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Review: [untitled] Author(s): Raymond Pearson Reviewed work(s): Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity by Liah Greenfeld Source: The

Journal of Modern History, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 903-904 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2124762 Accessed: 01/07/2009 03:35
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Book Reviews Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. By Liah Greenfeld. Cambridge,Mass.: HarvardUniversity Press, 1992. Pp. xiii + 581. $49.95.


The subtitle to Nationalism is as succinct a summary of its arresting argumentas anyone could expect in the span of four words. The fundamentalpropositionis, first, that nationalismis not, as conventionallyrepresented,an incidentalpolitical reflection of the broader modernization of society; on the contrary, "the emergence of nationalism predatedthe development of every significantcomponent of modernization" (p. 21). Second, nationalismwas not just a fortuitousantecedentof modernization but "the constitutiveelement of modernity"(p. 18), the essential prerequisitefor the generation of modernization. To validate this supremely controversial thesis, Greenfeldmaps out "Five Roads to Modernity,"prudentlyconceding the peculiarities and idiosyncrasiesof each manifestationof nationalismbut insisting that their shared characteristics are immeasurably more significant than the differences on which historianstraditionallydwell so lovingly but unprofitably. To most historians, the objections to what the cover blurb calls "this historically orientedwork in sociology" are so numerousas to positively jostle for attention.Only a selection of complaintscan be accommodatedwithin the confines of this review. To begin, notwithstandingthe book title, the work is not actually about "nationalism"in the accepted sense of the burgeoningsociopolitical movement that gatheredmomentum and authorityin Europeover the nineteenthcenturyand then spilled over into the wider world in the twentieth century. For a sociologist setting great store by the changing political vocabularyof culturalelites, Greenfeld can be unobservantabout Nationalism is in fact a the terms she employs within the establishedhistoriography. comparative investigation into the crystallizationof national self-consciousness, the phase preceding nationalism which some have dubbed "protonationalism."As a necessary consequence, the chronological focus of a study that avowedly "concen(p. tratesupon the formationof nationalidentity,not its promulgation" 22) centers not on the nineteenthand twentiethcenturiesbut on the thresholdof the modernera, most specifically the late eighteenth century. The five Road-nations are selected for consideration not as "case studies" illustratingthe varieties of nationalismbut because they "shaped the destinies of our world..., set the pattern followed by the rest of the planet and presided over its development" (p. 23). Although it seems churlish to complain about the range of a work that does encompass five separatenations, the absence of Japan, ostensibly a prime candidatefor inclusion on all counts, is surprising.The conscious exclusion of Japan from this planetary investigation highlights the fundamentally Eurocentric orientationof the study. The historical treatmentof the five nations is rarely persuasive. Greenfeld shows scant respect for secondary literatureand springs too quickly (often without visible support)from documentarydetail to sweeping generalizationfor the equanimityof the professional historian. England is given pride of place as "God's Firstborn,"the of front-runner nationalism: "The birth of the English nation was not the birth of a nation;it was the birthof the nations,the birthof nationalism"(p. 24). To persuadethe skeptical readerthat "by the end of the sixteenth centuryEnglanddid in fact possess a fully-fledgednationalism"(p. 65) requiresmassive scholarlyinvestment.Fundamentally, much of the argument of the book stands or falls on Greenfeld's ability to persuadeus that TudorEngland "launchedthe era of nationalism"(p. 6): if she fails to convince, then the periodization of the emergence of national identity advances convulsively to the late eighteenth century, a much more conventional dating that


Book Reviews

fatally undermines the thesis that modernizationwas dependent on "nationalism." Despite the crucial natureof the "English road,"Greenfeldnot only fails to prove her profoundlycontestablepoint but perverselydevotes less time to the English thanto any other of her national "roads" (and only half the space afforded the autobahn of Germany). and Overall, the approachis (to a historian)programmatic formulaicto the point of being Procrustean:a universal model is propounded,then historical "examples" are unceremoniouslycrammedinto the preconceivedschematicconstruct.Englandproves to be only the most unsatisfactoryof the five national exhibits on display. In "The Three Identitiesof France,"Greenfeldinsists that "the idea of the nation took root in France around 1750"; then she guillotines her coverage at 1789, ignoring the impact of the Revolutionaryand Napoleonic Wars on French self-image (p. 177). In "The Scythian Rome: Russia," Greenfeld concludes an enquiry into the crisis of the aristocraticelite with the bold assertion that the last third of the eighteenth century witnessed "the crystallization of the matrix of Russian nationalism" (p. 250), an which most historianswould argueis premature a full century.In her by interpretation section on Germany, tastefully entitled "The Final Solution of Infinite Longing," Greenfeld solemnly states of Germannationalismthat "one cannot speak of it before 1806; by 1815 it had come of age" (p. 277). While playing up the New Englandorigins of the United States, Greenfeld's "In Pursuitof the Ideal Nation" plays down the fact that, as a state that secured its sovereignty long before a firm national identity was forged, the United States fits uneasily in the overall scheme (arousingthe suspicion that it is hailed among the pacesetters of nationalismon commercial ratherthan strictly academic grounds). Greenfeld is not unaware of the magnitude of the task she has set herself: in a of moment of candorin the penultimateparagraph her introduction,she admits that "I was bewildered by the complexity of historicalevidence.... At times I despairedof my ability ... and questionedthe feasibility of historicalsociology" (p. 26). In this one regard, historians would generally endorse her judgment. If Greenfeld entertained hopes of combining a historical tour de force and a critical succes d'estime in the mannerof Paul Kennedy's legendary The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1988), she has signally failed. Greenfeldcloses an idiosyncraticcommentaryon the "Scythian dimension" of Russian nationalismwith the throwawayline: "fortunately,it is not a sociologist's task to pronouncejudgement on history" (p. 274). Unfortunatelyfor the historian, this is in practice precisely what she does throughout this infinitely ambitious, endlessly provocative but irredeemablyflawed book.

Universityof Ulster The Battle of the Gods and Giants: The Legacies of Descartes and Gassendi, 1655-1715. By ThomasM. Lennon. Studies in IntellectualHistory and the History of Philosophy.Edited by M. A. Stewart and David Fate Norton. Princeton,N.J.: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1993. Pp. xiii + 420. $59.50. The battle to which Thomas M. Lennonrefers in his title is an allusion to The Sophist, in which Plato so characterized the perennial struggle between two styles of philosophy,the partyof the gods who emphasizethe world of eternalforms and a priori knowledge of essences, and the party of the giants who describe a material world devoid of essences and knowableonly by empiricalmethods.For Lennon,as for Plato,