12 October 2016

Fun with Gellner... and TRUMP

At the outset, I have to say I wouldn't urge anyone to take this post too seriously. It's just a bit of scholarly fun that further research might confirm offers some insight -- or mean nothing at all.

In his 1964 book Thought and Change, Ernest Gellner talks about how some nationalism emerges when a linguistic-cultural (or ethnic) minority contained within a larger state that is dominated by a different linguistic-cultural group. What happens is that the minority elite, which participates in the regime, recognises it could do better being big fishes in a small pond, as opposed to swimming around the big pond competing with other big fishes at a disadvantage. They form an intelligentsia which tells the great mass of the ethnic minority the reality of their situation, and motivates them to demand independence.

Some twenty years later, in Nations and Nationalism, Gellner developed one of those sociological typologies that irritate scholars of history, because the categories depicted can result in exceptions that must be hand-waved away somehow but which are meat and drink to historians. I found a useful table of these typologies in an academic article by Brendan O'Leary, 'On the Nature of Nationalism', published in the British Journal of Political Science in 1997.

So how does this apply to the amazing presidential trajectory of Donald Trump? As is well known, college-educated people (the elite) are, with the exception of Republican party regulars, not really on his side. The power-holders class is also somewhat split and those most heavily invested in globalisation appear to be sceptical about Trump. Meanwhile, he does better among the less well-educated. Gellner's typologies have six factors -- power-holders vs powerless, educated vs uneducated and shared culture vs culture not shared. These typologies intersect to produce various outcomes related to what state will emerge when confronted by fundamental economic change.

Your typical educated urban elitist probably watches HBO series, is interested in tennis and drinks craft beer. Meanwhile, smaller-city service worker watches Two Broke Girls, is interested in NASCAR and drinks mass-produced lager. Not much of a shared culture there.

Plug those into Gellner's typologies, and you confront a Type 4 outcome 'Ethnic nationalism'.

Now, actually, based on Gellner's criteria, both groups would count as Educated. I cheated a little bit there. But if the degree of education required to function in what the Marxisants call 'late capitalism' has gone beyond the simple 3 'R's of Type 6 'Classical liberal Western Nationalism' -- well, then, I might be on to something here!

10 October 2016

A Short Note Inspired by Ernest Gellner

Over the last three or four months I have been doing some reading into the historiography of the concepts of 'the nation' and 'nationalism'. Thinking about Ernest Gellner's early essay into this topic, the chapter Nationalism in Thought and Change, I find an interesting intellectual point of departure within a globalising world.

Generally speaking, some historians, like the late Anthony Smith (both of us being originally a Classicists by academic training), perceived that kinship, the actual or imagined blood link between a group of people, was at the heart of what one might call proto-nationalism. We see this in the Latin word 'gens', which is 'a race or clan, embracing several families united together by a common name and by certain religious rites' according to Lewis and Short.

Gellner, in Thought and Change, talks of bureaucracies being 'the kinship of modern man'. It helps to understand 'bureaucracy' very broadly. It is not merely the civil servants and lower-level representatives of a state's administration one finds when applying for benefits or getting a driver's licence. Large corporations, banks, medium-sized businesses, universities, non-profits -- all of these are run by means of bureaucratic structures that persist beyond the actual life of people who work there. Quite a few workers, especially those who do well out of the globalised economy, network their way through these institutions into retirement. When they network across borders, they tend to remain within the cities that are themselves part of the global network in a way a city like Detroit or Liverpool is not -- San Francisco, London, Tokyo and their subaltern educational sites in Cambridge or Stanford.

In order to show this kinship, scholars should approach it through some kind of social-network analysis. If these global places are slowly becoming some kind of 'hypernational' entity, we should be able to see people not merely moving within a bureaucratic institution, like Barclays Bank, but also across it to Mizuho Financial. And it must be more than a handful of individuals, and these networks should persist over time, having heritability as mentors leave them to their proteges to continue across 'generations'.

I am working with these ideas in an historical context, but I present them here in the hope that some younger scholar might exploit them usefully. I am getting on, and I have enough research projects for the rest of my life.