Modernity, between the national and the universal



Considerations on the formation of nation-states

The modern political world was born out of and through the contradiction between the particular (mythical) and the universal (rational), which it has not gotten rid of, quite the contrary, until the present. In England, the new state broke through initially with the iron political centralization imposed by monarchical absolutism: from the Tudor era, in the fifteenth century, the monarchy maintained strict control, among other things, over the public dissemination of information.

The basic elements of the English nation, the unified national market and economic protectionism, were imposed by the State: the Tudor dynasty expelled the Hanseatic merchants from London and unified local markets through mandatory norms and rules for measuring products and commercial conduct. In the XNUMXth century, during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the national territory was finally unified, the nobility was placed under royal control and the interference of the Roman Church was removed by the creation of the Anglican Church. At the same time, in the new colonial world in formation, the British began to dispute with the Iberians the domains in North and Central America, and in the Caribbean.

In the same century, a decisive split took place within the English nobility. The great aristocracy of the North clung to its feudal traditions and, during the 1530s, benefited from an administrative reform undertaken by the Tudor dynasty, through which part of its members began to occupy positions in the new bureaucratic structure of the Council Private, the Starry Chamber and the Court of High Commission. The Tudors did not maintain the state apparatus on the basis of a national tribute to French fashion (the size ), but with the sale of monopolies on certain articles and on foreign trade, as well as with compulsory loans and confiscation of ecclesiastical lands.

The dynasty started by Henry VIII (1509-1547), with Mary (“the bloodthirsty”) and Elizabeth (“the Virgin Queen”) initiated the historic rupture that led to the Modern State. Henry VIII did not inherit the Crown, he conquered it (by having the last of the Plantagenet executed), defeating Richard III in the last episode of the war between the royal houses of Lancaster and York (the “War of the Roses”).

To win domestic support, Henry VIII leaned on three social classes: the gentleman (“untitled nobility”), the yeomen (rural landowners without titles of nobility) and large merchants. He concluded a commercial treaty with the Netherlands (the Magnus Intercursus) considered the first milestone of modern international diplomacy, aimed at conquering foreign markets. All the kings of his dynasty were committed to the development of the navy and the conquest of foreign markets. They participated in the first European colonial expansion, rivaling France and Spain, and they did so more for the enrichment of the kingdom than for territorial domination.

Decisive fact, Henry VIII broke definitively with the Vatican, under the pretext of the non-annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, summoning (1529) the Parliament to legislate internally against the clergy faithful to Rome, thus being born Anglicanism, with the British king being declared “supreme head of the Church and clergy of England”: the English nation took its first steps by breaking with the supreme power of the European Middle Ages, the Church of Rome, and creating a national church. Along with this, Henry VIII promoted the development of state administration, reinforcing the bureaucratic (impersonal) dimension of the state.

Elizabeth I, of the Tudor dynasty, left no descendants, ascending the throne in 1603, James I, of the Scottish Stuart dynasty, uniting the crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland. The new king tried to govern without Parliament, which had the power of law, according to the Magna Carta of 1215. However, the king could summon him only when he deemed it necessary and, thus, exercised the power in fact.

The Stuart dynasty sought to accentuate its power by increasing the parasitism of the great feudal aristocracy of the North, through the extension of monopolies, including to break up fabrics; the expansion of compulsory loans; the institution of a trade tax, the ship money, that in 1637 John Hampden refused to pay, being punished and becoming a martyr of the rising bourgeoisie. Such measures acted as a trigger for the crisis between the monarchy and Parliament, in the early 1640s, which culminated in the outbreak of civil war.

The first English revolution (1642-1649), thus, had its origin in the opposition of Parliament (dominated by the Puritans) to the king, defender of absolute monarchy and the Church of England, still close to the Roman rites. Parliament was not a permanent body of English politics, but a temporary consultative assembly; the monarch could order its dissolution; it was made up of representatives of the gentry and was in charge of collecting taxes and fees. The king received the opinions of parliament through the Bill of Rights, but was under no obligation to follow them. James was succeeded to the throne in 1625 by Charles I, who married a French Catholic princess, which upset the powerful Puritan minority, which represented a third of Parliament.

Participation in the European wars aggravated the disagreements between the king and the parliamentarians. After a military disaster in France, Parliament dismissed the military commander, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1626. Charles, in response, dissolved Parliament; a new Parliament was assembled in March 1628, the third of his reign. Under the influence of Oliver Cromwell, he approved an end to arbitrary arrests; the need for parliamentary consent for all taxes; the prohibition of arbitrary use by military personnel of private homes; the prohibition of martial law in peacetime.

In reaction, Charles proclaimed the extension of the tax ship money to the totality in the country, which had not been approved by Parliament. The arrest of John Eliot (one of the inspirers of the parliamentary petition) and eight other Members of Parliament outraged the country. For a decade, Charles reigned without Parliament; advised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he championed the idea of ​​a more pompous and ceremonious Church of England; the Puritans accused him of trying to reintroduce Catholicism, and he had his opponents arrested and tortured.

