Wanting to Preserve Your Way of Life Does Not Make You a Racist.
“Nostalgia is the noblest of all pains.”
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 – 1803)
The beginning of the idea of Nonaggressive nationalism can be traced to the highly influential 18th-century philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 – 1803). Herder was a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic. Herder may be regarded as the first philosophical spokesman for nationalism.
Herder regarded the nation as the basic unit of humanity. According to him, the identity of the individual is largely dependent upon his or her culture, and he strongly affirmed the right of each people to determine its own path in the world.
Herder virtually invented the idea of belonging. He believed that just as people need to eat and drink, to have security and freedom of movement, so too they need to belong to a group. Deprived of this, they feel cut off, lonely, diminished, unhappy. Nostalgia, Herder said, is the noblest of all pains. To be human means to be able to feel at home somewhere, with your own kind.
Each group, according to Herder, has its own Volksgeist – a set of customs and a lifestyle, a way of perceiving and behaving that is of value solely because it is their own. The whole of cultural life is shaped from within the particular stream of tradition that comes from collective historical experience shared only by members of the group.
Thus one could not, for example, fully understand the great Scandinavian sagas unless one had oneself experienced (as he did on his voyage to England) a great tempest in the North Sea.
Herder’s idea of nation was deeply nonaggressive. All he wanted was cultural self-determination. He denied the superiority of one people over another.
In Herder, there is nothing about race and nothing about blood. He only spoke about soil, language, common memories, and customs.
Herder’s conception of nationalism is emphatically cultural rather than political in character, and Herder has nothing but scorn for Romans, imperialists and other nationalists who would impose their indigenous customs and ways of life on others for whatever justification may be offered, the artificial imposition of an alien form or set of values always violates the organic unity of the original culture:
Nothing, therefore, is more manifestly contrary to the purpose of political government than the unnatural enlargement of states, the wild mixing of various races and nationalities under one sceptre. A human sceptre is far too weak and slender for such incongruous parts to be engrafted upon it. Such states are but patched-up contraptions, fragile machines, appropriately called state-machines, for they are wholly devoid of inner life, and their component parts are connected through mechanical contrivances instead of bonds of sentiment.
Herder was a key figure in the development of the well-known philosophical-anthropological concepts “Volksgeist”, usually translated as “national spirit” or “national character.”
The Volksgeist, the spirit of the folk, is a manifestation of the people; it animates the nation. According to Herder There is only one class in the state, the Volk, and the king belongs to this class as well as the peasant. The Volksgeist is as old as the Volk, and evolves with the national group.
Every human group is, as an empirical matter, different from every other group, each nationality (or Volk) is characterized by its own unique spirit. Each people possesses its own cultural traits shaped by ancestral history and the experience of a particular physical environment, and mentally constructs its social life through language, literature, religion, the arts, customs, and folklore inherited from earlier generations. The Volk is the family writ large.
In other words, the Volksgeist can best be understood through the phenomena of history. Therefore, the study of history must play a central role in education. The objective of historical instruction, which should be nationalistic in character, is to teach how the Fatherland evolved over time.