- Vaterlandsleibe und Religionskonflikt: Politische Diskurse im Alten Reich (1555-1648)
Among German scholars, it has been established in the aftermath of 1968 that neither the nation in general nor the German nation in particular had a history longer than two centuries. There was, of course, a sort of intelligent life before the French Revolution, but this life, if intelligent, certainly was not national. The nationes of the Middle Ages were for something completely different. Nation, national consciousness, and nationalism, in consequence, were facts belonging only to the nineteenth century and exclusively to its historians. Among others, Hans-Ulrich Wehler was particularly keen on this interpretation, insisting even today on the idea that the modern German state and nation were a result of pure (military) coincidence in 1866. In an age when, discredited as they were, the idea and reality of both the German nation and the nation-state seemed to be completely outdated, this view was not only convincing but also tempting. It shows how much a historian belongs to his own age.
Since 1989 there has been development not only in history but also in historiography. Georg Schmidt has argued that the Holy Roman Empire was not only the social and political platform of the early-modern German nation but also a sort of a national "empire-state." If the latter has not been completely convincing, the former has been widely received and it has inspired some new research on the matter. So the book of Alexander Schmidt throws new light on the evidence. This doctoral thesis of the University of Jena (2004), supervised by Georg Schmidt, shows how much the ideas of nation, fatherland, and amor patriae were fundamental for the political culture of the German Empire, already in the age of confessionalization.
He does so by leaning on a wide range and a great number of sources: not only the sometimes nearly-too-well-known humanist writings of Aventinus and others but also the many juridical, political, or politico-theological tracts and pamphlets that were printed between the Augsburg Peace of Religion (1555) and the Münster and Osnabrück Peace of Westphalia (1648). Working on these masses of published writings, which were one of the most striking signatures of early German political [End Page 944] culture, enables him to retract the shift of the idea of a German nation from the studies of humanist scholars to the courts, town-halls, universities, taverns, and even marketplaces of a nation, that, up to a point, was politically and confessionally divided but that, beyond this point, shared common national values and common national ideals. These ideals were based on a common heritage and a common political order represented by the emperor —even in the eyes of staunch Protestants. The destination of this political order was to keep up the German liberty (deutsche Freiheit) and to defend the German soil, the fatherland in its literal sense, against external enemies, notably the Turks. So the idea of a multiconfessional national unity made its way and perhaps the religious divide made the national bond even stronger.
While talking about nation and national consciousness, Alexander Schmidt has opted for the terms of patriotism and patria-fatherland. This, of course, is not to exonerate early modern nations from the critics modern nationalism and its champions did rightfully encounter. Early modern patriotism could be as self-indulgent, chauvinist, and aggressive as nineteenth-century nationalism. But the term patriotism seemed more appropriate to describe the different loyalties an early modern individual had to take care of and to express the possibility of their federation: patriotic loyalty to the empire did not exclude patriotic loyalty to one's territorial prince, and, of course, it did not rival loyalty to one's confession. On the contrary, ninteenth-century nationalism was without appeal. This idea of federated loyalties within a national framework has led to Georg Schmidt and Dieter Langewiesche calling Germany a "(con)federal nation" (föderative Nation).