History and Theory 35 (3):309-337 (1996)

This paper begins with the opposition common to almost all discussions of the nation and nationalism: that between the cultural and the civic nation. Behind this opposition, however, one can detect a certain "complicity" between the two conceptions. And in order to understand the nature of this complicity, the paper proposes to re-examine the origins of the modern nation during the French Revolution. The first nation, it is argued, was conceived in strictly contractual terms; and yet within only a few years the revolutionaries began stumbling towards a more cultural understanding of the nation, which served to complement its contractual definition. This turn to a more cultural discourse must be understood as responding to three rather pressing problems faced by an exclusively contractual conception. First there is the need to find a stable anchorage for the nation in space and time. Second are the difficulties posed by a purely voluntarist conception of national citizenship. Third, and above all, there are the seemingly uncontrollable conflicts borne by the identification of the nation with its political "constitution," and with the revolutionary regime said to embody that constitution. In this perspective, the emergence of a more cultural discourse must be seen as an attempt to stabilize the post-revolutionary regime by depoliticizing the "idea" of the nation. As such, this discourse's emergence is inseparable from "the discovery" of society separate from the instance of democratic, political institutions. The nation, then, has two discourses because it has a dual nature, both political and social. The paper concludes with a reflection on the hyphen in the term "nation-state," as indicating the need to bring society and polity together, but also to keep them apart
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DOI 10.2307/2505452
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