Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity

Book Description by Harvard University Press

Nationalism is a movement and a state of mind that brings together national identity, consciousness, and collectivities. It accomplished the great transformation from the old order to modernity; it placed imagination above production, distribution, and exchange; and it altered the nature of power over people and territories that shapes and directs the social and political world. A five-country study that spans five hundred years, this historically oriented work in sociology bids well to replace all previous works on the subject. The theme, simple yet complex, suggests that England was the front-runner, with its earliest sense of self-conscious nationalism and its pragmatic ways; it utilized existing institutions while transforming itself. The Americans followed, with no formed institutions to impede them. France, Germany, and Russia took the same, now marked, path, modifying nationalism in the process.

Nationalism is based on empirical data in four languages—legal documents; period dictionaries; memoirs; correspondence; literary works; theological, political, and philosophical writings; biographies; statistics; and histories. Nowhere else is the complex interaction of structural, cultural, and psychological factors so thoroughly explained. Nowhere else are concepts like identity, anomie, and elites brought so refreshingly to life.


With great erudition, Ms. Greenfeld traces the rise of nationalism in five countries–England, France, Russia, Germany and the United States–through the prism of sociological history…This book is a great contribution to understanding nationalism’s place in the world.–The Economist

[A] comprehensive, erudite and highly illuminating book.–John Gray, New York Times Book Review

Greenfeld displays near-encyclopedic knowledge of the culture and history of various countries; her enterprise is not just impressive, it is heroic…In this age of specialization, it is refreshing to come across a new book that attempts “to understand the world in which we live.” For having tackled an enterprise of such magnitude and complexity, the author deserves our admiration.–Walter Laqueur, Washington Post Book World

Liah Greenfeld’s book is courageous and ambitious. She has reversed the usual assumptions… Her book is a learned, dense, and exciting effort to combine political and intellectual history with broad sociological theorizing, and if is not always convincing it remains the most original attempt in years to get an analytical grip on the entire problem.–Tony Judt, The New York Review of Books

[An] exhilarating, ambitious, and thoughtful study…Greenfeld’s analysis allows one to see just what is wrong with that strain of liberal thinking that views nationalism as a form of atavism.–Michael Ignatieff, The New Republic

…a superbly readable yet deeply-grounded account by a Harvard sociologist of how a sense of national identity developed over many centuries in five countries. It would provide some useful perspective on [Labor Secretary Robert] Reich’s conviction that nations don’t mean much of anything any more.–David Warsh, The Boston Globe

Liah Greenfeld’s new book… has been received with great deal of respect and even awe… Her boldness is breathtaking… The book is thought-provoking, and one can only pay tribute to the author’s ambition, erudition, and stamina. At a time when much of social science either reduces the most profound human experiences to equations or tells us more and more about less and less, Greenfeld’s intellectual audacity and her civic concern… must be applauded… [This is] no mean achievement.–Stanley Hoffman, The Atlantic Monthly

With the resurgence of nationalist sentiment from Sarajevo to the Sudan, Liah Greenfeld’s new book… could hardly have arrived at a more opportune moment.. TO tackle such an array of countries is a daunting project that requires considerable linguistic, analytical and historical skills and Ms. Greenfeld… has them in abundance… The care and richness of her scholarly study are certain to make it a standard work… The skill and care with which she has woven together and contrasted the strands of ethnicity ensure that anyone interested in nationalism will have to start with Nationalism.–Jacob Heilbrunn, Forward

…Liah Greenfeld has broken the continuity of the social interpretation [of nationalism] with an unabashedly idealist explication of nationalism. Greenfeld does not ignore structure, but she presents a vigorous case on behalf of the causal primacy of the idea of nationalism… The scope of Greenfeld’s ambition and the daring of her undertaking is breathtaking. She defends an idealist position that is sure to ruffle social historians; she does primary research in all five of the countries she discusses, thereby exposing herself to the national historians; and she tries to turn the tables on conventional wisdom by making modernization a product of nationalism, rather than vice versa. In other words, she does what the best historical sociologists have always done: challenge historians to come out of their cozy corners.–Gale Stokes, American Historical Review

Simply to have undertaken, as a sociologist, the vast comparative examination of little-known primary sources is an outstanding feat. The clarity of her prose… the forcefulness of her propositions, and the vividness of her quotations are rarely matched in any social science exposition… I am confident that Greenfeld’s name will stand near the top of the list of those who have given the study of national identity a new start.–John A. Armstrong, History and Theory

Greenfeld has written an outstanding and remarkably readable contribution to the literature of nationalism and political development.–M. Slann, Choice

An excellent research work of conceptual nature covering an inricate theme, very deftly done by the author.–Lt. General MM Walia, U.S.I. Journal

Liah Greenfeld’s outstanding book on the birth and development of nationalism in England, France, Russia, Germany and America attempts to understand how peoples have come to see themselves as better than one another… What makes this book so good is the combination of sharp sociological acumen and a beady eye for historical detail, the later often lacking in sociological history.–John Downey, The Times Higher Education Supplement

