The Concept of Nation: Russian and European Contexts

Yulia But


In his recent book, the renowned expert on nationalism Aleksei Miller aims to make a comparative historical analysis of how the idea of the nation has been evolving in the Russian and European contexts, and, secondly, to introduce fundamental concepts and approaches to the problems of nationalism in world science. To examine the dynamics of the concept of nation, the author relies on the methods of conceptual history put forward by Reinhart Koselleck, the history of political discourse and thought by Quentin Skinner and J. G. A. Pocock, discourse analysis by Michel Foucault, and concepts of cultural, conceptual, and institutional transfers. The author follows the adventures of the concept of “nation” on Russian soil, which is of readily apparent interest and novelty. Miller starts from the Petrine era when, as he supposes, the concept was borrowed from Europe as a result of diplomatic contacts. As early as the eighteenth century, the word “nation” was used in two ways: on the one hand, as a counterpart to the word “narod” that had been previously used in the Russian language and, on the other hand, in its European meaning of a noble corporation and a sovereign state. An important advantage of the book is that Miller’s review of the “nation” concept includes recent political events. He analyses the effectiveness of “nation-state” and “statenation” patterns, and explains the semantic difference between the frequently used notions of “Russian” and “Russia’s” and between the English “national self-determination” and its Russian counterpart. Despite its undoubted relevance and usefulness, the book leaves a number of questions open. First of all, although its title is Nation or the Power of Myth, the book says nothing about myth – neither the concept nor its relation to “nation”. The author does not give a clear definition of the “nationalisation of dynasty” or his “beforeafter” opposition, which are crucial for his speculation. He does not comment on his alternative name for the well-known concept of imagined communities by Benedict Anderson. Inspecting historical examples of states to illustrate the dynamics of “nation” and nationalism, Miller leaves out the Habsburg monarchy, although it provided one of the most striking cases in the history of nation-building and national movements. Finally, the principle on which footnotes have been included is unclear throughout the text.


nation; nationalism; narod; national self-determination; nationstate; state-nation


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ISSN 2311-911X (Print)
ISSN 2310-757X (Online)


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