Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
NATION, What is a? *59 The idea of a nation, though apparently clear, has been greatly misapprehended. Human society exists under forms. most various. There are great agglomerations of men, as in China, Egypt, and ancient Babylonia; tribes, as among the Hebrews and the Arabs; cities, like Athens and Sparta; unions of different countries, as in the Achæmenidian, the Roman and the Carlovingian empires; communities without a country, where the members are held together by a religious bond, like the Israelites and the Parsees; nations, like France, England, and most of the modern European autonomies; confederations, as in Switzerland and America; and relationships, such as race, or rather language, established among the ancient Germans and among the Slavonians; all of which are modes of grouping which exist, or have existed, and which can not be confounded with one another without most serious consequences. At the time of the French revolution it was supposed that the institutions or small, independent cities, like Sparta and Rome, could be made applicable to our great nations of thirty to forty millions of people. In our day a more grave error is committed. Race is confounded with nation, and a sovereignty is attributed to ethnographic, or rather linguistic, groups, analogous to that of the peoples actually existing. Let us try to attain some precision on these difficult questions, where the least confusion in regard to the sense of the words, at the beginning of the reasoning, may produce in the end the most fatal errors.
—I. Since the termination of the Roman empire, or, better, since the breaking up of the empire of Charlemagne, western Europe has been divided into nations, some of which have, at certain periods, attempted to exercise a hegemony over others, without ever succeeding, however, in establishing a lasting supremacy. That which Charles V., Louis XIV. and Napoleon I. were not able to do, no one in the future will probably succeed in accomplishing. The establishment of a new Roman empire, or a new empire like that of Charlemagne, has become an impossibility. Europe is too large for any attempt at universal domination to be made without speedily provoking a coalition which would compel the ambitious nation to retire within her natural boundaries. A sort of balance is established for a long time. France, England, Germany and Russia will still be, for some hundreds of years, notwithstanding the changes of fortune they may experience, historic individuals, essentials pieces on the chess-board of the world, whose positions constantly vary, but which are never wholly lost.
—Nations, thus understood, are something quite new in history. Antiquity was not acquainted with them. Egypt, China and ancient chaldea were in no degree nations. They were herds led by a son of heaven or of the sun. There were no Egyptian citizens, any more than there are Chinese citizens. Classic antiquity had municipal republics and kingdoms, confederations of local republics and empires: it hardly had a nation as we understand the word. Athens, Sparta, Tyre and Sidon were little centres of an admirable patriotism; but they were cities with a relatively small territory. Gaul, Spain and Italy, before they were absorbed by the Roman empire, were collections of tribal groups which were often leagued together, but without central institutions and without dynasties. Nor were the Assyrian and the Persian empires, or the empire of Alexander, fatherlands. There were never Assyrian patriots; the Persian empire was a vast feudalism. Not one national can trace its origin to the colossal fortune of Alexander, which was nevertheless so rich in consequences to the general history of civilization.
—The Roman empire was much nearer being a fatherland. In return for the great benefit of a cessation of wars, Roman domination, at first so hard, was very soon liked. Here was a great association the synonym of order, peace and civilization. In the latter days of the empire there was, among lofty souls, among enlightened bishops, and among the lettered, a true sentiment of "Roman peace," as opposed to the menacing chaos of barbarism. But an empire, twice as large as France is to-day, could not form a state in the modern acceptation of that word. The separation of the east from the west was inevitable. The attempts at a Gallic empire, in the third century, did not succeed. It was the Germanic invasion which introduced into the world the principle which, later, served as a basis for the existence of nationalities.
—What did the Germanic peoples in fact do, from their great invasions of the fifth century to the last Norman conquests in the tenth? They made little fundamental change in the races: but they imposed dynasties and a military aristocracy on more or less considerable parts of the former western empire, which parts took the names of their invaders. Hence a France, a Burgundy, a Lumbardy, and later, a Normandy. The ascendency which the Frankish empire rapidly gained, reproduced for a brief period the unity of the west; but this sway was irremediably broken toward the middle of the ninth century. The treaty of Verdun marked out divisions immutable in principle, and from that time France, Germany, Italy and Spain have traveled by ways, often circuitous and venturesome, to their full national existence, such as we behold it to-day.
