Year XXXV, 1993, Number 3 - Page 191

 

 

 FOR A REGULATED USE OF NATIONAL AND SUPRANATIONAL TERMINOLOGY*

 
MARIO ALBERTINI
 
 
1. Ambiguity in the concept of the nation.
 
The concept of the nation is of central importance in our theoretical and practical work. This brief introduction aims to try and apportion to this idea and word a reasonably precise meaning – at least precise enough that it may be usefully employed. To achieve this end it seemed necessary to take into consideration, within the same perspective, the idea and terminology relating to “supranational”; it will also be possible to specify this word, which is currently used as haphazardly in political circles as in cultural ones.
The national and supranational concepts have until now been scantily studied, and hence do not correspond to precise ideas. As a result even their connection to each other is confused. In this historic moment, with the return of nationalism in Europe[1] and the complete diffusion of nationalism throughout the Third World, such a situation is regrettable. I have previously emphasised in another issue of the review the extent to which the jingoist equation of independence of nations (as small as desired) = political, economic and cultural independence of its members, has spread as much to the right as to the left, notwithstanding the terrifying experience of bloody sacrifice for the nationalist idol in our century. Here, it is simply worth adding that the national idol, in periods when it hides its ferocious face and does not legitimise the killing of man by man, nevertheless feeds the costly magniloquent rhetoric of the ruling classes. It is extremely important to oppose to the ideological use of national terminology, which simply serves to maintain people’s ignorance of the state of their society, a regulated use of such terminology, which will allow these same people an awareness of the nature of the political society they live in.
That established, let us return to the problem at hand, and notice that the term “supranational”, and expressions such as “supranational unity”, “supranational ideals”, do not have an immediately obvious meaning. The word “supranational” simply suggests the idea of something which exists above the nations, but this something, whose nature is unspecific, renders uncertain the meaning of the concepts of “unity” and “ideal” themselves – they could be equally religious, moral, social, and so on.[2] Moreover, though we live in a world of “nations”, we should admit that the idea of the nation is not particularly clear. For many, unfortunately even among “Europeanists”, this viewpoint will seem paradoxical, but in fact it is entirely justified. Anyone who remains unconvinced should reread (yet how many have already done so?) Renan’ s famous essay on the nation.
Renan denied that the basis of the nation lay in language, in traditions, in race, or in the state, with the simple and inescapable observation that none of these elements is, in such a case, either understandable (race), always present where historically-existing groups of people are composed of individuals who consider themselves to constitute a nation (language), effectively coinciding with the national group (traditions), or specific (the state); he attempted to establish such a basis exclusively in the will to co-habit, in the “plebiscite of every day”: yet this idea provides us with little information until the “how” of this co-habitation is better explained. Naturally, to overcome this difficulty and explain the “how” at this stage of our understanding of the issue, we can only say “cohabitation as a nation” but in so doing we simply re-phrase the same question: what the formula “co-habitation” is supposed to clarify (the nature of the nation) remains yet to be discovered.
In his famous essay Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? Renan did not realise he had invented a formula rather than established the character of national society. For this reason, while he links the formation of national will to the historical process, he is unable to establish determining factors and precise facts. In this regard, he also writes: “Oblivion, and even historical error, are essential factors in the creation of a nation, and it is for this reason that the progress of historical studies is often a danger for nationality.” In this vein he concludes with basing the creation of national will on irrational elements. Besides, there exist academics who have, without hesitation, explicitly formulated this idea. Johannet, for example, affirms: “There exists in all organised societies a transparent part, which is the state, and an obscure part, which is the nationality.”
The critical part of Renan’s essay shows that such a viewpoint, in the current state of political culture, is neither personal nor arbitrary, but well-established and general. In effect Renan demonstrated the obscurity of what is apparently clear in the still current way of thinking about nations:[3] their constituent elements, such as language, traditions, descent (race), the state (common possession of a territory) and so on. Nevertheless, this conclusion, if it represents exactly the current state of the issue, can not be considered satisfactory. In reality, without a clear idea of the nation and lacking an equally clear idea of supranational ideals we end up groping in the dark specifically over the fundamental facts of contemporary politics. Hence, we should seek to specify both the ideas themselves and their inter-relationship: at least to the extent that it becomes possible to establish the facts – in other words, attitudes and institutions.
