’ different but their reactions to "questions forced upon" them generate differences.42

The politicisation of culture has meant that what were once purely cultural concerns in the past have in the modern age become social and political concerns, involving territory, economy and society. And if we align ourselves momentarily with the primordialists and agree that the nation is a ‘natural’ formation, then modernisation has meant that the nation is not just a community of people sharing the same culture but now a population that are bounded in political space as well. This belief however does not require the primordial conviction that nations are ‘natural’ formations. Whether what existed before modernity is a nation or not is debatable, what is more important is what carried through into modernity and how these inherited elements do or do not effect the way in which a nationalism is exercised.

The politicisation of culture is the abdication of "the realm of culture" in preference to politics. Politics is now no longer just the domain of the elite and intelligentsia but open to all members of a society.43 Former "objects of history" are now "subjects of history", and the passive are now participants.44 They now all form a ‘high culture’. The politicisation of culture has meant a collective change of attitude in each population sharing the same culture. The change in attitude that represented the "conjunction of culture with politics" is demonstrative of the core of nationalism and a key element in the process of nationalism itself.45 These changes may be produced either via substantive changes in the economic, political and religious atmosphere of society, or more covertly by the manipulation of the elites, and most likely as a combination of these factors.46

Those components of a people that are reproduced in modernity will undoubtedly be elements unique to a people, namely their ethnic elements. This also bonds a people by their shared features of an ethnie embedded in a culture within modernity. The ethnie is a feature of culture that may or may not serve to be the unifying homogeneous component. At the times when the ethnie is a dominant feature of culture it may sometimes be confused as overriding culture and being the unifying feature of a community of people. This is when a nationalism is considered ethnic, and when other components of a culture, particularly if there are signs of a ‘high culture’, are overlooked. In the latter half of this century this classification of nationalism has been mainly attributed to the nation-states of Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, particularly since the end of the Cold War, changes occurred in a variety of ways and found vents through a variety of outlets, whilst "simultaneously exciting tensions along latent axes such as those of an ethnic nature".47

The Balkans in particular has leant itself as an example of the virulent nature attributed to ethnic nationalism. Certainly the battles and wars fought since 1989, the movement of peoples under the term of ethnic cleansing, and the fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia itself has provided ample evidence. However, were it not for the civic components of nationalism the nationalisms exercised in the former Yugoslavia would not have been successful. And by success I mean success in the establishment of political units as a motivation and consequence of the action of the nationalisms. Croatian nationalism would not have achieved a Croatian nation-state if it did not consider also the importance of democratic development and an economy independent of the Yugoslav regime. The nation-state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, though propped up by the international arena, would not have been imagined two decades ago but is a civic and ethnic response to the nationalism encountered by both the Croats and the Serbs on either side of it.

As a consequence of the nationalisms exercised in this region, some only emerging as a response to the hostile and imposing nature of other nationalisms, we now have the establishment of individual nation-states, fulfilling the goals of most of the nationalisms exercised in this region. The absence of a specifically ‘Yugoslav’ culture – ethnic or other – despite a whole generation growing out of it, meant it was vulnerable to the other nationalisms that existed within it, and ultimately overcame the state of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, as the name itself suggests (‘land of the South Slavs’) was never one nation in one state, but many nations and potential nations sharing the one state-space. The violence during its break-up can be attributed not to the classification of ethnic nationalism but directly to the clash of nationalisms as they competed for state space and asserted their own cultural homogeneity (along ethnic lines) which often conflicted with that of their neighbours.

By allowing culture to possess such elements as ethnie introduces matter that may extend beyond the definitions of reason and rationality – in extreme cases giving its mystique quality. As a representative of the modernists Gellner reconciles the issue of nationalism as a "spell" by housing it in his definition of culture (i.e. a high culture). He sees nationalism embedded in the social life of the modern age, and the "raw material" of this social life is culture and organisation.48 Culture is found universally and perennially, which cannot be said about nations, states or nationalisms.49 Therefore not only is culture a raw material of nationalism, it was present prior to modernity. But it is a ‘high’ culture that Gellner’s theory asserts is the necessary condition of nationalism. High culture is achieved only via advanced communication and literacy attained through education. This ‘high’ culture must be homogeneous and it is from here that the political bond is formed and a nation born. Nationalism is the homogeneity of one high culture (which encompasses public and popular culture), or the act of creating a high culture by a population that does not yet have one.50

The nature of the culture prior to the onset of this change will influence the nature of the nationalism should it emerge. For this reason it becomes important to locate the "state of the cultural identity" of the population prior to their politicisation. That is, in order to identify a unique national identity, and thus locate the character of a nationalism, the key is the group’s cultural identity prior to being politicised. And the key to discovering this is by using what cultural remnants remain, which is most probably the population’s ethnic component. As Smith states:

Hence it becomes important to enquire into the ‘state of cultural identity’ of a given community on the eve of its exposure to the new revolutionary forces, in order to locate the bases of its subsequent evolution into a fully-fledged ‘nation’. 51

Modernity meant that equivalent identities were necessary in order to elevate or catch up to meet other advanced populations at the level they were at. This was to be done collectively and these identities were to be decided "along whatever fault-lines were available."52 This would include cultural fault-lines that may be ethnic. The identity of a community would be determined by the unifying feature of their culture, which would define their national identity representing the nationalism they exercised. National identity is the dominant and operative identity under modernisation.


The interplay of the characteristics of civic and ethnic nationalism can be viewed through either civic or ethnic spectacles. For example, ‘citizenship’ is the unifying force under civic nationalism and once possessed it is assumed there is a sense of solidarity among the people. In practice however possession of the rights that citizenship pertains and participation in the community is attached to a greater menagerie of elements.

Core elements of ethnic nationalism are used to build on the foundations of civic nationalism in order to fulfil its goals. The main goal is the formation of a nation within an already existing state. To achieve the cultural homogeneity sought after by civic nationalism requires shared values and the use of myths and symbols, particularly if the state lacks a dominant ethnie from which they can establish a political community. Similarly delivering ethnic ties to the form of a nation is accomplished by the establishment of a state. That is, by seeking to encompass a particular national group within a demarcated territory, thereby practising nationalism on an ethnic base using some civic ingredients. Therefore, all nationalisms are in some way a combination of both engineering and discovery – an intermeshing of the classifications of civic and ethnic nationalism. Alone they are unsuccessful.

Due to the disparity of the nationalisms practised throughout the world, especially in Europe, and the difficulty in providing a comprehensive theory on the exercise of nationalism has led to the acquiescence to this misleading division. Let us now identify the arguments presented by the modernists and the ethnicists in the next two chapters in observing the ideology and practice of nationalism. This may bring to light the reason why this division is perpetuated in the writings on nationalism, even though it does not represent its contradicting nature.



(Table of Contents)

Title Page | Introduction | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Conclusion | Footnotes | Bibliography


Copyright © Margareta Mary Nikolas
Published with Permission of author by The Nationalism Project, Madison, WI. 2000.
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