“I like to call this a ‘fundamental’ book: a work that is grounded in a particular and comprehensive theory of modernity, according to which much of what happens in our societies can be understood in reference to a few key premises and principles. We live, as Greenfeld says, in the reality of nationalism. And nationalism is the cradle in which much of what we know – the sciences, the universe, our bodies, our economic system, our passions and pleasures, and ultimately ourselves – is produced. Therein lies the key to the emergence of madness. Nationalism implies equality, and this generates enormous pressures for self-definition for every one of us. The pressures can be intolerable, and millions of us experience madness as a result.
Though it took me a while to really understand the argument – specifically, to appreciate the nature of nationalism as Greenfeld describes it – over time I have come to appreciate it a great deal. It has informed my teaching as a sociology professor, and it has enabled me to put other theories of nationalism, modernity, and madness in perspective. Ultimately, I inevitably turn again and again to Greenfeld’s arguments, and find them the most compelling and complete. Greenfeld has therefore written, in my mind, a classic. It is as much a work of sociology as it is of political theory or anthropology or psychology or biology. It crosses, forcefully, disciplinary boundaries. It is ambitious and inspiring. In short, it is an indispensable work that is bound to keep people talking for a very long time.”
Francesco Duina is Professor of Sociology at Bates College.