Nations, nationality, and civil society in the work of Edward Shils

in The calling of social thought
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This chapter explores Shils’ original and highly nuanced treatment of the concepts of ‘nationality’, ‘nationalism’, and ‘civil society’. In particular, the chapter argues that Shils distinguishes between ‘nationality’ (which he seems to use as a synonym for ‘national self-consciousness’) and ‘nationalism’, which he identifies as an ideology. In this taxonomy, ‘nationality’ is a basic almost primordial force that provides the foundation for civil society and, ultimately, individual liberty. In this respect, nationality is a positive, or at the very least neutral, force. Shils portrays the ideology of nationalism, on the other hand, as highly dangerous. To put it simply, while regarding nationality as essential for civil society, Shils suggested that nationalism is in fact a danger to it. The chapter goes on to situate Shils’s theories of nations and nationalism with in the broader scholarly debate on these subjects. In the process, it examines Shils’s ideas concerning the relative antiquity of nations and the historical specifics about the origins of nationalism.

The calling of social thought

Rediscovering the work of Edward Shils

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