Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

By Hugh F. Kearney | Go to book overview

Chapter One

Contested Ideas of Nationhood, 1800–1995
(1997)

In a recent book Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany Rogers Brubaker contrasts the way in which the French define citizenship (ius soli—the law of the soil) according to which those born on French territory are regarded as French, with the German definition which demands familial descent (ius sanguinis—the law of blood). Brubaker sees French citizenship as civic, German nationhood as tribal. The distinction is not merely an academic one since it affects the legal status of immigrants. French national identity encourages acculturation, so that, for example, M. Balladur born of Romanian parents, could be accepted as completely French and able to aspire to the Presidency of France. In contrast German national identity, with its emphasis upon German blood, makes it difficult if not impossible for third- or fourth-generation Turkish immigrants fully fluent in the German language to become German citizens, whereas ethnic Germans, emigrating from Russia and non-German speaking, run into no such difficulties.1

However, the contrast between France and Germany is not perhaps as sharp as Brubaker makes out. There are many in France who wish to define French national identity in religious terms. For these, Frenchness and Catholicism are inextricably intertwined. It is to this sense of religious identity that M. Le Pen appeals when he points to the dangers, as he sees them, presented by North African immigrants. Le Pen's sense of French national identity may not be based upon ius sanguinis in a literal sense but it clearly appeals to a sense of ethno-cultural exclusiveness.

This tension between civic and ethnic concepts of national identity in France is not merely a contemporary phenomenon. To take the most notorious example, the Dreyfus case at the end of the nineteenth century

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