Term Paper: German Nationalism

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German Nationalism

Johann Gottfried Herder locates the origins of nationalism in nature. According to his perspective, the planet's natural geographical evolution gave rise to different groups of "peoples" who developed their own customs in isolation from other nation-based identities. He identifies a nation as a "natural state" with a "character" of its own. If the state is well governed, then whoever rules it will cultivate it according to its own natural laws.

Besides nature, from which national character springs over a period of thousands of years, there is language that gives one a national identity. Herder declares language to be the heart of the people. Without it, he argues convincingly, there is no way for a nation to express its culture.

Above all, Herder's conception of nationalism calls for the peaceful co-existence of nations under the guise of mutual respect for their individual characteristics, culture, and language. At the time of its publication in 1784, it was a version of nationalism, called "cultural nationalism," that called for the acknowledgement of a strong German national identity as well as respect towards other, foreign national identities, without privileging one over the other. In that regard, it is quite distant from the negative characteristics one tends to associate with the term "nationalism" in this day and age - particularly the version of nationalism that came to be privileged in the 20th century in Germany.

Herder's tolerant views on nationalism were firmly rooted in the thinking of the German Enlightenment. His thinking coincided with the slow development of tolerance towards religious minorities in the German states.

While this initially had more to do with economic and social considerations, Herder's views on the subject endowed cultural nationalism with a moral, humanistic quality: "As God tolerates all the different languages in the world, so should a ruler not only tolerate but honor the various languages of his peoples."

It is interesting to note that Herder composed these words three years after Joseph II's 1781 Edict of Toleration. This Edict would give the majority of non-Catholics the right to practice their religion in Germany.

Thus, it is not hard to see Herder's thoughts on nationalism as being firmly rooted in the progressive intellectual zeitgeist of the late 18th century.

The rise of education and literacy throughout the German Enlightenment helped cement the conception of a German national identity; by the end of the 18th century, nearly all books published in the German states were in the German language. Before, the vast majority of books had been published in Latin, and could thus only be read by the educated minority. The new views towards education and accessibility of ideas ensured a wider reading public for new ideas, such as those of Herder.

Herder's conception of cultural nationalism was in some ways a reaction to the earlier predominance of French language and culture in the German states.

His idea was that every nation was an organic cultural community, a Volk, and should thus be judged on its own terms, rather than those of some other nation (in this case, France.) at the same time, Herder proclaimed his admiration of the French Revolution early on, as did many other German intellectuals.

Yet the progressive conception of nationalism that Herder espoused was to be marred by Germany's continual conflicts with France throughout the first half of the 19th century.

These continual conflicts would eventually give rise to a more reactionary strain of nationalism. The evolution of German nationalism in the 19th century, rooted in a hatred of Napoleon by the masses, gave rise to fanaticism, which could be seen in every realm of the social, cultural, and political sphere -… [END OF PREVIEW]

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German Nationalism.  (2007, September 17).  Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/german-nationalism/50427

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"German Nationalism."  Essaytown.com.  September 17, 2007.  Accessed July 20, 2019.