Ernst Renan vs Michael Ignatieff nationalism discussion
“What is a nation?” In his definition, Renan (1996) views nationalism as that which is embedded in a people’s spirit and soul. He indicates that a nation rises beyond race, religion or color. He proposes that nationhood culminates from a common bond among a people, more from a shared past. He states further that for it to be attained the present and the past have to be in harmony while Ignatieff is very categorical in his approach and indicates that Nationalism has a two phases: Ethic Nationalism encompassing calls for cultural pride molded by traditional, religious and linguistic bonds: civic nationalism defined by common civic and political values and liberal assertions to fundamental individual rights to self governance (Herder, 1784).
Therefore nationalism is the innate desire by a people to live independently from the rule or influence of other nations.
Renan in his assertion agrees with Ignatieff’s stance that “civic” nationalism is spurred by “ethnic” nationalism. “To have common victories and success in the past and to have a unity of purpose in the present; to have performed shared in bouts of victory and still have the desire to perform more of these together are the essential conditions for being a people. Tighter bonds grow among a people commensurate with the sacrifices to which they have consented, and in proportion to the ills that they have suffered”. (Renan, 1996).These acts of historical oppression and heroism, he argues, laid foundation for modern day civic nationalism.
Germany and Italy in the later 19th Century. The 19th century saw the advent of nationalism in Europe. It saw the rise of oppressed minorities against the ruling majority. The Leipzig revolution against Napoleon the expansionist and his troops and the Italians rebellion against Spain and Austria rule are evidence that a nation has ethnography as the fundamental fabric on which it is built. That historical character that holds a community together spurs civic nationalism. Expansionist tendencies by governments lead to their disintegration and downfall (Herder, 1784). French invasion of Germany cities stirred Nationalistic unity from the princes in the German cities that united and drove Napoleon out.
“….to the true end of governments than the endless expansion of states, the wild confusion of races and nations under one scepter. An empire made up of a hundred peoples and a 120 provinces which have been forced together is a monstrosity, not a state-body…” (Herder, 1784).
Conclusion In a nutshell, ethnic nationalism in Germany and Italy laid the basis for Civic nationalism and the consolidation of the Germany and Italian identities laying base for their independence and sovereignty. In the scenarios of Germany and Italy nationalism, the need for independence began at the basic level- the single cities and individuals who felt the need to be free of oppression. In some cases pro-nationalism lobby groups agitate the feel of general superiority over the oppressor. It is therefore imperative that ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism are inseparable and that the former prepares a foundation for the latter.
Herder, J. G. (1784). Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. Modern History Sourcebook . Paul Halsall, November 1998 .retrieved from
Renan, E. (1996). What is a Nation. In G. EleyS, & R. G. Suny, Becoming a National (pp. 45-55). Newyork and Oxford: Oxford University Press.retrieved from