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Nation, State, and Economy
Ludwig von Mises

Nation and State


1. The Nation as a Speech Community

The concepts nation and nationality are relatively new in the sense in which we understand them. Of course, the word nation is very old; it derives from Latin and spread early into all modern languages. But another meaning was associated with it. Only since the second half of the eighteenth century did it gradually take on the significance that it has for us today, and not until the nineteenth century did this usage of the word become general.[1] Its political significance developed step by step with the concept; nationality became a central point of political thought. The word and concept nation belong completely to the modern sphere of ideas of political and philosophical individualism; they win importance for real life only in modern democracy.

If we wish to gain insight into the essence of nationality, we must proceed not from the nation but from the individual. We must ask ourselves what the national aspect of the individual person is and what determines his belonging to a particular nation.

We then recognize immediately that this national aspect can be neither where he lives nor his attachment to a state. Not everyone who lives in Germany or holds German citizenship is a German merely for that reason. There are Germans who neither live in Germany nor hold German citizenship. Living in the same places and having the same attachment to a state do play their role in the development of nationality, but they do not pertain to its essence. It is no different with having the same ancestry. The genealogical conception of nationality is no more useful than the geographic or the state conception. Nation and race do not coincide; there is no nation of pure blood.[2] All peoples have arisen from a mixture of races. Ancestry is not decisive for belonging to a nation. Not everyone descended from German ancestors is a German merely for that reason; how many Englishmen, Americans, Magyars, Czechs, and Russians would otherwise have to be called Germans? There are Germans whose ancestors include not one German. Among members of the higher strata of the population and among famous men and women whose family trees are commonly traced, foreign ancestors can be demonstrated more often than among members of the lower strata of the people, whose origins are lost in darkness; yet the latter, too, are more seldom of pure blood than one tends to assume.

There are writers who have worked in good faith to investigate the significance of ancestry and race for history and politics; what success they attained will not be discussed here. Again, many writers demand that political significance be attached to community of race and that race policy be pursued. People can be of different opinions about the justness of this demand; to examine it is not our concern. It may also remain an open question whether that demand has already been heeded today and whether and how race policy really is pursued. Yet we must insist that just as the concepts nation and race do not coincide, so national policy and race policy are two different things. Also, the concept of race, in the sense in which the advocates of race policy use it, is new, even considerably newer than that of nation. It was introduced into politics in deliberate opposition to the concept of nation. The individualistic idea of the national community was to be displaced by the collectivist idea of the racial community. Success has so far eluded these efforts. The slight significance accorded to the race factor in the cultural and political movements of the present day contrasts sharply with the great importance that national aspects have. Lapouge, one of the founders of the anthroposociological school, expressed the opinion a generation ago that in the twentieth century people would be slaughtered by the millions because of one or two degrees more or less in the cephalic index.[3] We have indeed experienced the slaughter of people by the millions, but no one can assert that dolichocephaly and brachycephaly were the rallying cries of the parties in this war. We are, of course, only at the end of the second decade of the century for which Lapouge expressed his prophecy. It may be that he will yet prove right; we cannot follow him into the field of prophecy, and we do not wish to dispute over things that still rest darkly concealed in the womb of the future. In present-day politics the race factor plays no role; that alone is important for us.

The dilettantism that pervades the writings of our race theorists should not, of course, mislead us into skipping lightly over the race problem itself. Surely there is hardly any other problem whose clarification could contribute more to deepening our historical understanding. It may be that the way to ultimate knowledge in the field of historical ebb and flow leads through anthropology and race theory. What has so far been discovered in these sciences is quite scanty, of course, and is overgrown with a thicket of error, fantasy, and mysticism. But there exists true science in this field also, and here also there are great problems. It may be that we shall never solve them, but that should not keep us from investigating further and should not make us deny the significance of the race factor in history.

If one does not see racial affinity as the essence of nationality, that does not mean that one wants to deny the influence of racial affinity on all politics and on national politics in particular. In real life many different forces work in different directions; if we want to recognize them, then we must try to distinguish them in our minds as far as possible. That does not mean, though, that in observing one force, we should quite forget that still others are working along side it or against it.