As far as the modern idea of the nation is concerned, it is worth recalling that at the beginning of the 19th century in France, the trailblazing country for national experience, common parlance did not yet fully reflect the new historical reality of the mono-national state.[4] The word “nation” had already taken over the position held exclusively until the end of the previous century by the word “king”; but the word “nationality”, which links individuals to the idea of the nation, had not yet entered into usage. There existed the “nation”, but it was not yet clear that the members of the state, by then considered as the nation, would have the same “nationality”. Boiste’s universal dictionary of the French language included the word only in its sixth edition, in 1823, and it was defined as follows: “Nationality, s.f., national character (Mme de Stael), spirit, love, union, national brotherhood; patriotism common to all. The French have no nationality (Buonaparte). Philosophistic despotism destroys all nationality.”
The Boiste dictionary of 1823 held the word to be new, as is shown by the symbol (a cross) which accompanied it. In fact no other word expressed the concept in question. A certain Lortet, who translated the work of Jahn on Volkstum (a term used controversially on purpose by Jahn in place of the corresponding Nationalität, which he rejected as a Frenchism) into French in 1825, entitled the work Recherches sur la Nationalité. But Lortet felt the need to explain the title, which to him did not seem immediately obvious, writing in the preface: “The word nationalité used in the title of this book, may well offend the ears of purists and not satisfy those who wish to understand from the title what the work contains. I was unable to find a better word in our language which could be used with the same meaning”.[5] In reality the idea of the nation was itself confused. It is sufficient to consider the startling contradiction of Boiste’s dictionary, which, with Napoleon’s quotation, seems to admit that the French, that is the individuals whom the national historiography considered as being members of the nation par excellence, did not share the same nationality. This concerns, moreover, a widespread view, even in this form, which seems so strange to us nowadays.
To set this way of thinking in context it is necessary to consider, on a linguistic level, that the word nation has not always had the meaning it currently possesses; and bear in mind, on a factual plane, the effective situation of socio-political relationships in that period. Both aspects clearly reveal their bearing in the expression peuples de la nation française, which in the 18th century was still current usage and hence necessarily reflected common perceptions. In this phrase, nation is practically synonymous with state, and the French state is thought of as a state composed of many peoples: today we would say a “multinational” state. In reality not only was French national sentiment not fully developed, as already pointed out, but the “divergent French provinces” still existed, each of which possessed its own forms of language, traditions and culture. Apparently, there continued to exist all the elements which, according to the current viewpoint, characterise multinational states.
Nevertheless, according to an opinion prevailing for a long time, notwithstanding these facts, France was a “nation” and not a conglomeration of different peoples. This concerns a viewpoint which most did not for the most part formalise, but which, when it was precisely formulated, resulted in the establishment of virtual nations, existing (it should be said) outside history since there existence can not be detected among concrete historical facts. Albert Sorel, for example, expressed himself in this vein: “The nations have existed for a long time unknown to themselves during the vegetative course of history. The French Revolution aroused the consciousness of their existence, and made them come about.”[6]
Naturally, with opinions such as these, a serious historical interpretation of national facts is not possible. Such viewpoints illustrate in an imaginative way a real fact: the long process which led to the advent of modern national states; but they have the serious defect of confusing the process towards something with the entity itself, and of thus projecting a false light over the entire process of creating nations. In reality, if an unaware existence is admitted for nations, it must also be admitted that nations are groups which can have some forms of existence without their members being aware of belonging to the group – which is equivalent to asserting that the presence of certain behaviours (usually of language, etc.) are sufficient to make a “nation” of the individuals who share them, even if such individuals are only vaguely aware of this, and have certainly not yet consciously elevated them to means and symbols of their group identification. Leaving this theory aside as unfounded, it is easily observed that the viewpoints which attribute the character of the nation to the 18th century French state, and similar contexts, are emptied of meaning. In fact, in these situations, in which the individuals were not yet conscious of belonging to their hypothetical unconscious nation, the social attitudes which are usually present in modern national groups (which is the only fact which could establish continuity between unconscious and current nations) defined, in the territory of the current European nations, groups both diverse and opposed, and hence, in the wake of the theory in question, we should even affirm that in each of these territories (the French one and so on) there co-existed, as someone said, “diverse virtual nations” (the diverse French provinces) and not individuals, which, given their behaviour, would have formed a single “nation” even if they were unaware of so doing.[7]
 
