Relationship between a nation and a state

Media in history class

Rénan (see the previous article) complained that the terms race and nation were not clearly differentiated in his time.1 In everyday language today, “nation” is often used synonymously with “state”, which often leads to confusion among schoolchildren. However, this can usually be clarified quickly in the context and is part of the term learning in history lessons, which should lead from an everyday understanding to a historical specialist vocabulary. For today's German usage2 seems to be a distinction and demarcation to the terms “people” or “ethnicity”, which should be differentiated as clearly as possible from the term “nation”.3

The term people has a double meaning: namely initially in an ethnic sense, in the "people" as a synonym for ethnicity4 can be understood. That is the original, older meaning of the word. What is meant by this is a community of descent, an image of a homogeneous population with a common language, culture and history. The original Latin also has this meaning national. The second sense of the word is new and political: it denotes the population of a state, i.S. of a state people, i.e. a nation. But they don't necessarily have to share the same language, culture, religion or history. This double meaning leads to ambiguities and inaccuracies in everyday language, so that “nation” is often used as a term for the state or the country.5 It is also problematic that up to more recent research work, in addition to the imprecise use of the term nation, there is often a mixture of the terms people and nation. The early medieval ethnogenesis is already described in part as nation-building, which corresponds completely to the historical construction that nationalism itself produced and which is obviously a pattern of interpretation that is still effective today.6

This can be clearly seen in the work of some Medievalists, who tend to start the emergence of nations comparatively early. Two arguments are selected here as examples. Based on the translated source term "the Germans" in a chronicler, Nonn writes: "Since that time the name of the Germans has been disregarded by the Gauls." He speaks of "patriotic enthusiasm" and also puts the Germans in the sense of his thesis contained in the title of the article the "emergence of the French nation in the early Middle Ages" with a not yet existing "Germany": "[...] the kingship in Germany [sic!] [lost] increasingly in importance since the double election of 1198".7 The anachronistic use of "Germany" supports the idea of ​​a continuous conception of the nation and state. This view does not match either the source terms or the historical circumstances of the “Roman Empire”, which was later to receive the addition “German nation”, and on the other hand postulates a continuity that fundamentally contradicts the fundamental openness of historical development.8 Schiller already aptly stated in an unfinished poem: "The German Empire and the German nation are two different things."9

The term “the Germans” has its origin as a foreign name for Aßen for the inhabitants of the (imperial) empire north of the Alps.10 The term, which comes from the sources, can, as already explained above, lead to misunderstandings if the historical change of term is not taken into account. The designation cannot be equated with its current meaning. In the early and high Middle Ages, “the Germans” did not mean a people. Rather, communities of duchies such as the Saxons or Thuringians were considered "peoples". In the introduction to his work on the empire in the Middle Ages, Weinfurter states that the empire was not “German” in a modern sense and that it is therefore hardly possible to speak of a “German empire”.11Even the Golden Bull points to "the diversity of customs, ways of life and languages"12 of the empire. At the same time it is stipulated that future princes are to be instructed in the languages ​​of the empire.13

It was not until the middle of the 15th century that the phrase “holy empire and Teutsche gezunge” or “rich and Germans land” appeared for the empire14 on. The German word “gezunge” is initially used as a translation of the Latin “natio”. From the 1970s onwards, the addition of “German nation” was added to the title of the Reich, that is, an empire in which German is predominantly spoken.15

So what do we understand by "nation" or when do we speak of a nation in contrast to, for example, terms such as people or ethnicity? The political scientist Deutsch describes "Volk" initially only as a "group of people with complementary communication habits" and delimits the nation, in which he sees in the nation a people that has gained control over some social institutions, which can lead to the formation of a nation state .16 Already here the connection between nation and state becomes clear in contrast to “people”. This connection is undisputed in research. However, the definition of German needs to be supplemented and corrected, especially with regard to the implicit ethnic equation of people and nation.

Hobsbawm names three criteria which, in his opinion, clearly classify a people, i.S. an ethnic group, as a nation: 1. the state, 2. written literature and language, and 3. the proven ability to conquer.17 In contrast to other authors, Hobsbawm rightly makes it clear that nation states are always also (linguistically and ethnically) heterogeneous, and thus always include minorities, whose (mostly late) protection he regards as a civilizational progress after decades of oppression.18 From this important observation, which can be substantiated by countless examples for all nation states, it can be deduced that a purely ethnic argument cannot play a role in a scientific definition of the concept of nation.19

In addition, in his opinion, a certain minimum size is required for a people in order to constitute a nation. He describes the latter as the “threshold principle”.20 However, he only allows this principle to apply to the beginning and sees a “abandonment of the threshold principle” after 1870 at the latest.21 Therefore it cannot be counted among the basic components of the concept of the nation. Against the ability to conquer as a clear criterion, there are enough examples of the formation of "recognized" nations without conquests (e.g. Norway, Belgium, Switzerland), so that it does not need to be taken into account in a general definition. Hobsbawm offers a "preliminary working hypothesis" that a nation is "a sufficiently large community whose members consider themselves members of a nation."22 In addition to the required size, Hobsbawm emphasizes above all the awareness of togetherness, the national awareness.