—What is it that in fact characterizes these different stales? It is the fusion of the peoples which compose them. In the countries we have just enumerated there is nothing analogous to what will be found in Turkey, where Turk, Slave, Greek, Armenian. Arab, Syrian and Koord are as distinct to-day as on the day of the conquest. Two important circumstances contributed to this result. The first was, that the Germanic peoples adopted Christianity when they came into near contact with the Greek and Latin peoples. When the conqueror and the conquered are of the same religion, or rather, when the conqueror adopts the religion of the conquered, the Turkish system, of distinguishing men solely by their religion, can no longer exist. The second circumstance was, that the conquerors forget their own language. The grandsons of Clovis, Alaric, Gondebald, Alboin and Rollo already spoke Romanic. This fact was itself the consequence of another important fact, viz., that the Franks, Burgundians, Goths, Lombards and Normans had with them very few women of their race. For several generations the chief men married only German women; but their concubines were Latin, the nurses of their children were Latin; all the tribe married Lain women; consequently the lingua francicaand the lingua gothicahad but a short existence after the establishment of the Franks and Goths on Roman lands. It was not so in England; for the Anglo-Saxon invaders had, without doubt, women with them; the British population fled, and besides, the Latin was no longer, or indeed never was, dominant in Britain. If the Gallic had been generally spoken in Gaul, in the fifth century, Clovis and his followers would not have had to abandon Germanic for Gallic.
—Hence this capital fact, that, notwithstanding the extreme violence of the manners of the German invaders, the mould which they imposed became, in the course of centuries, the mould of the nation itself. France became quite legitimately the name of a country into which only an imperceptible minority of Franks had entered. In the tenth century, in the first chansons de geste, which are so perfect a mirror of the spirit French. The idea of a difference of races in the population of France, so manifest in Gregory of Tours, does not appear at all in French writers and poets subsequent to Hugues Capet. The distinction between noble serf is as marked as possible; but the difference is not at all a difference of race; it is a difference of courage, of habit, and of education, transmitted by heredity: the idea that it all originated in conquest occurs to no one. The false system according to which the nobility had its origin in a privilege conferred by the king for great services rendered the nation, so that every noble was one upon whom the title had been conferred, was established as a dogma in the thirteenth century.
—The same thing occurred after nearly all the Normal conquests. After one or two generations the Norman invaders were no longer distinguishable from the rest of the population. Their influence had, however, been profound. They had given the conquered country a nobility, military habits, and a patriotism which it did not previously possess.
—Forgetfulness, and historic error even, are essential in the formation of a nation hence progress in historic studies is frequently attended with danger to nationality. Historic investigations brings to light the deeds of violence which occurred at the beginning of all political organizations, even those whose results have been most beneficent. Unity is always produced brutally: the union of northern and southern France was the result of terror and extermination continued for nearly a century. The king of France, the ideal type, so to say, of a secular crystallizer, who had made the most perfect national unity that exists; the king of France, seen too near, lost his prestige: the nation he had formed, cursed him; and today, none but cultured minds know what he was worth and what he did.
—It is by contrast that these great laws of the history of western Europe become sensible. In the enterprise which the king of France, partly by his tyranny and partly by his justice, brought to so admirable a termination, many countries were stranded. Under the crown of St. Stephen the Magyars and the Slaves have remained as distinct as they were 800 years ago. Far from fusing the various elements of its domains, the house of Hapsburg has kept them distinct and often opposed to one another. In Bohemia the Czech element and the German element are superposed like oil and water in a glass. The Turkish policy, of separating nationalities according to their religion, has had results far more serious: it has caused the breaking up of the Oriental empire. In a city like Salonica or Smyrna there will be found five or six communities, each of which has its own memories, and between which there is scarcely anything in common. Now the essence of a nation, that all the individuals must have many things in common, and also that all must have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is Burgundian, Alain, Tarfale, or Visigoth: every French citizen must have forgotten St. Bartholomew's night and the massacres in the southern provinces in the thirteenth century. There are not ten families in France which can furnish proof of Frankish origin, and besides, such proof would be essentially defective, because of the thousand unknown crossings which may derange all the systems of the genealogists.