More and more younger sociologists are taking on projects that their older colleagues left to the end of their long careers, if then. Liah Greenfeld’s new book on nationalism is one of the most successful examples of this trend. Its scope is enormous, its learning staggering, and its argument generally persuasive, if controversial. The thin spots almost make the work more impressive, for they remind the reader hat this is not the culmination of a lifetime of study, but rather the intensive effort of a scholar ten years out of graduate school.–Frederick D. Weil, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

This is an excellent sociological study of nationalism… Liah Greenfeld has accomplished thoroughly the demanding task of surveying the literature and researching the archives in the major relevant languages.–Noel Parry, Nations and Nationalism

Liah Greenfeld’s book offers a masterful analysis of the dynamic and reciprocal interconnection between strcutrue, culture, and individual psychology.–Juan Diez Medrano, American Journal of Sociology

…erudite, wide-ranging book…  Greenfeld’s argument is powerful, impressively researched, and clearly written.–Michael J. Francis, The Review of Politics

Liah Greenfeld’s book… has to be put in class with Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism or with Barrington Moore’s The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Autocracy for the intellectual vigor with which I proposes a new way of looking at the whole history of nationalism and, indeed, of the modern world, since it is her thesis that nationalism has created modernity rather than the other way around.–Pierre Hassner, Survival

Each case history is an impressive synthesis of a wide range of historical information. The stories are told with great clarity and insight… Greenfeld dissects with great skill the way in which nationalism can marginalize and demonize minorities.–Rodney Barker, The Tribune (U.K.)

L’erudition de l’auteur est impressionnante, on l’e dit. En ce qui concerne la France, par example, le lecteur francais, meme s’il est quelque peu competent, decouvrira d’innombrables texts qu’il ignorait. L’historie de la naissance des idees nationales est renouvelle par un livre qu’aucun chercheur ne pourra negliger.–Dominique Schnapper, Commentaire (France)

…an interesting and illuminating study. At a time of increasing specialization, it is a pleasure to read a work of an erudite, which is not confined to the narrow investigation of a very specialized issue. This work is by all means scientific, insightful, yet accessible to an ordinary reader.–Novy dziennik (Poland)

Liah Greenfeld has written a big book: a strong theoretical description and explanation of modern nationalism, a set of brilliant historical studies of its European versions, and an account, at once analytical and passionate, of how it sometimes turns out well and sometimes very badly. No one will write about nationalism again without starting here.–Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Conceptually and historically to get a grip on nationalism is… one of he most difficult tasks of all in comparative history or comparative politics… This book will at once have a commanding place on even the shortest of short lists on the subject… It will dazzle other comparativists, and it will command respect… from historians.–Geoffrey Hawthorn, Cambridge University

Liah Greenfeld has written a learned, lucid brief for a highly contestable interpretation of nationalism… She has deployed her exceptional linguistic range with aplomb. Nationalism could become a defining text in the discussion.–Charles Tilly, New School for Social Research

Table of Contents


1. God’s Firstborn: England

Reflection of the National Consciousness in Discourse and Sentiment

The New Aristocracy, the New Monarchy, and the Protestant Reformation

The English Bible, the Bloody Regiment of Queen Mary, and the Burning Matter of Dignity

England as God’s Peculiar People, and the Token of His Love

The Sound of Their Voices

The Changing Position of the Crown and Religion in the National Consciousness

A Land of Experimental Knowledge

2. The Three Identities of France

I. The Development of Pre-National French Identity

France–a Church, and the Faith of the “Fleur de Lys”

Heresy and Its Child

The King and His State

II. The Social Bases of the Nationalization of French Identity and the Character of the Nascent National Consciousness

Turns of the Social Wheel: The Plight of the French Aristocracy

The Perilous Escape: Redefinition and Reorganization of the Noblesse

The Birth of the French Nation

Nation, the Supreme Being

Competition with England and Ressentiment

A Note on Non-Elite Nationalism

3. The Scythian Rome: Russia

Perestroika in the Eighteenth Century

The Crisis of the Nobility

The West and Ressentiment

The Laying of the Foundations

Transvaluation of Values: The Crystallization of the Matrix of Russian Nationalism

The Two-Headed Eagle

4. The Final Solution of Infinite Longing: Germany

I. The Setting

The Conception and Miscarriage of Nationalism in the Sixteenth Century

The Early Evolution of the Concept of the State

The Insouciance of German Nobility prior to the Nineteenth Century

Bildungsbürgertum: The Dangerous Class

II. The Birth of the Spirit: The Preparation of the Mold for the German National Consciousness




III. The Materialization of the Spirit

The Impact of the French Revolution

The Birth of German Nationalism

The Finishing Touch: Ressentiment

The Twin Blossoms of the Blue Flower

5. In Pursuit of the Ideal Nation: The Unfolding of Nationality in America

America as a New England

The Separation

A Union Begun by Necessity

The Tug-of-War: The Persisting Threat of Secession and the Development of National Unity

Inconsistencies and Tensions

The Trial and Completion of American Nationality




2 thoughts on “Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity

  1. Pingback: Book review: Liah Greenfeld’s Mind, Modernity, Madness | Somatosphere

  2. Pingback: FPR | Book Review: Liah Greenfeld’s Mind, Modernity, Madness

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