The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Defending the Gellnerian Premise

Denmark in Historical and Comparative Context
Faculty Scholarship
December 23, 2009
Department of Sociology, Dartmouth College

Executive Summary

Nations and Nationalism 16(1): 89-107

Author(s): John Campbell and John Hall

The teleological functionalism of Gellner's theory of nationalism has been much criticized. Attention here is on a different matter, namely Gellner's basic premise – that national homogeneity is a condition for societal success. We defend this view in a particular way – by showing that small, culturally homogeneous countries have advantages that often enhance their socioeconomic performance. They can coordinate policy in ways that help them respond successfully to the vulnerabilities of smallness. These capacities stem in part from the common bonds of nationalism and the resulting institutional capabilities for co-operation, sacrifice, flexible manoeuvring, and concerted state action. The argument is supported by a detailed analysis of the Danish case – a country whose impressive success has been deeply marked both by a diminution in size and an increase in national homogeneity. Less detailed examples of other countries are also presented. The conclusion urges caution as to the policy implications of the argument.


Rockefeller Center Faculty Grant Proposal: "Small States in Big Trouble"

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences