Theory of Nationality – Lord Acton one of the most brilliant of modern historians, made a vigorous attack upon the whole theory of nationality, in so far as it maintains that rationality is an essential element in the formation of states, and he characterized it as being more absurd and more criminal than the theory of socialism.
There is, he said
No principle of change, no phase of political speculation conceivable more comprehensive, more subversive, or more arbitrary than this. It is a confutation of democracy because it sets limits to the exercise of the popular will, and substitutes for it a higher principle.
The combination of different nations in one state, he said,
Is as necessary a condition of civilized life as the combination of men in society. Inferior races are raised by living in political union with races intellectually superior.
Exhausted and decaying nations are revived by the contact of a younger vitality Nations in which the elements of organization and the capacity for the government have been lost either through the demoralizing influence of despotism or the disintegrating action of democracy, are restored and educated anew under the discipline of a stronger and less corrupted race.
This fertilizing and regenerating process can only be obtained by living under one government. It is in the cauldron of the state that the fusion takes place by which the vigor, the knowledge, and the capacity of one portion of mankind may be communicated to another. Where political and national boundaries coincide, society ceases to advance, and nations relapse into a condition corresponding to that of men who renounce intercourse with their fellow men.
The coexistence of several nations under the same state is a test as well as the best security of its freedom. It is also one of the chief instruments of civilization and as such, it is in the natural and providential order and indicates a state of greater advancement than the national unity which is the ideal of modern liberalism. States in which there is no mixture of races, he contended, are imperfect and those in which its effects have disappeared are decrepit.
Observations on Lord Acton’s View:-
No more powerful criticism of the doctrine of the mono national state or more eloquent defense of the poly-national type has ever been made. While there is much truth in what Lord Acton said in regard to the value of the latter type of state, both as an influence upon the character of the people and as an instrument of civilization generally, it is not without exaggeration.
Thus his statements that the poly-national state is that which Providence indicates, that it provides the best Security for freedom, that the mono-national type is imperfect, and that the combination of different nationalities under the same state organization is as necessary to civilized life as the combination of men in society are not invariably supported either by history or by actual experience.
It is only under ideal conditions that the advantages of the poly-national state outweigh those of the mono-national type conditions such as exist only in a few states like Switzerland, Great Britain, and the United States, where the various nationalistic groups have consented voluntarily to live with one another under the same state organization,w where they are satisfied with their united situation, where they have substantially identical interests and ideas, and where they are not oppressed by a more powerful nationality or denied such rights as appertaining to the use of their language, the education of their children, and the exercise of their religion.
On the other hand, in states which have been formed by the forcible annexation or incorporation of unwilling nationalities or in those which were voluntarily formed, but in which a nationality subsequently became dissatisfied, the advantages claimed by Lord Acton are hardly likely to exist.
Viewed from the standpoint of the interests of the discontented nationality, the cause of peace and the advancement of the common citizen, the division of the state in such circumstances is desirable, assuming, of course, that the discontented nationality constitutes something more than an inconsiderable fraction of the total population.
Thus it would seem that the concession of independence to important nationalities like the Irish, the Poles, the Czechs, the Southern Slavs, the Balkan races, and others, intensely dissatisfied as they were, not only left the states from which they separated stronger and more stable internally, but also contributed to the promotion of the general peace.
Such nationalities should, according to some writers, be permitted and even encouraged to separate themselves from what they regard as unnatural unions and to organize themselves into independent states rather than be repressed and governed by force against their will.
The Proper conclusion, therefore, is that where the dissatisfied nationality constitutes at least a large fraction of the population it has a moral right if the doctrine of self-determination has any meaning, to a separate state organization, although as the committee of jurists in the Aland Islands case correctly maintained, the right is not one which is recognized by positive international law.
The problem of Nationality:-
Where a state embraces more than a single nationality, the several nationalities may be substantially equal in population and strength, or they may be unequal. And where they are unequal in population, it may happen that the least populous is superior in culture and civilization.
In that case, it may be able to acquire ascendancy over the other nationality or nationalities because of such superiority, or it may do so by sheer force and reduce the others to the subjection of this latter policy Mill remarked that it was one which civilized humanity with one accord should rise to prevent.
It was Treitschke’s view that in such Cases the simplest relationship is that the one which is superior in civilization should wield the authority. This principle would seem to be the only reasonable one, provided of course the rights of the weaker nationality are respected. Treitschke, however, went further and maintained that normally and naturally in case of conquest the victor should have the right to impose his culture and manners upon the people he has subjugated.
The Germans, he said,
let the primitive Prussian tribes decide whether they should be put to the sword or be thoroughly Germanized, and he added cruel as these processes of transformation may be, they are a blessing for humanity. It makes for health that the nobler race should absorb the inferior stock.
The domination of the Magyars over the other races of Hungary, prior to the division of that state after the World War, was a striking example of the subjection by one nationality of others, although the Magyars maintained not only that they were culturally and economically superior to the other races but also that numerically they constituted an absolute majority over all the other races combined a contention denied by other races.
Mill remarked that if the smaller but culturally superior nationality succeeds in dominating the others, civilization is often the gainer, but he added that in such a case the conqueror and the conquered cannot live together under the same free institutions. Again, he said, if the dominating nationality is both the most numerous and the most advanced culturally, and especially if the subjected nationality is small and incapable of asserting its independence, and is governed wisely and justly, it is likely to become reConciled to its position and gradually to become amalgamated with the larger.
Finally, Mill pointed out that the most difficult situation is where the several nationalities are equal, or approximately so, in population and in the various elements of civilization. In such cases, the coalescing or amalgamation of the different nationalities is likely to bet-J retarded or even prevented altogether.
Each, he said,
Colliding in its strength, and feeling capable of maintaining an equal struggle with any of the others, is unwilling to be merged in it, each cultivates with party obstinacy its distinctive peculiarities obsolete customs, and even declining languages, are revived, to deepen the separation each deems itself tyrannized over if any authority is exercised within itself by functionaries of a rival race, and whatever is given to one of the conflicting nation abilities is considered to be taken from all the rest.
If he added, they happen to be subject to a despotic government which cares no more for one than another of them, and which treats them all alike, they are likely in the course of a few generations to acquire a fellow-feeling and to become harmonized But if the aspiration for independence seizes them before this fusion takes place, there is not only obvious propriety but if either freedom or concord is cared for, a necessity for breaking the connection altogether.