We recognize that one of these forces is the speech community; this is indeed beyond dispute. If we now say that the essence of nationality lies in language, this is no mere terminological point about which there could be no further dispute. First, let it be stated that in saying so, we are in conformity with the general use of language. To the language we apply first, and to it alone in the original sense, the designation that then becomes the designation of the nation. We speak of the German language, and everything else that bears the label "German" gets it from the German language: when we speak of German writing, of German literature, of German men and women, the relation to the language is obvious. Moreover, it does not matter whether the designation of the language is older than that of the people or is derived from the latter; once it became the designation of the language, it is what became decisive for the further development of the use of this expression. And if we finally speak of German rivers and of German cities, of German history and of German war, we have no trouble understanding that in the last analysis this expression also traces back to the original naming of the language as German. The concept of the nation is, as already said, a political concept. If we want to know its content, we must fix our eyes on the politics in which it plays a role. Now we see that all national struggles are language struggles, that they are waged about language. What is specifically "national" lies in language.[4]

Community of language is at first the consequence of an ethnic or social community; independently of its origin, however, it itself now becomes a new bond that creates definite social relations. In learning the language, the child absorbs a way of thinking and of expressing his thoughts that is predetermined by the language and so he receives a stamp that he can scarcely remove from his life. The language opens up the way for a person of exchanging thoughts with all those who use it; he can influence them and receive influence from them. Community of language binds and difference of language separates persons and peoples. If someone finds the explanation of the nation as a speech community perhaps too paltry, let him just consider what immense significance language has for thinking and for the expression of thought, for social relations, and for all activities of life.

If, despite recognition of these connections people often resist seeing the essence of the nation in the speech community, this hinges on certain difficulties that the demarcation of individual nations by this criterion entails.[5] Nations and languages are not unchangeable categories but, rather, provisional results of a process in constant flux; they change from day to day, and so we see before us a wealth of intermediate forms whose classification requires some pondering.

A German is one who thinks and speaks German. Just as there are different degrees of mastery of the language, so there are also different degrees of being German. Educated persons have penetrated into the spirit and use of the language in a manner quite different from that of the uneducated. Ability in concept formation and mastery of words are the criterion of education: the school rightly emphasizes acquiring the ability to grasp fully what is spoken and written and to express oneself intelligibly in speech and writing. Only those are full members of the German nation who have fully mastered the German language. Uneducated persons are German only insofar as the understanding of German speech has been made accessible to them. A peasant in a village cut off from the world who knows only his home dialect and cannot make himself understood by other Germans and cannot read the written language does not count at all as a member of the German[6] nation. If all other Germans were to die out and only people who knew only their own dialect survived, then one would have to say that the German nation had been wiped out. Even those peasants are not without a tinge of nationality, only they belong not to the German nation but rather to a tiny nation consisting of those who speak the same dialect.

The individual belongs, as a rule, to only one nation. Yet it does now and then happen that a person belongs to two nations. That is not the case merely when he speaks two languages but rather only when he has mastered two languages in such a way that he thinks and speaks in each of the two and has fully assimilated the special way of thinking that characterizes each of them. Yet there are more such persons than people believe. In territories of mixed population and in centers of international trade and commerce, one frequently meets them among merchants, officials, etc. And they are often persons without the highest education. Among men and women with more education, bilinguists are rarer, since the highest perfection in the mastery of language, which characterizes the truly educated person, is as a rule attained in only one language. The educated person may have mastered more languages, and all of them far better than the bilinguist has; nevertheless, he is to be counted in only one nation if he thinks only in one language and processes everything he hears and sees in foreign languages through a way of thinking that has been shaped by the structure and the concept formation of his own language. Yet even among the "millionaires of education"[7] there are bilinguists, men and women who have fully assimilated the education of two cultural circles. They were and are found somewhat more frequently than elsewhere in places where an old, fully developed language with an old culture and a still slightly developed language of a people only just completing the process of acquiring culture confront each other. There it is physically and psychically easier to achieve mastery of two languages and two cultural circles. Thus, there were far more bilinguists in Bohemia among the generation which immediately preceded the one now living than at present. In a certain sense one can also count as bilinguists all those who, besides the standard language, have full mastery of a dialect also.

Everyone belongs as a rule to at least one nation. Only children and deaf-mutes are nationless; the former first acquire an intellectual home through entry into a speech community, the latter through development of their thinking capacity into achievement of the capability of mutual understanding with the members of a nation. The process that operates here is basically the same as that by which adults already belonging to one nation switch over to another.[8]

The language researcher finds relationships among languages; he recognizes language families and language races; he speaks of sister languages and daughter languages. Some people have wanted to extend this concept directly to nations also; others, again, have wanted to make the ethnological relationship into a national one. Both ideas are totally inadmissible. If one wants to speak of national relationship, one may do so only with reference to the possibility of mutual understanding between the members of the nations. In this sense dialects are related to each other and to one or even to several standard languages. Even between standard languages, for example, between individual Slavic languages, such a relation holds. Its significance for national development exhausts itself in the fact that it facilitates a transition from one nationality to another.

On the other hand, it is politically quite unimportant that the grammatical relationship between languages facilitates learning them. No cultural and no political affinity emerges from it; no political structures can be erected on the basis of it. The notion of the relationship of peoples originates not from the national-policy/individualistic sphere of ideas but rather from the race-policy/collectivistic sphere; it was developed in conscious opposition to the freedom-oriented notion of modern autonomy. Pan-Latinism, Pan-Slavism, and Pan-Germanism are chimeras which, in confrontation with the national strivings of individual peoples, have always come out on the short end. They sound very good in the fraternizing festivities of peoples who for the moment are following parallel political goals; they fail as soon as they are supposed to be more. They never have possessed power to form states. There is no state that has been based on them.

