How the definition of the word "nation" has been switched

I recently bought a copy of “History of the World War” by Francis March and Richard Beamish (published 1919). It’s interesting to read history from the point of view of contemporaries, before enough time had elapsed to sort things out properly and look back objectively. The book is clearly (and admittedly) biased but I still find it very educational.
For example, it’s interesting to see how much American English has changed in less than 100 years. It’s rather shocking really. The authors explain Professor Tomas Masaryk‘s position in favor of a union between the Czechs and the Slovaks and the founding of a common state (pg. 53):

Professor Masaryk called attention to the fact that there is a peculiar discrepancy between the number of states in Europe and the number of nationalities – twenty-seven states to seventy nationalities.  He explained, also, that almost all the states are mixed, from the point of nationality. From the west of Europe to the east, this is found to be true, and the farther east one goes the more mixed do the states become…
Since the eighteenth century there has been a continuing strong movement from each nation to have its own state. Because of the mixed peoples, there is much confusion…

These days we would call such mixing “diversity” – unless it’s in Africa, in which case we would call it “a legacy of colonialism”. Whatever we choose to call it, it is a cause for “much confusion” and bloodshed.
Powerful forces opposed the “continuing strong movement” March wrote of. Though the movement did claim some successes, in the end, its enemies gained the upper hand. They sought to equate “nationality” with “citizenship in a state” and they have largely succeeded. Today, when most people speak of “nationality”, they refer to membership in a political entity (in which an elite possesses a monopoly on the use of force). This membership is usually conveyed by accident of birth. A Pashtun, who happens to be born on the Afghan side of the border is “Afghan”. His cousin, also Pashtun, would be “Pakistani” simply because he was born a few miles away. I am fairly certain that a large number of Pashtun do not accept this new version of nationality. Good for them I say. A nation is blood. Citizenship in a state is incidental. A nation is tradition and heritage. A state is politics and corruption.
Naturally new nations can be founded out of a collection of various nationalities. This is a natural process and the founding of Rome is a good, historical, example. Israel appears to be another example, whose transformation has been occurring before our very eyes.
But the wholesale dividing of all land on Earth (except, perhaps, Antarctica) into various nation-states, at the expense of many smaller nations, is something we should view with suspicion and apprehension – even if it is inevitable. We should be asking: “You want us to give up our bloodline, heritage, language, history and identity so that we can rally under the banner of a bunch of politicians? Why?” If America is a “concept nation”, I want to know which concepts America stands for that other nation-states do not stand for. Do we stand for freedom? Less government? Rock ‘n Roll? Don’t other states have these things? These are questions that even leftists ask. They conclude that a one-world government makes sense – since we all (in theory) believe in the same principles. This is easy for them; leftists generally have no nation at all.

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4 Responses to How the definition of the word "nation" has been switched

  1. Mick says:

    Interesting. It is like this especially with Jews: Polish Jews, Russian Jews, Ukrainian Jews, Belarussian Jews, etc. When borders of Poland changed several times over the centuries, Jews became “Russian” or “German” or whatever.

  2. Sid says:

    What they meant with the word “nation,” we now mean with the word “ethnic.”
    The paradox of nationalism, for me, is that it’s supposed to be about one ethnic group creating a state which serves their interests as people. In practice, it’s a certain ethnicity making other ethncities within the borders of a country loyal to it. The French are a good example. In 1789, about half of French citizens spoke French, with maybe about 12-13% speaking it well ( Clearly, there was not a single French language, but a spectrum of Romance dialects.
    But in time, the ethnicity in Paris made their version of French mandatory, and the ethnicities within France French, since language is the gate of ethnicity.

  3. M.G. says:

    Another good piece on this is Griggs and Hocknell’s ‘The Geography and Geopolitics of Europe’s Fourth World’. They estimate over 100 ‘nations’ in Europe (‘nation’ = self-identifying cultural group).
    Eastern Europe has broken up quite a bit, but I don’t think we can blithely assume the face of Western Europe won’t change as well. Big shocks like economic depressions, natural disasters, or wars can heat up old separatist movements. The Basques, Catalonians, Corsicans, Bretons, Lega Nord, etc. may not have said their last word yet. I never take a national border for granted.

  4. ovlsi says:

    The fact is there can be no happiness in a multinational or multiethnic state. And by happiness I mean the sense that here I stand, in this place, my place, surrounded by my people. Millions once knew this state of happiness. It is what nation meant. What the world citizens who rule have done to the rest of us, in effect wiping out our chance at happiness by FORCING diversity on us, is THE great crime of our time.

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