What Is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914

What Is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914

What Is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914

What Is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914


This volume analyses and compares different forms of nationalism across a range of European countries and regions during the long nineteenth century. It aims to put detailed studies of nationalist politics and thought, which have proliferated over the last ten years or so, into a widerEuropean context. By means of such contextualization, together with new and systematic comparisons, What is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914 reassesses the arguments put forward in the principal works on nationalism as a whole, many of which pre-date the proliferation of case studies in the 1990s andwhich, as a consequence, make only inadequate reference to the national histories of European states. The study reconsiders whether the distinction between civic and ethnic identities and politics in Europe has been overstated and whether it needs to be replaced altogether by a new set of concepts or types. What is a Nation? explores the relationship between this and other typologies, relating themto complex processes of industrialization, increasing state intervention, secularization, democratization and urbanization. Debates about citizenship, political economy, liberal institutions, socialism, empire, changes in the states system, Darwinism, high and popular culture, Romanticism andChristianity all affected - and were affected by - discussion of nationhood and nationalist politics. The volume investigates the significance of such controversies and institutional changes for the history of modern nationalism, as it was defined in diverse European countries and regions during thelong nineteenth century. By placing particular nineteenth-century nationalist movements and nation-building in a broader comparative context, prominent historians of particular European states give an original and authoritative reassessment, designed to appeal to students and academic readers alike, of one of the mostcontentious topics of the modern period.


What was a Nation in Nineteenth-Century Europe?

Timothy Baycroft and Mark Hewitson

A nation is therefore the expression of a great solidarity, constituted by a
feeling for the common sacrifices that have been made and for those one is
prepared to make again. It presupposes a past; however, it is epitomised in
the present by a tangible fact: consent, the clearly expressed desire that the
common life should continue. The existence of a nation is (excuse the
metaphor) a daily plebiscite, just as the existence of the individual is a
perpetual affirmation of life.…In the order of ideas I am placing before
you, a nation has no more right than a king to say to a province: 'You belong
to me, therefore I am taking you.' A province, for us, is its inhabitants, and
if anyone has the right to be consulted in this matter, it is the inhabitant.
A nation never has a genuine interest in annexing or retaining a country
against its will. The desire of nations to be together is the only real criterion
that must always be taken into account….

Human desires change; but what does not change on this earth? Nations
are not something eternal. They have begun, they will end. They will be
replaced, in all probability, by a European confederation. But such is not
the law of the century in which we live. At the present time the existence
of nations happens to be good, even necessary.

Ernest Renan, Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? (1882)

The question 'what is a nation?', posed over a century ago by the French historian Ernest Renan, still awaits a satisfactory answer. During the last three decades, as Western European nation-states appeared to be breaking up under the impact of European integration and globalization, and as the boundaries of the post-war order began to be challenged after the fall of the Iron Curtain, scholars have helped to make the 'national question' one of the most pressing problems of contemporary historical and political debate. There is a danger, however, that much of the general literature which such

Cited in T. Baycroft, Nationalism in Europe, 1789–1945 (Cambridge, 1998), 32.

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