A former student of Gellner, Smith differs from the socio-economical approach to the study nationalism advocated by his mentor. Although there are some similarities, especially in the view of nationalism as a modern phenomenon, Smith differentiates himself by stressing the importance of continuity and the long durée. The importance of historical processes in understanding nations can be reflected by his background in the classics.
For Smith, although the roots of nation can be found in antiquity, nationalism is a modern phenomenon defined as “…an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining the autonomy, unity and identity of an existing or potential ‘nation’” (Smith 1989: 343). The nation, according to Smith, is “A named community of history and culture, possessing a unified territory, economy, mass education system and common legal rights” (1989: 342).
Lending from the modernist approach, Smith posits that nationalists cannot create nations ex nihilo.
The concept of ethnie is one of his most controversial to the field and is defined as having:
- A common name for the unit of population included
- a set of myths of common origins and descent for that population
- some common historical memories of things experienced together
- a common historic territory or homeland, or an association with one
- one or more elements of common culture – language, customs or religion
- a sense of solidarity among most members of the community
Crucial to the development of the ethnie is its distinctive lateral and vertical forms. Lateral (aristocratic) development is marked by a top-down dispersal of ethnic culture from the ruling elites down to the lower classes as seen in France, England and Spain. In the case of vertical (demotic) development, there is an existing sense of belonging through ancestry, symbols and myths shared between the community regardless of social positions. Switzerland is an appropriate example of vertical developments of the nation.
Under Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain, Castilian Spanish and culture were chosen to be the standard across Spain. If we follow Smith’s theory, this is a logical progression as Castilians were the dominant ethnie. In pursuit of this, Franco tried to supress the Catalan language and enacted other restrictions to cripple nationalist sentiment. How would Smith account for Franco’s failure to assimilate the Catalonian culture? Does every nation have to be an ethnie in order to survive? Is it possible to separate the political and cultural processes in the creation of a nation?
The use of myths and symbols has been widespread in the dispute of the shared homeland of the Israeli and Palestinian people. The nationalist movements manipulate the archaeological findings to support their claim. In this case, the patterns of emigrant-colonist and diaspora-restoration can be seen. Each group creates a narrative based on the idea of ancestry in order to tie each group to the homeland. As this area has more than one title-deed ethnic conflict is heightened as Smith expects.
What is the causal relationship between conflict and nationalism? Is it a chicken and egg scenario? Do you think history and historical culture is as important as Smith suggests? Who would Smith define as the dominant ethnie? Is a historical claim necessary to hold a territory?
Authored by Johan, Matt, Kate and Kasper