The overarching question in Ernest Renan’s What is a Nation is whether or not there is something with which we can measure the validity of a nation or state. He brings up several examples, but it essentially boils down to the distinctions being something that we (humanity) made up. He first looks at race and ethnicity. If we were looking at it from a purely scientific view, the differences between people on a genetic level translate to visually different at best to indistinguishable. Historically, people banded together for survival, and as time went on and technology improved, those social connections stuck. How people defined themselves was with who they lived with. Renan says that it ultimately does not play a part in defining a nation, “The truth is that there is no pure race and that to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera” (Renan, 48).
He then goes on to talk about language and religion. Language is essential to communication, but it does not always rely on ethnic or racial lines, or even geographical ones. So that in and of itself cannot define a nation. Religion is also a factor. When people defined themselves based on who they lived with, religion was entirely identical among any group. However, when people began interacting outside of their immediate surroundings, it had to change. To get to the time when this was written, religion was no longer a cultural or societal identifier, it became personal and individual. So we can no longer base a nation on a particular religion either because states are now composed of multiple religious groups.
All of this is to say that what makes a nation is the people who are there. Nationality is a social construct that we use to identify ourselves and others. I would like to clarify that just because something is a social construct doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It still has influence and power. For example money, time, and language are constructs but our lives are very much affected by these things. Do you agree with Renan? Is there something with which we could determine a nation, or is it only up to the people of a particular area to decide their own nationality? Is there a way to bring about nationalism, or is it something that happens organically?