The myth of civic patriotism: nationalism under the veil of the Republic in France RAMóN MáIz
It is not necessary to refer to the work of Chateaubriand – Atala, Les Natchez, Le Genie du Christianisme or the Essai Historique – in order to detect, from the perspective of the counter-revolution, the recovery of national Catholicism and the defence of the “man of nature” in contrast to the disintegrative modernity of one’s roots (Thom 1995). It is in the very field of liberal republicanism where, as the century unfolds, we discover the unmistakable signs of a recovery of the organicism of the nation. Without any doubt, the influential work of Madame de Staël provides clear proof of this. In her novel Corinne ou L’Italie, but above all in De L’Allemagne, the author puts forward a clear conception of nations and national identities based on ethnic-cultural features: “The difference between languages, natural borders, memories of a common history, all contribute to create among men these great individuals that are called nations (de Staël 1814: 41). “Ces grands individus qu’on appelle des nations” would receive attention from a variety of intellectual, political, and institutional perspectives in postrevolutionary France. What can be said, for example, about post-revolutionary historiography? And we are not referring to the work of Taine who, from L’Histoire de la Literature Anglaise (1863) to Les Origines de la France Contemporaine (1875-1883), develops an idea of the French nation which is openly anti-Jacobin, deterministic and racist. We must confront, once again, the republican legacy, whose early task would be none other than, with the justification of defending the revolution, reinstating the lost affective link of communitarianism to the abstraction of the Republic. Regarding this point, it is necessary to recall that the republican Michelet – who, incidentally, wrote that “Le Dieu des nations a parlé par la France” – explicitly dedicated his work to reconcile “dogmas and principles” with “legend” (from Joan of Arc to the Revolution). It is from this perspective of republican nationalism, for which the nation constitutes the supreme truth built on the myth of the origins, that a text like Le Peuple (1846) should be read as well as two of its themes that would subsequently be more influential: (1) France as a universal nation: “asile du monde”, “bien plus qu’une nation: la fraternité vivante”, etc. (Michelet 1846, 1: 229); and (2) France as a One and Indivisible Nation, built by the suppression of “nationalités intérieures”: “it is when France eliminates from its midst all the divergent Frances that it attains its highest and most original revelation” (Michelet 1846: 216). Initially conceived as an intermediate stage between tribe and Universal Republic, the nation was gradually filled with solid (linguistic, historical, affective, etc.) content as the century progressed. In fact, from Michelet onwards it can be said that a movement in search of organicism begins for the French nation which, recognisable earlier in Ferry, is more clearly visible in the work of Renan and Thierry. It would, however, be with the Empire and the Restoration, especially in the romantic historiography of Thierry, when, in opposition to the civic nationalism of Michelet – nationalism in its strict sense, not mere “republican patriotism”, because it reinforces the idea of the nation granting it a highly affective content, transforming national history into a national (and, at the same time, universal) Destiny, introducing the myth of the “chosen people” etc. – the theme of the
“struggle of races” is recovered as the driving force of French history, and the reason for loyalty to the “primitive race”. In the same way, the reformulation of the founding Celtic myth returns the French nation to the common Aryan trunk and thus to an equal footing with Germany. The mythical conflict between Franks and Gauls, between nobles and serfs (“la race conquise”) (Poliakov 1971) reverberates even in such influential historical accounts as Guizot’s. But, moreover, the relative influence of the Celtic myth of the origins, in the version of Reynaud and Martin, regarding French republicanism, as the century unfolds, illustrates the in no way marginal ethical background of the most “civic” of nationalisms. The obvious, and in principle unthinkable, presence of a form of “Celtic republican patriotism” exemplifies the inseparability between the historical-cultural and mythical dimension and the civic dimension of the nation. In fact, from 1830 onwards, it is possible to observe how a defence of “instinct” and “love for the homeland” overwhelm, in the republican youth, the purely rational dimension of citizenship and the state (Darriulat 2001: 115). The vicissitudes of jus