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M. Rainer Lepsius The Nation and Nationalism in Germany THE MUTABILITY OF THE IDEA OF A NATION AND THE SIGNIFICA NCE o f the action based on this idea—namely, nationalism—emerges with special clarity in the case of Germany. The nation and nationalism are closely linked: the substantive determination ofwhat the nation should be influences the action based on this idea of order. The most dissimi­ lar political orders have legitimated themselves through ideas of the nation, and the most diverse actions have appealed to a national inter­ est. Both an extreme nationalism as well as a lack of national feeling have been attributed to the German people. The most recent histoiy of Germany includes the belated and incomplete formation of a national state by Prussia, the expansion of the German national state into a continental empire by Hitler, and the division of the German national state by the Allied powers in the Second World War. With the exception of the Poles, there is hardly another European nation with a history so full of changes as the Germans. In the German example, therefore, some of the characteristics and functional connections of the nation and nationalism can be analyzed more clearly than holds true for the other West European states. The nation is first of all a conceived order, a culturally defined idea that determines a collectivity of people as a union. The kind of union this must be is a consequence of the criteria for the determina­ tion of the national collectivity in the idea of order of the nation. If the criteria are ethnic, then the nation is defined as an ethnic union of descent; if the criteria are cultural, then the nation is represented as a ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 52, NO. 1 (SPRING 1985) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 200 4 481 linguistic community; if the criteria govern the legal status of citizen­ ship, then the nation is a union of citizens. Depending upon the criteria and their relationship, varying collectivities of people will result that together will form one national solidarity association. The character­ istics that acquire validity as a conceived order of the nation establish different types of nations. It follows that there is no sense in which the nation is an unequivocal order of social life that develops naturally. It is changeable over time, and it is capable of adapting to the real power constellations of historical development. This historical plasticity and cultural-political manipulability can also be ascertained in other conceived orders. For example, class is an idea of order based on the inequality in human societies. Its crite­ ria change over time and at different times cause different unions to appear as class associations. “Proletariat” and “bourgeoisie,” “working class” and “middle class,” “old” and “new” middle class are expressions of these temporally variable ideas of order about the internal articula­ tion of a society. These changing designations make the transforma­ tions of the conceived order “class” more readily ascertainable than holds true for the semantic constancy of the conceived order “nation.” Nevertheless, in principle both ideas of order are historically mutable and politically-culturally manipulable. In opposition to other solidarity associations—for example, classes, religious confessions, ethnic or sociocultural groups, kinship and clan formations—the idea of the order of the nation includes the claim to a higher rank and a more general significance. This claim to a higher rank leads to various conflicts with the other unions of solidar­ ity. In these cases, the criteria for nationhood that obtain at any given time either intensify or diminish specific conflict situations. A nation constituted primarily on the basis of ethnic criteria will have much more severe conflicts with minorities than a nation primarily consti­ tuted on the basis of equal civil rights. A nation constituted in the latter fashion will in turn encounter more severe conflicts with the internal formation of classes. The claim ofthe nation to higher rank is first estab­ 482 social research lished when the political order of domination is constituted through the idea of the nation. The solidarity association of the nation appears in a state organization of association. The instruments of power...


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