2. Nationality Based on the State and “Spontaneous Nationality”.
 
The fact remains that it is impossible to elaborate the characteristics of 18th century groups, as for those of previous centuries, with the modern idea of the nation. If attempted, the sole result is to render uncertain and ambiguous the historic facts themselves and it is hence impossible to establish the factors which, even at the beginning of the 19th century, rendered national terminology unspecific – a fact which should attract our interest since it demonstrates the extent to which the national reality was still fragile. It is therefore useful to consider the effective transformation of the underlying group sentiments during the evolutionary process of the creation of the state in the centuries preceding the birth of the European nations without imposing in advance national preconceptions. These aspects are well known. The France of the 18th century was passing from divine-right monarchy to the modern bureaucratic state. The premise of this transformation lies in the process of secularisation, during which the divine-right monarch enlarged the political framework of the small local feudal units and cities to fit the actual dimensions of France itself.
As a result of this enlargement, due to which the framework of political power and that of everyday life ceased to be synonymous, custom and language became detached from the evolution of political power, and developed fairly spontaneously. Subsequently, due to the development of productive and mercantile relations which gradually ruptured the focus of everyday human life on small mediaeval units, the behaviours under question became bound once more to political power. The French revolution marked a typical stage in this process. It had as its starting point the “diverse French provinces.” The National Assembly issued laws and decrees in tous les idiomes.
The Convention, on the other hand, changed tack, and decided to issue laws and decrees only in French; but was also obliged, precisely for this reason, to nominate a teacher of French in every district where the habit of speaking it did not exist. The decision to spread the French language was taken with the explicit aim of promoting French national sentiment. Primary education was established by the Convention with this aim. Barère, who fought energetically against cosmopolitan ideals and proposals, which were quite in vogue at the beginning of the Revolution, affirmed categorically that the goal of schools was to create “love for the country” and to prepare men to serve it. Children, he maintained, belonged to the “general family before any particular family, and when the great family, the nation, calls them, all private feelings should evaporate.”[8]
The French revolution did not immediately achieve these objectives, but rather delineated, as it were, the national programme which the centralised French state was to carry out in future. The implementation of this process led to the suppression of linguistic and customary differences, and to the realisation of the modern French nation.
The process was lengthy, protracted and not linear. From before the Napoleonic period, the nationalisation of behaviours deliberately initiated in the French Revolution was consolidated and extended (alighting the rest of Europe as a consequence). But following the fall of Napoleon, the development of national ideology underwent a lull. This pause is perfectly understandable. The wars of the Revolution and Empire had as their leading force a “national” army. For the first time in the history of France the army was based in effect on general conscription, that is on all citizens who were fit for combat; as a result the idea that the state, defended by all, should belong to all, the “nation”, was spread through all levels of the population. But the idea that the French had by now more elements in common than separating them, in other words the effective character of France’s res publica at the beginning of the last century, was still founded on a fragile basis. The unity of the French on the economic, social, cultural and political planes was in reality far from being achieved.
After the Napoleonic storm, the French, returning to everyday life, were completely involved in the mechanism of peace-time political, economic and social structures. This mechanism in the French area, as in other state areas, was not yet unitary as concerned the majority of the population. The industrial revolution had not yet, or only very partially, broken the old productive structures which isolated farmers and artisans in local communities, and differentiated them enormously, not only on an economic plane, but as a direct consequence also of cultural, social and political ones, from the bourgeoisie, the only class which was already unified economically across the large state area. For this reason the old state unity of the divine-right monarchy, which had become military unity during the period of the great Napoleonic wars, could not be extended to those socio-economic behaviours, and others connected to active participation in the power process, which would have ensured its survival even in peace time.
The ruling class and the bourgeoisie hence lost, within the limits that they had acquired it over the previous years, the conviction of belonging to the same “nation” as the little people. The long period of peace followed by the Congress of Vienna caused the war-time solidarity to be forgotten. The stability of the European balance, with its “détente”, as we would say nowadays, removed the problem of military power from its central position in public life, and in this way left the radical difference of living habits, customs and conditions between the bourgeoisie and the little people completely exposed. As a result the sense of French national unity decayed, and even the old concept of Boulainvilliers, that of the cohabitation of two different “nations” within the same state framework, had a revival. In his Du gouvernement de la France depuis la Restauration (1820) Guizot asserted that the French revolution had been a real war between “two foreign peoples”: the Franks and the Gauls, who were still, in his opinion, “two distinct races”. Augustin Thierry was writing at the same time: “We believe ourselves to be a nation, and instead we are two nations on the same territory, two enemy nations in their collective memories, irreconcilable in their objectives: one has for a time dominated the other, and its plans and eternal proposals are the revitalisation of this old conquest which has been weakened over time by the courage of the defeated and by human reason.”[9]