In 1638 the Scots expelled the bishops of the churches of Scotland; the king sent troops to control the rebels. These being defeated, the king agreed to sign a pacification and was humiliated when obliged not to interfere with religion in Scotland and also to pay war reparations. Charles summoned a new Parliament in 1640; the “short parliament” was quickly dissolved because it refused to approve new subsidies. The English king again attacked Scotland and was defeated; Northumberland and Durham became Scottish territories. A “Triennial Law” was passed, mandating the convening of a Parliament every three years.

Other new laws prevented the dissolution of Parliament by the Crown, in addition to preventing the king from creating new taxes and allowing control of his ministers. After the pacification of Ireland, Charles even considered using a Catholic army against the Scots. In January 1642, the attempt to imprison five members of parliament for treason failed. Parliament gathered troops led by Robert Devereux with the aim of defending Scotland and preventing the monarch's return to power. Charles escaped London and gathered troops in Nottingham.

The British Royal Navy and most English cities supported Parliament, the King only found supporters in rural areas. Each side in dispute managed to gather fifteen thousand men. Parliament had the advantage of having on its side the great cities that housed large arsenals, such as London and Kingston. After the Battle of Newbury, which ended without a winning side, Parliament's troops finally won at Winceby in October 1643. It was far more than a military victory.

In the English Civil War, the main advantage of Parliament was its new type of military organization: the New Model Army (Army of New Type) formed in 1645 (and disbanded in 1660, after the Restoration), it was conceived as a force responsible for military service throughout the country, not circumscribed to a single area or garrison. It was made up of full-time soldiers, rather than the usual militia at the time, it had career soldiers without a parliamentary seat and without ties to any political or religious faction. Soldiers were promoted on the basis of competence and no longer on the basis of birth into a noble or prestigious family: this criterion was replaced by the criterion of merit.

A New Model Army prefigured modern national armies, based on a national tax on consumption (the income tax, income tax, only born in the 1645th century), professionalized, open to discussion and debates among its members for the definition of war objectives and barracks discipline, but also endowed with an iron command discipline, Oliver Cromwell's army was the embryo of the new State and brought in its essence the elements of a new society. In 1646, all troops in Parliament adopted the new model. The victories at Naseby and Langport destroyed Charles' forces, who sought refuge in Scotland in 1647. The winning troops, however, dissatisfied with delays in payments and living conditions, marched on London in August XNUMX. King Charles, on his side, negotiated an agreement with the Scots, promising a reform of the Anglican Church.

In 1648, the King's supporters in England mutinied as the Scots invaded the country. The English armed forces were again victorious; Parliament organized a court that tried and condemned Charles: by 68 votes to 67, Charles I was found guilty of treason, and he was executed in 1649 (years later, after the restoration of the monarchy, most of the judges who voted for his death penalty also were executed). It is estimated that 15% of the English population died during the civil war, most due to epidemic diseases resulting from it.[I]

As a result of the outcome of the conflict, a republican government led England and all the British Isles between 1649 and 1653, and from 1659 to 1660. Cromwell imposed an authoritarian Puritan regime in England, Scotland and Ireland, accompanied by “a unique group of men (which) was composed of ardent republicans. In the act of enslaving the country, they deceived themselves with the belief that they were emancipating it. The book they most venerated [the Bible] furnished them with a precedent which was often in their mouths" (Moses' dictatorship over the weak, ungrateful, and unbelieving Jewish people, which was the basis of their salvation)."[ii] The English civil war demarcated in opposing camps two military forces representative of the two historical trends in confrontation: on the one hand the royalist cavalry organized by the feudal aristocracy and, on the other, the New Model Army.

The victory of Cromwell's troops started a social revolution: “In the military sense, the war was won by artillery (which only money could buy) and by Cromwell's cavalry, made up of small landowners. Under Prince Rupert's command, the Royalist knights attacked with energy and fearlessness, but they were completely undisciplined and disintegrated to give themselves up to plunder soon after the first attack. In war as in peace, the feudal gentry could not resist the prospect of plunder. On the contrary, the discipline of Cromwell's lowliest knights was faultless, because it was self-imposed.

