French Nationalism

Nationalism is a feeling of pride or patriotism to one’s country, it is the effort of an individual to attach their identity to their country. Nationalism was vital to the success of the French Revolution. Being united by history, a common language and customs made it possible for the French to stick together instead of tearing their nation apart. In Halsall’s introduction to Herder’s “Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind”, he says that “people are not ‘naturally’ aware that they belong to a nation in the sense that they might be aware they belong to a family, clan, village, town, or locality.” A nation has larger boundaries and the people who belong to it will go to great lengths to not only define these boundaries but also to protect them. A nation’s physical boundaries are defined by agricultural landmarks, separating different groups of people by nature. Therefore, to define a nation, one has to establish a character belonging to that nation; a character preserved by its people through history. To Halsall, an important part of this character of a nation is language. He believes that a nation should be united by one language, and that to take that away would be begrudging the people “of its one eternal good”. To Halsall, language holds “tradition, history, religion, and basis of life, all its heart and soul”.

To Halsall, Nationalism is dependent on common language, traditions, and history. To him, it seems the past very much defines the future of a nation. What brings a people together and keeps them together is the stability of a nation’s “character”, and other cultures or languages hold a threat against this character. La Marseillaise calls for the “children” to rise up and protect the “fatherland”. This goes along with Halsall’s theory of a nation finding its identity and strength through their forefathers (or the founding fathers of their nation). The song goes on to say that the French need to unite against the “foreign cohorts” threatening their nation. This shows that they as a nation believe that foreigners taking over would ruin the nations character and thereby take away the identity they have attached to their nation. It is fitting that this became the marching song for the French troops because it reminded them why they were fighting- to protect the land as well as its traditions, language, and control of their interpretation of history that were so vital to its character.

3 thoughts on “French Nationalism

  1. Great summary of Gottfried’s piece. What I find to be a key part of this essay is Gottfried’s mentioning of the importance geography has in the development of national identities, such as rivers, mountain ranges, etc., and his emphasis on the observation that the cultures of nations which are more secluded tend to be the most homogenous, distinct, and refined.

  2. I believe that it is important for a nation to be unified by a common language. With that language comes a sense of togetherness and comfort and it is an important factor in developing and maintaing a nation’s character.

  3. All the way up to the late 1700’s, many villagers were not aware of the idea of a ‘nation’, they only knew about what was about 10 miles around them, as they had no need to go outside that boundary. Once the economy became more global, and the government more established, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before nations could be defines, and its entire population in support of it.

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