Self-Description and Nation

(Last modified March 2002)

Forms of building national societies as they have developed in France and Germany are the focus of this study. The two forms associated with these countries – the cultural nation and the nation-state – are seen in this research as a means of internal and external differentiation. They mask both the ambivalence which exists between a self-determined people and an inclusive people and the struggle for social order. The institutions and images of these social orders produce cultural and power-supported collective codes of belonging and, therefore, of exclusion. Real, symbolic, and political delimitations reappear in sociological, literary, and political concepts of order and unity. Self-description is linked to processes of the formation of majorities and minorities, to processes of exclusion and inclusion.

The first part of the study analyzes political-literary models as a resource for investigating forms of self-description in the classic modern era in these two countries. The relationship between "I" and "We", a specific form of the fusion of subjective and collective self-determination and emancipation in an abstract "I/We" comes into view (in case studies on the works of Maurice Barrès and Johann Gottlieb Fichte). The works of Emile Durckheim and Max Weber - recognized by other scholars as interpreters of their own period - are analyzed with respect to the models of order and the resulting implicit and explicit assumptions and consequences for the concept of the nation and the passion of the national.

Finally, the implicit concepts of society and social order of two literary representatives of the first half of the twentieth century (Louis Ferdinand Céline and Ernst von Salomon) are elucidated. Both represent interpreters, activists, and actors of their time. Their biographies position them in the period of transition to the second half of the twentieth century. After 1945, the theme of the nation is characterized by numerous ruptures and transformations.

Not only these two writers were preoccupied with their own individual histories and the collective histories of the recent past. It was no longer possible to legitimate the "angedrehte Wir" (Adorno) of the people.