—The modern nation is then a historic result of a series of facts all tending to the same end. Sometimes unity has been realized by a dynasty, as was the case in France; again, it has been by the direct will of the people, as in Holland, Switzerland and Belgium; at another time, by a general spirit slowly vanquishing the caprices of feudalism, as in the case of Italy and Germany. A profound reason for their existence has always led to these formations. Principles, in such cases, make their way by the most unexpected surprises. We have, in our day, seen Italy unified by its defeats, and Turkey broken up by its victories. Every defeat advanced the cause of Italy; every victory was a loss to turkey, for Italy is a nation, and Turkey, outside of Asia Minor, is not one. It is the glory of France to have proclaimed, by the French revolution, that a nation exists by its own act. But what, pray, is a nation? Why is Holland a nation, while Hanover or the grand duchy of Parma is not? How is it that France continues to be a nation, when the principle which created her has disappeared? How is Switzerland, which has three languages, two religions, and three or four races, a nation, when Tuscany, for example, which is so homogeneous, is not a nation? Why is Austria a state and not a nation? In what does the principle of nationalities differ from the principle of races? These are points upon which a reflecting mind likes to come to a definite conclusion. The affairs of the world are hardly ever regulated by reasoning on this sort of questions; but the men who study them like to bring reason to bear on these matters and to clear away the confusion of superficial minds in their regard.
—II. According to certain political theorists a nation is above all a dynasty, representing a former conquest, which was at first accepted and then forgotten by the mass of the people. According to these theorists the grouping of provinces effected by a dynasty through its wars, its marriages and its treaties, ends with the dynasty which brought it about. It is quite true that most modern nations have been made by a family of feudal origin, which has married on the soil and has been in some sort a nucleus of centralization. The limits of France in 1789 were neither natural nor necessary. The large belt which the house of Capet had added to the narrow strip of the treaty of Verdun, was properly the personal acquisition of that house. At the time when the annexations were made, people had no idea of natural limits, or of the rights of nations, or of the consent of the provinces. The union of England, Ireland and Scotland was likewise a dynastic fact. Italy was so long in becoming a nation only because, among its numerous reigning houses, none, before our century, made itself a centre of union. Strange to say, it took its royal title*60 from the obscure island of Sardinia—a land scarcely Italian. Holland, which created itself by an act of heroic resolve, nevertheless contracted a close marriage with the house of Orange, and would incur actual peril if at any time that union should be endangered. Is such a law, however, absolute? Doubtless not. Switzerland and the United States, which have been formed as if from conglomerates of successive additions, have no dynastic base. To discuss the question concerning France, it would be necessary to have the secret of the future. Let us simply say that that great French royalty had been so decidedly national, that the very day after its fall the nation was able to hold together without it. And then the eighteenth century had changed everything. Man had returned, after centuries of abasement, to his former spirit of respect for himself, to an idea of his rights. The words fatherland and citizen had recovered their meaning. Thus was accomplished the boldest deed which has been done in history, a deed which may be compared with what it would be in physiology, to attempt to make a body, from which brain and heart had been removed, live with its previous identity.
—We must then admit that a nation can exist without the dynastic principle, and even the nations which have been formed by dynasties, may be separated from that dynasty without ceasing in consequence to exist. The old principle, which only took account of the right of princes, can no longer be maintained; besides the dynastic right, there is the national right. On what shall this national right be based? by what sign shall it be recognized? from what tangible fact shall it be derived?
—1. From race, say many confidently. Artificial divisions, resulting from feudalism, princely marriages, and diplomatic congresses, are of short duration; but race is permanent. It is this that constitutes a right, a legitimacy. The Germanic family, for example, according to this theory, has the right to take back the scattered members of Germanism, even though its members do not ask to be again united. The right of Germanism over a certain province is stronger than the right of the inhabitants of that province over themselves. Thus a sort of primordial right is created, analogous to that of kings by right divine; for the principle of nations, is substituted that of ethnography. This is a very great error, which, if it should prevail, would prove a loss to European civilization. The principle of the primordial right of races is as narrow and full of danger to true progress, as the principle of nationality is just and legitimate.
