Israel Zangwill

The Principle of Nationalities





This is an extract from a Conway Memorial Lecture delivered at South Palace Institute of London on March 8, 1917.

The recurring critical theme of this lecture is the belief that "the more religion proper disappears, the more will the God Patrie become important, supplying as it does channels for both devotion and sacrifice, and even an after-life in the life of the nation."



And in this new era the reduction of Complex Nationality to simplicity will reach its last phase - the unification of the State's religions and the oneness of Church and State. The dominant religion has always regarded the others as interlopers and done its best to crush them; sometimes burning the heretics, sometimes expelling them, and sometimes only socially despising them. Logical and pious minds like Torquemada in Spain, Pobiedonostzev in Russia, Drumont in France, and Mr. Belloc in England, have always felt that a nation should have oneness of religion - and, I must concede to Mazzini, without it Nationality yields no clear note - but it was left for Germany to perceive through Treitschke that Anti-Semitism was a racial not a religious war. But neither the pious nor the philosophic logicians have seen that life has its own logic and works in its own clumsy way to produce this racial and religious unity. Were it not in fact that religious minorities are kept alive by persecution or sustained - like the Balkan racial minorities - by the consciousness of powerful majorities in other lands, they would soon succumb to the national Melting-Pots. For each Melting-Pot is not merely fusing religions into the State Church, it is always fusing the Church itself into the mould of the State. The State has always been restive against the rival power, and has undermined it even when it appeared to establish it. What Constantine did when he established Christianity was to disestablish Christ. Dr. Stanton Coit reminds us that even Catholicism was not originally international - for was it not Roman Catholicism, the Religion of the Roman Empire? Thus its break-up into national Protestantisms - and neither Luther nor Zwinglius pretended not to want political freedom from the Pope, while English Protestantism carefully kept itself independent of all the Continental varieties - was a mere parallel process to its break-up into nations; while the Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Abyssinian, and Coptic Churches carry on the story of its national disintegration.

Even those nations that affect an international religion wear their rue with a difference. The dancing dervishes of Anatolian Islam are - Mr. Toynbee points out - merely the frenzied Attis-worshippers of ancient Anatolian Hellenism. Not otherwise is religion racialised everywhere. The Albanian peasant, who, when his language was excommunicated, was told by the Greek priest that Christ would not understand it, must have been bemused indeed. Rasputin maintained that Christ was a Russian and a member of the Greek Church, and Dostoievsky's doctrine of “The Russian God” is not essentially different. All along, it was Nationality that was the real God, and though minor deities might reign in peace-time, the Lord God Patrie was a jealous god, brooking in war-time no rivals near the throne. Not that the folk-soul which had turned Alexander the Great into a Christian Saint had any difficulty in turning Christ into an Alexander. The blood-sacrifice for the nation - not indeed without its exalted side - is affinity enough to enable cathedrals to swarm with military memorials, pulpits to turn into recruiting stands, hymns to be sung at War Loan Demonstrations, and heretics to be turned over to the military Inquisition.

All this, however, became inevitable when Christ was rendered unto Cresar, for in war-time least of all can a nation dispense with its deity. The new feature in the situation is that with the decay of Christianity, the religion of Nationality is for the first time becoming conscious. If wars of religion ceased in 1646, it was because religion was receding: tolerance is the index of wavering conviction. And the more religion proper disappears, the more will the God Patrie become important, supplying as it does channels for both devotion and sacrifice, and even an after-life in the life of the nation. Thus already we see Professor Loisy, in his new book Mors et Vita, reacting from his thwarted hope of a reformed Christendom, to a religion of France, and this though he himself exposes the nationalist spuriousness of French neo-Catholicism. It cannot be long before the exiles from Christianity will find themselves fused with other, if even still nominal Christians, in this new-old religion, now first grown conscious.

It will, of course, be centuries before national religions can oust the present vested interests, but ultimately we may look to see our rudimentary State-religion of birth and marriage, registrars and death certificates expressing itself with the same exalted symbolism as baptism, church-marriage, and burial: thus devulgarising the masses now abandoned to the picture palace. Republicanism, which now rears its head even in England, and which is solid in the New World, will probably complete the trinity of Church, State, and People; the three-in-one of the new Mazzini religion, and the very model of Simple Nationality.

America, where only 3 per cent. attend the Church, will doubtless be the first to fuse its 186 Denominations and its countless crank creeds into a single American religion. That religion will be neither Mormonism - which is a weakness of the head as well as of the fiesh - nor Christian Science - which combines Science without its severity with Christianity without its cross - it will be “America.”

“America, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.”

The hymnology is already begun. And the World-Mission was graven upon the Statue of Liberty, and re-formulated only the other day by President Wilson. “Italy a religion,” cries Mazzini. “ROME OF THE CAESARS gave the Unity of Civilisation that force
imposed on Europe. ROME OF THE POPES gave a Unity of Civilisation that Authority imposed on a great part of the human race. ROME OF THE PEOPLE will give, when you Italians are nobler than you are now, a Unity of Civilisation accepted by the free consent of the nations for Humanity.”

“Eternal France!” exclaims Gaston Riou, returning from the trenches. “Champion of the rights of man! Knight of Liberty!” “Holy Nation!” comes the chorus of German preachers: “Peculiar people! God's seed-corn for the future!”

