The Agony of Nations in the West

European history since the fall of the Roman Empire may be regarded as the slow forging, as if by a hidden hand as well as by human passions, of these particular forms of human collectivities called nations.  After several failed attempts to reconstitute the Roman Empire, Europe emerged out of the Middle Ages as a mosaic of nations—most of them kingdoms, some republics—between which the ever-renewed issue was the establishment of some kind of permanent equilibrium.  Not only were these social bodies considered legitimate ones, but they were traditional objects of respect, if not love, for their respective citizens, a mental disposition that more or less survived until after World War II, in spite of the increasingly loud appeal to internationalism broadcast by both capitalism and socialism.  But the war triggered an additional hostility to European nationalisms, discreetly nurtured by shadowy and scheming Euro-makers like Jean Monnet, and supported by the diffuse conviction that nations were to be blamed for the darkest evils that had plagued Europe for centuries, as if National Socialism were the essence of nationhood.  Seventy years after the war it is more and more obvious that patriotism is a feeling to be vented on soccer fields but otherwise ridiculed or despised.  Unless a miraculous about-face occurs, we may very well be witnessing in the West the closing of an age, the age of nations.


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