—In the ancient tribe and city the fact of race had, we acknowledge, a primary importance. The ancient tribe and the city were only an extension of the family. At Sparta and at Athens all the citizens were more or less connected by blood. 'It was the same with the Israelities, and it is still so in Arab tribes. In the Roman empire we find the situation wholly different. Formed at first by violence, then maintained by interest, this great agglomeration of towns and provinces absolutely unlike, gives a most serious blow to the idea of race. Christianity, with its universal and absolute character, works still more efficaciously to the same end. It becomes intimately allied with the Roman empire; and, by the effect of these two incomparable agents of unification, the ethnographic reason is left out of the government of human things for centuries. The invasion of the barbarians was, notwithstanding appearances, one step more in this direction. The division of the barbarian kingdoms had no ethnographic significance; they were governed by the power or the caprice of the invaders. The race of the population they subjected to them, was to them wholly a matter of indifference. Charlemagne did again in his way what Rome had already done: he made a single empire composed of races most diverse. The authors of the treaty of Verdun, while coolly tracing their two great lines from the north to south had not the slightest concern about the races of the people on the right and the left. The changes of frontier effected after the middle ages were also independent of any ethnographic tendency. If the policy followed by the Capetian house succeeded in grouping, under the name of France, nearly all the territory of ancient Gaul, this was not the effect of any tendency these countries might have to reunite with those of the same race. Dauphiny, Bresse, Provence and Franche-Comté had no longer any remembrance of a common origin. All Gallic consciousness had ended in the second century of our era, and it is only through the views of learned that people have, in our day, found again retrospectively the individuality of the Gallic character.
—The ethnographic consideration has then counted for nothing in the constitution has then counted for nothing in the constitution of modern nations. France is Celtic, Iberian, Germanic. Germany is Germanic, Celtic and Slave. Italy is the country where the ethnography is the most perplexing. Gauls, Etruscans, Pelasgians, Greeks, not to mention other elements, are there crossed and intermingled in an inexplicable manner. The British isles, taken as a whole, present a commingling of Celtic and German blood, the proportions of which are extremely difficult to determine. The truth is, that there is no pure race, and that to make politics depend on ethnographic analysis, is to base it on a chimera. The most noble countries, England, France and Italy, are those whose blood is the most mixed. Is Germany an exception in this respect? Is it a purely Germanic country? It is an illusion to suppose so. All the south was Gallic. All the east, from the Elbe, is Slavic. And are the parts that it is claimed are really pure, so in fact? Here we touch upon one of the problems upon which is most important to have clear ideas and to prevent misapprehension.
—Discussions upon races are interminable, because the word race is taken by philosophical historians and by physiological anthropologists in two senses altogether different. To anthropologists, race has the same meaning as in Zoölogy; it indicates an actual descent, a blood relationship. Now the study of languages and history does not lead to the same divisions as physiology. The words brachycephalous and dolichocephalous have no place in history or in philology. In the human group which created the Aryan languages and discipline, there were already brachycephalous and dolichocephalous individuals. The same may be said of the primitive group which created the languages and institutions called Semitic. In other terms, the zoölogic beginnings of humanity were vastly anterior to the beginnings of culture, of civilization, and of language. The primitive Aryan, primitive Semitic and primitive Turanian groups had no physiological unity. These groupings were historic facts which took place at some epoch, say some fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, while the zoölogic origin of mankind is lost in impenetrable darkness. What is philologically and historically called the Germanic race, is certainly a very distinct family in the human race. But is it a family in an anthropological sense? Assuredly not. Germanic individuality appeared in history only a few centuries before christ. Evidently the Germans did not spring from out of the earth at that time. Before that, fused with the Slaves in the great undistinguished mass of Scythians, they had not a separate individuality. An Englishman is indeed one type of mankind. Now the type that is very improperly called the Anglo-Saxon*61 race is not the Briton of the time of Cæsar, nor the Anglo Saxon of Hengist, nor the Dane of Canute, not the Norman of William the Conqueror; he is the resultant of them all. The Frenchman is not a Gaul, a Frank, nor a Burgundian. He is what has come out of the great caldron, where, under the direction of the king of France, the most diverse elements have worked together. An inhabitant of the isle of Jersey or of Guernsey does not differ at all in origin from the Norman population of the neighboring coast. In the eleventh century the most penetrating eye could not have perceived the slightest difference on the two sides of the channel. Insignificant circumstances prevented Phillippe-Auguste from taking these islands with the rest of Normandy. Separated from each other for nearly 700 years, the two peoples have become not only strangers to each other, but wholly unlike. Race, then, as we historians understand it, is made and unmade. The study of race is of capital importance to the savant who devotes himself to the history of mankind. It has no application in politics. The instinctive consciousness which has guided the making of the map of Europe, has taken no account of race, and the first nations of Europe are nations of essentially mixed blood.