But all this is, of course, nothing else than the long-standing mission of Judaism, proclaimed as early as Genesis: “and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Or, as the prophets put it, “ The Law shall go forth from Zion” - that Zion which Israel is, after two thousand years, re-demanding. Thus the wheel has come full-circle. There shall be Jew and Greek, it appears, and more quintessentially than ever. St. Paul is defeated, and the World-Mission in terms of race or people, which we have seen to be a normal feature of Nationalism, and which was so emphatically, the doctrine of the original “chosen people,” is seen to be an ineradicable instrument of the human spirit, or of the spirit which pours through the human. Provided only this instrument turn not into a sword! For Israel it was to be a sword in her own breast - the World-Mission by a people of sorrows and sacrifices; and the alleged Old Testament prophesyings of the coming Christ are but earlier expressions of the Jewish spirit which Jesus was to incarnate for the world, and which St. Paul expounded under the illusion he was refuting it. For at bottom St. Paul's quarrel with Nationality was a quarrel with Sociology: of that sanctified sociology of which Dr. Saleeby lauds the Eugenics and Mr. Ramsay Macdonald the Socialism. “The community of Israel,” says Mr. Ramsay Macdonald in his book The Socialist Movement, “with its adjustments of social and individual right and its moral restraints imposed upon economic processes, went down before a capitalist civilisation. …
But its spiritual and moral characteristics have always remained as enticing ideals in the minds of men.” “Socialism,” he winds up, “reads history in the historical spirit.”

It is more than history does - as written by the Professors - for even Treitschke was unaware that his ideal of a world-illuming Germany, purged of Jews, was only a plagiarism from Judaism, and a caricature at that. Blake was more historical than the Professors when he wrote his famous quatrain:

“ I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.”

Thus even tribalism may be universalised, and the nation, like the individual in Kant's maxim, may act so that its method may become a canon for all nations. And it must be remembered, in favour of nations, that national feeling is far intenser than world-feeling can be. The really vivid group-feeling is family love: outside the family, only strangers perish in catastrophes, as outside the nation only foreigners. The intensity and reality of group-feeling varies inversely with its extension. County pride is at the moment a vital asset in our regiments, and the free cities of Italy and Germany produced greater men and arts than their mighty modern Nationalities.
Regionalism has thus a sounder basis than even Nationalism. Villages inspire poets more than Empires or Milky Ways. We are not at home in the infinities: it is the infinities that are at home in us. If only, therefore, the nations would find their Missions not in making other peoples miserable, but in making their own people happy!

Hegel thought each nation had its World-Mission, one rising as the other sank. But with the Mission turned inwards - with Intensive Imperialism, as I have called it - there is no reason why they should not all flower simultaneously. Alas! Intensive Imperialism still awaits its Alexander, and so far the judgment to be written upon the individual nations must be in the words which St- Paul applied to the individuals who compose them:

“There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues have they used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known.”

Wherefore, despite the noble and valuably experimental potentialities of competing Nationalities which should adopt the eleventh article of Mazzini's Credo, that declares Nationality to be the conscience of the peoples, each of which has its part in the progress of mankind; beholding as we do how this conscience of Mazzini's own people has already slaughtered Senussi “in the parts of Libya about Cyrene,” we shall perhaps take comfort to discover on a closer scrutiny that St. Paul's defeat by the Power of Place is not so smashing as it seemed. For even if America - humanity's last hope - is narrowing into Americanism, America is, after all, a very large place - a Roman Empire in itself, in fact; and “the culmination of modern history,” so far from lying in every petty swashbuckling race setting up for itself, is seen to consist in their fusion. A few such leviathans and we may easily fasten them with a hook. The coming Indian Nationality will also be the synthesis of a sub-Continent. Nor can the wave of rabid racialism long submerge the real “New Europe,” which even in war two groupings suffice almost to cover. For our friend the Law of Contiguous Co-operation is still at its Alexandrine quest. And if the ultimate bounds of Nationality are fixed - as they obviously are - by the limits of Contiguous Co-operation, where are those limits to-day? Immensely enlarged by the same factors that have shrunk the planet - Steam and Electricity. Without Steam and Electricity to link America, it would have been by now a Europe, the separate States turned into Nations; with Steam and Electricity no racial rancour can ultimately prevent an America arising in Europe, with our Nations for States. The very disorder of the world to-day is a proof of the world-order that has been broken. With a world-post, Esperanto, and some two hundred international associations, civilisation was fast developing a nervous system. When I go to Barcelona and ride in a penny tram and to Venice and ride in a penny steam-boat, I feel that the pre-national period has returned, if by an ugly route, and with lower links than cathedrals and universities. The demands for a Peace-League of the Powers are less a desire for an ovine or bovine tranquillity than a recognition that war between any of them is civil war. The very Manifesto of the Allies proclaiming “the principle of Nationalities” proclaims equally the contradictory principle of a World-League - contradictory because with the removal of Danger the essential nerve of Nationality must be dulled and its bristles moulted. For full-flavoured Nationality the price is War.

World-Nationality would arrive to-morrow if only the Martians would invade us. It is a pity that Mr. Wells, who has so vividly pictured such an invasion, limited it to England. He should have made the Martian menace ubiquitous and falling in the middle of Armageddon. The world would have united as - in that old cartoon of the Kaiser's - Europe united against “The Yellow Peril.”


[Home] [Top]