and enduring national â€˜essencesâ€™. Those scholars who advance essential-
ist interpretations of nationhood are, in academic terms if not by the
cruder criteria which reign in the public domain, an uninXuential minor-
ity.â€¦Â» Indeed, the battle between essentialists and instrumentalists has
been largely won by the latter.â€¦â€¦ The major area of disagreement among
social scientists is between varieties of instrumentalism and over the
degree and type of Wcticity involved in the construction of identities. At
Å’ E. Kedourie, Nationalism (1960: new edn with afterword, London, 1985).
Å“ E. Kamenka, â€˜Political nationalism: the evolution of the ideaâ€™, in Kamenka (ed.), Nation-
alism: the nature and evolution of an idea (New York, 1976).
â€“ M. Thom, Republics, nations and tribes (London, 1995); I. Hannaford, Race: the history of
an idea in the west (Baltimore, 1996). Another modernist-idealist has stood on its head the
central premiss that the roots of nationalism are to be found within the fabric of modern
culture; rather, argues Leah Greenfeld, Nationalism: Wve roads to modernity (Cambridge,
MA, 1992), the idea of nationalism is itself constitutive of modernity.
â€” A. Smith, â€˜The origins of nationsâ€™, Ethnic and Racial Studies 12 (1989), 348.
â€¦Â» However, as A. Hastings, The construction of nationhood (Cambridge, 1997), p. 169,
points out, there are some cases, such as the Jews and the Gypsies, where there are
underlying biological continuities.
â€¦â€¦ The main challenge to the modernist consensus comes not from essentialist-primordial-
ism, but, as A. Smith, â€˜Gastronomy or geology? The role of nationalism in the reconstruc-
tion of nationsâ€™, Nations and Nationalism 1 (1995), 3â€“23, points out, from the â€˜cynical, if
not playfulâ€™ deconstructions of the post-modernists.
one extreme instrumentalists reduce identity to political and economic
choices. For example, Paul Brass sees ethnic identity formation â€˜as a
process created in the dynamics of elite competition within the bound-
aries determined by political and economic realitiesâ€™.â€¦Â Some anthropolo-
gists reduce identities to the bare binary oppositions constructed as a
matter of course in the relationship of core and periphery, self and other.â€¦Ã€
Even primordial identities are recognised to be constructs. Smith has
argued for the antiquity and longevity of ethnocentrisms founded not
upon biology, but upon collective myths of common descent. According
to Smithâ€™s formulation, the pre-modern â€˜ethniesâ€™ out of which many
nationalisms emerged were â€˜constituted, not by lines of physical descent,
but . . . by the lines of cultural aYnity embodied in distinctive myths,
memories, symbols and values retained by a given cultural unit of popula-
Secondly, there is the question of Wcticity. One of the major implica-
tions of the modernist consensus has been to stimulate an awareness that
national and ethnic identities are unstable over the longue duree. Histor-
ians are becoming more vigilant in their avoidance of the fallacy inherited,
as Michael Biddiss points out, from nineteenth-century nationalism itself
that nations enjoy â€˜an entirely objective existenceâ€™.â€¦Ã• Within modern
historiography and the social sciences most approaches to national and
ethnic identity nowadays emphasise their Wctive dimensions. Historians
and social scientists have become increasingly aware that ethnicity is not a
straightforward reXection of common biological descent; rather, ethnic
identities are now recognised as cultural fabrications, which can be imag-
ined, appropriated or chosen, as well as transmitted directly to descend-
ants. Many of the diVerences between the leading modernists, Gellner
and Anderson, which lie at the heart of the current debate over identity
construction revolve around their respective understandings of Wction
and authenticity. Gellner imputes a degree of pejorative inauthenticity to
the invention of modern nationalisms. Anderson, however, argues that all
communities larger than face-to-face groups, such as tribes and villages,
are in a sense imagined. Thus, according to Anderson, all ethnic and
national identities are, of necessity, artiWcial constructs, though none the
less authentic facets of the human experience. In spite of these intractable
tensions, there is a keen awareness throughout the Weld that ethnic
identities are not timeless, but provisional and pliable, with an elasticity
permitting a considerable degree of invention and reinvention.â€¦Å’
P. Brass, Ethnicity and nationalism (New Delhi, 1991), p. 16.
See M. Chapman, The Celts: the construction of a myth (Houndmills, 1992).
A. Smith, National identity (Harmondsworth, 1991), p. 29.
M. Biddiss, â€˜Nationalism and the moulding of modern Europeâ€™, History 79 (1994), 413.
Gellner, Nations and nationalism; Anderson, Imagined communities.
Mainstream anthropology now eschews the notion that ethnic identi-
ties reXect underlying biological, or even to a large extent cultural, truths.
