Part 1, Chapter 12 : Democracy and the National State
Part 1, Chapter 12
12. Democracy and the National State
Every social unit is a natural formation which, on the basis of common needs and mutual agreement, is built organically from below upwards to guarantee and protect the general interest. Even when social institutions gradually ossify or become rudimentary the purpose of their origin can in most instances be clearly recognized. Every state organization, however, is an artificial mechanism imposed on men from above by some ruler, and it never pursues any other ends but to defend and make secure the interests of privileged minorities in society.
A people is the natural result of social union, a mutual association of men brought about by a certain similarity of external conditions of living, a common language, and special characteristics due to climate and, geographic environment. In this manner arise certain common traits, alive in every member of the union, and forming a most important part of its social existence. This inner relationship can as little be artificially bred as artificially destroyed. The nation, on the other hand, is the artificial result of the struggle for political power, just as nationalism has never been anything but the political religion of the modern state. Belonging to a nation is never determined, as is belonging to a people, by profound natural causes; it is always subject to political considerations and based on those reasons of state behind which the interests of privileged minorities always hide. A small group of diplomats who are simply the business representatives of privileged caste and class decide quite arbitrarily the national membership of certain groups of men, who are not even asked for their consent, but must submit to this exercise of power because they cannot help themselves.
Peoples and groups of peoples existed long before the state put in its appearance. Today, also, they exist and develop without the assistance of the state. They are only hindered in their natural development when some external power interferes by violence with their life and forces it into patterns which it has not known before. The nation is, then, unthinkable without the state. It is welded to that for weal or woe and owes its being solely to its presence. Consequently, the essential nature of the nation will always escape us if we attempt to separate it from the state and endow it with a life of its own which it has never possessed.
A people is always a community with rather narrow boundaries. But a nation, as a rule, encompasses a whole array of different peoples and groups of peoples who have by more or less violent means been pressed into the frame of a common state. In fact, in all of Europe there is no state which does not consist of a group of different peoples who were originally of different descent and speech and were forged together into one nation solely by dynastic, economic and political interests.
Even where, influenced by the growth of democratic ideas, the effort toward national unity took the form of a great popular movement, as hap-pened in Italy and Germany, the effort really started from a reactionary germ which could lead to no good outcome. The revolutionary efforts of Mazzini and his adherents for the establishment of a unified nationalistic state could but serve as hindrance to the social liberation of the people, whose real goal was hidden by the national ideology. Between the man Mazzini and the present dictator of Italy yawns a mighty abyss; but the development of the nationalistic system of thought from Mazzini's political theology to the fascist totalitarian state of Mussolini proceeds in a straight line.
A glance at the fresh-baked national states which appeared as a result of the World War gives us a factual picture which cannot be easily mis-understood. The same nationalities which before the War never ceased to revolt against the foreign oppressor reveal themselves today, when they have reached their goal, as the worst oppressors of national minori-ties, and inflict upon them the same brutal moral and legal oppressions which they themselves, and with full right, fought most bitterly when they were the subjected peoples. This ought to make plain to even the blindest that a harmonious living together of peoples within the framework of the national state is definitely impossible. But those peoples who in the name of liberation have shaken off the yoke of a hated foreign rule have gained nothing thereby. In most cases they have taken on a new yoke, which is frequently more oppressive than the old. Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the border states between Germany and Russia are the classic examples of this.
The change of human groups into nations, that is, into state peoples, has opened no new outlook for Europe; it has rather thrown up a strong bulwark of international reaction and is today one of the most dangerous hindrances to social liberation. European society was divided by this process into antagonistic groups which confront one another always with suspicion, and often with hate; and nationalism in every country watches with argus eyes to keep this morbid condition permanent. Wherever a mutual approach of peoples begins, there the adherents of nationalism always add new fuel to the flames of national antagonism. For the nationalist state lives by these antagonisms and would have to disappear the moment it was no longer able to maintain this artificial separation.
The concept of the national state rests, therefore, on a purely negative principle, behind which, however, very positive aims are hidden. For behind everything "national" stands the will to power of small minorities and the special interest of caste and class in the state. It is they who in reality direct the "will of the nation," for, as Menger rightly remarks, "The states as such have no purpose; only the rulers have." But that the will of the few may become the will of all - for only thus can it develop its full effectiveness - every form of intellectual and moral drill must be employed to anchor it in the religious consciousness of the masses and make it a matter of faith. Now, the true strength of a faith lies, in the fact that its priests draw sharply the lines which separate the orthodox from the adherents of any other religious communion. Without Satan's wickedness, it would go ill with God's greatness. National states are political church organizations; the so-called national consciousness is not born in man, but trained into him. It is a religious concept; one is a German, a Frenchman, an Italian, just as one is a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew.