In substance, by the middle of the 19th century, the nationalisation of the French was still very incomplete. These facts have been emphasised because, linked to well-known facts relating to the subsequent development of national ideology, they seem to be sufficient to date and establish the process of the nationalisation of individuals in Europe as a recent rather than ancient phenomenon, and one caused by two complementary factors: the centralised bureaucratic state and the industrial revolution.[10] By reconstructing the reality of the situation behind the veil of the national preconception of European history, it is possible to observe that during this process the sentiments and behaviours linked to the unity of language, custom and tradition acquired a political character, or rather, took on a new political character with respect to the one they had assumed in the Greek city-states, for example. National terminology, up to that period used unspecifically (as the word “nation” was in the same period), thus found a precise reference point: the mono-national state, the state which exploits its mechanisms of power to impose and maintain over all its territory the uniformity of language and custom.[11]
In the preceding history of Europe this had never occurred in such a systematic way, and, moreover, the phenomenon would not even have been possible since there was neither the political means (the modern bureaucratic and centralised state) nor the social conditions (the spreading to large groups of people of the interdependence sphere of human work, resulting from economic and technological development) necessary for such processes. As mentioned above, languages and customs were developed spontaneously following the evolution of religious, social and cultural relationships, without the active involvement of central political power; highlighting the French case, it has been shown how the development of the modern economy, set within centralised states, strictly bound these attitudes up with the central power.
The current uncertainties regarding the usage of national terminology and the idea of the nation itself derive from this condition. The terms in question always refer, in specific usage, to the unity of language and/or to the unity of custom, but they elaborate two very different situations: a) the relatively spontaneous unities of language and custom, that is those relatively independent of a central political power. Such social unities, which we will term “spontaneous nationalities”, do not correspond perfectly to Europe’s state (and hence national) divisions even nowadays, notwithstanding the long levelling action of the states; they still survive in non-centralised states such as Great Britain where the expressions “Welsh, English, and Scottish nations” are still used; b) the unities of language and/or custom connected to the political power of the modern bureaucratic state. Such unities, in their real substance, result in the forced, that is politically-motivated diffusion of “spontaneous nationality”; but they are felt to be complete, total and natural unities in as much as they are primarily the psychological reflection of the power situation determined by the centralised bureaucratic states, and hence have an ideological character. Clearly, in (a) “custom” is interpreted in a general sense, while in (b) the idea is rather that there should be a single custom although in reality different local customs exist, while similar sentimental responses manifest themselves when people refer to their own state. Naturally, even this is custom, but one among many.[12]
Having clarified the dual meaning of national terminology, and taking into account the actual situation, we can say that 18th century France was not national since it did not have a uniformity of language and custom, and was not multinational since in that period the differences of language and custom did not correspond to different state groupings. Due to the relative independence of the nationalities from the power process, they were not translated into politico-ideological facts. Generalising the observations made so far, we can refer to the real and proper national idea as something historically established: a political ideology, based on the power situation resulting from the fusion of the state and its ethno-linguistic components, and hence on the fact that states take an interest in the language and custom of their citizens. In this practical context the term “nation” acquires its specific meaning, according to which, contrary to its etymology, it does not correspond to a unity of language and custom of a pre-existing nature and previously diffused throughout the territories that are now the seats of nations, but corresponds instead to an ideological fact, to an imposed, and in part manufactured, national unity of political power (partly due to effective behaviour – linguistic, etc. – and partly to the widespread representation, even if only half true, of such behaviours). In this case, the national sentiment of individuals, historically corresponding to the modern nations, does not derive from an elusive “national character” or from the mysterious “spirit of the people” but instead from the fact of belonging to a national-type state (a bureaucratic, centralised state), in other words to a state which has expanded, or wants to expand, over an area where language and customs are unifiable.
 