Thanks to the absolute freedom of discussion in the army, 'they knew what they fought for and loved what they knew'. Thus, they attacked at the right time, only firing at the last moment, forming up again and attacking, until the enemy was defeated. Parliamentary struggles were won due to the discipline, unity and heightened political awareness of the masses organized in the New Model Army. Once properly organized and regularly paid, endowed with a commissariat and efficient techniques, and with Cromwell appointed indispensable chief, the New Model Army was rapidly advancing to victory, and the Royalists were finally defeated at Naseby.[iii]

The break with the Church of Rome was to the last consequences: “The papists were considered as agents of an external power. Many of them had supported Charles in the civil war and, after the seizure of the king's papers at Naseby, it emerged that he had planned a full-scale military intervention in Ireland. This helps explain – but not justify – the fiercely repressive policy in Ireland that only the levelers were opposed. Hostility to the Papists was not the monopoly of the Puritans.”[iv]

At the most radical moment of the English revolution, a parliamentary majority came to support the aforementioned levelers (“egalitarians” or “levellers”), who sought to take democratic ideas to their logical conclusion, attacking all privileges and proclaiming the land as the natural heritage of men. You levelers focused on political reform; the “socialism” implicit in his doctrine was expressed in religious language. His radical heirs were the diggers (“cavadores”), much more precise in relation to the society they wanted to establish and disbelievers of a normal type of political action, as they only believed in direct action.

The “diggers” were born when “on Sunday, April 1, 1649, a small company of poor men gathered on St. George, on the outskirts of London and on the edge of the great forest of Windsor, hunting ground for the king and royalty. They started digging the land as a 'symbolic assumption of common ownership of land'. Within ten days their number grew to four or five thousand. A year later, the colony had been forcibly dispersed, its huts and furniture burned, the diggers expelled from the area”.[v]

In the wake of this process of conflicts, the antecedents of modern political parties were constituted, fractions that fought for the control and direction of the new State. The realists, the Presbyterians, the independents, the levelers, the diggers, were the embryos of political parties linked to what would later be baptized as representative democracy. In the case of levelers, one historian was struck by the “defect of their system, the irregularity of hand-raised elections, yes-or-no cries, splitting of groups or roll call. It is strange that, anxious as they were for free elections, they did not think of the principle of secret ballot, used by the inhabitants of Utopia [de Moro] and the Oceana [from Harrington]. The secret ballot system was not unknown, as it was practiced in elections in Massachusetts, in ecclesiastical elections in the Netherlands, and in elections of directors and officers of trading companies.[vi]

Revolutionaries, the levelers opted for direct democracy. Members of the New Type Army were also known as the "roundheads" (round heads) for the rounded metal helmet they wore. The rank and file soldiers participated in the committees that made military decisions, allowing them greater contact with political issues and contributing to the formation of an awareness of the reasons for the struggle. The religious nature of the war and the adhesion of a large part of the soldiers to Puritanism (the name given to Calvinism in England) also led, over time, to the realization of religious preaching, taking away from the pastors the exclusivity in the function.

A New Model Army constituted, during the English civil war, the embryo of the new democratic-representative State, having in its bulge the germs of the future political parties. She taught peasants to understand freedom. The rank and file even picked agitators from among their ranks. The most daring action carried out by soldiers was the kidnapping of King Charles I in 1647, without an order from superior officers: military actions, for some time, were directed from below to above.[vii] The association of levelers he wielded a radical democracy for the time, defending universal male suffrage in parliamentary elections.

Supported by the new army, Cromwell imposed himself on the Council of State and Parliament. On the other hand, he faced the pretensions of levelers and diggers and defeated them with extreme violence. In 1653, with the title of "Lord Protector", he became dictator for life, even suppressing the written press in 1655. After Cromwell's death, his son Richard tried to rule autocratically in his father's image, but was deposed by a coup of Parliament.

The new Parliament, supported by Scottish troops, restored the monarchy, calling Charles II, son of the beheaded king, to assume the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. His proximity to the King of France Louis XIV – the prototype of absolutism – made him suspect to Parliament, which split into two political parties: the pro-Parliament liberals (Whigs) and conservatives (Tory), favorable to the king: “The revolution had ended. But it was not lost, by England or mankind. Only in that political society, which derived so many advantages from its insular position, was a limit placed on the tendencies of absolute monarchy, which in the rest of Europe was consolidating everywhere…. The first revolution made the second possible. There were henceforth organs of resistance, against whose strength absolutism clashed. The predominance of the Parliament was recognized, guaranteeing the transformation of the Old Regime into a modern constitutional State. Initially victorious Puritanism played the part of the persecuted; their forms of ecclesiastical government were destroyed. The yoke that had been imposed on individual life was removed. But some Puritan ideas retained their operative force, they had become an indestructible element of the English character”.[viii]

Charles II's reign, beginning in 1660, lasted a quarter of a century. He was succeeded in 1685 by his brother James II, who sought to re-establish absolutism and Catholicism in England. The fact that he was a Catholic set him apart from both factions of Parliament; the conflict between this and the king manifested itself when James had a son, since until then the heiress was his daughter Mary Stuart, a Protestant. Parliament began to conspire to depose him. Mary was married to William of Orange, King of the Netherlands, who landed with his troops in the country in 1688.

