Monday, 21 January 2019

#QotD: "...the very word 'nation' has been endowed by nationalism with a meaning and a resonance which until the end of the eighteenth century it was far from having."


"Nationalism is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It pretends to supply a criterion for the determination of the unit of population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own, for the legitimate exercise of power in the state, and for the right organisation of a society of states.
    "Briefly, the doctrine holds that humanity is naturally divided into nations, that nations are known by certain characteristics which can be ascertained, and that the only legitimate type of government is national self-government.
    "Not the least triumph of this doctrine is that such propositions have become accepted and are thought to be self-evident, that the very word 'nation' has been endowed by nationalism with a meaning and a resonance which until the end of the eighteenth century it was far from having...
    "Goethe, reviewing in 1772 a book entitled On the Love of the Fatherland, written to promote loyalty to the Habsburgs in the Holy Roman Empire, had this to say [instead]: ‘Have we a fatherland? If we can find a place where we can rest with our possessions, a field to sustain us, a home to cover us, have we not there a fatherland?’    "Such was the current opinion in Europe at the outbreak of the French Revolution...
    "[It is said that] ‘the principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation.’ What, then, was meant by a nation? Natio in ordinary speech originally meant a group of men belonging together by similarity of birth, larger than a family, but smaller than a clan or a people... Thus [the University of Paris had four nations]: the nation de France referred to speakers of Romance languages including Italians and Spaniards; the nation de Picardie referred to the Dutch, that of Normandie to those originating from North-Eastern Europe, and that of Germanie to Englishmen as well as to Germans proper.    "By extension, the word came to be used as a collective noun... This use of the word as a collective noun persists into the eighteenth century, and we find Hume stating in his essay Of National Characters that ‘a nation is nothing but a collection of individuals’ who, by constant intercourse, came to acquire some traits in common, and Diderot and D’Alambert in the Encyclopédie defining ‘nation’ as ‘a collective word used to denote a considerable quantity of those people who inhabit a certain extent of country defined within certain limits, and obeying the same government’... Such is the sense in which Montesquieu uses the term in The Spirit of the Laws, when he says that 'under the first two dynasties [in France] the nation was often called together, that is the lords and the bishops'....
    "This is the claim implicit in Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s definition just quoted, and later made quite explicit by Sieyès. ‘What is a nation?’ asked Sieyès. ‘A body of associates living under one common law and represented by the same legislature.’"         
          ~ Eli Kedourie, from his book Nationalism.


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