The Heart-Beats of a Nation

Philosophers, historians and sociologists over a period of several generations has failed to agree on an acceptable definition of the word “nation”. One can accept Herman Dooyeweerd’s conclusion when he said once in his New Critique of Theoretical Thought (Amsterdam, 1957) that nobody has succeeded in describing the individuality of a national character in an adequate way. Miall Edwards, one of Wales’s foremost Liberal Theologians in the 20th Century, wrote: “Nationality is a psychological matter, – the consciousness in a large number of individuals that they are members of the one body… A nation may be considered a kind of super-personality.” All nationalists would agree that the nation is related somehow to its part history, although only a minority of them would subscribe to the German notion of history as a kind of Providence which drives the nation to an inescapable fate.

J.S. Mill was the first to make explicit mention of “political antecedents”. To be more explicit, what is the relationship of the State to nationhood? There are thinkers who assume that the relationship is such a close one that ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are but two alternative names for the same thing, they are assuming that the citizens ruled by the government in London all form one nation. For many professional politicians, that is the end matter. The State makes the nation. No movement that refuses to accept the arbitration of the State can possibly be ‘national’ although it may be dubbed ‘nationalist’, but invariably in a derogatory sense. But I hold and R. Tudur Jones held that the fact that Englishmen, Scots and Welsh occupy the same island and incorporated within the same State does not make them into a nation.

Herman Dooyeweerd said: “A real nation never lacks a political organization, but it may be that the latter has not yet attained to the position of an independent state, or that it has lost this position.” R. Tudur Jones believes that we must take the words “political organization” in a broad sense. Wales didn’t have a Parliament but it had it’s Churches which were, de facto, in a sovereign-less state it’s national institutions. Wales had the Eisteddfod. We had our Theological Seminaries. We had Libraries. There can be no doubt whatsoever that when all these institutions and activities are taken together they give the Welsh nation a real and objective solidarity.

The kind of material televised in Britain is heavily charged with English nationalism. And it is no less true that many Welshmen are gradually being transformed by it into English nationalists. The relationships that a nation has with other nations are extremely important, nations tend to define themselves by opposition from some nations and in terms of similarity to other nations. Without a sovereign state of its own, a nation is bereft of the only body that can officially and formally act and speak in the name of the whole nation. Anthony D. Smith agreed that a group may be a nation without possessing a sovereign State. We can add that, the modern State being what it is, it will not last long as a nation without one. On the other hand, to possess a sovereign State is a to put at the disposal of the nation a powerful instrument for ensuring its own fuller development as a nation.

The State cannot perform miracles. How it is used depends upon the moral, cultural and spiritual vitality of the nation. The nationalist always distinguishes clearly between nation and State. His allegiance is to the former.

[An adapted summary of the second Chapter of R. Tudur Jones’s The Desire of Nations, 1974]

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