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The Nation as Community

Republican traditions had conceived of the political community as one held together by republican virtue, united by a patriotism - or a love of country for the liberty it preserves - that subordinated individual self-seeking and factional struggle. With the recognition of the inappropriateness of this form of state for large commercial empires, or for monarchical states, in the light of a sense that commerce was encouraging a spirit of individual advancement that threatened to destroy the social glue that had helped unify hierarchically ordered societies, and with the increasing sense among the lesser powers of Europe that France threatened either a universal monarchy, or with Britain, Austria and Russia, a great power dominance that would carve up Europe entirely in their own interests, philosophers came to reflect on the character of national identity and unity, and turned in part to ideas of language, community and, tentatively, race, to develop an account of the irreducible distinctiveness of national cultures. Following significant discussion in Montesquieu and Hume on national character, new ideas of national spirit and tradition came to play an increasingly important role as a way of frameing individual and collective identity,providing the agent with a grounding within which his or her interests could be acknowledged and delimited.

For class, please read:

G Herder, Letters for the Advancement of Humanity (Read the first three letters in Part V of Michael N Forster (Ed.) Herder: Philosophical Writings -you can access this as an ebook on the library catalogue). They are the letters entitled excerpts on European politics, excerpts concerning freedom of thought and expression, and excerpts on patriotism.

Fichte, Addressses to the German Nation (selection:

Class slides here

You might find it useful to think about the way in which the German states operated in contrast to the French, especially in relation to intellectual life. Norbert Elias's The Civilising Process 1994, pt 1 chapters 1 and 2 sketches some important differences that help us understand the very distinctive approaches of German philosophy and literature.

Questions to consider

What is the source of patriotism, according to Herder?

What are the requirements for a group of individuals to be considered a 'people'?

In what ways is the German nation considered distinctive?

Is patriotism the same as nationalism? What implications does this have for how we might characterise Herder and Fichte's ideas?

Suggestions for secondary reading

David James (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Fichte (ebook)

Daniel Breazeale and Tom Rockmore, Fichte, German idealism and early romanticism (ebook)

Karl Ameriks (ed.), The Cambridge companion to German idealism (ebook)