Ethnicity is now a question of processes and relationships rather than of
ethnic and cultural essences. The Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik
Barth highlighted the importance of boundary relationships and their
maintenance in the construction and perpetuation of ethnic identities.â€¦Å“
Yet, according to another Norwegian anthropologist, Thomas Hylland
Eriksen, such boundaries are themselves unstable: ethnic identities are
both â€˜situationalâ€™ and â€˜negotiatedâ€™, sometimes undercommunicated,
sometimes overcommunicated, according to speciWc and changing con-
The Xuidity of identity construction discerned by anthropologists pro-
vides useful markers for students of the early modern era, the mental
makeup of which was innocent of nationalism and racialism, and which
was correspondingly less self-conscious about ethnocentric consistency.
Indeed, it is clear that nationalist thinking was alien to the early modern
era. The word â€˜nationalismâ€™ itself was not coined until the last decade of
the eighteenth century, and thereafter enjoyed a most precarious and
marginal existence, appearing in lexicographies only from the late nine-
teenth century.â€¦â€” Despite diVerences in other areas, scholars are in agree-
ment about the basic constitution of nationalist thought. John Breuilly
deWnes nationalist ideology as â€˜a political doctrine built upon three basic
assertionsâ€™, namely, that â€˜there exists a nation with an explicit and pecu-
liar characterâ€™, that â€˜the interests and values of this nation take priority
over all other interests and valuesâ€™ and that the nation â€˜be as independent
as possibleâ€™, with an aspiration, â€˜usuallyâ€™, to â€˜political sovereigntyâ€™.Â Â» Peter
Alter recognises a characteristic ideological feature common to national-
isms: â€˜In nationalism, the nation is placed upon the highest pedestal; its
value resides in its capacity as the sole, binding agency of meaning and
justiWcation.â€™Â â€¦ In this respect, according to the primordialist J. A.
Armstrong, nationalist doctrine is â€˜historically novelâ€™; throughout the
â€˜lengthy record of human associationâ€™, rarely did â€˜group identity . . .
constitute the overriding legitimization of polity formationâ€™.Â Â
Given this scholarly consensus about the recent provenance of nation-
alism, I found myself preoccupied with the puzzle of how one should
â€¦Å“ F. Barth, â€˜Introductionâ€™, in Barth (ed.), Ethnic groups and boundaries (Oslo, 1969).
â€¦â€“ T. Hylland Eriksen, Ethnicity and nationalism: anthropological perspectives (London,
â€¦â€” W. Connor, Ethnonationalism (Princeton, 1994), p. 98; R. Williams, Keywords (1976:
London, 1988 edn), p. 213; P. Alter, Nationalism (1985: English transln, London, 1989),
p. 7. For â€˜nationalâ€™ vocabulary in nineteenth-century Europe, see P. Cabanel, La question
nationale au XIXe siecle (Paris, 1997), pp. 5â€“9.
Â Â» J. Breuilly, Nationalism and the state (1982: 2nd edn, Manchester, 1993), p. 2.
Â â€¦ Alter, Nationalism, p. 9.
Â Â J. A. Armstrong, Nations before nationalism (Chapel Hill, NC, 1982), p. 4.
describe the national identities which preceded the emergence of nation-
alism proper without lapsing into anachronistic usage. In a previous book
on Scottish identity in the eighteenth century I borrowed the term â€˜eth-
nocentrismâ€™ from the work of Anthony Smith to describe national con-
sciousness in the early modern era, in an attempt, perhaps clumsy and
over-scholastic, to avoid speaking of â€˜nationalismâ€™,Â Ã€ a label which I
believed â€“ and still believe â€“ to be misleading when applied to the early
modern period, which witnessed national consciousness but nothing so
explicit or doctrinaire as nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalisms.
However, because I now have considerable doubts as to the role of
ethnicity in early modern political culture, I have become less conWdent
about my earlier use of â€˜ethnocentrismâ€™. Hence, I arrive at my central
question: what was the place of ethnicity in the discourses of the era
preceding the rise of nationalist and racialist ideologies?
The British world between about 1600 and the 1790s provides a useful
case study, an environment rich in connections and contrasts. The his-
toric patriotisms of England, Scotland and Ireland did not function in
isolation, but as a system of competing claims and counter-claims,
dominated in the seventeenth century by tensions within the Stuart
multiple monarchy, and in the eighteenth by the rise of an overarching
Britishness. The eighteenth century also saw the birth of colonial patriot-
isms in Protestant Ireland and America. This study aims to tease out the
presence and status of ethnicity within the value systems of the intellec-
tual elites â€“ lay and clerical â€“ who shaped and articulated the public
identities of the British political nations. While a crude xenophobia was,
as a number of studies have shown, a potent factor in British popular
culture during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,Â Ãƒ the pattern
within the mainstream of political argument is considerably harder to
Â Ã€ C. Kidd, Subverting Scotlandâ€™s past (Cambridge, 1993).
Â Ãƒ T. W. Perry, Public opinion, propaganda and politics in eighteenth-century England: a study of
the Jew bill of 1753 (Cambridge, MA, 1962); Colley, Britons; C. Haydon, Anti-Catholicism
in eighteenth-century England (Manchester, 1993); D. Statt, Foreigners and Englishmen: the
controversy over immigration and population, 1660â€“1760 (Newark, DE, 1995), ch. 7.