In spite of some small battles, the political/military movement was essentially peaceful, being known as the “Glorious Revolution”. James fled to France; Parliament proclaimed William and Mary kings, requiring them to accept a “Bill of Rights”: kings could no longer cancel the laws of Parliament; Parliament would decide succession to the throne and vote on the annual budget; the actual accounts would be controlled by inspectors; the Treasury would be run by officials. In this way, a parliamentary monarchy was created based on the hegemony conquered by the rural gentry, the gentleman, and the urban and mercantile bourgeoisie. The two revolutions (the “Puritan”, of 1640, and the “Glorious”, of 1688) were episodes of the conflict between absolutism and liberalism, manifested as a conflict between the power of the king and that of Parliament.

In this way, the English revolutions of the XNUMXth century stopped within the limits imposed by the ascending bourgeois class, reconciled with the monarchy and eliminated its radical wings, obeying, in the words of Isaac Deutscher, a constant verified in the revolutionary processes: “The revolution awakens the latent popular yearning for equality. The most critical moment in their development is when leaders feel they cannot satisfy this urge and maneuver to stifle it. They do the work that some opponents call the betrayal of the revolution... Hence the extraordinary vehemence with which Cromwell attacked the egalitarians of his time.”

With the gradual transformation of feudal lords into bourgeois owners, in the Glorious Revolution there was a compromise between the ascending bourgeois sectors and the aristocratic sectors of English society. The aristocracy took the positions of lesser power in the new regime. The “Glorious Revolution” of William of Orange inaugurated a new era in which the theft of state lands, until then practiced in more modest dimensions, expanded. This usurpation of Crown lands and the looting of Church assets constituted the origin of the great domains of the English agrarian oligarchy.

After the “Glorious Revolution”, the English bourgeoisie was strengthened and the country became the most important free trade zone in Europe; its financial system was one of the most advanced. Thus, throughout the 1628th century, through revolutions and a series of governmental measures, the historical conditions for the gestation of the Modern State were created in England: in 1651, the Petition of Rights; in 1679, the Navigation Acts (economic protectionism); in XNUMX, the Habeas Corpus Act; in 1689, the Bill of Rights.

The measures protected English production and the free initiative of the individual entrepreneur, which would adopt the form of economic and political liberalism (individual free will). In 1694, in support of the public debt system, the Bank of England was created, which granted credits to the State, holding the monopoly of issuing scriptural (fiduciary) currency in the London region and financially controlling banks in other regions, acting as a powerful factor of unity of the national market.

Following the English revolutions, at the end of the XNUMXth century the “restless calm of western Europe” began to show the contours of a crisis, which engendered a process of wars and revolutions. The overcoming of the Ancien Régime was expressed as an attempt to return to the foundation of ancient state sovereignty, which was consistent with the idea of nation. The term has a Latin origin (natio, to be born). It designated the peoples located abroad and on the borders of the Empire. In Latin translations of the Bible and Gospel texts, the term “nations” was used to refer to the various peoples then known.

In the Middle Ages, the term was used to designate university students who organized themselves, in study centers, into housing or conviviality groups, nationsbecause they have a common origin. In each “nation” the mother tongue of the students was spoken; they were governed by the laws of their countries. The establishment of the Modern State and its sovereignty implied a double overcoming, that of natural law rooted in previous empires (the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire) and also of feudal customary law, rooted in the local particularities of the Middle Ages, when there were several legal orders for different classes: “The class of small noble-knights resolved their quarrels by resorting to private warfare, not infrequently triggered by a personal insult, but always with the objective of obtaining land and booty. Another means of enrichment was the toll charged to merchants for the right to cross the lord's lands, many of whom found that a castle provided a headquarters for a band of knightly raiders.[ix]

The law born of customary practice, on the other hand, had to be superseded by law based on Reason: “It is a question of the legal right, reserved for States, to determine the rules that govern the social relations of production within their territorial jurisdiction” .[X] Only on the basis of rules of universal validity could law achieve correspondence with its purpose: “The constitution of the political State and the breakdown of civil society into independent individuals, whose relations are based on law, as much as human relations, under the regime of orders and corporations, based on privilege, are realized in one and the same act”.[xi] In a society dominated by relationships mediated by money, “the law is the way in which the social bond is organized in which individuals are considered as 'atoms' independent of each other”.[xii]

Certain characteristics of society governed by law were specific to the European continent, in which several authors identified the cause of the modern State being born in Europe. Other authors related this fact to the supposed superiority of “European civilization”. Certainly, “not in all cultures, but only in some, do we find law as a specific human practice, a field or zone of knowledge and action in which specific technical operations are carried out. The relative autonomy of law is a characteristic of Western civilization. Things are different in other areas: Indian or Chinese, Hebrew or Islamic”.[xiii] Max Weber insisted on this point: modern law, however, was not born simultaneously in all areas and regions of the West, on the contrary, it was imposed in most of them by fire and sword.