With the spread of democratic ideas in Europe begins the rise of nationalism in the various countries. Only with the creation of the new state, which, at least in theory, secures for every citizen the constitutional right to participate in the political life of his country and to have a part in the choice of its government, could the national consciousness take root in the masses, and the conviction be bred in the individual that he was a member of the great political union of the nation, with which he was inseparably intergrown and which gave to his separate existence its content and purpose. In the pre-democratic period such a belief could take root only in the narrow circle of the privileged classes, remaining entirely alien to the great mass of the population. Quite rightly Lassalle remarks:
Democracy not only endowed the "national spirit" with new life; it also defined the concept of the national state more sharply than would f ever have been possible under the reign of absolutism. Although the apostles of the latter, as French history clearly shows, constantly strove to unite the national forces ever more strongly and to put the whole administration of the country under a centralized direction, in doing this they always had the interest of the dynasty in view, even where they, found it more advisable to veil their true intentions.
With the beginning of the democratic period all dynastic assumptions disappear, and the nation as such becomes the focal point of political events. Thus the state itself achieves a new expression. It now becomes in reality the national state by including all its inhabitants as equally privileged members of a whole and welding them together.
Filled with the principles of an abstract political equality, the representatives of democratic nationalism made a distinction between the nation and nationality. The nation they considered to be a political group which, united by community of language and culture, had collected itself into an independent state entity. As nationalities, on the other hand, they counted such groups of people as were subject to a foreign state and were trying to achieve their political and national independence. Democratic nationalism saw in the struggles of the suppressed nationalities which were trying to form themselves into nations the assertion of an inviolable right; and it acted in this spirit. If the individual citizen of a nation wished to enjoy in his own country all rights and liberties without hindrance, as guaranteed to him by the constitution, even so the nation as a whole should in its individual life be subject to no foreign power and be equal to all other nations in its political independence.
There is no doubt that these efforts were based on a sound principle the theoretical equal right of every nation and nationality without regard to its political or social importance. But right here it was soon apparent that from the very beginning such equal rights could not be harmonized with the efforts of the state for political power. The more the rulers of the individual European states came to realize that their countries could not be closed against the entrance of democratic ideas, the more clearly they saw that the principle of nationality would serve most excellently as a cover under which to advance their own interests. Napoleon I, who because of his ancestry was less plagued by false prejudices than many representatives of legitimate royalty, understood quite thoroughly how to further his own secret plans with the aid of nationalist principles. Thus in May, 1809, he sent from Schonbrunn his well-known message to the Hungarians in which he appealed to them to throw off the yoke of the Austrians. "I ask nothing of you," says the imperial message. "I only wish to see you a free and independent nation."
We know what this unselfish expression meant. Napoleon was just as indifferent to the independence of the Hungarians as, in his heart of hearts, he was to that of the French who in spite of his foreign descent had made him their national hero. What he really had at heart was his plans for political power. To realize these he played with Italians, Illyrians, Poles and Hungarians the same comedy he had played for fourteen years with the grande nation. How clearly Napoleon recognized the importance of the principle of nationality for his own political purposes is shown by a remark recorded by one of his companions on St. Helena: He could not marvel enough why, among the German princes, not a single one had been found with courage enough to use the idea of the national unity of Germany, widely spread among the people, as a pretext for uniting the Germans under a definite dynasty.
Since then, the principle of nationality has assumed an important place in European politics. Thus, after the Napoleonic wars, England on principle supported the rights of the oppressed peoples on the continent only for the reason that she thereby created difficulties for continental diplomacy -which could but react to England's political and economic advancement. But of course the English diplomatists never for a moment thought of giving the Irish the same rights. Lord Palmerston directed his whole foreign policy by this method, but it never entered the mind of the cunning English statesman to help the suppressed nationalities when they most needed his assistance. On the contrary, he looked on with a most peaceful soul while their attempts at liberation perished under the claws of the Holy Alliance.
Napoleon III pursued the same cunning policy, pretending to be the defender of suppressed nationalities while having in view only the interests of his own dynasty. His part in the movement for Italian liberation, which resulted in the inclusion of Nice and Savoy in France, is convincing proof of this.
King Carl Albert of Sardinia likewise supported the movement for national liberation in Italy with all means in his power, as with clever prevision he had recognized what advantages would accrue to his dynasty. Mazzini and Garibaldi, the most radical supporters of revolutionary nationalism, had later to stand by and observe how the successor of the Sardinian garnered the fruits of their lifelong activities for himself as king of united Italy, which they had envisioned as a democratic republic.
