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11/23/2017 6:01 pm  #1

What is the Nation?

I have been thinking about this alot recently, given the recent Catalonian crisis as well as the media's hand-wringing over the world-wide resurgence of nationalism. Of course, before one can be a nationalist, one must know what makes his nation a nation. I've always considered myself to be both a Jewish (Religious-Zionist) nationalist as well as an American nationalist. My conception of both nations I am part of has always been a nation built around a shared sense of duty to a certain ideal; whether it is the Jewish religion or the values of the Constitution and our Framers. I still see that as the most robust form of national identification, but what room does that leave for a shared culture or historic experience?  I would greatly appreciate hearing all your thoughts on the matter.

Noli turbare circulos meos.

11/24/2017 7:25 am  #2

Re: What is the Nation?

For the nation, your individual background does not matter. Individual identity and national identity relate like a particle of sand to the heap of sand: It takes a bunch to make a heap, and it's indeed a matter of quantity more than of quality.

All nations (countries, states) have people with somewhat mixed backgrounds in them, but one should recognize (the existence of) homogeneous countries too. Homogeneous people have one or some objective unifying qualities that make up their identity, while mixed nations (USA is a prime example here) have to construct their identity by building myths around their founding fathers, make every citizen salute the flag and recite the oath, etc.

Last edited by seigneur (11/24/2017 7:32 am)


11/26/2017 8:22 am  #3

Re: What is the Nation?

As a born Russian citizen of mixed descent who had to study public law and related topics, I fairly often have the occasion to consider this matter.

I think it is crucial to be very careful using words like "nation" or "nationalist", as they have many senses, and hence a distinct danger of equivocation casts its long shadow over many discussions of this sort. My awareness of it makes me explicitly state certain things that prima facie wouldn't merit this, so I beg your forgiveness for the possible tediousness of my exposition. I also need to state that in it presuppose the truth of A-T. 

Now, whatever a nation is, it is a moral entity and a society of some sort. Societies are fundamentally what people have to do and do, so we can view them as systems of duties and relations. People unite in societies in order to pursue some goal that cannot be achieved, and its possession preserved, at least with relative ease and permanence, by their own separate efforts.This fits at least the nominal definition of the "common good". 

Now, the paramount, unconditional duty of all creatures is to glorify God through their activity (virtious activity in the case of rational animals) and thus attain happiness. This presupposes the need to uphold justice; the said need demands a certain order to our lives and actions, which in turn necessitates the institution of an authority to enforce it should need arise, as this order does not obtain of itself and is contigent upon certain conditions beeing fulfilled.

It is thus not at all surprising that most ancient societies individuated themselves through a particular public cult, hence the common duty of partaking in public sacrifices, coincedence of political/familial and priestly duties etc. The Bible lends its witness to this, I think: biblical Israel is individuated as a polity through its theology, dogmatic and moral, understood as directly revealed by God (relative necessity of heredity is, as I understand it, also taken to be a revealed truth). What is of fundamental importance, of course, is the claim of exclusive truth, but given our animality in practice the assent to this truth is largely supported by reliance on distinct and particular forms of worship (also understood as prescribed as morally necessary and specified by God). And non-(mono)theism and/or a superstitious or even simply a cult other than the divinely prescribed one qualifies one as a Gentile.

But the self-understanding of most Gentiles (speaking of pre-Christian times) was also like that: distinct if not too sophisticated views on divinity (which can include a deification of both political and familial authority, so common descent is also viewed in light of a theology of sorts; common anscestors are also importantly epistemologically, as children are, I believe, inclined to accept knowledge imparted by parents and educators relatively uncritically, at least for a time), public cult and mores ultimately defined a people. An example: if I recall correctly, the plebians clamouring for access to legal formulas kept secret by patrician families had, among others, a distinct religious motivation, for without this knowledge there was no way ascertain whether the contract was fas or nefas. Few imperatives, if any, motivate/mobilise/unify as effacaciously as divine imperatives (hence the constant temptation to describe one's authority as divine). 

