Joseph Leroux, “Your Nationalities” (1892)


[Here is one of three essays from a pamphlet on nationalism, by Pierre Leroux’s son, Joseph.]

Extract from a letter published in the the arbitrator, a journal of the friends of peace, appearing in London under the direction of W[illiam] R[andall] Cremer, chevalier of the Legion of Honor, member of the English Parliament.
My dear Cremer,

It is always with the most lively interest that I follow the efforts made to give a solution to the problem of peace. I see that at Rome, at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, one has thrown at you the disorganizing principle of nationalities, and that it was not without malice, for that one thought with a blow to destroy all the peaceful work elaborated, especially in the last few years. That one has cast trouble in your ranks.

The question of peace is, indeed, like all things, a question of organization. Now, if one shows you a disorganizing principle, a principle negating or destructive of all organization, it becomes difficult to conceive how one can create a harmony.

One paper has even said that it was truly a shame to have this enormous paving stone cast at you; that he should have waited until we were stronger in order to crush us definitively; that we were so weak that it was not worth the trouble. Assuredly, though assisting at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, are not friends of peace but those who advocate such arms. But I find it very useful that our adversaries show us the difficulties of the problem, difficulties that we know well besides. But they do not believe that their argument for nationalities is an unanswerable argument and that our peaceful ideas are only a sort of vain utopia. They take ephemeral appearances for eternal realities a bit too much.

We will begin by remarking to them that their nationalities are not from creation, that it is not nature which had created the nationalities, but that it is a human invention. When human beings, men or women, come to the light of this world, they are born men or women and not Germans, French, English or Italians. The nationalists have sought something which characterizes their nationalities, and they have cried: It is language! another devilishly shallow argument. The human being, when it is born, speaks no language: raised with goats, he would articulate only sounds.

You see, dear Cremer, nationalities are not, as they believe, such a big deal; they are built on a very fragile and shifting soil. If the creation produced some Italians, some English, some Germans, some French (1), etc., the struggle would probably be as durable as these various creations of men; but nature produces only men, that is Humanity.

They make us laugh with their firm confidence in the famous principle of nationalities. Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Imbriani — so imbued with this beautiful principle which makes all of the divisions of Europe look daggers at each other in that moment, forming so many separate and hostile worlds — should recall, the one, Mr. Imbriani, that the least of circumstances would have made, of an irredentist Italian patriot, a French patriot. Such was Gambetta: a small voyage of his parents from Genoa in Italy to Cahors in France, made him from a Genoese into what one calls a great French patriot; and for M. Hubbard, from a French patriot, he would have been able to become Italian like the general Pelloux, from French family, who is presently minister of war in Italy.

Indeed, dear Cremer, these obvious, elementary facts, continuously escape our thought, so much do we take the costume for the man, nationality for a solid basis, when it is only a creation of human agglomerations constituted by time, circumstances, interests and chance.

Take the first child to come, born in France to French parents; carry it to England; what language will it speak? English. He will take in growing not only the English turn of phrase, but the English spirit, mind, physiognomy, and type. It will be the same as an English child born in England, who, carried Paris at the age of one year, surrounded only by Parisians, will speak only French and would have all that which constitutes the most parisiennant of the Parisian. Take the exalted French patriot Mr. Déroulède at the age of one year; take that child to Berlin; let him be surrounded only by Berliners until the age of eight: Mr. Déroulède will only speak German and, following the tendency of his mind, would probably become the most chauvinistic of Prussians.

These obvious truths show us the fragility of nationalities, result of successive agglomerations stemming from the work of time, but having no other virtuality than what the man has given it. We are all born men and women, human beings, belonging to Humanity. Nature has created us in a homogeneous manner. The problem is thus feasible, for there is no cause of disunion on the basis of nature.

For us, the question of nationalities is tied indisputably to the question of war. Nationalities as they exist today, exclusives and separated like worlds separate from one another, are an evil; they are the cause of evil, and the cause of war. A modification is necessary to these human groupings: it is necessary to decentralize the nations, to establish in each province, in each town an activity of its own; it is necessary to decentralize and federalize the nation, then federalize the nations among themselves. Federation of the nation, federation of nations, federal union, Federal Humanity.
That federal union will lead to peace and harmony among men; each having his center, his home, being himself, while being linked by the federal link to the rest of the world.
It is the Swiss confederation, it is the United States of America, many in one, E pluribus unum, applied progressively to the rest of the world.

As soon as that very simple modification in achieved in the present nationalities, selfish, exclusives, jealous and hostile, the cause of evil will disappear and war will be destroyed.

One of the great minds of this century, Pierre Leroux, has expressed this truth by saying:

“Humanity existed virtually before the nations, and it will exist after them; for the nations have for aim to constitute it,” and in 1827, he announced in his great work on the European Union the formation of the United States of Europe.
We, the friends of peace, we respond to the cry of Mr. Hubbard, Mr. Imbriani and so many others: Nationalities; we respond: Federation of Peoples, Federal Humanity.


January 1892.

La Pervenche, Mougins (Alpes-Maritimes)

(1) It is not even necessary to go back very far in history in order to find the moment when these different nationalities did not exist. We propose to take up the subject that we raise in this letter and to treat it from a historical point of view.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.