—The fact of race, important as it is at the origin, continually loses its importance. Human history differs essentially from zoölogy. Race is not everything in it, as with rodents and the feline tribe, and we have no right to go through the world feeling the crania of people, and then taking them by the throat and crying out: "You are of our blood: you belong to us." Besides the anthropological characteristics, there are reason, justice, truth and beauty, which are the same for all. The ethnographic policy is not safe. You employ it to day against others; then you see it turned against yourself. Is it certain that the Germans, who have raised so high the standard of ethnography, will not see the Slaves come and analyze, in their turn, the names of the villages of Saxony and Lusatia, to find traces if the Wiltzes and Obotrites, and to demand an account of the wholesale massacres and public sales of their ancestors caused by the Othos? For all, it is well to forget.
—Ethnography is a science of rare interest; but, to be free, it should be without political application. In ethnography, as in all studies, systems change: that is the condition of progress. Should nations, then, change with the systems? The limits of states would then follow the fluctuations of science. Patriotism might depend on a more or less paradoxical dissertation. One might say to a patriot: "You are mistaken; you are shedding your blood for a certain cause. You think you are a Celt: you are not, you are German." Then, ten years later, he might be told he was a Slave. In order not to pervert science, let us exempt it from giving advice on these problems. Where so many interests are at stake. We may be sure that if we charge it with furnishing elements for diplomacy, we shall many times detect it in the crime of compliance with the demands of diplomacy. It has something better to do: let us ask of it simply truth.
—2. What has just been said of race applies also to language. Language invites to union: it does not compel it. The United States and England speak the same tongue, but do not form one nation. So with Spanish America and Spain. Switzerland, on the contrary, so well constituted since it was made by the consent of its different parts, contains three or four languages. There is in man something superior to language: it is will. The will of Switzerland to be united, notwithstanding the variety of her idioms, is a fact much more important than a similarity if language, often obtained by vexations interference.
—A fact honorable to France is, that she has never sought to secure unity of language by coercive measures. People may have the same feelings, the same thoughts and the same affections, without speaking the same tongue. We just spoke of the disadvantage of making international policy depend on ethnography. There would not be less in making it depend on comparative philology. Let these interesting studies be given entire liberty of discussion; let us not mix them up with anything that would disturb their serenity. The political importance attached to languages comes from the fact that they are regarded as signs of race. Nothing could be more erroneous. Prussia, where German alone is now spoken, spoke slave a few centuries ago; the country of Walves speaks English; Gaul and Spain speak the primitive idiom of Alba Longra; Egypt speaks Arabic; examples are innumerable. Even in their beginnings, similitude of language did not involve similitude of race. Let us take the proto-Aryan or proto Semitic tribe. In it were slaves who spoke the same language as their masters. Now the slave was then very often of a different race from that of his master. We repeat: these divisions of Indo-European, Semitic and other languages, created with such admirable sagacity by comparative philology, do not coincide with the divisions of anthropology. Languages are historic formations, which give little indication of the blood of those who speak them, and which, in any case, can not bind human freedom when there is question of determining the family with which one will form a life and death alliance. "This exclusive consideration of language has, like the too great attention given to race, its disadvantages. One who exaggerates it, shuts himself up in one determinate culture, called national; he limits himself, he becomes immured. He leaves the open air one breathes in the vast field of humanity, to shut himself in conventicles of compatriots. Nothing is worse for the mind; nothing more hurtful to civilization. Let us not abandon this fundamental principle, that man is a reasonable and moral being, before being separated by any language, before being a member of any particular race, an adherent of any special culture. Before French, German or Italian culture, as human culture. See the great men of the renaissance: they were neither French, nor Italian, nor German. They had found, by their study of antiquity, the secret of the true education of the human mind, and they devoted themselves to the body and soul. How well they did! 3. Not can religion present a sufficient basis for the establishment of a modern nationality. At the