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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe
Miroslav Hroch

New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
220pp. Index. Pb.: 11.00; ISBN 0-231-11771-x.



This work, first published in German in 1968, had already become one of the classic studies of nation-formation when it was revised and translated into English fifteen years ago. The book has since become standard reading for any university course exploring the origins of the modern nation. It stands out from many other treatments of the subject by virtue of its undogmatic and subtle Marxist interpretation, its meticulously researched and empirically detailed comparative approach, its original and provocative thesis of a three-phase development of national revival, and its suggestive typology of national movements.

The author's preface to this new edition of the 1985 text stresses that his work was intended to elucidate not the "nebulous and omnipresent" concept of "nationalism" (p. xiii), but the historical conditions under which small nations began to form, specifically the circumstances under which "national agitation was accepted by members of the nondominant ethnic group and achieved the status of a mass movement" (p. xiv). In other words, how small, oppressed and socially fragmented peoples discovered that they in fact comprised larger, oppressed and socially coherent units called nations. Much of the book is concerned to investigate the "social and territorial origins of national activists" and to relate the origins, character and consequences of their patriotic agitation to each region's progress in its transition to capitalist market relations. It was out of each population's new awareness of belonging to the nation, which in Hroch's understanding is constituted 'objectively' by diverse integrating relationships, that nationalism developed (not vice-versa, as many scholars would argue).

Much of the criticism of this work has assumed that it aspires to conceptualise and comprehensively explain the full range of nationalisms and nation-building processes. In fact, its analytical acuity derives from its limited focus: on the second phase of national development (that of national agitation) among a number of small, nondominant ethnic groups (Norwegians, Bohemians, Finns, Estonians, Lithuanians, Slovaks, Flemings and Danish) which proceeded to form modern nations. The book does not deal with the historically "greater" state-nations (like the French, Dutch or Portuguese) or with smaller peoples who failed to achieve nationhood; it does not seek to explore in detail the first phase of national awakening among intellectuals; it does not pursue the third phase of mass nationalism in the twentieth century; it does not strive to reduce nation-formation to a pure function of economic relations or to assert an invariable teleology of national development. Appreciating the book's modest scope and aims will help new readers avoid many of the misunderstandings and misuses to which its generalisations and typologies have been subject.


Nick Baron, University of Manchester



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