Ideologically conditioned political identity is, I believe, quasi-divinely sanctioned: in order to treat some particular arrangement (say, one prescribed by the Constitution, or a particular language) as commanding unconditional allegiance one has to suppose that it is immediately sanctioned by something that does that per se, and that is natural law (which also necessitates adhering to revealed law provided it is actually revealed). The other way of achieving that would be to consider some people as specifically different: for example, some Russian Slavophiles, in order to defend what they viewed as the Russian way of life, argued for the existence of "the Russian spirit" within some sort of a Hegelian framework. The other evident example of this strategy being employed is the case of German National Socialism, of course: Aryans were viewed as a kind of a species, an essentially perfect race (that it doesn't make too much sense to non-Nazis is to be expected, as it wasn't a really well-thought through ideology, and to a large extent historically contingent, I think). I cannot think of a single case where nationalism was based entirely on common descent or language: Balkan nationalisms, for example, almost always (the exception I can recall being Serbophile Muslim Bosnians, though the community as a whole remained loyal to the Habsburgs) exploited  the most widely practiced religion or at least made use of religious opposition, and there commonly was a historical grievance sometimes combined with a superiority claim in addition (barbarous Magyars invading civilised Christian Slavs lands/ all sorts of newcomers disturbing the peace of Romans-Romanians etc.). 

Of course, common descent, language and similarity in other particulars help: I confess that in affective terms I do love my sister more than a dissimilar stranger; I rejoice at hearing Russian after a long time abroad etc. But it appears that these relatively private, concrete things, precisely as private and conrete, do not recommend themselves as matter for absolutisation.

Which absolutisation (and hence most nationalisms) I hold to be irrational, morally wrong and possibly idolatrous.

Last edited by GeorgiusThomas (11/26/2017 4:45 pm)


11/26/2017 9:46 am  #4

Re: What is the Nation?

A concrete judgement entailed by this position: it is indeed (should be?) dulce et decorum to die for the United States, fighting a just war in defence of the common good. And, in a way, one should be prepared to lay down one's life for the Constitution, if it is under an unjust attack backed with lethal force, ceteris paribus. But this readiness should be proportionate to the extent that retaining this Constitution is necessary for the common good.

It would hence be immoral to invade a country or revolt in an attempt of forcing your preferred form of government on it, provided the existent regime is not per se unjust and the ruler is not a cause of at least ongoing grave evil (which is accidental to the form of government as such).


11/26/2017 10:18 am  #5

Re: What is the Nation?

Apologies for my little non-intervensionist diversion.  But I suppose it is an example of an unwarranted absolutisation of a particular arrangement.

More to the point would be the example of Italian Risorgimento., as I believe that attacking other states and enciting rebellion against existing authorities simply to reach the goal of combining territories with roughly Italian-speaking residents into the unified state of Italy to be unjust.

Last edited by GeorgiusThomas (11/26/2017 10:19 am)


11/26/2017 1:06 pm  #6

Re: What is the Nation?

One asks, in light of this negative characterisation (what a nation shouldn't be),what is a morally licit nation.

I suppose it would be a group of people bound by similar values (the goods of humans as such are universal, so here the word should mean emphasoi), practical preferences and aesthetic sensibilities (defended by Chesterton's fence; this covers language, though I don't think it is essential), united also by respect and gratitude towards common cultural anscestors understood as this group's benefactors, perhaps particularly the contributors to the coming about of these cultural peculiarities . I am not sure precisely how to put all of this together to get a proper definition, but I've seen even worse descriptions, and I'd appreciate assitance in this quest.

Last edited by GeorgiusThomas (11/26/2017 1:06 pm)


12/11/2017 11:07 am  #7

Re: What is the Nation?

I am afraid I must disagree, although my posts will undoubtedly be less extensive and erudite than yours' deserve.

Once a national culture (let's say Italian) reaches a certain critical point of distinction from it's rulers, independence is justified. In the long run, a distinct nation cannot hope to be fairly represented in a polity dominated by foreigners, even in a Republic. At that point independence becomes absolutely necessary.

Regarding national unification, I'd tentatively put forth that it is necessary for a nation to be united to resist foreign domination, as is indeed what occurred to the Italian City States throughout their history.

Noli turbare circulos meos.
     Thread Starter

12/13/2017 3:24 pm  #8

Re: What is the Nation?

