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The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism;Nations and Nationalism Emerged Long Before the Enlightenment. Clergy Unite Peasants and Landlords in National Consciousness,

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

This book is written to counter the “modernist” interpretation of nations as exemplified by Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson, and Ernest Geller. The author begins with medieval Europe. However, time and time again, author Adrian Hastings returns to ancient Israel as an example of a nation. (p. 3, 18, 186).


To avoid ambiguity, Hastings defines his terms as follows (p. 3)(direct quotes):

An ethnicity is a group of people with a shared cultural identity and spoken language…

A nation is a far more self-conscious community than an ethnicity. Formed from one or more ethnicities, and normally identified by a literature of its own, it possesses or claim the right to political identity and autonomy as a people, together with the control of specific territory, comparable to that of biblical Israel and of other independent entities in a world thought of as one of nation-states.

A nation-state is a state which identifies itself in terms of one specific nation whose people are not seen simply as “subjects” of the sovereign but as a horizontally bonded society to whom the state in a sense belongs. [See also p. 25].

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Author Adrian Hastings rejects the Marxist argument, as held by Eric Hobsbawm, which would have us believe that peasants would not identify with a “country”, as their chief discontent was with the landlords. Hastings points out that one can be discontented with rulers, yet still identify with the nation. He also points to the crucial role of the clergy in bringing together the peasants and landlords into a sense of shared local, provincial, and national identity. (p. 192).

For examples of national consciousness among pre-literate, enserfed Polish peasants, please click on, and read my detailed review, of The Nation in the Village: The Genesis of Peasant National Identity in Austrian Poland, 1848-1914.


Perhaps this book is a bit too Anglocentric. Hastings claims to find England a nation and nation-state, in essentially the modern sense, as early as the 10th century. (pp. 4-5. See also p. 56, 207).

Hastings also rejects the notion that Germany and Italy, each having become united into single nations only in the 19th century, are thereby new nations. Thus, already by medieval times, the German people had political consciousness as a single entity (p. 106), and the REGNUM TEUTONICUM meant that the Germans understood themselves as a community of law, custom and kinship before even their identification with the Holy Roman Empire in the fourteenth century. (p. 107). In like manner, an Italian national identity was already recognized in the fifteenth century. (p. 116).


The author rejects the argument that different tribal or ethnic identities were the products of European colonial rule. (p. 149). In addition, the advent of literacy did not manufacture ethnic identities among the locals. It only made the differences, which were pre-existing, less fluid and more canonical. (p. 157).

Finally, Hastings concludes that, “African nationalism, I am suggesting, has hardly existed except where it has been ethnically based, linguistically held together, and biblically watered.” (p. 163).
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