3. “Spontaneous supranationality” and organised supranationality.
 
The distinction between “spontaneous nationality” and real and proper nations allows us to understand what the relationship between “national” and “supranational” entailed prior to the French Revolution. Before the affirmation of the mono-national state, what could be called “spontaneous supranationalities” corresponded to the fact of the “spontaneous nationalities.” In this context can be set the European Republic of men of letters of the age of the Enlightenment, and even more so the res publica christiana, which profoundly influenced European history, inspired even at the end of the 18th century Novalis’s Christendom or Europe and resists even today as an ideal in many people’s hearts. In effect, before the era of nationalism, the relations between people of different nationalities, at least in Europe, were based on the conviction of belonging to a “society” in which the unitary elements prevailed over the divergent ones; such relations were carried out in many fields on nothing more elaborate than a human, rather than a political, level; and they did not encounter, neither within individual states, nor between the different states, serious ideological obstacles, even if, naturally, the friction and problems posed by relations between groups and states, and by relations between loyalty to one’s own state and the services offered to other states (a matter which was in any event frequent, and not considered immoral) were not lacking.
With the advent of the mono-national state the situation altered dramatically. The relationships between political loyalty and linguistic, moral and cultural values, which go to the heart of national sentiment, acquired a new aspect as the control of these values passed to the state. The nationalities, which until that time had not been called into play either by the state power process or by inter-state conflicts, and for both of which there was neither a corresponding army nor any possibility of violence, furnished from then on the strongest support for the political struggle, became the principal foundation of foreign policy and were linked up with conscript armies and with the permanent possibility of resolving differences through violence. Language, and the custom of individuals, became an issue in the struggle for power and for the making of war. The state, by this period regarded by large majorities of the people as the defender of language and custom, attracted to itself the sentiments connected to the social habits people held most dear, those which bind them to natural communities; from then on, place of birth represented for individuals as much their own city or village as their state: the nation.
This explosive combination destroyed the “spontaneous nationalities” (partly in reality, and totally in the ideological consciousness) and undermined in the relationships between states the power situation which had allowed the formation and maintenance of “spontaneous supranationalities.” From one side state loyalty, heightened by new ingredients from political life, lost the old moderation based on the idea that there existed, above the states, a European society – and was transformed into “sacred” patriotism;[13] from the other the “spontaneous nationalities” were weakened in their own religious, moral, cultural and juridical roots by the ideological fusion of state and nation. Such a fusion led the majority to set the universal values of European culture in national frameworks, and to force law into the mould of national sovereignty, culture into that of national culture, history into that of national history.
In this way (and without considering here the damage caused by the concentration of all values in a single, all-inclusive perspective) the universal values of the res publica christiana and of the European Republic of men of letters, which linked the individuals who professed them across the frontiers of the state, were in large part substituted, in their own sphere of influence, by national values, which became state ones and hence bellicose. While the marvellous development of science and technology brought people ever closer together, politics, moving backwards, planted a new barrier among them, a national one, and interposed between people of different nationalities but of a common civilisation the tragic reality and painful memories of national wars.
The fusion of nationality and state, characterising the true nations, thus enables us to understand the decadence of “spontaneous supranationalities.” We are however confronted with the fact of the survival of supranational ideals, which are no longer presented in the old forms but are showing, albeit slowly, a tendency to assume some form of organisation.
Neither these forms of organisation, today still very unstable, nor the simple historical fact of the permanence of supranational elements even in the era of greatest nationalism (historical reality can be thought of, but not fully realised, in national terms) are sufficient for re-discovering a sense of direction, a clear criterion for understanding the new form adopted by supranational ideals, which relate to an unfinished historical process, and hence are not explicable by simply describing the facts or referring to existing institutions. This criterion can, however, be established conceptually, by evaluating the fundamental tendency to the development of relations between mono-national states. As far as the new mono-national states supplanted the old state forms and as these states, integrating social classes and groups originally excluded from power became increasingly synonymous with the nation (that is with the totality of the ideal and material interests of large human conglomerations), the relationships between individuals of different nationalities were no longer based on the conviction of belonging to a unitary “society”, but, on the contrary, on the conviction of belonging to societies which were irreducibly different.
This had decisive consequences in international politics: in an age in which the interdependence of human relationships grew continuously and was hence increasingly less spontaneous and more organised, each contrast between the organised interests of different nationalities became, virtually or effectively, the subject of differences between states. For this reason the relationships between the states became ideologically and materially very difficult, and such difficulties undermined the old European balance, reducing it at times to real international anarchy, and culminating in the horrendous wars of our century.[14]
The impossibility of regulating international relationships peacefully with only traditional means of diplomacy, and the need to organise economic, cultural and other types of relations between individuals from different nations, by then deprived of the spontaneous liberty of supranational action of past periods, conferred a supranational character on the problems of peace, balance, and many economic, technical, scientific problems, and so on, and have produced the attempt to create special organisations at the international level. Our century, which has seen a height of nationalism and a maximum of crisis in international relations, has simultaneously seen the rise and growth of such organisations, which in the most advanced cases are starting to be designated as “supranational” organisations.
From a legal viewpoint such a designation is debatable since the absolute sovereignty of states has until now remained virtually intact. But the arguments which hold true when we judge one of these organisations in isolation are no longer valid if we judge the process of which they form part in its entirety, and above all if we take into account the fact that this concerns an evolving process which is still at the initial stage, hence primitive in institutional terms. From this perspective it is worth stating that a supranational process has begun which represents the tendency to subject peoples of different nationalities to common rules and to form supranational human conglomerations.
Naturally, such conglomerations will become stable and effective only if the rules that govern them are guaranteed by a political power. These considerations enable us to establish two analogies between the national dynamic and the supranational one: a) as the passage from the spontaneous to the organised phase results for nationality in the mono-national state, so the same passage results for supranationality in the multinational state, which limits but does not destroy the mono-national states, in other words a federal state, b) in both cases the passage from the spontaneous to the organised phase causes a profound transformation: the national unities, and likewise the supranational ones, transform themselves from “national” groups in the etymological sense (where “all are born” – a city – or, as a pregnant American phrase puts it, where face-to-face relations exist) or those which do not have a stable territorial base and to which people belong only because certain values are professed(an “Italian” of the 16th century had Italian nationality not because he lived in a certain territory, which in reality rendered him Neapolitan or Tuscan and so on, but because he studied the Italian literary language), into groups which possess an organisation and a stable territorial base, and to which people belong in an active sense in as much as they are born and reside in a certain territory. These analogies enable us to attribute a political meaning to the word “supranational” and to expressions such as “supranational unity” and “supranational ideals”, and to link such ideals to a historical process towards federalism, which may succeed or fail, but which nevertheless has deep roots in the practical situation of political, economic and social relationships and in the values of our civilisation.
It is possible to specify at its core both the meaning of the ideals of supranational unity and the relations of such ideals with the national idea, by observing that in the perspective of the complete realisation of the principle of the mono-national state a federal outcome is conceptually obligatory. The interdependence of human relationships is in fact extended far beyond national borders, and grows continuously in depth and breadth, a fact which leads to the necessity of organising and politically regulating such relationships. If all relevant social human activity must be regulated by some political power, and if the basis of the states must be nationality (I am referring generically to states of limited proportions, endowed with partial but effective independence, and socially well integrated), given the unstoppable process of the unification of the world, at a certain point a choice will present itself between a chaos of diverse rules with inevitably violent outcomes and the establishment of a world federal government. This observation confirms that, conceptually, the relationship between “national” and “supranational” is a relationship of interdependence.
In substance, from the above we can establish that: a) in the absence of mono-national states the relationships between states do not create supranational problems, and that in situations of this type there exist “spontaneous nationalities” of different types, as well as the possibility of there existing, as exists in Europe, “spontaneous supranationality”, b) in the presence of mono-national states certain human relationships between individuals from different nations can no longer be effected spontaneously and require some form of political organisation following the transformation of national behaviours from spontaneous to organised ones, c) a completely structured humanity in mono-national states would be unable to uphold the classic principle of the balance between sovereign states, due to the contradiction between absolute sovereignty and the growing interdependence of human relationships at the world level, and should therefore organise such states into great continent-wide federations and, ultimately, into a single world federal system, which is the same as stating that the supranational dimension should fit that of all, politically organised, humanity.[15]
 
