Academic International Press

Thomas Spira

Nationalism and EthnicityTerminologies

An Encyclopedic Dictionary and Research Guide


By Walker Connor

The study of ethnicity and nationalism is an exercise in confusion. As documented by the magnificent bibliography in this volume, there is no dearth of articles and books dealing with these topics. But even a short foray into this body of literature will demonstrate the confusion which permeates it. Debates rage concerning the natures of ethnicity and nationalism and the degree, if any, to which they are related. Another debate concerned with the historical origins of ethnic/national consciousness divides authors into "primordialists" and "modernists." And even the modernists variously decree that national consciousness first appeared in the mid or late Middle Ages, the early or late eighteenth century, or the early or late nineteenth century.

The confusion surrounding the study of ethnic and national consciousness is both reflected in and augmented by improper and inconsistent use of the key terms. Both terms mean different things to different authors. Nationalism, for example, as employed by many authors, connotes loyalty to one's state (country), whereas others use it to refer to loyalty to one's ethnic group or nation, defined as a people who share a sense of common descent. Inconsistent use of terms by the same author is not a rarity, as reflected, for example, in works on the United Kingdom which refer to both a British nationalism and to an English, Scottish and/or Welsh nationalism without feeling the need to question how these two levels of consciousness and loyalty differ in their wellsprings and relative potency.

Calls for more precise use of terms have gone unheeded. More than a half century ago the authors of a study of nationalism, underwritten by the British Royal Institute of International Affairs, felt compelled to preface their report with a five-page "Note on the Use of Words." Its opening sentence read, "Among other difficulties which impede the study of `nationalism,' that of language holds a leading place." 1 A third of a century after the publication of the Royal Institute's report, a publication circulated among Americans involved in the study of nationalism noted that while "there is no more important phenomenon for study than that of nationalismmany who deal with nationalism use the term in such a variety of ways that the meaning is often confusing." 2 More recently, I concluded an article on terminology in this way.

Where today is the study of nationalism? In this Alice-in-Wonderland world in which nation usually means loyalty to the state, in which nation-state usually means multination state, in which nationalism usually means loyalty to the state, and in which ethnicity, primordialism, pluralism, tribalism, regionalism, communalism, parochialism, and subnationalism usually mean loyalty to the nation, it should come as no surprise that the nature of ethnonationalism remains essentially unprobed. Indeed, careless vocabulary has even precluded a realistic assessment of the magnitude of nationalism's revolutionary potentiality. Unidentified as such, nationalism has tended to be either ignored or misunderstood in the literature on political development. When identified under an improper appellation, it has been dismissed as something that will wither away as modernization progresses or as something too distasteful to be countenanced. So long as nationalism remains unrecognized and multititled, its implications are apt to remain unappreciated. And if both it and its implications are unrecognized, then greater understanding of the nature of nationalism is not apt to follow. 3

Thomas Spira has not been content to note the disarray characterizing the literature on ethnicity and nationalism. This volume, the product of decades of preparation, is designed to enable the student to navigate the tangle of different approaches to the study of nationalism and to surmount the terminological barriers. It succeeds admirably in bringing a sense of intellectual order to a chaotic subject. It is a testament to the talent, knowledge, and commitment to scholarship of one individual.

Thomas Spira's background uniquely prepared him for this undertaking. His interest in nationalism, sparked by personal experiences as a youth living in Czechoslovakia, led him to found the journal Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism (CRSN), in 1973. The time of its founding is significant because this was a period generally characterized by low intellectual curiosity in the national phenomenon. The giants of the previous generationmost notably, Rupert Emerson, Carlton Hayes and Hans Kohnhad made their major contributions by 1960, and there were very few among the new generation who wished to continue the quest. The point is that CRSN was not created by publishers recognizing a great demand for such a journal, but was founded by Spira as a means of encouraging scholarship on this most consequential ism.

The dedication of the journal to serious scholarship is reflected not just in its articles and book reviews but in its priceless bibliographies and bibliographic essays which Spira invited. CRSN remained the only English-language journal dedicated to nationalism until the collapse of the Soviet Union inspired an unprecedented surge in interest. During this lengthy period Spira was in effect acting as a one-man clearing house for scholarship being conducted on nationalism. The editorship therefore required that he become thoroughly familiar with the approaches and special terminology of a broad range of authors representing several different disciplines. The immense knowledge and insight thus obtained is reflected throughout this volume, which is truly Weberian in its comprehension, its systematic scheme of classification, and its sophisticated analyses and syntheses. Students of nationalism, already heavily in debt to Thomas Spira, will find this Encyclopedia an essential work of reference.

It is truly an honor to write the Foreword for such a meritorious work of scholarship.

Walker Connor

1. Nationalism. A Report by a Study Group of Members of the Royal Institute of World Affairs. London, 1939, xvi.

2. Newsletter of the Group for the Study of Nationalism (Fall 1973). East Lansing, Michigan State University, 1.

3. Walker Connor, Ethnonationalism. The Quest for Understanding. Princeton, 1994, 111-112.

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