Open Access

Morality and the nation: Was the birth of the European nation an immoral deviation?

   | Dec 03, 2022


The author points out that the moral condemnation of “nationalism” that is common in contemporary Anglo-Saxon literature does not hold up once we subject it to historical and, by extension, sociolinguistic criticism. This term, originally nebulous and confusing, has become meaningless as a result of forgetting that it is the designation of the relationship of an individual (or social group) to the entity of a nation, an entity that is the result of the empirically well grasped historical process of nation formation under conditions that were specifically European. This circumstance is especially important in the case of the category “small nation”, by which the author means those nations whose formation took place in the form of a national movement – a purposeful effort to acquire all relevant attributes of a nation for one’s own ethnic community. This movement, in its scholarly and agitational phase, was based on a selfless effort to develop and ennoble the nation as an abstract community of cultural values and should be designated by the term “patriotism” and possibly its translations into (some) central European languages, which were and are used with a morally positive connotation. The pejorative label “nationalism” is justified only where the national movement has progressed to its mass phase, when a substantial part, if not most, of the members of the ethnic group have identified with the nation. Since then, it has been necessary to talk about the nation in a dual position. Not only in the position of an abstract community of values but also in the position of “sociological fact”, where it also acquired the morally ambivalent nature of the struggle for power. This ambivalence – the tension between altruism and egoism – is still preserved today even where the national interest is discussed.