And the question posed by Vernant remains: “Why and how were the forms of social life and ways of thinking formed, in which the West sees its origin, believes it can recognize itself, and which still serve European culture today as a reference and justification? ?”.[xiv] Considered its historical context, modern civil law was born from the needs derived from mercantile expansion centered in cities. The word and the concept of urbanity came to designate the social practices and attitudes that accompanied it. The old codes should be replaced by a public right based on the law of Reason: from the ashes of ancient Christian Republic was born the ius publicum europaeoum, law was for the first time an essential prerogative of sovereignty. “International law” (still called “cosmopolitan law”) was, however, an artifice produced by the will of the state; the sovereign entity was not obliged to observe any limit, even outside its borders. It didn't matter the means used to fight, but the result achieved; the instruments of battle did not matter, but the victory.

This also had an economic foundation. For the concept of territoriality (a recognized and demarcated territory, to be preserved by any means) to impose itself, it was necessary that trade on a larger scale than that occasional or seasonal one took advantage, with a larger unified market, making common laws necessary. , currency, weights and measures established by a State endowed with the means to do so, with security coming from the same State.

Due to these new social needs, the State gradually acquired a monopoly on the use of violence, thus preventing citizens from being the object of the arbitrariness of local powers: “The existence in France and Italy of men and women with legal training service of the bourgeoisie was useless without a unified national market and a strong state machine linked to bourgeois interests. Such conditions prevailed in England, where the political ideology of the bourgeoisie became an express justification for the exercise of power by the State in its interest”.[xv] The noble aristocracy, even so, preserved during the centuries of its eclipse fiscal, customs and military privileges in various regions of Europe.[xvi]

Monarchical absolutism developed a mercantilist policy, trying to retain the largest possible amount of gold and silver in its borders, encouraging the achievement of a commercial surplus, based on the assumption that the “(total) wealth of nations” was an invariable amount , and the more one nation owned, the less the others (the rival nations) would own. This phase of commercial expansion was associated with protectionist policies in interstate relations. On this basis, the state form that finally served as a framework for the historic victory of the space of capital was the National State, achieved through a process that created a model that extended to the entire planet: “Native is an old and traditional concept, inherited from Roman Antiquity, which originally qualifies birth or ancestry as the distinguishing characteristic of groups of any kind… Along with other denominations, such as gens ou populus, this use of the term gave rise to the late medieval meaning of nations, referred to the great European peoples who, in turn, could encompass diverse people. The borders of a natio were for a long time inaccurate. But the use of the term was consolidated in its exact original Latin meaning as the community of law to which one belongs by birth”.[xvii] Would the nation be “the set of men united in a community of character at the base of a community of destinies”, as proposed?[xviii] What is remarkable is that this point of view was defended from the point of view of socialism, that is, from a proposal to overcome the nation.

The new State sunk its form and its roots in the new relations of production and in the spaces that were necessary for it, not in the differentiation of “characters” of each community: this, insofar as it existed and consolidated, was a consequence of the new relations (conflictive) class.

In the new type of State, the National State, the economically dominant class was not confused with the “State” itself (or dominant apparatus) as was the case with the noble class of the feudal period (the notion of “State” was totally alien to this class , made up mostly of “noble” illiterates): “The protection and social guarantee of the ownership of the means of capital production by the industrial bourgeoisie is carried out through a function other than the direction of production, that is to say, different from the ownership of industrial capital: it is done through public and state violence. Possession and protection of ownership of the means of production become distinct functions, that is, the economic extraction of surplus by the industrial bourgeoisie is distinguished from the protection of the property of the capital of this same bourgeoisie by the public forces of the State: the identity is thus broken. immediate relationship between the State and the ruling class, characteristic of the Western Medieval”.[xx]

The protection and guarantee of bourgeois property was resolved through the incorporation of representatives in the direction of the bureaucratic-military apparatus of the State. Hence the concept of “political representation” and representative democracy. The victory of bourgeois society was the secret of modern democracy, of the division of powers, of the (relative) autonomy of law, of its entire juridical and political superstructure.

The bourgeoisie tended to form or favor the national state because it was the state form that best corresponded to its interests, the development of capitalist social relations. The nation was created, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, thanks to an alliance between the political power of the centralized monarchy (the absolutist States) and the growing economic and social power of the bourgeoisie, an alliance that unfolded and fragmented, turning into a conflict , at the end of which the bourgeoisie overthrew (revolutionarily or not) the Old Regime and erected itself into a new ruling class, endowing itself with the modern Nation-State.

The proclaimed universality of the new State, however, was ideological (that is, a necessary and inverted expression of its social reality); from a materialist point of view, “historically, the National State emerged with bourgeois society. Not only the State as a centralized apparatus of force, but also elements of the 'national' State, are, to a certain degree, assumptions of capitalism and the basis of its emergence. However, the role of the formed National State can be considered a product of capital relations, being closely linked to them. The construction of a 'national identity', capable of encompassing all members of society, has the function of obfuscating class antagonisms and neutralizing their struggle”.[xx]

The nation established itself in Europe to designate the identity of each people, which does not mean that each people (endowed with a common language or tradition) was consensually considered as a nation. For the main theorist of nationalities of the Communist International: “The political and social units of antiquity were nothing more than potential nations. The nation, in the strict sense, is a direct product of capitalist society, which arises and develops where capitalism arises and develops... further development of capitalist relations. National emancipation movements express this tendency (and) represent an aspect of the general struggle against feudal survivals and for democracy… When the creation of large States corresponds to capitalist development and favors it, it constitutes a progressive fact”.[xxx] The necessary subjective factor for this was the national movements, which made the words “State”, “Nation” and “People” almost synonymous during the period of emergence of the capitalist bourgeoisie and modern nationalities.