4. Final observations of a linguistic nature.
 
In conclusion, there remains only the need to make some linguistic observations. The terminology which I have introduced is clearly conventional. This is particularly true of the expression “spontaneous nationality”. In reality, in the corresponding era, the word “nation” (and its derivatives) were only one of the generic terms that individuals gave both to situations of this type and to completely different situations. As is known, the use of the word remained highly generic for a long time, and could refer to groups of extremely different natures, becoming a “hot” word (and for this reason tending to be connected to a single structure), only when it referred to modern national phenomena.[16]
For this reason, and due to the fact that both in the first and second cases the word now refers to certain common elements (language, custom etc.), we considered that it was convenient to use the expression “spontaneous nationality”, which highlights through the word “nationality” such common elements, but distinguishes clearly between the situation in which they are not linked to the bureaucratic state from the qualitatively different one in which they are, by the adjective “spontaneous.” In this way it seems possible to make the necessary distinction – or rather, taking account of the two pairs, nation and supranation, spontaneous and organised, it seems possible to dispose of the terminology which corresponds to the concepts needed to understand these phenomena by a very slight alteration of common language, which in any case forces more the language of the past than that of the present, and avoids introducing a terminology which is completely conventional and very complicated, as for example that proposed by Meinecke in his Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat, which moreover can not be employed correctly in the description of national facts because it corresponds to a conceptualisation which is not well founded.