That the national feeling took root so rapidly in France during the revolution and achieved such a mighty growth is principally traceable to the fact that the revolution had opened an enormous chasm between the French and old Europe, which the continued wars widened still more. For all that, the best and most valuable minds in all countries greeted the "declaration of human rights" with unmixed enthusiasm, firmly believing that now the era of liberty and equality had begun in Europe. Even many men who later risked everything to enflame in Germany the revolt against the foreign rule of Napoleon, greeted the revolution with inner joy. Fichte, Gorres, Hardenberg, Schleiermacher, Benzenberg, and many others stood at first wholly under the spell of the revolutionary ideas emanating from France. It was the bitter disappointment of this craving for liberty which moved men like Jean Paul, Beethoven, and many others who formerly had been among the most glowing admirers of General Bonaparte-seeing in him the instrument of a coming social reconstruction in Europe-to turn from him after he had made himself emperor and began to show more and more clearly the intentions of the conqueror.
One can readily understand the unlimited enthusiasm of many of the best minds in Germany for the French when one views the hopeless political conditions which were a tragic reality in Germany on the eve of the revolution. The German empire was now only a group of countries rotting in their own filth, their ruling caste no longer capable of an inner creative impulse, and for that reason clinging the more closely to the old institutions. The frightful misfortune of the Thirty Years' War, whose hardly-healed wounds had been freshly opened by Frederick II's conquests, had marked the people of the unfortunate countries with its unmistakable stamp. "A generation filled with nameless woes," says Treitschke in his German History, "had broken the courage of the citizens and had habituated the little man to crawl before the mighty. Our freespirited language learned the trick of abject submission, and came to contain that over-rich treasury of distorted, slavish forms of speech which even today it has not completely shaken off."
Two-thirds of the population at the beginning of the revolution was in a state of serfdom under unspeakably miserable conditions. The country groaned under the hard yoke of countless little despots whose heartless egoism did not shrink from peddling their own subjects as cannon fodder to foreign powers in order to fill their ever empty coffers with the blood money paid them for the lives of these miserable beings. All thoughtful historians are agreed that no liberation could come to this unhappy country from within. Even so grim a hater of the French as Ernst Morris Arndt could not dispute this conclusion.
So the French invasion had at first the effect of a cleansing thunder storm. The French armies brought the revolutionary spirit into the land and aroused in the hearts of its inhabitants a feeling of human dignity they had not known before. The spreading of revolutionary ideas beyond their frontiers was one of the most dreaded weapons of the French republic in its successful struggle against European absolutism; for it was most of all intent on separating the cause of the people from that of the princes. Napoleon never for a moment thought of giving up this invaluable weapon. So wherever his victorious flag floated over a nation he introduced far-reaching reforms in order to attach the inhabitants of the occupied territory to himself.
The peace of Luneville in 1801 had forced the German emperor to recognize the Rhine as the frontier between France and Germany. According to the treaties the temporal rulers of the left shore of the Rhine were to be compensated by territories in the interior of the empire. So now began the shameful barter of the German princes with the "hereditary enemy" for every scrap of land which the one hoped to grab at the expense of the others, and all of them together at the expense of the people. The "noblest of the nation" fawned like whipped curs before Napoleon and his ministers for favorable consideration in the proposed partition. A comparable example of degradation of character, history has hardly shown. Quite rightly Freiherr von Stein told the Russian empress before the assembled court that Germany's ruin had been caused by the baseness of its princes. Stein surely was no revolutionary. He was an upright man who had the courage to proclaim a truth that was known to all. The German patriot, Ernst Morris Arndt, moreover, wrote with bitter contempt:
Only a small minority of upright men whose patriotism was more than lip-service dared resistance in the land by secret societies and open propaganda; which became constantly easier as Napoleon's military rule rested more heavily on the population of the exploited countries, whose sons were now being forced to fill the gaps the war had made in the French armies. Neither the Prussian monarchy nor the Prussian kraut-junkerdom was equal to such a task. On the contrary, they opposed all attempts which threatened to endanger their privileges and treated men like Stein, Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Fichte, Arndt, Jahn, and even Blucher, with undisguised suspicion. Only when compelled did they yield to their urgency-and betrayed them at the first opportunity. The characterless attitude of Friedrich Wilhelm III toward Stein and the cowardly cabals by which Prussian officialdom sought to thwart the efforts of the German patriots, tell a very eloquent tale. The Prussian monarchy, therefore, forms no exception in this sad saga of the German princes, and Seume was quite right when he wrote:
And Baron von Stein, a thoroughly conservative spirit and an outspoken opponent of all revolutionary movements, could not escape the conclusion that a rebirth of the state and liberation from the foreign yoke were possible only if one should decide to abolish serfdom and to institute a national assembly. Nevertheless Stein was careful to add in the essay entitled his "Political Testament" prepared for him by Schon: "The right and the power of the king were always sacred to me, and must remain so to us. But that this right and this unlimited power shall express the good inherent in it, it seems to me necessary to give to the highest power the means whereby it can learn the wishes of the people and give life to their intentions."