beginning, religion pertained to the very existence of the social group. The social group was an extension of family. The religion, the rites were family rites. The religion of Athens was the worship of Athens itself, of its mythical founders, its laws and its customs. It implied to dogmatic theology. This religion was, in all the force of the term, a state religion. One was not an Athenian if he refused to practice it. It was at bottom, the worship of the Acropolis personified. To swear on the altar of Aglauros,*62 was to take an oath to die for one's country. This religion was equivalent to what the act of drawing lots, or of swearing by the flag, is among us. To refuse to participate in such a worship was what it would be in modern society to refuse military service. It was to declare that one was not Athenina. On the other hand, it is clear that such a worship had no meaning for one who was not of Athens; so no proselytism was used to compel strangers, to accept it. The slaves of Athens did not practice it. It was the same in some of the small republics of the middle ages. One was not a good Venetian if he did not sweat by St. Mark; one was not a good Amalfitan if he did not hold St. Andrew above all the other saints of paradise. In these small communities, that which later became persecution and tyranny was legitimate, and of no more consequence than is among us the fact of wishing the head of a family joy on his birthday, or of greeting him with "happy new year!" on the first day of the year.
—What was true in Sparta and Athens, was already so no longer in the kingdoms which had originated in the conquest of Alexander, and especially was no longer so in the Roman empire. The persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes to bring the east to the worship of Jupiter Olympus, and those of the Roman empire to maintain a pretended state religion, were a fault, a crime, a veritable absurdity. In our day the situation is perfectly clear. There are no longer masses believing just alike. Every one believes and practices in his way, what he can , as he wishes. There is no longer a state religion; one may be French English or German, while being Catholic, Protestant or Israelite, or while practicing no religion. Religion has become an individual matter; it concerns the conscience of each person. The division of nations into Catholic and Protestant no longer exists. Religion, which, fifty or more years ago, was so considerable an element in the formation of Belgium, keeps all its importance in the internal tribunal of every person; but it is almost entirely outside of the reasons which mark the limits of peoples.
—4. Community of interests is assuredly a powerful bond among men. But are interests sufficient to make a nation? I think not. Community of interests makes commercial treaties. There is a sentimental side in nationality; it is body and soul at the same time: a zollverein is not a fatherland.
—5. Geography, or what is called natural boundaries, certainly plays a considerable part in the division of nations. Geography is one of the essential factors of history. Rivers have led the races; mountains have arrested them. The former have favored, the latter have limited, historic movements. Can one say, however, as certain parties believe, that the limits of a nation are written down on the map, and that the nation has a right to adjudge itself what is necessary to round out certain contours, to reach a certain mountain or river, to which one attributes, a priori, a sort of limiting faculty? I know of no doctrine more arbitrary or more fatal. By it all violence is justified. And in the first place, is it mountains and rivers which form these pretended natural boundaries? It is incontestable that mountains separate; but rivers unite rather. And then all mountains could not carve out states. Which are those that separate and those which do not separate? From Biarritz to Tornca there is not a mouth of river which has, more than another, the characteristics of a boundary. If history had so determined, the Loire, the Seine, the Meuse, the Elbe and the Oder would have, as much as the Rhine, that character of a natural boundary, which has caused so many infractions of the fundamental right, which is the will of men. People talk of strategic reasons. Nothing is absolute; it is clear that many concessions must be made to necessity. But it is not necessary that these concessions go too far. Otherwise, every party will lay claim to his military exigencies, and there will be endless war. No, it is not land any more than race that makes a nation. The land furnishes thesubstratum, the field for the struggle and the labor; man furnishes the soul. Man is everything in the formation of the sacred thing called a people. Nothing material is sufficient for it. A nation is a spiritual principle, resulting from the profound complications of history; a spiritual family, not a group determined by the configuration of the soil. We have just seen what will not suffice to create such a spiritual principle: race, language, interests, religious affinity, geography, military necessities. What more then is wanted?