* An initial version of this essay was published in Il Federalista in 1961.
[1] The word “nationalism” has for some time now had two different meanings: one, prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon world, makes no conceptual distinction from the word “nation” (in this case, nationalism is the doctrine of the nation, as liberalism is the doctrine of political liberty and so on); a second, prevalent in continental Europe, where the phenomenon is more firmly established, describes a political party (or stance), endowed with its own ideology that is distinct from a liberal one, a socialist one, etc. On the continent, moreover, such “nationalist” ideologies are often contrasted with “national” ones (“it is not possible to confuse in the slightest Mazzini’s nation as the people – republican and democratic – with the nation as tradition, and as a body existing autonomously above the people, as Corradini argued, for example”: thus in Italia Cantimori – Studi di storia, Torino, 1959, p. 675 – and many others, including Chabod). Such comparisons, however, are unacceptable since they involve two concepts that are unalike: a conception of the state (of the group from which it must arise), in other words the concept of the mono-national state, and a doctrine of the way to govern it (the imperialism, authoritarianism etc. of “nationalists”). Those who make such a comparison end up by obscuring the common aspects which link both “nationals” and “nationalists”, and attribute the not entirely democratic features (violence, joint action etc. that are always present to some degree in every state) of the nation to the nation of the “nationalists”, following which they are left with a nation as beautiful as it is inexistent and unachievable; the purely democratic nation people of Mazzini. Logically, it is advisable to abandon the second meaning of the word “nationalism”, so as to avoid the confusion which derives from its use to describe a genre (the nation) and one of its aspects (a way to govern it); but logical considerations are not sufficient to alter words in common usage. However, on a theoretical level, it is sufficient to distinguish clearly between the two meanings of the term so as not to make the mistakes described above. In any case, in the present article, the word “nationalism” is used in the former sense.
[2] See AndreaChiti-Batelli, Il tramonto di un feticcio: il sovrannazionale, Il Federalista, I (1959), p. 61 onwards, for the meaning and related bibliography of the word in a legal context.
[3] For a more detailed treatment of this topic, see Mario Albertini, Lo stato nazionale, Milan, 1960.
[4] The expression “mono-national state” may seem at first sight almost useless, as if it were simply another way of saying the “national state.” But, strictly speaking, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany etc. were Italian national states just as the Kingdom of Italy was from 1861 onwards. The difference here resides precisely in the fact that the former were only Italian national states, while the latter was also the Italian mono-national state. This difference is not normally pointed out, probably due to the (ideological) habit of considering the existence of more than one state on a territory which is in some way considered as nationally unified to be abnormal.
[5] See Georges Weill, L’Europe du XIX siècle et l’idée de nationalité, Paris, 1938, pp. 3-6.
[6] This raises the issue of national historiography (a historical category rejected by B. Croce, for example), on which subject Kaegi wrote: “The historiography of the 19th and 20th centuries... has always been overshadowed by a fundamental concept of a not entirely historical origin, but one from the philosophy of history, half biological and half philosophical: the concept of the nation. For a hundred years the world has been accustomed to considering the history of Europe as a history of nations. There was a time when the history of the European states was written. The idea of the nation... has provoked confusion in the historical awareness of men of European culture to no lesser degree than the pseudoisidorian decrees and all the papal falsehoods of the Middle Ages...” (see Werner Kaegi, Historische Meditationen, Zürich 1942-46). In reality national historiography postulates as unitary and autonomous a field of study which concerns successive events in the lives of individuals and groups on territories that have recently assumed a national character, but which never matches an independent framework for the development of economic, political, religious, cultural, and other processes, and, regardless of how much should be said concerning the predicate “national”, which is attributed rightly or wrongly to an infinity of facts – for this fact alone is distorted.
[7] As is known, the greater insistence in France on the “voluntary” character of the nation and in Germany on “natural”, “traditional” and other aspects (an emphasis due to both the nature of unification in the two countries and the issue of Alsace after 1870, which was German by “nature” and French by “choice”), has meant that there exists an “elective” theory of the nation, relating to France (Mazzini is among those who supported this theory) and an “organic” theory relating to Germany. Yet Sorel’s affirmation (which is moreover implicit in the widespread category of national history itself) implies precisely an organic conception (the unconscious nation) in relation to France even if, in fact, it is applied erroneously. In effect, each time that the 18th century is revisited to study the nation itself (and, as is known, historians generally go much further back) organic concepts are used. Such an emphasis shows to what extent the distinction is arbitrary, and how it can not remain fixed when applied to different historical contexts. This is due to the fact that the nation is, naturally, neither a purely voluntary fact nor a purely traditional fact.
[8] See Boyd C. Shafer, Nationalism: Myth and Reality, London, 1955, p. 126.
[9] See René Johannet, Le principe des nationalités, Paris, 1923, p. 132-33.
[10] In a specific sense the nation is an ideology, hence it is neither a purely ideal process, nor a pure state of facts, but the representation of such a state of facts distorted so as to serve the maintenance of power. As has been said, nationalisation is a function of the centralised bureaucratic state and the industrial revolution, and is the more solid and diffuse the stronger these factors are. In effect the strongest European continental states reached the status of fairly consolidated nations only towards the end of the last century, while all the countries where one at least of the two factors was weak gave rise to less substantial nationalisations even if, precisely for this reason, certain among them vividly presented the phenomenon of “nationalism” (second meaning). These considerations explain the lack (or, if preferred, the weakness) of nationalisation in the United Kingdom, which even nowadays is not a national state in the full sense of the word. When the typical characteristics of the birth of nationalism (first meaning) were created (effective state bureaucratisation and industrial revolution), the United Kingdom was a bureaucratic state but decentralised, with an extremely strong local self-government that prevented people from arriving at the conclusion that all the king’s subjects were from the same nation or birthplace.
