Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Defence of the nation

I am a nationalist. No, I'm not a BNP supporter - at least, not yet - rather I am someone who believes that the nation state is the ultimate expression of common identity for a people.

Nations and nationalism (and nationalists) tend to get something of a bad press in this day and age - which is a little unfair seeing how the nation state has been the foundation of modern western democracy.

It's not particularly easy to pin down nations and nationalism as concepts due to the various different ways they are defined. The post-modern view of a nation is as an "imagined community". Imagined because it is impossible for everyone to know one another - but then that is true of most cities, towns and even many villages. You do not need to know everyone - or have interaction with them - to be part of a real community.

What makes you part of that very real community is not whether you know them or not, but that when you do meet you are able to communicate, recognise the common traits and differences and identify - or not - with them.

As definitions go, I prefer that of Ernest Renan ....

A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion.

Before going on, I must point out that I do not agree with everything Renan says about nations or races, but I do find that his definition of a nation is the one most consistent with my own viewpoint. There is much to admire about Renan's definition, but the part that sticks in my mind is that last sentence - that the nation is the CULMINATION of a long past of endeavours, sacrifices and devotion.

The culmination, the end, the high point, the pinnacle.

So, far from being an imagined community or even, as in the modern view, a political construct (a relatively recent definition which is designed to give legitimacy to those most un-nation like states such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia or, of course, the EU) - a nation is the ultimate expression of a peoples shared work and sacrifices.

A nation exists because the people want it to exist - not because the state demands it - and can only exist as long as there is a people, a demos, to want it.

Nationalism is also prone to a multitude of definitions, but, for me, Renan's definition encompasses nationalism as well as nation. Nationalism is the "will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form".

That is nationalism. It's nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fear. It is the ultimate expression of a peoples will and, because I believe that the will of the people is the single most important thing in humanity, then as far as I'm concerned, far from being something to deride, loathe or mistrust, there is no cause more noble in mankind.


xoggoth said...

Excellent Stan. Most need something bigger to identify with or to feel part of. The downside of Nationalism is always highlighted but it can also be very positive.

Not too much wrong with the French or US varieties in my view. One always gets the impression that most Yanks regard themselves as American first and black/white/whatever second.

Here we are just residents in some huge commuter belt with nothing in common. Simplistic to point to any one thing as causing the many problems in our society but if I really had to pick just one, loss of national identity would be it.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to Renan's essay on Nationalism