—III. A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things which, in truth, make only one, constitute that soul, that spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is the actual consent, the desire of living together, the disposition to continue to give value to the undivided inheritance they have received. Man is not improvised. The nation, like the individual, is the outcome of a long past of efforts, sacrifices and devotion. The worship of ancestors is the most legitimate of all; our ancestors have made us what we are. An heroic past, great men and true glory are the social capital on which the idea of a nation is based. To have a common glory in the past, a common will in the present; to have done great things together, to desire to do still more; these are essential conditions for being a people. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices to which he has consented, the evils he has suffered. One loves the house he has built and which he transmits. The Spartan song: "We are what you were; we shall be what you are," is, in its simplicity, the abridged hymn of every fatherland. In the past, a heritage of glory and of regrets to share together; in the future, the same programme to be realized: to have suffered, enjoyed and hoped together; these are worth more than common custom houses and frontiers in conformity with strategic ideas; these can be understood, despite diversities of race and of language. I said just now, "to have suffered together." Yes, suffering in common unites more than joy. In the matter of national memories the griefs are worth more than the triumphs; for they impose duties, they command effort in common.
—A nation is then a great solidarity, constituted by the sentiment of the sacrifices that have been made, and by those which the people are still disposed to make. It supposes a past; it is, however, summed up in the present by a tangible fact: the consent, the clearly expressed desire of continuing the common life. The existence of a nation is (if the metaphor be permissible) a continued plebiscitum, as the existence of the individual is a perpetual affirmation of life. This is, to be sure, less metaphysical than divine right, less brutal than the claimed historic right. In accordance with the ideas here submitted, a nation has, no more than a king, the right to say to a province: "You belong to me, I take you." To us, a province is its inhabitants. If any one has a right to be consulted in that matter, it is the inhabitant. It is never for the real interest of a nation to annex or to retain a country against the will of that country. The wishes of nations are, in fact, the only legitimate criterion, that to which it must always return.
—We have driven out of politics metaphysical and theological abstractions. What remains, after that? Man remains, with his desires and needs. One may say that secession, and , in the end, the crumbling away of nations, are the consequence of a system which puts these old organizations at the mercy of wills often little enlightened. It is clear that in such a matter no principle should be pushed to excess. Truths of this kind are applicable only in a very general manner. Humanity desires change; but What does not change? Nations are not eternal. They had a beginning, they will have an end. A European confederation will probably supply their place on that continent. But such is not the law of the age in which we live. At the present time the existence of nations is well, and even necessary. Their existence is the guarantee of liberty, which would be lost if the world had only one law and only one master. By their diverse faculties, which are often in opposition, nations serve in the common work of civilization. Isolated, they have their weaknesses. An individual who should have the faults held as desirable qualities in nations; who should cherish vainglory, and be in this regard jealous, egoistic and quarrelsome; who would bear nothing without drawing his sword, would be the most insupportable of men. But all these particular discords disappear when the whole is considered.
—To recapitulate. Man is not the slave of his race, his tongue, his religion, or of the courses of rivers or the direction of mountain chains. A great aggregation of men, of sound mind and warm heart, creates a moral conscience which is called a nation. While this moral conscience proves its power by the sacrifices which the abdication of the individual requires for the benefit of a community , it is legitimate, and has the right to exist. If doubts arise with regard to boundaries, consult the people on the disputed territory. They have a right to have their opinion considered in the matter. This will bring a smile to the great politicians, those infallibles who pass their lives in deceiving themselves, and who, from the height of their superior principles, take pity on our low views. "Consult the people—pshaw! what innocence! Those are only worthless ideas which aim to substitute for diplomacy and war means of infantine simplicity." We can wait until the reign of politicians has passed: we can suffer the disdain of powerful. Perhaps, after much ineffectual groping, people will turn back to our modest empiric solutions. The way to be right in the future, is to know at certain times how to be resigned to being out of fashion.
E.J. LEONARD, Tr.
Notes for this chapter
This article may serve as a pertinent criticism on those on
The house of Savoy owes its royal title to the possession of Sardinia(1720)
The Germanic elements are not much more considerable in the United Kingdom than they were in France at the time when it possessed Alsace and Metz. The Germanic language has predominated in the British isles only because the Latin had not entirely supplanted the Celtic idioms there, as it had a Gaul.
End of Notes
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