@ Etzelnik

I recognise that you can with good reason say that the identification of this critical point is not easily done speculatively, but I'm nonetheless urged to at least try to inquire further by what seems to me to be a grave problem.

Choosing natural law premises as the point of departure, I can see how the common good demands setting up some rational way of guarding and fostering it (that is, the state). I can see how individuals are ordered to it, and also why this agent bears the sword, having the power to enforce peace even through lethal force, as the whole is greater than its parts (not to the point of sheer consequentialism, of course).

What I cannot establish is a similar moral ordering to the nation: at what point does commonality in cultural particulars acquire a title that outweighs civic piety? Why can't an appropriate cultural autonomy be negotiated within the existing civil order? Why can't proportional mutual assimilation be mandated in such circumstances? After all, one can claim such an independence for even smaller commonality units, all the way down to tribalism, and until we identify some measure I don't think one can call (proclaimed) nations a natural unit: nationalisms are prima facie historically fairly contingent, and the historical association of them with irrationalities of all sorts leaves me somewhat sceptical.

I can intuitively see the necessity you speak of when considering independence from an another nation state, or in the case of a largely defensive nationalism of a sort (such as, arguably, Polish nationalism or Zionism): for the dominant nation qua nation is not, on my view of a morally licit nation, entitled to demand conformity to it without a clear reference to the common good and a proportional readiness to accommodate autonomy (one way of mutual assimilation, I suppose).

But nation states are a fairly recent development, nor do states require a national culture (narrowly understood) to subsist: consider the case of the Habsburg monarchy, where Latin remained the language of state for a long time and the court was also cosmopolitan. Even if this state didn't perfectly examplify fair rule (what does under the sun?), can something like this not be considered a preferable alternative?

Last edited by GeorgiusThomas (12/13/2017 3:38 pm)


12/13/2017 4:05 pm  #9

Re: What is the Nation?

I confess that in terms of ideals I veer in the Virgilian direction presented here (limiting religious localism to accidental differences, of course):


12/24/2017 10:07 pm  #10

Re: What is the Nation?

Etzelnik wrote:

I have been thinking about this alot recently, given the recent Catalonian crisis as well as the media's hand-wringing over the world-wide resurgence of nationalism. Of course, before one can be a nationalist, one must know what makes his nation a nation. I've always considered myself to be both a Jewish (Religious-Zionist) nationalist as well as an American nationalist. My conception of both nations I am part of has always been a nation built around a shared sense of duty to a certain ideal; whether it is the Jewish religion or the values of the Constitution and our Framers. I still see that as the most robust form of national identification, but what room does that leave for a shared culture or historic experience? I would greatly appreciate hearing all your thoughts on the matter.

It doesn't. You're request for a certain universal defining of a nation from its citizens will probably be mixed by variances of cognizance of what their nation means to them, as you have declared it means to you. Would one man of military service age join such an organization and voluntarily put himself in harm's way to defend his nation? Yes. Another man would not. This is a dichotomy that is wholly acceptable but it leaves us no sense of national importance or urgency. This is the supreme measure of it.

You claim your religion (cultural heritage) remains an important aspect in your psyche. Fair enough and quite respectable. Given a choice, which would you champion first? Your nation's defense or your cultural preservation? In America this question is invalid because it was built upon the preservation of both and it's why you are comfortable declaring both as important to you. That's the American spirit, in theory.

There are countless people who will parrot your every word, and those who would differ with you. Your notion of a shared sense of nation can live only through a shared definition accepted across an entire population with a sense of self like your own. That's an immediate brow wrinkling thought.

Tolerance defines America's freedom to preserve various cultural heritages and bigotry defines it when it doesn't. We know fully well America's original native people did not have the benefit of the lofty words their invaders bestowed upon themselves going forward. In this regard it failed to exercise equality for all miserably and these precious native people suffered in genocidal fashion at the hands of their invaders.

I think the entire notion and sense of nation is a moving target that can only be temporarily galvanized when duly threatened with extinction. After that, it cycles back into interpretation.  

Last edited by lacktone (12/24/2017 10:08 pm)


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