chapter  16
25 Pages

Imagined Communities .- the Nation

If ‘Italy’, in Metternich’s phrase, was merely a geographical term, then ‘France’ was a political one. In culture, family structure, belief and economic activity it was unusually diverse. The nineteenth century saw a prolonged effort by the State to create in reality the organic national unity which the Revolution had proclaimed in theory. It was aided in this by the various cultural and social processes - such as urbanization, widening literacy, economic integration, and the diffusion of the multiple symbols of nationality - that Gellner, Anderson and others have proposed as the creators of the ‘imagined community’ of the nation.2 But the diversity of France persisted. The questions asked in this chapter, therefore, are when and to what extent did an idea of Frenchness become a significant aspect of the identity of the peoples of France? And what was Frenchness thought to involve?