Vad nationalism är

När det idag är nationaldag så ska vi naturligtvis påminna oss om den svenska historien och kulturen, samt prisa den nationella gemenskapen. Men om man är samhällsvetenskapligt lagd så kan det också vara på sin plats att påminna sig om vad nationalism egentligen är. Eller åtminstone om vad Ernest Gellner ansåg att det var:

Sir Henry Maine’s famous formula – from status to contract – has been taken by many to offer the most succinct summary of the nature of the transition to modern society. But it seems to me that he might just as well have said from status to culture. Agrarian society is indeed largely a stable system of ascribed statuses: but culture, with its richly differentiated and almost endless nuances, is used to underwrite, render visible and reinforce those statuses. Its subtle differences mark off social positions. It helps make them legitimate by causing them to be deeply internalized, and it eliminates friction by making them highly conspicuous. But shared culture does not create wide-ranging bonds, and does not underwrite political boundaries.

Modern man enjoys, or suffers from, no such rigid and reinforced ascribed status. He makes his own position, not by a single contract, but by a vast multiplicity of minor contracts with his fellows. In order to negotiate and articulate these contracts, he must speak in the same idiom as his numerous partners. A large, anonymous and mobile mass of individuals, negotiating countless contracts with each other, is obliged to share a culture. They must learn to follow the same rules in articulating their terms. Cultural nuance no longer symbolizes status, for the status is no longer given: but a shared, standardized culture indicates the eligibility and ability of participants to take part in this open market of negotiable, specific statuses, to be effective members of the same collectivity.

So a shared high culture (i.e. one whose members have been trained by an educational system to formulate and understand context-free messages in a shared idiom) becomes enormously important. It is no longer the privilege of a limited clerical or legal stratum; instead, it is a precondition of any social participation at all, of moral citizenship.

It is this new importance of a shared culture which makes men into nationalists: the congruence between their own culture and that of the political, economic and educational bureaucracies which surround them, becomes the most important single fact of their lives. They must be concerned with that congruence, with its achievement or its protection: and this turns them into nationalists. Their first political concern must be that they are members of a political unit which identifies with their idiom, ensures its perpetuation, employment, defence. That is what nationalism is.

Ernest Gellner (1994), Encounters with Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers), s. vii-viii.

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