solis bear witness, likewise, beyond the stereotypical, to the narrow limits of French civic patriotism. In effect, the pre-revolutionary tradition of jus solis was rejected by jurists, against Napoleon’s wishes, and replaced by the jus sanguinis in the Code of 1803. In fact, jus solis would not be recovered until the 1889 law, but complicated, moreover, by the additional requirement of socialisation in French customs and culture. Finally, in 1927, as an instrument of a demographic policy for dealing with depopulation, a third stage to facilitate access to nationality was opened (through naturalisation or marriage). To all this must be added, from the end of the 1920s, a racist perspective that would triumph in Vichy after 1940, a form of racism that would not disappear with the Liberation, but would re-emerge occasionally in the policy of quotas imposed by Georges Mauco, in the forced repatriation of North Africans carried out by d’Estaing between 1978 and 1980, in the attempts to suppress the jus solis, etc. (Weil 2002). In fact, as Brubaker has shown, even the recovery of jus solis formed part of a wider national-republic consciousness-raising (“moral and civil indoctrination”) (Brubaker 1992: 45), by means of a national education system that imposes at one fell swoop a single language (the dialectal variety of L’Île de France), an account of history and a number of common national myths and symbols for all French people. Meanwhile, the slow nationalisation of France in opposition to the traditional territories and internal regions, merged together, as we well know from Eugen Weber among others, civic patriotism with (1) organisation through radial road networks to unify the territory, with (2) an education system to generalise the language, history and symbols of the nation, and (3) the army, La Grande Armée elevated to become a key instrument for the nationalising socialisation of the Grande Nation (Weber 1976: 493). A fundamental part of this process was the construction of the “national heritage” which stemmed from Guizot’s encouragement in 1830 of the conservation and cataloguing of the historical monuments of France. In 1838, Hugo, Montalambert and Merimée were appointed members of the historical committee of
the monuments and artistic treasures of France. One of the most important events in this regard was, thanks to Villet Le Duc, the “invention of cathedrals” as national monuments; that is, as symbols of national unity in a secularised and divided society, by means of a discourse based on the own/Gothic – alien/neoclassical dichotomy, which established itself after 1848 (Mélonio 2001: 156). It is not, therefore, necessary to wait, as is usually the case, for the nationalisation of France during the Third Republic, for the trauma of the 1871 defeat, for the appearance of the “nationalist” party towards the end of the century (Birnbaum 1993: 88), for Maurice Barrés’ famous article in Le Figaro in 1892, which introduced the term “nationalist” (Girardet 1966: 221), in order to detect, from the beginning of the Revolution, a process of the progressive incorporation into the republican programme of a strictly nationalist content (values, narratives, myths and symbols of a common ancestry, mission and destiny). On the contrary, one can discern how, from an early stage, a peculiar attempt to equate the universal with the particular gradually establishes itself: the history of France with universal history, human rights with the “rights of man” and the citizen. Put another way, a growing synthesis of the abstract universal with the specific universal. If, on the one hand, the Revolution was against tradition, with the need to complete the abstract skeleton of principles with flesh and blood, following the mobilisation there was a growing recovery of history, the myth of the Golden Age, of a common ancestry, of the glorious tradition of a language and culture with universal value (Nora 1986). This is the ideological national-republican formula that, in essence, existed at the time of the July Monarchy and the Restoration, Armand Carrel and the “the nationals”. It is possible to read in the pages of Le National this singular synthesis of the republic and the French nation, citizenship of rights, on the one hand, and chauvinisme cocardier and militaristic humanitarian messianism, on the other. These themes were later reformulated, although they already appear in Quinet (Herder’s translator, incidentally), after the 1848 Revolution: France’s destiny illuminates, at that time, a new providential universal “Mission”, which would no longer be the Code Civil and the Enlightenment, but the liberation of oppressed nationalities. But at the same time the ethnification of the republican concept is reinforced: the right to