September 17, 2008
Nationalism: In the view of Renan and Herzl
Nationalism was becoming a powerful force in Europe by the beginning 20th Century. Europeans were beginning to think of themselves as Italians rather than Sardinians or Sicilian; Germans rather than Prussians or Bavarians. People across a nation were becoming more similar in terms of civic citizenship, ideology, history, ethnicity rather than what people today perceive to be less important things, such as a dialect or local customs/traditions. There is no debate that nationalism was becoming powerful, however there was an intellectual debate that raged on that asked, what is nation? What ideas should people be more patriotic about and what should they identify themselves with more, their ethnicity or their citizenship? Two writers Ernest Renan and Theodor Herzl gave differing views of what makes a true nation. Renan’s idea of a nation was more conceptual and ideological rather than Herzl’s idea of a nation, which was more specific to inherent traits such as ethnicity and language. Despite their differing views, both Theodor Herzl‘s “A Jewish Nation” and Ernest Renan “What is a Nation?” have become historically significant works that will always be referenced to understand what was going in Europe in that time.
Both Renan and Herzl had their motives in writing their magnum opuses. Herzl’s “A Jewish Nation” was proposing a separate state for the Jews, either in Argentina or the Homeland in Palestine (Herzl 128). A reason why the Jews deserved their own state was because they were in an extreme “condition of distress” (Herzl 129). These “distresses” varied from pogroms in Russia, to beatings in Germany to exclusion from social clubs in Paris (Herzl 125). He said whether they were in the ghettoes from a lower class background or in a middle class setting with some wealth, the Jews were constantly being treated unfair in business and day-to-day affair. As Herzl states, “Every...