If people have long resisted seeing the characteristic feature of the nation in language, one of the decisive circumstances was that they could not reconcile this theory with the reality that allegedly displays cases in which one nation speaks several languages and other cases in which several nations use one language. The assertion that it is possible for the members of one nation to speak several languages is supported with reference to the conditions of the "Czechoslovak" and "Yugoslav" nations. Czechs and Slovaks acted in this war as a unified nation. The particularist strivings of small Slovak groups have at least not manifested themselves outwardly and have not been able to achieve any political successes. It now seems that a Czechoslovak state will be formed to which all Czechs and Slovaks will belong. However, Czechs and Slovaks do not, for that reason, yet form one nation. The dialects from which the Slovak language was formed are extraordinarily close to the dialects of the Czech language, and it is not difficult for a rural Slovak who knows only his own dialect to communicate with Czechs, especially Moravians, when the latter speak in their dialect. If the Slovaks, back at the time before they began developing an independent standard language, that is, around the turn from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, had come into closer political connection with the Czechs, then the development of a Slovak standard language would doubtless no more have occurred than the development of an independent Swabian standard language in Swabia. Political motives were decisive for the effort made in Slovakia to create an independent language. This Slovak standard language, which was formed quite according to the model of Czech and was closely related to it in every respect, could not develop, however, likewise because of political circumstances. Under the rule of the Magyar state, excluded from school, office, and court, it led a miserable existence in popular almanacs and opposition leaflets. Again, it was the slight development of the Slovak language that caused efforts to adopt the Czech standard language, which had been under way in Slovakia from the very beginning, to gain more and more ground. Today two movements oppose each other in Slovakia: one that wants to root all Czechism out of the Slovak language and develop the language pure and independent and a second that wishes its assimilation to Czech. If the latter movement should prevail, then the Slovaks would become Czechs and the Czechoslovak state would evolve into a purely Czech national state. If, however, the former movement should prevail, then the Czech state would gradually be compelled, if it did not want to appear an oppressor, to grant the Slovaks autonomy and finally, perhaps, complete independence. There is no Czechoslovak nation composed of Czech speakers and Slovak speakers. What we see before us is a particular Slavic nation's struggle for life. How it will turn out will depend on political, social, and cultural circumstances. From a purely linguistic point of view, either of the two developments is possible.

The case is no different with the relation of the Slovenes to the Yugoslav nation. The Slovene language, also, has been struggling since its origin between independence and approximation to or complete blending with Croatian. The Illyrian movement wanted to include the Slovene language also in the sphere of its strivings for unity. If Slovene should be able to maintain its independence even in the future, then the Yugoslav state would have to grant the Slovenes autonomy.

The South Slavs also present one of the most frequently cited examples of two nations speaking the same language. Croats and Serbs use the same language. The national difference between them, it is asserted, lies exclusively in religion. Here is said to be a case that cannot be explained by the theory that perceives the distinctive attribute of a nation in its language.

In the Serbo-Croatian people the sharpest religious contrasts confront each other. One part of the people belongs to the Orthodox Church and another part to the Catholic Church, and even today the Mohammedans form a not inconsiderable part. In addition to these religious contrasts, there are old political enmities that still stem in part from times whose political conditions have today long ago been superseded. The dialects of all these religiously and politically splintered peoples are, however, extraordinarily closely related. These dialects were so closely related to each other that the efforts to form a standard language proceeding from different sides always led to the same result; all efforts always resulted in the same standard language. Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic wanted to create a Serbian language, Ljudevit Gaj a unified South Slavic; Pan-Serbism and Illyrianism bluntly confronted each other. But since they had the same dialectical material to deal with, the results of their work were identical. The languages that they created differed so little from each other that they finally blended together into a unified language. If the Serbs did not use the Cyrillic alphabet and the Croats the Latin alphabet exclusively, then there would be no external sign for attributing a written work to one nation or the other. The difference of alphabets cannot split a unified nation in the long run; the Germans also use different forms of writing without this having acquired any national significance. The political development of the last years before the war and during the war itself has shown that the religious difference between Croats and Serbs upon which the Austrian policy of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his followers had built castles in the air has long since lost its earlier significance. There seems to be no doubt that in the political life of the Serbs and Croats also, the national factor of a common language will override all impeding influences and that the religious difference will play no greater role in the Serbo-Croatian nation than it does in the German people.