self-determination slowly ceases to be the property of the “peoples” understood as the citizenry, in order to become the right of oppressed nations, which possessed a particular culture, language, history, etc. which forged their collective identity. In relation to this, a highly significant event is the progressive semantic replacement of the term “nation” by that of “nationalité” in the 1840s, because it confirms the weakening of the universalist and cosmopolitan concept of the homeland at the end of a long road. In synthesis: the long journey from: (1) national sovereignty, where the nation is an abstract entity of reason, for the sole purpose of imputation of sovereignty and the foundation of censual suffrage (1791); to (2) popular sovereignty, or the nation understood as a specific population of citizens, although semiotically representing itself, in peculiar synecdoche, by the Jacobin vanguard, by the virtuous minority (1793) (Máiz 2007); (3) to the
sovereignty of the nation, but now as a unanimous and homogeneous community of destiny, endowed with a universal civilising and colonial mission; (4) to the ethnic-cultural French nation, with its specific language, history, traditions, myths and symbols, at the heart of a conflicting friend and enemy logic, now external (England, Germany), now internal (Jews). It was from 1870 onwards, however, during the war with Germany and the subsequent loss of Alsace Lorraine, that the ethnification and nationalisation of French political thought became properly established. This would ultimately have a significant effect on republican ideology itself: such as the drift from opportuniste republicanism, to Littré’s Republique conservatrice, including Gambetta’s République transactionnelle (Nicolet 1982). All this took place during the “German crisis of French thought” which makes cultural nationalism of a German nature compatible with political, intellectual (Momssen, Strauss) and military confrontation with Germany (Digeon 1959), blurring once again the myth of the ethnic-civic dichotomy. For this reason it is necessary to look behind the supposed transparency of the civic narrative, the ambiguities and the internal tension that exist following the statements which, at first sight, seem to have an unequivocally strong political accent of a territorial and liberal nature: “What distinguishes nations is not race or language . . . but a community of ideas, interests, affections, and hopes. . . . Race and language are history and the past . . . what is current and alive are will, ideas, interests, affections” (Fustel de Coulanges 1870, in Girardet 1966: 213). Above all we must pay attention to the traditional “voluntarist” reading of Renan. In effect, with the famous phrase from his lecture in the Sorbonne in 1882: “The existence of a nation is (if you forgive the metaphor) a continual plebiscite” (Renan 1947 I: 904), one can deduce a whole supposedly “voluntarist” and “civic” conception of the nation. Thus, the confirming element par excellence of the nation would be the freely expressed consent of the citizens. However, if one looks a little more closely, his position is far from being as unequivocal and political as many have tried to make it (Finkielkraut 1987). Above all, his idea of the nation should be contextualised at the heart of a body of work that, from L’Avenir de la Science, including Philosophie de l’Histoire Contemporaine, to La Réforme Intellectuelle et Morale de la France, its explicit objective, despite its deceptive anti-clericalism, is a critique of the entire legacy of the Enlightenment and the Revolution. Thus, in La Réforme . . ., the critique of materialism and “French democracy” is extended to a demand for the late-feudal principle of “hierarchy” (Renan (1859) 1947 I: 29-68) and a historical determinism with Herderian roots. Despite the undeniable subsequent evolution of his thought as a result of the Franco-German conflict, Renan never accepted the legacy of the Enlightenment and the Revolution (Sternhell 1983: XXVII). This provides a number of keys to why, first of all, there are many instances in his work of uses of the concept of nation which are a long way from the democratic and plebiscitary voluntarism that is attributed to him. Thus, for example, in a text of 1871, La Réforme Intellectuelle et Morale de la France, one can read “A nation is not the mere addition of the individuals that it
