‘The Secret of the Forest is the Trees’

The principle is not: Whoever wants to be a nation is a nation. It is just the opposite: A nation simply is, whether the individuals of which it is composed want to belong to the nation or not. A nation is not based on self-determination but on pre-determination.

––Friedrich Meinicke

A nation is […] a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarised, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life.

––Ernest Renan

A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.

––Joseph Stalin

The difficulties that Marxists (and others) have had in coming up with a definition of ‘the nation’ are well known. What I am suggesting here is that this is not surprising, and that it is not necessarily a problem: indeed, I suggest that those who want and try to produce a definition of ‘the nation’ do so because they understand neither for what nor at what they are looking. In essence, what I suggest is that ‘the nation’ has not been satisfactorily defined by materialists, nor will it be, simply because, as it does not exist, a definition is impossible. Please note that I am not saying that nationalism does not exist, nor that states, even national states or nation-states, nor the ‘national question’, do not exist; simply that ‘the nation’ does not exist. Nor do I intend to say much about the myriad matters of political strategy and tactics that the national question poses. But I contend that a materialist political outlook that is dependent upon a prior definition of what a nation is will always in the end fail.

More (pdf: 91KB): The Secret of the Forest is the Trees


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