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Cambridge University Press
Expected online publication date:
August 2024
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Book description

Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, thinkers understood nations as communities defined by common language, culture, and descent, and sharing strong bonds of belonging and solidarity. Even so, they did not assume that nations would also be appropriate units of government. The recovery of this historical understanding, in turn, yields valuable insights for contemporary political dilemmas. Nations Before the Nation-State offers the first extended study of the idea of the nation in ancient and medieval political thought. It recovers a pre-modern conception of the nation as a cultural and linguistic community, rather than a political association, and examines better means for thinking about nationhood. Offering a historic perspective from which to address challenges of nationalism, this book engages with debates on multiculturalism, liberal nationalism, and constitutional patriotism and argues that contemporary political dilemmas can be resolved more organically by recovering modes of thinking that have resolved similar tensions for centuries.


‘Anna Marisa Schön’s book has helped me to think broadly and deeply about the history of political thought. … Elegantly written and clearly structured, the volume takes readers on a memorable tour of historiographical theories and the history of the concept of nation and nationality … Schön makes a case well worth considering, whether or not one is finally persuaded, that politics and political theory today can benefit from recalling early meanings of nation and situating the nation in its proper place, between the polis and empire, in theory and practice.’

Mary M. Keys - Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame

‘In this monumental study, Anna Marisa Schön offers an ambitious vision of the emergence of the idea of nationhood in the West … The shibboleth among scholars is that it is meaningless or even dangerously misguided to speak of a ‘nation’ prior to some precise moment in modern European history … Schön demonstrates that this narrative embraces a fundamental category error, namely, that the idea of ‘nation’ cannot be separated from the ‘nation-state’ or a principle of territorial sovereignty … Schön’s analyses are well-informed in terms of primary sources as well as up-to-date secondary literature. Her accomplishment is singular in both its depth and breadth.’

Cary J. Nederman - Professor of Political Science, Texas A&M University


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