A series of criteria and factors allowed a people to compel others to be consensually considered a nation, “whenever it was large enough to pass the gateway”, as Eric Hobsbawm ironically pointed out:[xxiii] (a) its historical association with an existing State or with a State of recent and reasonably durable past; (b) the existence of a long-established cultural elite that possessed a vernacular written administrative and literary language; (c) a proof of capacity for conquest. In order to constitute a nation, it was necessary, therefore, to already exist a “State in fact”, which had a common language and culture, in addition to demonstrating military strength. It was around these points that European national identities were formed.

The construction of a national identity went through a series of mediations that allowed the invention (and imposition) of a common language, a history whose roots were (mythically) as far away as possible, a folklore, a particular nature (a natural environment) ( and exclusive), a flag and other official or popular symbols: “What constitutes the nation is the transmission, through generations, of a collective and inalienable heritage. The creation of national identities consisted in making an inventory of this common heritage, that is, in fact, in inventing it”.[xxiii]

For Benedict Anderson, the nation was “an imagined political community – and imagined as being both intrinsically limited and, at the same time, sovereign”. Its members would never know everyone else (that's why it's “imagined”), but they have an image of the community.[xxv] The world governed by reason was thus born on the basis of myth; and the victory of the universal mode of production was based on (national) particularism. Hence the rejection of patriotism by Enlightenment philosophers, who intended to reflect from the human-universal point of view: “The idea of ​​homeland seemed to them too shy, almost petty, when compared to universal values. Like scientists, philosophers felt themselves, above all, citizens of reason and of the world. During the Seven Years' War, as well as in the previous one, both scientists and [French] philosophers continued to maintain relations – albeit troubled – with their English and German counterparts, as if the conflict did not concern them”.[xxiv]

The philosophers' motive was clear: the nation was limited in its borders by other territories; one nation could not encompass all mankind. It was sovereign because the emergence of nationalism is related to the decline of traditional governance systems (monarchy in Europe, or, in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, colonial administration in Asia, Africa and the Americas) and the construction of an identity based on identification ethnic, racial or cultural.

National sovereignty is a symbol of freedom in the face of old structures of domination – generating new structures of domination, such as state administration, the intellectual and political division of labor and the emergence of state control practices (population censuses, maps of the territory and museums for culture). Its structure is horizontal: members of different social classes can imagine belonging to the same national sphere and being bound by a common project. [xxv]

The use of a “creative national myth” was omnipresent. In the German case, an immemorial “Germania” was “discovered” in the writings of the Latin historian Tacitus: “Until then there was no German tribe from which a German nation could originate, in a similar way to the Frankish lineage [of the tribe of the Franks] of the which France had arisen. 'German' (German) was the global name for the popular Germanic dialects, a mere artificial term. Tacitus's Germans became the ancestors of the Germans; The Germania of the Romans therefore corresponded to a Germany (Germany), whose name first appeared around 1500 in the singular. Until then, only the expression 'German lands' had been used (Deutsches Land). "[xxviii]

This “invention of traditions” was a central aspect of nineteenth-century nationalist ideology and political romanticism, contrasting and conflicting with the raw economism of liberal political economy. The invention of these “imagined communities”, however, was not a simple ideological manipulation, but a flag of struggle against the Ancien Régime, based on the historical development of communities that were overcoming, on the one hand, the narrow local framework and, on the other, subordination to the temporal-universal power of the Christian Church. In the XNUMXth century, the first theories of the nation made their appearance, which narrowed into two hegemonic strands: the “subjective” conception, of French origin (present in the first republican constitutions of France) which based the nation on the common will, on adherence to it ( regardless of the place of birth or the origin of the ancestors) and in the collective memory; and the so-called “objective” conception, of German origin (which was theorized, among others, by Fichte and Herder), which linked the concept of nation to factors such as ethnic origin, place of birth and a common language (or a common language). different family).

The differentiation and consolidation of national languages ​​was a central aspect of this process. There could be no unified national market without unified communication, primarily idiomatic, as well as unified measurement units. The so-called national languages ​​were born from the split between erudite speech (performed in classical Latin, the intellectual, religious, political and administrative lingua franca of the Roman Empire) and popular speech, which accentuated its diversity with the dissolution of the Empire and economic and social isolation. from the feudal era.

