Cool and impartial attitude?

In Ernest Renan’s What is a Nation?, he writes on behalf of asking the reader the question, “what makes a nation a nation?” In the introduction of the document, he said, “It is a delicate thing that I propose to do here, somewhat akin to vivisection; I am going to treat the living much as one ordinarily treats the dead. I shall adopt an absolutely cool and impartial attitude.” (Renan 42) He talks a lot about race, religion, language, and ethnicity regarding nationality throughout. He seems to have an opinion about all of them. Throughout the text, do you think Renan has a ‘cool and impartial attitude’ regarding the topics he talks about? Do you think he has bias towards certain people, cultures, religions, etc.?

One Reply to “Cool and impartial attitude?”

  1. For the most part, I do believe that Renan has a “cool and impartial attitude,” regarding his points about what should and should not define a nation. Renan does not express prejudices about specific groups of people and appears to favor diversity. Also, he is fair in regards to what should not shape a nation. For instance, he does not believe that a nation should be determined by language, ethnicity, religion, or geography because he thinks it is used to marginalize and force assimilation onto certain groups of people. (Renan, 52) For instance, he states, “According to the ideas that I am outlining to you, a nation has no more right than a king does to say to a province,” You belong to me, I am seizing you.” (Renan, 53) Thus, he believes that it is wrong to force people into a nation if they do not wish to be apart of it or disagree with assimilation. Also, he denounces the use of territory and borders as a criterion for a nation because he believed it could be used to justify violence against other groups due to territorial disputes. (Renan, 51-52) Also, Renan never suggests that using violence against certain groups of people is a justifiable way to create a nation, so he does seem to remain fair in respecting the various differences that people have, which may not fit a nation’s strict standards. However, he has an idealistic vision of what a nation should be. To Renan, a nation should be formed by people who have shared the same experiences in regard to suffering and grief. (Renan, 53) However, Renan does not acknowledge the difficulty in determining whether one group suffers the same as another group. Also, he does not acknowledge the possibility of certain groups dictating whether the suffering of other groups aligns with their own, resulting in marginalization and despair. Despite remaining impartial, Renan allows his optimistic attitude about what a nation should be to interfere with his ability to provide specific details about what “national suffering” is.

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