2 Prologue: the Mosaic foundations of early
modern European identity
Historians appreciate that early modern nationhood was inextricably
bound up with confessional identity. By contrast, however, the parallel
connection between theology and ethnicity has largely escaped the atten-
tion of mainstream historiography. Yet this was a profound relationship
whose central importance within the realm of Christian apologetic has
long been recognised by students of historical theology. For the peopling
of the world was a familiar part of sacred history and a topic which
occupied a crucial place in the Bible. The Wrst Wve verses of Genesis 10
constituted the fundamental text which associated the peopling of
Europe with the Japhetan descendants of Noah, and described the basic
relationships of the various tributaries of the Japhetan lineage:
Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth; and
unto them were born after the Xood. The sons of Japheth: Gomer and Magog, and
Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer;
Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah and
Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in
their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.
A few other passages of Scripture also dealt with ethnological matters: the
story of the confounding of languages at the Tower of Babel in chapter 11
of Genesis, and some later references to the descendants of Noah in
chapter 38 of Ezekiel. These accounts of the dispersal of nations provided
a recognised point of departure not only for the study of ethnicity but also
for the construction of national identities.
In the seventeenth century the history of Ham, Shem, Japhet and their
oVspring featured prominently in vainglorious patriotic boasts about the
high antiquity and noble lineage of various European nations. Writing in
the late eighteenth century, Edward Gibbon noted the utility of a
Japhetan genealogy to previous generations of patriotic antiquaries:
Among the nations who have adopted the Mosaic history of the world, the ark of
Noah has been of the same use, as was formerly to the Greeks and Romans the
siege of Troy. On a narrow basis of acknowledged truth, an immense but rude
10 Theological contexts
superstructure of fable has been erected; and the wild Irishman, as well as the wild
Tartar, could point out the individual son of Japhet from whose loins his ancestors
were lineally descended. The last century abounded with antiquarians of
profound learning and easy faith, who, by the dim light of legends and traditions,
of conjectures and etymologies, conducted the great-grandchildren of Noah from
the Tower of Babel to the extremities of the globe.â€¦
Although Mosaic history still had its defenders in the era of Gibbonian
raillery, civil history was now clearly demarcated from its sacred counter-
part. Yet â€˜the death of Adam was a slow deathâ€™.Â Even as the human
sciences were demythologised, they retained a Mosaic structure. During
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries naturalistic explanation evol-
ved, for the most part, within the broad parameters of Scripture history. In
the early nineteenth century, long after the bald recitation of Noachic
genealogies had fallen into desuetude, many scholars still operated within
the Biblical scheme of universal chronology, a matter of approximately six
The rise and fall of ethnic theology
To appreciate the discursive priorities of the clerics and literati of the early
modern era who engaged with the issues of ethnicity, it is necessary to
liberate the historical imagination. Otherwise the pursuit of ethnicity
remains trapped within modern categories. In this particular sphere, our
minds are still to a considerable degree in thrall to nineteenth-century
constructions of ethnic identity. An attempt to introduce the subject of
early modern ethnic constructions by way of Mosaic history sharpens the
sense of ideological diVerence between ancien regime Europe and the
nineteenth-century world of racialism, ethnic determinism and romantic
nationalism. Though guilty in practice of prejudice, exploitation and
extirpation on grounds of religion and skin pigmentation, early modern
Europeans were not intellectually programmed for ethnic hatred. Within
the Mosaic scheme, diVerence mattered less than degrees of consanguin-
ity among a world of nations descended from Noah. Indeed, the primary
value of ethnicity was not ethnological in the modern sense, but lay within
the theology of â€˜evidencesâ€™, where it functioned as a vital weapon in the
defence of Christian orthodoxy and the authenticity of Scripture from
Matters of race, ethnicity and the genealogies and relationships of
â€¦ Gibbon, DF, I, pp. 233â€“4.
Â P. Rossi, The dark abyss of time: the history of the earth and the history of nations from Hooke to
Vico (trans. L. Cochrane, Chicago, 1984), p. 270. See also J. C. Greene, The death of
Adam: evolution and its impact on Western thought (1959: New York, 1961).
Ã€ F. C. Haber, The age of the world: Moses to Darwin (Baltimore, 1959).
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 11
peoples and nations were, in the Wrst instance, part of the province of
theology.Ãƒ The culture of early modern Europe â€“ even in the sphere of
what is now regarded as experimental science â€“ was fundamentally text-
driven.Ã• For most of the early modern period, the foundations of human
knowledge were not naturalistic. The Bible, along with the writings of the
ancients which it trumped, informed the whole terrain of intellectual
endeavour. The early chapters of the book of Genesis were obvious
starting points for the study of several of the human and natural
â€˜sciencesâ€™. Cosmology, geology and linguistics all had their roots in
â€˜sacred historyâ€™. Similarly, the Mosaic history of the peopling of the world
established broad parameters of Christian orthodoxy for ethnological
The early modern period fostered such a substantial literature on the
Scriptural exegesis of racial, national and linguistic divisions that it seems
reasonable to assume that sacred ethnology constituted an important