The Cult of the Nation in France

CultOfNationSuggested by Griffonn • Bell offers the first comprehensive survey of patriotism and national sentiment in early modern France, and shows how the dialectical relationship between nationalism and religion left a complex legacy that still resonates in debates over French national identity today.
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3 Responses to The Cult of the Nation in France

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Griffonn, thanks for recommending this book. I keep this here “Bookshelf” thingie just to keep track of this stuff and have a place to discuss it. This book has only two reviews on it at Amazon, but it’s available in Kindle format so I’ll definitely download the free sample and check it out.

    The Left has deemed “nationalism” a deadly disease. Indeed, if you look at the French Revolution, one can understand their concerns.

    And yet, I’m not sure that was “nationalism” as much as it was just the true lunacy of the zealous utopian Left. “Nationalism,” as many others have written, can be a perfectly fine thing. It can be sense of identity, a source of needed unity, and be the focus of a healthy sense of patriotism.

    But patriotism itself implies being proud of one’s country. That is why the French Revolution wasn’t “nationalism” as much as it was a pure expression of the rejection-based, utopian-loony Left.

    I’m a nationalist. I very much believe it’s in people’s interest to have a sense of national identity. That is one reason that illegal immigration is a darling of the Left. They are the “no borders” Communist-type people who are driven by a sense of the destruction of anything deemed the status quo. And a border implies that nasty e-word, “exclusion.” But a nation, in order to be a nation, must first have control of its borders or it is not a nation. And thus we see the true cancer of the Left. I just wish all those low information voters who are the useful idiots for these fiends would wake up and understand they are being used.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The Jacobins were proud of their nation — once they remade it in their image. If you want to be precise, it was that image they loved.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’ve read a bit of the opening of this book. And to understand today’s “Progressive” education, one need only look back at the words of French revolutionary, Jean-Paul Rabaut:

    A good theory of education, this Calvinist pastor-turned-man-of-the-Enlightment now explains, should begin with nothing less than the assumption “that man is capable of indefinite perfection, and that this perfection depends on the enlightenment he receives.” Millions of individuals can be, and urgently need to be, reshaped like a gigantic piece of clay through the sheer application of political will. “We must, absolutely, renew the present generation, while forging the generation to come,” he declares. “We must make of the French a new people.” And to do this, he demands “an infallible means of transmitting, constantly and immediately, to all the French at once, the same uniform ideas.”

    When Rabaut speaks of education, he actually means indoctrination, at least to begin with, for France’s needs are too pressing to rely on the slow, steady progress of what he calls les lumiéres—enlightenment. Reshaping the French people in a single generation demands a program of overwhelming force, a second “revolution in heads an hearts” parallel to the one already accomplished in government and society. It must use every available means: “the senses, the imagination, memory, reasoning, all the faculties that man possesses.” In practice, it entails subjecting the French to a long list of obligatory civic functions, including physical exercises, parades, festivals, “morality lesson,” the reading and memorization of key political texts, and the singing of patriotic songs. Rabaut stresses the need to bewitch the people, if necessary. Education must be “likeable, seductive, and entrancing.”

    In essence, man is to become a god, and the state is his temple. As the author notes, this state isn’t beyond thinking of things in just this way:

    What models does Rabaut offer for this vastly ambitious project of patriotic education? Predictably, for a participant in this most classical of revolutions, he evokes the regimented societies of Sparta and Crete. Yet he quickly adds that enormous differences separate these “children of nature” from modern “agricultural and commercial peoples.” He spends far more time discussing another model, and his words on the subject are worth quoting at length:

    “The secret was well known to the priests, who, with their catechism, their processions . . . their ceremonies, sermons, hymns, missions, pilgrimages, patron saints, paintings, and all that nature placed at their disposal, infallibly led men to the goal they designated. They took hold of a man at birth, grasped him again in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, when he married and had children, in his moments of grief and remorse, in the sanctum of his conscience . . . in sickness and at death. In this way they managed to cast many far-flung nations, differing in their customs, languages, laws, color and physical makeup, into the same mold, and to give them the same opinions. O cunning lawgivers, who speak to us in the name of heaven, should we not do in the name of truth and freedom, what you so often did in the name of slavery?”

    Whatever the faults of a typical Catholic education at the time, you can see how man then — as he does now — makes a religion of the words “truth,” “freedom,” and “reason” — something that the Left and libertarians have in common. And both sides, generally speaking, are hostile to religion.

    And as Dennis Prager says, Leftism needs to be understood as a religion. The author continues:

    Driving the point home, Rabaut does not hesitate to adopt an explicitly religious vocabulary for his proposed civic functions. Each canton will stage its ceremonies in National Temples, or, pending their construction, in churches. The people will sing “hymns” and learn “catechisms.” The bulk of the activities will take place on Sundays. It seems a program designed to lease a Jesuit more than a Jacobin.

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