Who Speaks for Wales? Nation, Culture, Identity

By Raymond Williams; Daniel Williams | Go to book overview

The Importance of Community
(1977)

Late evening, and the television humming in the corner. A programme, not by a Welshman, on last year's National Eisteddfod. 1 Between listening and drowsing, the balance was tipped when I heard one phrase which I thought first was a misreading of the script. He said at the end of that account of the Eisteddfod–which was very sympathetic, sentimental, selective–he said suddenly: 'Here we have a nation trying to become a people.' I suppose verbal analytic training is an inevitable part of the kind of literary education I had. I thought 'Well, he's reversed the terms, an understandable error.' He wasn't reading from autocue, he was simply reading from a script. But a nation trying to become a people! It must have been written as a people trying to become a nation. But then I thought, if you counterpose either term you see that each is problematic. This is not the most difficult problem in the terms with which we now try to do our political thinking. But 'nation' and 'people', just to start with, indicate the problems–problems of history, problems of perspective– which are right inside the very terms that are necessary methods of exchange in the most urgent political issues.

A nation once was unproblematic, with its strong connections with the fact of birth, the fact that a nation was a group of people who shared a native land. This meaning was overridden but never destroyed, by the development of the nation-state, in which what really matters is not common birth or the sharing of native land, but a specific independent kind of political organization. A people, on the other hand, was always slightly problematic: a mutual term to indicate a group which then at a certain point went through a very significant development in which there were people and there were others within the same place who were not people or who were not the people. There was a very significant use in radical politics in the eighteenth and

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