Theories of National Culture

The theoretical basis of nationality is not well developed, but it appears to be emerging that the concept of the 'nation' is relatively recent, owing much to literacy and the written word, generalised by the invention of printing, and consolidated as a national market in an economic hinterland, in the context of developing capitalism.

Capitalism for its development was dependent on the mastery of the technology of production, and as technology developed, scientific understanding of the technology of production became increasingly important.

The Gellner(5) approach to the understanding of national identity begins with the definition that two people are of the same nation if they recognise each other as such, in the sense that they share a system of ideas and assumptions, and ways of behaviour and communicating. There is thus, for Gellner, a subjective element in the definition of nationality.

There is also an objective element, in that a national identity is associated with a 'high culture' which is a supported by an elite. Gellner goes into this at some length, with a classification of the various types of nationalisms which have emerged in Europe. He tends to overlook, however, that aspect of 'high culture' which is represented by science, and the associated technological competence, which provides the industrial basis for the realisation of national aspirations.

The development of this aspect of the Gellner model in this context, and its contrasting with Marx's concept of 'basis and superstructure', is the subject of a future essay.

Suffice it to say, at this stage of the argument, that we are starting from the assumption that if a viable national identity is to assert itself, with the emergence of a national elite, it is necessary that this elite contain sufficient scientific and technological competence to underpin the basis of the economic life of the nation, to the extent that the key economic decisions can be made without undue dependence on foreign knowhow.

Developing a more global approach, Anderson(38), while still failing to come to grips with the central role of scientific technology as part of the power-base of the elite, picks up the influence of imperial culture on the colonial world, via the mapping process, and the scientific investigation of their environments in the imperial interest (see for example ch 10, where he analyses the roles of the imperial procedures typified by the census of the population, the mapping of the territory, and the establishment of a museum). He also has two passing references to Francis Bacon (1561-1626); though he fails to pick up Bacon's significance as the founding father of modern science, he does however credit him with recognising the importance of print, and with Utopian writings.

There is a subjective aspect, in that people tend to identify with a group as 'us'; with the expansion of printed media in the vernacular this becomes wider than the clan or the tribe. The translation of the Bible into the vernacular undoubtedly contributed to the spread of literacy and to the development of capitalism; Anderson goes so far to to use the term print-capitalism, recognising that the printing-works was an early capitalist success-story. So also, indeed, was the brewery.

There is also an objective aspect, in the development of a market within the boundaries of a State; this is the Marxist angle. Marx held that ethnic and cultural boundaries would be wiped out with the development of capitalism, and that class conflict would increasingly be the dominant factor, classes being defined in terms of the relationship with the means of production.

The Gellner typology constitutes a challenge for Marxists. Marx and Engels were aware of the importance of scientific technology in the development of the 'forces of production', and Engels wrote about it, but nowhere in the Marxist canon is to be found any effective analysis of the role of scientific and technological competence in the nation-building elite, except embryonically in Bernal.

There is talk of the Nation-State as a concept, but this also is ill-defined, in that the States of Europe are mostly multi-national. There are few if any European States that do not either have national minorities related to neighbouring States (eg Denmark and Germany, Sweden and Finland) or include several nations or proto-nations (Scotland, Wales, Brittany).

What Gellner homes in on is the concept of an elite 'high-culture', to which people look up. In the case of the core-European States, those which asserted themselves imperially, this 'high-culture' undoubtedly included science.

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