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date: 16 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

The question of the historical origins of nations and nationalism has long been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. Indeed, there has been no interdisciplinary convergence among historians, sociologists, and anthropologists regarding the exact timeline of the emergence of nations and nationalism. Much contemporary international relations (IR) and political science scholarship relating to nations is primarily divided between two opposing assumptions: a relatively simplistic “ancient hatreds/modernist” dichotomy versus primordialist and other kinds of claims. This disagreement over the historical origins of nationalism influences both the ontological notions governing the nature of modernity and nations, as well as important epistemological implications as to the selection and interpretation of variables. Modernists argue that nationalism is the product of the specific effects of the modern age, dating roughly to the late Enlightenment or to the French Revolution specifically. They also emphasize the role of the international system in the forging of national identity. Primordialists and ethnosymbolists have advanced their own theories of nationalism, but most contemporary IR scholars favor the “modernist” paradigm. However, it is necessary to evaluate a larger literature beyond the modernist corpus in order to tackle questions such as whether modern nations are more conflict-prone than their more aged ethnic counterparts, or whether structural changes in the international system since the end of the Cold War have opened a window of opportunity for irredentist claims for nascent nations.

Keywords: nations, nationalism, international relations, political science, primordialism, modernity, modernism, national identity, ethnosymbolism

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