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THE IDEA OF THE NATION.
PRIMARILY and properly the word nation is a term of ethnology, and the concept expressed by it is an ethnologic concept. It is derived from the Latin nascor, and has reference, therefore, primarily to the relations of birth and racekinship. It has become, however, one of the commonest catchwords of modern political science. Especially is it so used and abused by French, English and American publicists. The Germans, on the other hand, are more exact and scientific in their political and legal nomenclature. They confine the word and the idea more nearly to their original and natural place, and find another term and concept for political and legal science. We shall do well to imitate their example; and we shall escape much confusion in thought and language by fixing clearly the meaning of this term in our own minds, and using it only with that meaning. As an abstract definition, I would offer this: A population of an ethnic unity, inhabiting a territory of a geographic unity, is a nation.
There is, however, an objection to this definition. The nation as thus defined is the nation in perfect and completed existence, and this is hardly yet anywhere to be found. Either the geographic unity is too wide for the ethnic, or the ethnic is too wide for the geographic, or the distinct lines of
the geographic unity partially fail, or some of the elements of the ethnic unity are wanting.
Further, the definition requires explanation. By geographic unity I mean a territory separated from other territory by high mountain ranges, or broad bodies of water, or impenetrable forests and jungles, or climatic extremes, such barriers as place, or did once place, great difficulties in the way of external intercourse and communication. By ethnic unity I mean a population having a common language and literature, a common tradition and history, a common custom and a common consciousness of rights and wrongs. Of these latter the most important element is that of a common speech. It is the basis of all the rest. Men must be able to understand each other before a common view and practice can be attained. It will be observed that I do not include common descent and sameness of race as qualities necessary to national existence. It is true that they contribute powerfully to the development of national unity; but a nation can be developed without them, and in spite of the resistance which a variety in this respect frequently offers. Undoubtedly, in earliest times. sameness of race was productive of a common language and a common order of life; but the early mixing of races by migration, conquest and intermarriage eliminated, in large degree, the influence of this force. Territorial neighborhood and intercourse soon became its substitutes. In the modern era, the political union of different races under the leadership of a dominant race results almost always in national assimilation. Thus, although the nation is primarily a product of nature and of history, yet political union may greatly advance its development, as political separation may greatly retard it. Sameness of religion was once a most potent power in national development, but the modern principle of the freedom of religion has greatly weakened its influence.
Where the geographic and ethnic unities coincide, or very
nearly coincide, the nation is almost sure to organize itself politically, to become a state. There can, however, be
political organization without this. The nation must pass through many preliminary stages in its development before it reaches the political, and meanwhile other forces will control in larger degree the formation of the state. Some forms of political organization are even based upon national hostility between different parts of the population subject to them. This is almost always the case in the despotic and absolute systems, as I shall point out a little more particularly further on. The Emperor Francis II of Austria is reported to have once said to the French ambassador at his court: “Mes peuples sont étrangers les uns aux autres et c'est tant mieux. Ils ne prennent pas les mêmes maladies en même temps. En France, quand la fièvre vient, elle vous prend tous le même jour. Je mets des Hongrois en Italie et des Italiens en Hongrie. Chacun garde son voisin; ils ne se comprennent pas et se detestent. De leurs antipathies nait l'ordre et de leur haine reciproque la paix générale." It is only when the state reaches, in the course of its development, the popular or democratic form, that national unity exerts its greatest influence. In fact, as I shall endeavor to show further on, the existence of national unity is the indispensable condition for the development of that form.
On the other hand, where several nations are embraced within the same state, and the national feeling and consciousness rise to strength and clearness, there is danger of political dissolution. The mere mixture of a variety of nationality over the same territory will not, however, necessarily have this effect. This more frequently leads to a centralization of government, as I shall explain later.
Not all nations, however, are endowed with political capacity or great political impulse. Frequently the national genius
1 Bluntschli, Lehre vom modernen Stat, B. I, S. 110, Anmerkung.