[11] In reality the Greek city-state is a forerunner of the modern national state, in the sense that both organisations present the phenomenon of nationality fused with the state (absent in the Roman world, for example). Naturally in the first case the “nation” is more spontaneous, in the second more artificial (given the different dimensions of the group). In any event it is this similarity of the power situation which explains the adoption of classical Greek terms relating to the fatherland by leading actors in national “renaissances”. For the same reasons there was a revival of the Jewish theme of an “elected people”. In this context lies the nature of the premises of modern nationalism as linked by Kohn, for example (see Hans Kohn, The idea of nationalism, New York, 1948), to the Greek and Jewish experiences.
[12] Precisely due to their ideological character, nations are thought of: a) as units of language and custom (even if they are so imperfectly – language – or not at all – custom), b) as historical units preceding the formation of the national states (while the opposite is true), c) as natural units, the only ones on the basis of which a legitimate state can be built (but nations are the result of the unifying work of states, hence the argument makes no sense), d) as unchangeable units (usually it is held that it is possible to challenge, and possibly abandon, liberal, democratic, socialist and other convictions but not “Italianness” itself: in reality both cases concern ideology but the latter, relating to the state and not to parties, reflects a power situation which is more difficult to refute), e) as sacred unities (the national borders, duties and so on are sacred, even though for a Christian this amounts to blasphemy), f) individually, by their members, as being the most beautiful or most important nation in the world for some “essential” feature in the past, present or future. For each of these aspects more than its symbolic content, which varies from one individual to the next and from moment to moment, it is the persistence of the symbolism that counts and its ideological nature (hence susceptible to representation in opposite ways) in which it is considered. This aspect (in which the desire of people to consider themselves important for their political status and the power situation of their centralised bureaucratic state is reflected) is in fact the constant element which gives stability to the national idea and spreads it, notwithstanding its irrationality.
[13] This is a matter of fact. Shafer writes (op. cit., p. 144): “The new national faith did not guarantee supernatural bliss, but possessed many of the distinctive traces of the majority of religions. It developed a morality with rewards and punishments, virtues and sins, a ritual and outward signs, and missionary zeal. In reality, as Brunot noted, a great number of religious terms passed into the political domain during the French Revolution, and many of these terms were connected with the ancestors’ country and with the fatherland.” In the last analysis the transition from a politics that is not conceived of in religious terms to one that is (as the national one is), corresponds to the transition of the power situation of the absolute (but limited) state that did not require all its subjects to kill and die for the fatherland, to that of the democratic state (but with unlimited competences) of the French Revolution, which requested of all its citizens that they die and kill for the fatherland. An organisation which asks the sacrifice of people’s lives must create a symbol of the group according to which, for each individual, the group is worth more than his own life. Weber, with a happy, though incompletely developed intuition, compared the national conscience to the “community of memories” of the “communities of political destiny, that is the common struggle of life and death” rather than to ethnic, cultural and other bonds (Max Weber, On Law in Economy and Society, ed. by Max Rheinstein, Harvard University Press, 1954, p. 340). It is evident that this fact concerns as much the multinational states (for example the United Kingdom) as the purely national ones (France, Italy etc.) but then it should also be pointed out that in the Anglo-Saxon world dying and killing in war have more the character of the legitimate defence of the liberties of individuals than of transcendent sacrifice for the nation.
[14] In this regard, the chronological link between the maturing of the nationalisation process in the large European states and the transformation of the old European equilibrium into international anarchy should be noted. The issue of the relationship between national integration and international disintegration stretches as far as these aspects, which national progressives have never taken the trouble to consider.
[15] This scheme can be criticised by observing that in reality there is a third element – imperialism. But in effect imperialism is not a third element of the problem posed by the existence of independent nations. Imperialism results in the loss of independence by the dominated states and hence the elimination of the difficulties which derive from the cohabitation of independent states. It should also be taken into account that the concepts by which history is interpreted do not correspond to historical events, but are simply the means for setting them in a framework, selecting them, connecting them, and so on. The scheme set out here is a simple conceptual tool for interpreting one aspect of the recent historical process and of contemporary reality through the linking of facts to a type (obviously referring to Weber’s Idealtypus concept). The real problem, with regard to the future, lies in the evaluation of the possibility of imperialism to hold ground against petty nationalisms and federalism.
[16] As far as Italians are concerned, using the guide of the history of language, it is worth noting first of all, with the aid of Migliorini, that the word altered its effective meaning at the end of the 18th century: “Bartolomeo Benincasa, from Modena, in the Monitore Cisalpino of 1798 gave a list of words that were newly arrived in Italy, or had a new meaning, or an old meaning which had changed and become distorted: ... nation ... patriot, patriotism, people...” This new meaning is without doubt the modern one, which arrived from France. This demonstrates that before such time the idea of the fusion of the state (of large dimensions) with the “nation” did not exist. It is interesting however to consider the more recent use of the word. In the 18th century “the old meaning of fatherland and nation, referring to the city and to the little state to which it belongs, still persists, but references to Italy as a whole are ever more frequent.” Clearly, the former meaning highlights the regional and local nationalities (which were also felt to be apolitical, even if matching the state, due to their local dimensions), while the latter emphasises an apolitical Italian nationality (apolitical since it lacks, as said above, the modern idea of the fusion of nation and state). This clearly represents Italian “spontaneous nationality” in cultural terms which was already under discussion in the 17th century (“As far as the name of the language is concerned, although all three designations of ‘Florentine’, ‘Tuscan’, and ‘Italian’ appear, the second predominates by a long way...”) and was solidly asserted in the 18th (see Bruno Migliorini, Storia della lingua italiana, Florence, 1960, pp. 635, 548, 458 respectively).

 

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