Critique of Ernest Renan's: What is a nation?

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Literature ・MLA ・1 Sources

The primary goal of this essay is to provide a critique of Ernest Renan's "What is a nation" essay. It also aims to outline some of the characteristics Renan considers essential to the meaning of nationhood as well as those he rejects. Finally, the paper will examine some of the nineteenth-century definitions of the term "Nationhood." French national Joseph Ernest Renan was. On February 28, 1823, he was born, and on October 2, 1892, he passed away in Paris. (Renan, p. 12). He was one of France's greatest historians, philosophers, and authors. In the Year 1882, he wrote a book titled “What is a nation (Renan, p. 25).”

Based on this book, Ernest Renan defines a nation as a group/conglomerate of people that have a strong bond after sharing a common past. In reference to this statement, a majority of the people that come from a particular nation have common stories that describe their past. This stories/common past are used to define the past of a given individual. Ernest also defines a Nation as a daily referendum (Renan, p. 30). This means that a majority of the nations are built on what people can be able to jointly forget as compared to what they can remember. Ernest Renan also defines a nation as a group of people who are unified by grief, joy, triumphs and national sacrifices (Renan, p. 50). Based on this Scenario; there is no “Happy Country.” Each Country has its ups and downs. This “Ups and downs” are what unify the Country.

A good example that can be used to prove this fact is the Jewish Group people. According to the Jews; the Holocaust memory reminds them about their common goal for national existence (Renan, p. 53). This memory is Important in the sense that it led to the formation of the state of Israel. In his essay about “What is a nation,” The following are some of Ernest Renan’s central definition of what a nationhood is. The first definition is the fact that a Nationhood is made of people who share common interests and goals (Renan, p. 46). A majority of this people share the same cultural views, same language and ideas. Renan also quotes that all people that belong to the same Nation are equal and free. No individual is greater than the other.

In this case, every person that belongs to a particular Nation or Community should be treated with the same rights and privileges (Renan, p. 42). Today, the World is very complicated. There is division among people. This division is based on different levels. The main division lines are based on power and social class. Power comes in when there are leaders and followers. In this case most of the Leaders consider themselves to be above the law. This brings inequality and unfairness.

Based on Ernest Renan’s essay, the other central definition of what a nationhood is that a nation ought to build on the principles of liberty (Renan, p. 50). The term Liberty refers to being free. It reflects on the idea of having a life that is free from restrictions that are oppressive as imposed to the authority. It also dictates one’s way of life. Lastly, it can be defined as the scope/power to live as one pleases without any interference. Based on this definition, people that belong to a particular nation ought to live a life that is free and fair. They should not be dictated on how they should live it. Liberty involves people living in their own free will without any form of dictation. Most of the nations that are not built on the principles of Liberty are not stable. Most of this Countries are divided (Renan, p. 63). The Government and the Citizens are two different people that do not have any common interests. Their interests are mismatched. This is the main reason why most Countries in Africa and the Middle East are in constant battles and fights. The next quality that contributes to Renan definition of the term nationhood is the fact that it should be built on a basis of equality and fraternity.

Based on this supposition, a nation is supposed to be made of people who have the same consent and ideologies (Renan, p. 65). This will promote the level of cooperation among people hence encouraging unity and togetherness. In this supposition, Ernest also agrees that a nationhood is made up of people who ought to show some form of willingness when it comes to living together. They should display characteristics that enable them to live in harmony and peace. This will enable the nation to achieve its goal of National existence. This goal promotes national unity and cohesion (Renan, p. 68). It helps to bring people together irrespective of their Gender, community or ethnic group. In his Essay; Ernest Renan strengthens his idea of willingness and living together by stating that “To have Common glories in the past and to have common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together to wish to perform still more – these are the essential conditions for being a people (Renan, p. 72).” In this scenario; a nationhood is made up of people who share common interests and goals.

In his Essay about the concept of Nationhood; Renan argues that a Nation is Nation if it is made up of people who are willing to be governed by a given consent (Renan, p. 75). It is also made up of people who are willing to consolidate/forget their past and move on to a new beginning. Most of the Nations that are Sovereign and free are made of a group of people who are independent and not cunning. It is made of people who can easily forgive others. Based on this definitions about a Nation, it is safe to say that Ernest Renan is right. His definitions can be termed legit since they are balanced. His arguments are also legit since they are based on people’s volition (Renan, p. 17). Most of the philosophers agree that his definition matches with that of marriage. Based on what we have learnt so far, it is safe to say that most of Ernest’s definitions go hand in hand with the nineteenth century definitions of the term Nationhood.

However; Renan refutes claims that a Nation is made up of people who have varying interests; People who do not share the same culture and sense of belonging (Renan, p. 44). He argues that a Nation cannot be built of people who do not share a common past or history. In reference to the 19th Century definition of the term Nationhood; there is a lot of similarities with Ernest Renan’s suppositions. The term Nationhood can be broken into three forms of words. This include the term Nation, Nationhood and Nationalism (Renan, p. 28). The term Nationalism refers to a Government system that is used to secure the interests and fundamental character of a particular group of people. It can also be described as form of expression among a group of people. Most of the 19th Century Books and scholars define a nation as a group of people who share a common ethnicity that is immutable (Renan, p. 62). This group of people share the same History, bloodline, culture and habitats.

Other scholars define the term nationhood as the idea of a large group of people being united with a common language, economic and ethic life. In respect to the definitions mentioned above, it is safe to say that most of them are legit. A majority of the Nations or Countries in the World speak a particular language (Renan, p. 80). In this case; some languages can be traced back to a particular nation. A good example that can be used to prove this fact is that the Chinese language can be trace back to the Nation of China. Despite English being an international language; it can also be traced back to Countries such as the Great Britain and a majority of the Countries in North America. Based on the nineteenth Century definitions I agree with Ernest’s ideas and definitions. In this case, just like Ernest Renan; most of the 19th Century scholars agree that a nation is made up of people who speak a common language (Renan, p. 57).

Each Nation in the World has their own National Language. This language is what distinguishes one nation from the other. Most of the scholars also agree with Ernest definitions and ideas in the sense that they both agree that a nation is made of people who share the same interest’s goals and resolutions (Renan, p. 49). In reference to this case, a Country cannot be made up of people who have varying goals/targets and resolutions. This will cause division and frequent wars among the people who are involved. In reference to what I have we have learnt so far; I agree with Ernest Renan’s ideas and resolution. Just like most of the 19th Century definitions. Ernest quotes that a Nation is made up of people who share a common History/past (Renan, p. 50). This what bonds the people involved. I also agree with Ernest’s ideas since most of the Nations are made up of people who share the same culture and views.

The culture of a given group of people varies from one Nation to the other. Very few instances reflect people who have the same culture but belong to different Countries (Renan, p. 66). Generally; it is safe to say the fact that Ernest Renan’s ideas are legit. They do not vary with the definitions of most of the scholars of the 19th Century.

In conclusion, it is safe to say the fact Ernest Renan did a great work in defining what a nation is. His concepts and ideas have been accepted by every Philosopher and scholar that came after him. In reference to what I have learnt this course, I agree that Renan’s definitions are legit. This is because most of the scholars have ideas and conceptions that connect with Renan’s ideas in one way or the other.

Works Cited

Renan, Ernest. What is a Nation?. Tamilnation. org, 1998.

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