Approaches to defining Alter, Dann and Langewiesche

Alter defined a nation as a “social group that has become aware of its togetherness and special interests due to diverse, historically evolved relationships of a linguistic, cultural, religious or political nature. The nation makes the demand for political self-determination or has already realized this demand within the framework of the nation state. The consciousness of a social group of being or wanting to be a nation and the right to political self-determination are constitutive of the nation. Compared to other solidarity associations such as the social class, the denominational community or the family, it is accorded a higher-ranking and more general importance.23

Dann offers a comparable approach to definition: According to him, a nation is “a society which, based on a common historical origin, forms a community of political will. A nation sees itself as a community of solidarity. It is based on the legal equality of its members and is dependent on a basic consensus in its political culture. Nations are always oriented towards a certain territory, towards their fatherland. Their most important goal is the independent organization of their living conditions, their political self-responsibility (sovereignty) within their territory, their own nation-state.24

In these attempts at definition, Langewiesche rightly criticizes the one-sided definition of the concept of the nation based on the positive, participatory element, while Dann assigns the aggressive side associated with negative associations to nationalism. Dann explains nationalism as "a political behavior that is not based on the equality of all people and nations, but rather intolerantly assesses and treats individual peoples and nations as inferior or as enemies."25 Although this tendency is inherent in every national movement, then tries to differentiate it from positive occupied patriotism. Such a dichotomy, as will be shown below, is not possible. To the definition of the term “nation” one must add the aggressive potential that is in every nation. The principle applies to all national movements and nations: The demarcation to the outside forms the necessary counterpoint to the integration inwards.26

Elements of a term definition

In summary, research offers the following constituent elements for the concept of nation (without ranking):

  • a) Awareness of togetherness (national awareness)
  • b) Outward demarcation (and associated with it: internal integration)
  • c) Promise of participation27
  • d) Equal rights for citizens
  • e) a (at least partially) shared history
  • f) entitlement28 to a certain territory
  • g) Claim to sovereignty (together with f => nation state)
  • h) Solidarity with the members of the community29

These sub-elements do not have to be present all or at the same time in order to be able to speak of a modern nation. Therefore, they cannot form a basis for a meaningful definition of terms. In terms of a minimal description, it is certainly not sufficient to assume that a group of people forms a nation when they describe themselves as a nation.

A working definition of the term "nation" that is also suitable for history teaching could look like this:

A nation is a group of people who consider themselves to be part of one another, who lay claim to political self-determination in a certain territory and who are recognized by other groups.

The modern concept of the nation, which is linked to the idea of ​​the nation state and thereby differentiates itself from older conceptual understandings, has emerged in Europe since the middle of the 18th century. Even if nation states often strive for homogeneity, there are never homogeneous states. Every nation-state, whose idea of ​​a nation is shaped by the largest and / or most influential population group, always includes minorities of linguistic, religious, ethnic or similar nature. This fundamental phenomenon of the world that has been thinking in national categories for a little over 200 years leads to ever new social groups that are view it as a nation and strive for state sovereignty and thus to a continuous increase in the number of "national" states.30

It follows from the foregoing that nations represent groups of people that change over time and are therefore subject to historical change. Since an exact definition of the term nation is not possible, these changes in the use of the term in history and the self-image of the respective groups can be examined and described, but a clear beginning or origin cannot be established. On the other hand, the distinction between an older, premodern, i.e. comprehensive medieval and early modern era, and a modern understanding of the nation that goes hand in hand with the development of nationalism is fundamental.

Certain characteristics that are ascribed to a social group as a nation, such as a common language, history or religion, are thus ascriptions or constructions that in rare cases can precede the formation of a nation and support the formation of an identity, or historically follow the formation of the state much more frequently and aim to homogenize the population with appropriate integration and exclusion mechanisms. Because of these mechanisms, the nation discourse never constructs just one, but always several nations, so that some nations initially emerged as foreign constructs. Nations are formed in a "multipolar demarcation", that is, other communities are also understood as nations, of which there are many and which are each understood as autonomous.31

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