Medieval heteronomy, modern nationalism: Language assertion between Liège and Maastricht, 14th-20th century
LEERSSEN, JOEP (Professor of European Studies – Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, Vol. 34, No. 4 (2004)
Nationalism research has two vexed questions, which are mutually related. One of these concerns the terminus a quo (or ante quem non) for the ideology called nationalism; the other concerns the primacy of cultural (ethnic) identity, or else socio-political circumstances, in the rise of nationalism. The first question may be called that of modernism, the second that of constructivism.
Is nationalism a modern ideology, arising only as part of a modernization process, possibly as late as the nineteenth century; or is it something with far longer roots, and can we identify nationalist attitudes as far back as the Middle Ages, or even among the ancient Romans or Greeks? This modernism question dovetails with the constructivist question: Is national identity, national solidarity or national awareness a historically constructed ideology, a byproduct of the history of ideological developments; or is it a transhistorical category of collective human identity, a basic factor in human aggregation?
The answer one is inclined to give to either one of those questions will strongly correlate with one’s stance as regards the other. Modernists on the whole are constructivists and vice versa, whereas, conversely, primordialists (or other varieties of anti-modernism) will be more inclined towards an essentialist viewpoint and vice versa.