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Monday, June 14, 2021


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How would nineteenth century nationalist movements fit into this scheme? Many of them conceived of a nation based on a distinct national identity - a sort of defined area of proto-nationhood based on the shared features you cite in (c) but without the legal element. These usually arose within a multi-lingual, multicultural Empire such as the Russian Empire or Austro-Hungarian Empire. But these were not yet national entities in the sense of a nation as a 'sovereign state'. Were Estonian nationalists, for example, not patriots? If they established a nation, does that nation not owe its existence to their patriotism? It seems to go against common sense to say they were not patriots before their nation came into being but only after.(the American revolutionaries called themselves 'Patriots' right?) Their patriotism therefore required the imaginative act that constituted their people as a separate nation before that nation came into existence by law and treaty, etc. So I think your definition of country excludes at least some of these examples. They would fulfill (a), (b), (c) except the legal element, but not (d). So either patriotism does not require an actually existing country or 'country' has to be redefined.

Also countries have existed for which patriotism obviously existed but no separate law existed for that country as distinct from another country which was under the same jurisdiction - such as Wales within the United Kingdom. Wales is a country (one of the four 'constituent countries' of the United Kingdom) but it has been subject to English law for hundreds of years (though since the devolved Senedd came into existence in 1999 this is not so clear cut now). But surely it was still possible to be a Welsh patriot though there was no nation-state called Wales - the nation-state was the United Kingdom. Likewise for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland (though the latter's status as a country is disputed). So Wales was under the jurisdiction of a government but a government shared by at least one other country (this is distinct from Scotland which has its own legal system). So again, a country is not necessarily a sovereign state.

How elastic is (a)? Suppose Napoleon had won the Battle of Trafalgar and conquered the British Isles. Further suppose that the royal family fled to Canada and re-established a capital there. Would Great Britain have survived?

(For a second, I thought you were asking for an ontological assay of countries.)


You're a smart guy. Excellent comments. It may be that the hunt for an adequate definition of 'country' is a fool's errand. *Country* is perhaps better thought of as a "family resemblance" concept in Wittgenstein's sense. And yet clear thinking about these matters seems to require that we we use such words as 'country,' 'nation,' 'state,' and 'government' in disciplined ways.

>>Also countries have existed for which patriotism obviously existed but no separate law existed for that country as distinct from another country which was under the same jurisdiction - such as Wales within the United Kingdom.<<

That is true. But I didn't sat that a country has to be a sovereign state.

Now: what makes a state sovereign? I'll have to review what Carl Schmitt says about this. He's essential reading, by the way. But you already knew that.


(a) is consistent with a country moving. All it says is that a country must have some land mass or other. But then it occurred to me that there could be a floating country on the high seas consisting of one or more ships, or a country moving through outer space.

One well-known test of whether two individuals are from the same 'country' is how they would relate if they were to come across each other in some foreign country / airport / crowd / war. What is enough to make individual A (let's say a Russian) coming across individual B (another Russian, or say Belorussian, Lithuanian with Russian parents etc) in the middle of a natural disaster situation in say Thailand, consider him to be a 'brother'? Let's say they talk and drink together, and discover they both detest the last 100 years' of Russian government all the way back to 1917. And then the tsarist regime before that. They will be brothers, because they both believe in some intangible idea of 'being Russian', and neither will be very patriotic to today's Russia, nor any recent (to them, obviously corrupt) version. But if one happened to be an oligarch and the other was a morally upright journalist, there would be no brotherhood. (The oral histories of Svetlana Alexievich's 'Second hand Time' are an interesting account of what various people during the last century think it means to be Russian).

I think it's mainly about a mythical notion of culture. Being a 'real Russian' or a 'real Welshman' are things that could be described, but the descriptions would only relate patchily to reality. The version that real people (not corrupt thieves) want is the one that would make them proud to call themselves by that name - the mythical hero who is usually a small man fighting against injustice or endless natural disaster, and eventually coming out on top by dint of stoic determination and unwavering moral character. The William Wallace of the Scots or Ertugrul of the Turks. Earlier mythical heroes can be replaced by later ones - perhaps Ataturk would fit for the Turks.

What or who is the mythical culture and its heroes for US citizens? The founding fathers? Jefferson? The smallhold farmer on the western frontier? Or Henry Ford? Or some wolf of Wall St.? The US is a complicated place...

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