comprises; it is a soul, a consciousness, a person, a living result” (Renan 1947 I: 361). This “soul of the nation”, however, cannot survive on its own, but requires the help of a “college” that is officially responsible for ensuring this. Without this institutional support, our author continues, cemented by a single will, “like the dream of our democrats”, that is, as the mere “national reason of the people” it will become, in a highly graphic description, a perishable house of sand (une maison de sable). In order to maintain the time-line that links the living with the dead the nation must be institutionalised, not forgetting that, unlike what is usually attributed to him “the current will of the nation, the plebiscite, even when it is seriously implemented, is not sufficient”. The alternative leaves little room for doubt with regard to the author’s conservative liberalism. As is demonstrated by his rejection of the “majorité numerique” and universal suffrage, any trace of the Republic and the nation that rose up against the King has disappeared: “A dynasty is the best institution to achieve this” (Renan 1947 I: 375). The relationship between the traditional dynastic institutions and the nation becomes so fundamental for the existence of the nation because the dynasty, in some way, precedes and is superior to the nation. In fact, it was the dynasty that produced the nation: “le roi a fait la nation” (Renan 1947 I: 380). Second, even in Qu’est-ce qu’une Nation? the political-voluntarist conception is the result, above all, of the historical circumstances of Germany’s annexation of Alsace Lorraine and the “objective” (linguistic, ethnic) arguments used to justify it by German intellectuals. Moreover, this is heavily nuanced by the surprising presence of elements coming from the very same ethnic, Germanic tradition, which had, in principle, been rejected by the voluntarist, civic concept. The idea is put forward here, for example, that “A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle” (Renan 1947 I: 903). In fact, for Renan, there are not one but two elements that confer nationalising charisma: (1) the past, history “the common possession of a rich legacy of memories (d’un riche legs de souvenirs); that is, “a heroic past, great men, glory . . . here lies the social capital on which the national idea is based” (Renan 1947 I: 904); and (2) consent, the explicit desire of co-nationals to live together. Politics is clearly insufficient for Renan; common interests are not enough: “a Zollverein is not a homeland” (Renan 1947 I: 902); unexpectedly, the “complications of history” are also required. History as a narrative; that is, the “history” of past glories created explicitly as a national mythical story as opposed to history as a science, which often dilutes and clouds the singularity of the homeland: “Oblivion, even historical error, are an essential factor in the creation of a nation. That is why the progress of historical studies is often a danger for nationality” (Renan 1947 I: 891). Moreover, one should not disregard the culturalising essentialism that lies behind the argument of 1882. How, if he is unable to fully realise the omnipresence in his reasoning of history, tradition, the common ancestry; in short, the undivided legacy on which the nation is built: (l’heritage qu’on a reçu indivis) (Renan 1947 I: 904)? The critique, in this particular text, of race as a nationalising factor, and its terrible result, the “zoological wars” (Renan 1947: 456), should not lead to the
oblivion of its substantive racism: “the absence of healthy ideas about the inequality of races may lead to total decadence,” he states in Dialogues Philosophiques (Renan 1947 I: 591). Also his militant anti-Semitism – “la race sémitique représente une combination inférieure de la nature humane” (Renan 1947 VIII: 144), which is evident in works like Histoire Générale et Système Comparé des Langues Sémitiques. Both elements would have an enormous influence on anti-Semitism (Jules Soury, Édouard Drumont) and on subsequent French nationalism (Barrès). Let us concentrate now on the supporters of the Republic. The figure of Leon Gambetta is perhaps the one which best illustrates the nationalisation process of republicanism. This is because, in the 1870s, the leader of the Republican party not only reasserts the French nation, but also reformulates nationalism to suit the realities of the present, by contrasting the stereotypical “France Glorieuse” with the victim mentality of “la France vaincue et humiliée”. In short, what needs to be highlighted in the nationalisation process of French republicanism after 1870 – throughout the Third Republic – is the fact that, without initially renouncing revolutionary patriotism and the republican heritage of the Revolution, or at least not completely, the concept of the French nation undergoes a definitive shift towards the mythical-symbolic sphere, at the same time as the initial liberal-voluntarist articulation is diluted, through the following movements:
• Growing accidentalism of the forms of government: progressive diluting of the founding antagonism between monarchy and republic.