They did not impose themselves, however, naturally, since the choice of a single (popular) language among several others as the national language was a political process, followed by a state imposition, which lasted until the XNUMXth century (period of formation of the modern States countries) and until the XNUMXth century (in the case, for example, of Spain). The process spanned the centuries during which as popular languages ​​(which accompanied the erudite language in the Roman Empire) acquired their own status and grammatical norms, enshrined in the translations of the Bible to the point of creating their own “cultured” (erudite) literary expression and proving to be carriers of communicational advantages in relation to the traditional language. old language of the Roman Empire, established long before its consecration as official languages.

The explicit differentiation of the “popular” languages ​​in relation to Latin was already carried out in the XNUMXth century, when religious councils prescribed predication in a “rustic” language, no longer recognizing a difference in style or usage (two or more variants of the same language ) but the existence of differentiated languages: “The Romance languages ​​prove that, in addition to their official disappearance, spoken Latin does not seem to have known anything but an apparent death. For those, far from breaking with the Latin language, replaced it by taking its place. The change in the linguistic system that took place at that time supposes, due to its metamorphosis in Romania as a whole, the reference to the same model of Latin”.[xxviii]

In the thirteenth century, in Of Vulgari Eloquentia, Dante Alighieri had already defended the popular language (in which he wrote his opera magna, the Divine Comedy, while continuing to use classical Latin in his other writings) against the erudite (Latin): “Latin knows the popular language in a generic way, but not in depth, because if it knew it deeply it would know all the popular languages, since it does not it would make sense that you would know one more than the other. And so, anyone who mastered Latin should have equally the same knowledge of all popular languages. But this is not the case, because a connoisseur of Latin does not distinguish, if he is Italian, the popular English language from German; nor will German be able to distinguish the popular Italic language from the Provençal language. Consequently, Latin is not knowledgeable of the popular language”. The opposite was not true: “Of these two terms, the popular one is nobler, as the one that was first used by the human race and from which all benefit, although divided into different words and phrases. It's even better because the popular one is more natural to everyone, while the other one is more artificial”.[xxix]

A “community of people” could only be founded on a popular language, transformed into a national language, but the choice of one among others (Tuscan, for example, among the fourteen basic languages ​​listed by Dante in the Italian peninsula) was the result of a political-cultural process crowned by a state imposition. The first consolidation of a national Romance language (derived from Latin) took place with the Grammar of the Hispanic language of Antonio de Nebrija, in 1492: in 1481, the Spanish had published, after years of study in Italy, the Latin Introductions, One Latin Grammar. In 1488 he made known, at the court of Spain, the Latin Introductions opposing the novel to the Latin: it was a new edition of Latin Grammar accompanied by a translation into Spanish. In 1492 finally appeared his Grammar of the Spanish language, with no part in Latin, which was considered the first grammar of a European language; although the Italian grammar by Leon Battista Alberti, from 1450, was already the grammar of a vulgar language.

The differentiation of national languages ​​conveyed the emergence of a new historical subject, the national community. For one of the first philosophers of language: “Without unity of form, no language would be conceivable; speaking, men necessarily gather their speaking into a unit”. The form of the language was the differentiating element of the national communities, establishing differences (borders) between dialects that, sometimes, differed little. Over language rose the national personality (the "genius" or "soul"), as distinct from the religious identity, which one nation could share with another.[xxx] Literary language was “a stylization of spoken language”.

Scholarly speaking (and writing), in Latin or Greek, was opposed to educational and scientific progress, as a statesman of Enlightenment leanings in eighteenth-century Spain observed: “The teaching of science would be better in Spanish than in Latin. The native language will always be the most appropriate instrument of communication for man, the ideas given or received in it will always be better expressed by masters and better received by disciples. Therefore, let the aspirant be a good Latin and a good Greek, and even able to understand the Hebrew language; he resorts to the sources of antiquity, but receives and expresses his ideas in his own language ”.[xxxii]

“Dead languages” were reserved for the interpretation of religious texts or erudition; modern knowledge was reserved for national languages. Classical Latin, being a dead language (not popularly spoken) lacked the flexibility and plasticity needed to express new concepts in words and in new grammatical constructions susceptible to change: its academic survival was an obstacle to the development of culture. Modernity and nationality thus emerged in the midst of the same process. Latin was the only language taught in Europe, but “by the 77th century all that had changed. 1500% of the books printed before XNUMX were in Latin (but) the hegemony of Latin was doomed… With astonishing speed, Latin ceased to be the language of the high intelligentsia…

The decline of Latin illustrated a broader process, in which sacred communities amalgamated by ancient sacred languages ​​were gradually fragmenting, pluralizing and territorializing”.[xxxi] The territoriality of languages ​​accompanied the emergence of National States. Descartes and Pascal still wrote in Latin, Hobbes and Voltaire already wrote in the vernacular. The secularization of culture (national languages ​​as opposed to classical Latin used in religious liturgy) implied overcoming religious domination in social life. Symphonic music, for example, was born from the secularization of musical art, from its emancipation from religious ceremonies.