Two other examples commonly named to show that speech community and nation do not coincide are the Anglo-Saxon and Danish-Norwegian cases. The English language, it is asserted, is used by two nations, the English and the Americans; and this alone shows that it is inadmissible to seek the criterion of nationality in language alone. In truth, the English and Americans are a single nation. The inclination to count them as two nations stems from the fact that people have become accustomed to interpret the nationality principle as necessarily including the demand for unifying all parts of a nation into a single state. It will be shown in the next section that this is not true at all and that, therefore, the criterion of the nation should in no way be sought in efforts to form a unified state. That Englishmen and Americans belong to different states, that the policies of these states have not always been in consonance, and that the differences between them have occasionally even led to war?all that is still no proof that Englishmen and Americans are not one nation. No one could doubt that England is bound together with its dominions and with the United States by a national bond that will show its binding force in days of great political crisis. The World War brought proof that disagreements between the individual parts of the Anglo-Saxon nation can appear only when the whole does not seem threatened by other nations.

It seems even more difficult at first sight to harmonize the problem of the Irish with the linguistic theory of the nation. The Irish once formed an independent nation; they used a separate Celtic language. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, 80 percent of the population of Ireland still spoke Celtic, and more than 50 percent understood no English at all. Since then the Irish language has lost much ground. Only somewhat more than 600,000 persons still use it, and only seldom are people still to be found in Ireland who understand no English. Of course, there are also efforts in Ireland today to awaken the Irish language to new life and to make its use general. That fact is, however, that very many of those who are on the side of the political Irish movement are English by nationality. The opposition between Englishmen and Irishmen is of a social and religious and not exclusively of a national nature; and so it can happen that inhabitants of Ireland who by nationality are no Irishmen also belong to the movement in great number. If the Irish should succeed in achieving the autonomy they strive for, then it is not ruled out that a large part of today's English population of Ireland would assimilate itself to the Irish nation.

The much-cited Danish-Norwegian example also cannot undercut the assertion that nationality lies in language. During the centuries-long political union between Norway and Denmark, the old Norwegian standard language was completely driven out by the Danish standard language; it still managed a miserable existence only in the numerous dialects of the rural population. After the separation of Norway from Denmark (1814), efforts were made to create a national language of its own. But the efforts of the party striving to create a new Norwegian standard language on the basis of the old Norwegian language definitely failed. Success went to those who seek only to enrich Danish by introduction of expressions from the vocabulary of the Norwegian dialects but otherwise are in favor of retaining the Danish language. The works of the great Norwegian writers Ibsen and Bj?rnson are written in this language.[9] Danes and Norwegians still today, then, form a single nation, even though they belong politically to two states.


[1] Cf. Meinecke, Weltb?rgertum und Nationalstaat, third edition (Munich: 1915),pp. 22 ff.; Kjell?n, Der Staat als Lebensform (Leipzig: 1917), pp. 102 ff.

[2] Cf Kjell?n, loc. cit., pp. 105 ff., and the works cited there.

[3] Cf. Manouvrier, "L'indice c?phalique et la pseudo-sociologie," Revue, Mensuelle de l'?cole Anthropologie de Paris, vol. 9, 1899, p. 283.

[4] Cf. Scherer, Vortr?ge und Aufs?tze zur Geschichte des geistigen Lebens in Deutschland und ?sterreich (Berlin: 1874), pp. 45 ff. That the criterion of nation lies in language was the view of Arndt and Jacob Grimm. For Grimm, a people is "the sum total of persons who speak the same language" (Kleinere Schriften, vol. 7 [Berlin: 1884], p. 557). A survey of the history of doctrine about the concept of nation is given in Otto Bauer, Die Nationalit?tenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie (Vienna: 1907), pp. 1 ff., and Spann, Kurzgefasstes System der Gesellschaftslehre (Berlin: 1914), pp. 195 ff.

[5] Moreover, let it be expressly noted that with every other explanation of the essence of the nation, difficulties turn up in much higher degree and cannot be overcome.

[6] That the concept of national community is a matter of degree is also recognized by Spahn (loc. cit., p. 207); that it includes only educated persons is explained by Bauer (loc. cit., pp. 70 ff).

[7] Cf. Anton Menger, Neue Staatslehre, second ed. (Jena: 1904), p. 213.

[8] It used to happen that children of German parents who had to be brought up at the expense of the municipality (so-called boarded children) were put by the municipality of Vienna into the care of Czech foster parents in the countryside; these children then grew up as Czechs. On the other hand, children of non-German parents were Germanized by German foster parents. One aristocratic Polish lady used to relieve the city of Vienna of the care of children of Polish parents in order to have the children grow up as Poles. No one can doubt that all these children became good Czechs, Germans, or Poles without regard to what nation their parents had belonged to.

[9] Ibsen made fun of the efforts of the adherents of the separate "Norwegian" language in the person of Huhu in Peer Gynt (fourth act, madhouse scene).

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