Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pence on Monsieur Renan's "What is a Nation?"

The Frenchman, Ernest Renan (1823-1892), wrote an essay refuting  Germanic theories of the nation as a racial group, Enlightenment theories of geographic determinism, and Machiavellian notions of the state as the last sword standing. [It was first delivered as a lecture at the Sorbonne].

On this Fourth of July in gratitude to the French nation and Lafayette for helping us win our Independence, in appreciation of Tocqueville for helping us understand our national character, let us learn from another Frenchman:
"A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, and the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate, for the ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea. To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more -- these are the essential conditions for being a people. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices to which one has consented, and in proportion to the ills that one has suffered. One loves the house that one has built and that one has handed down. The Spartan song -- 'We are what you were; we will be what you are' -- is, in its simplicity, the abridged hymn of every patrie."

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