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Gellner defines nationalism as "a political principle which holds that

that political and the national unit should be congruent". It is a


fundamentally new feature of modern life since states in previous
times were not organised on nationalist lines.
For Gellner, there are three stages to human history:
The hunter-gatherer
The agro-literate
The industrial
Nationalism appears in the transition from the agro-literate to the
industrial stage of human history. In the second stage, there is no
incentive for the ruling classes to impose cultural homogeneity on the
masses - indeed, they benefit from diversity as it means that there will
be no challenge to their power.
In industrial societies, "a high culture pervades the whole of society,
defines it, and needs to be sustained by the polity". In industrial
society, the changing nature of work demands cultural homogeneity.
There is a need for impersonal, context-free communication.
Futhermore, industrial society depends on perpetual growth in order
to satisfy needs. Perpetual growth can only be achieved by perennial
shifts in the occupational structure. The high level of technical skill
required means that many posts must be filled meritocratically. This
necessiates a kind of egalitarianism. It also necessitates general
training before specialised training, in order to allow shifts in
occupation.
Thus, we see an important development in education. Education now
defines the status of the individual, whereas in agro-literate societies
kinship status was the defining factor.
The state takes this need for education, and fuses the state and
culture together. There is a need to compete for overlapping cultural
catchment areas, and nationalism is the only way of competing
effectively for these areas.
Criticism

Too functionalist
Misreads the relationship between nationalism and industrialisation
Gellner's theory can not account for resurgence of nationalism in
post-industrial societies
Gellner's theory can not explain the passions generated by
nationalism
The processes causing nationalism are too general