Europe's Neurotic Nationalism
National independence movements in Europe have always had a strong hold on Americans. Mazzini, Garibaldi and Kossuth were heroes in this country as well as in their own. This sentiment reached its height during the Wilsonian era, and influenced our foreign policy; it remains strong today. Yet the face and character of European nationalism have drastically changed, and the end is not yet. Today the slogan “national independence” remains, but most of what it offers under the guise of this old and honorable cause has, with the march of history, suffered a sea-change into something quite different and dubious.
Though nationalities have always existed as “ethnographic material,” modern “classical” nationalism dates back no further than the second half of the 18th century, as Hans Kohn has pointed out. Thus it cannot be called a “natural phenomenon.” Essentially, it is a child of the French Revolution. Then, for the first time, every member of a country became part and parcel of a national body by the fact of having been born within its boundaries—and through such group identification the nation-state came into being. From France, the nation-state concept spread elsewhere, but only fairly recently as history is reckoned. Even as late as the 19th century “it was said of a Croat landowner that he would sooner have regarded his horse than his peasant as a member of the Croat nation.”
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