Ethnic Identity and Nationalism

Anthony D. Smith surveys the historiographical treatment of this topical subject in this month's Reading History.

Nationalism has always been the subject of fierce controversy. Since Lord Acton condemned it in 1862, and Renan broadly approved its more liberal manifestations in 1882, observers and scholars have been divided, not only over its alleged beneficial or harmful effects, but as to the real meaning and nature of this elusive phenomenon. The general consensus, however, has been to regard nationalism as one of the most powerful political forces in the modern world, to date its emergence from the late eighteenth century in Europe, and to regard it as a necessary and fundamental element of modernity.

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