The “internal” state changes in Europe took place within a framework dominated by its worldwide expansion and the advance of commercial and financial capital. Human history tended to take place on a single, worldwide, universal stage, with the geographical, then commercial, unification of the world. The era of world history, in which all regions and societies on the planet began to interact, directly or indirectly, with each other, integrating themselves into a single historical process, had the emergence of commercial capital as its basis, and fueled its development , even forcing him to capture the sphere of production. The productive forces raised by mercantile expansion, for this reason, were not contained within the areas confined by the dynastic States, where they originated.

Thus, it was with the expansion, unification and standardization of markets, on the one hand, and the growing volume of foreign trade, on the other, that the bases of new political, national units were formed. The development of the new States spurred mercantile growth, expansion connected to the continuous increase in the production of goods in the territorial States in the 1800th century. Before that, “the kingdoms of the Middle Ages, as well as in the medieval political imaginary, largely ignored the territorial dimension of politics, the concept of frontier that later circumscribed the substance of modern states and created the objectives of nationalisms after 1648. The idea of ​​border only began to be applied from the XNUMXth century onwards, on the occasion of the Westphalian Treaties in XNUMX”.[xxxii] Five years earlier, the first precise borderline between nations had been marked on a Spanish map of 1643, delimiting the Low Countries from France. The world of nations was born, whose basic contradiction, potentially destructive of humanity itself, we still cannot get rid of, four centuries later.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (boitempo).


[I] Philip Haythornthwaite. The English Civil War 1642-1651. London, Brockhampton Press, 1994.

[ii] Thomas Babington Macaulay. The History of England. London, Penguin Classics, 1986.

[iii] Christopher Hill. The World of Ponta Cabeça. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1991.

[iv] Christopher Hill. The Century of Revolutions 1603-1714. São Paulo, Editora Unesp, 2012.

[v] Christopher Hill. The World of Ponta Cabeça, cit.

[vi] H. Noel Brailsford. I Livellatori and the English Rivoluzione. Milan, Il Saggiatore, 1962.

[vii] Keith Roberts. Cromwell's War Machine. The New Model Army 1645-1660. Barnsley, Pen & Sword Military, 2005.

[viii] Alfred Stern. Cromwell. La Spezia, Fratelli Melitta, 1990.

[ix] Michael E. Tigar and Madeleine Levy. Law and the Rise of Capitalism. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1978.

[X] Immanuel Wallerstein. Historical Capitalism & Capitalist Civilization. Rio de Janeiro, Counterpoint, 2001.

[xi] Karl Marx. The Jewish Question. Sao Paulo, Boitempo, 2011.

[xii] Antoine Artous. Marx, l'État et la Politique. Paris, Syllepse, 1999.

[xiii] Mario Bretone. Right and Time in the European Tradition. Mexico, Fund for Economic Culture, 2000.

[xiv] Jean-Pierre Vernant. The origins of greek thought. Sao Paulo, Difel, 1986.

[xv] Michael E. Tigar and Madeleine Levy. Law and the Rise of Capitalism, cit.

[xvi] Arno J. Mayer. The Strength of Tradition. The persistence of the Old Regime. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1987.

[xvii] Hagen Schulze. State and Nation in Europe. Barcelona, ​​Grijalbo-Critica, 1997.

[xviii] Otto Bauer. The Cuestion of Nationalities and Social Democracy. Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1979.

[xx] Luis Fernando Franco Martins Ferreira. The English Revolution of the XNUMXth Century and the “New Model Army”. Text presented at the Symposium “War and History”, Department of History at USP, September 2010.

[xx] Joachim Hirsch. Materialist Theory of the State. Rio de Janeiro, Revan, 2010.

[xxx] Andreu Nin. Los Movimientos de Emancipación Nacional. Barcelona, ​​Fontamara, 1977 [1935].

[xxiii] Eric J. Hobsbawn. Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1992.

[xxiii] Anne-Marie Thiesse. The creation of national identities in Europe. Between Past and Future nº 5, São Paulo, University of São Paulo, 2003; Eric J. Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. The Invention of Traditions. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1984.

[xxv] Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2008.

[xxiv] Elisabeth Badinter. The Intellectual Passions. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2007.

[xxv] Benedict Anderson. imagined communities, cit.

[xxviii] Hagen Schultze. op cit.

[xxviii] Jacqueline Dangel. History of the Latin Language. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.

[xxix] Dante Alighieri. Of eloquent vulgari. Tutte le Operate. Rome, Newton & Compton, 2008 [c. 1273).

[xxx] Wilhelm von Humboldt. The Diversità delle Lingue. Bari, Laterza, 1991 [1835].

[xxxii] Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos. Political and Philosophical Writings. Buenos Aires, Orbis, 1982 [1777-1790].

[xxxi] Benedict Anderson. op cit.

[xxxii] Guy Hermet. History of Nations and Nationalism in Europe. Lisbon, Print, 1996.

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