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“It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round”

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  1. Introduction.
  2. How a modern conception of the nation has emerged.
    1. Was Ancien Regime France a nation-state?
    2. A 'process of destabilization'.
    3. Did nationalism engender the French nation?
    4. Western European societies evolution into an age of industrialisation.
    5. The dual revolution which shaped nineteenth-century Europe.
    6. Nations: Not natural facts but the results of intellectual constructions carried out by nationalists.
  3. The creation of the German nation.
  4. Dominant trends in the creation of a national past.
  5. Unificatory nationalism.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. Bibliography.

"Where does the German begin? Where does it end? May a German smoke? The majority says no. May a German wear gloves? Yes, but only of buffalo hide but a German may drink beer, indeed as a true son of Germania he should drink beer" wrote in 1840 Heinrich Heine, who was quite critical of German nationalists' motivation to find specific characteristics in order to affirm Germans' singularity. The affirmation of the nation, regarded as a people who share ethnic, linguistic, historical and cultural features, was however a particularly strong phenomenon then in Europe. Ernest Gellner, in Nations and Nationalism , argues that "it is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round". Such a statement can seem contradictory at a time when the word 'nationalism' is more generally seen as a feeling of pride in one's country and as a belief that the latter is superior to other countries. However, it is relevant to wonder to what extent it can be argued that, in nineteenth-century Europe, it was nationalisms that produced nations (as a feeling and a political reality). We will mainly focus on the nineteenth century because it marked the emergence of the modern concept of nation, namely the convergence of will and culture with a political entity .

[...] It stands out quite clear that it is unificatory nationalism which engendered the creation of the significant Italian and German nation-states in the nineteenth century. However, if nationalist intellectuals and elites played a primordial role in the unification of Italy and Germany, had the nation really emerged? Did people become conscious of their similarities and willing to live together? The nation was maybe politically and administratively unified in 1861 in Italy and in 1870 in Germany but did the majority of citizens feel national? [...]


[...] It is difficult to know whether nationalism created the revolutionary nation ?which will become a model for Europe-, even though nationalism seems to have appeared to protect and reinforce the nation, a posteriori. Was Ancien Régime France a nation-state? Did the ?édit' of Villers Cotteret in 1539, establishing the administrative use of the French language, and the exclamation ?Vive Roi. Vive France? in Marseilles in 1585[4] proves the existence of a French nation? As David Bell enhances it, the word ?nation' was commonly used from the sixteenth century to the Revolution, especially by thinkers (Montesquieu, Rousseau, etc.). [...]


[...] European nationalists participated actively to the construction of their nation-states and ?unificatory nationalism' engendered the latter rather than the other way round. Nevertheless, official nationalism of the late nineteenth century brought about a more ambiguous relationship between nationalism and nation. Nationalism then seemed to intervene a priori and a posteriori, in order to construct national consciousness and to reinforce national cohesion. It is to be noticed that the issue cannot be grasped fully, since there are different types of nationalisms at different times and divergent definitions of a nation. [...]

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