These were surely no revolutionary ideas; and yet Stein encountered the greatest difficulty in instituting even the most modest reforms. It is well known that it was just the "noblest of the nation" who continually assailed him from behind and did not even shrink from treason to their country in order to thwart his patriotic plans. The facts are that while the famous Edict of Liberation of October 1807 abolished serfdom in name, its authors did not dare to touch the junker landowners in the least. Thus the former serfs became wage slaves and could at any time be driven from the land by their masters if they did not submit unconditionally to their will.
Likewise the Edict of Regulation of 1811, evolved under Hardenberg, was principally designed to incite the rural population to resistance against the French. The prospect held out to the former serfs of a change in the law of ownership which would enable them to become owners of land, was an attempt to make them the more inclined to fight against the foreign rule. But after the French armies had evacuated the country, the government shamelessly broke all its promises and left the population of the rural districts to the misery and poverty imposed on them by the junkers.
It was the force of circumstances which had induced the German princes to make their subjects all kinds of fair promises, to let them expect a constitution, from which the awakened citizenry promised themselves wonderful things. They had come to realize that only a "people's war" could free Germany from the French domination, no matter how much Austria was opposed to this idea. The events in Spain had spoken too clearly. So the noble lords suddenly discovered how dearly they loved the people and recognized - following their need, not their inclination - that an uprising of the masses was the last desperate resort to support their shaking thrones.
In the appeal of Kalisch the Russian czar appeared as a sworn guarantor for the coming free and united Germany, and the king of Prussia promised his faithful subjects a constitution. On the great masses who merely vegetated in mental stupidity even these promises would not have made a special impress; but the bourgeoisie, and especially the youth, were seized with patriotic enthusiasm and dreamed of Barbarossa's resurrection and the reconstruction of the ancient empire in all its power and glory.
For all that, Friedrich Wilhelm still hesitated and sought to protect himself against both sides. Even when the Russian victory and the burning of Moscow had destroyed Napoleon's giant army and driven it in desperate flight to France, the king could still not reach a resolution; for the interests of the Prussian dynasty were nearer to his heart than a nebulous Germany for which neither he nor his East-Elbian junkers had understanding. Only under the steadily growing pressure of patriotic passion did he finally decide on the war - because, in fact, no other course was open to him. What was the opinion of the patriots at this time is clearly apparent from a curious letter of Blacher to Scharnhorst, dated January 5, 1813, where among other things he says (as nearly as its illiteracy can be imitated in English):
Fichte's Addresses to the German Nation were prohibited, and the great patriots delivered over to the henchmen of reaction. Arndt was disciplined and indicted; Schleiermacher could only preach under police supervision; Jahn was put in chains and sent to prison-even after his acquittal he was for years restricted in his freedom. Gorres, who in his Rhenish Mercury, called by Napoleon "the fifth great power," had contributed so greatly to the national revolt against the French, had to flee and seek protection in the land of the "hereditary enemy" from the police of the Prussian reaction. Gneisenau resigned. Boyen, Humboldt and others did the same. The Burschenschaften ("Students' Leagues") were dissolved and the universities put under the moral guardianship of the police.
Never has a people been so shamelessly and so thoroughly cheated of the fruits of its victory. It must, however, not be forgotten that it was only a small minority who had placed great hopes on the consequences of the overthrow of French dominion and really believed that the time had now arrived for German unification under the sign of civil liberty. The great masses were, as always, forced into the so-called "wars of liberation" and simply followed their hereditary princes with dutiful obedience. Only thus can the unopposed subjugation of the population under the terrorism of the rising reaction be explained. Heine was quite right when in his articles about the "Romantic School" he wrote:
 E. M. Arndt, Geist der Zeit: Erster Teil, Kapitel Vll.
 There were other field marshals who spelled as badly as Blucher. -Translator
 Jahn's misspelling "Deutscher Bunt," would mean something like "German patchwork," if anything. -Translator.
From : Flag.Blackened.net
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