Nationality in History and Politics

By Friedrich Hertz | Go to book overview

NATIONALITY IN HISTORY AND POLITICS

CHAPTER I
THE STRUCTURE AND FORMS OF NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS

1. THE MYSTERY OF NATIONALISM

It has been remarked of certain theological controversies of the Byzantine Empire which gave rise to grave commotions that popular passions have often been roused to the highest pitch by disputes about subjects which were far beyond the understanding of the human mind, not to speak of the ordinary man. To a certain extent this could also be said of many political struggles of our time. In particular, the strongest factor in modern politics, namely, national sentiment, is also the most obscure. Nationalism has proved more powerful than any other political creed. Great empires have broken down under its assault, wars and revolutions have been started in the name of nationality which have changed the face of the world. Economic interests, morality, and religion were unable to stem the torrent, which seems to push our whole civilization towards an abyss.

Yet few people would condemn nationalism outright. English usage identifies it with national sentiment and the complete elimination of this sentiment would be widely deplored and resisted. The general view is rather that nationality and national feeling or nationalism have their value, but must be kept within bounds. In certain countries a sceptical or hostile attitude towards nationalism would indeed be regarded as little short of criminal. Nowhere, however, the average man would be able to give an adequate definition of nationalism or to state exactly where the line of demarcation between beneficial and harmful nationalism is. The most widely held view, obviously, is that nationalism means but love of the nation or people, zeal for its true interests, loyalty to the State, affection for the homeland, and that nationalism is about the same as patriotism. If this were correct it would be difficult to understand why a mere excess of love or zeal should in certain cases have led to a policy which

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