AFTER the sans culottes rose up against Louis XVI in 1789 they drew up a declaration of the universal rights of man and of the citizen. Napoleon’s Grande Armée marched not just for the glory of France but for liberty, equality and fraternity. By contrast, the nationalism born with the unification of Germany decades later harked back to Blut und Boden—blood and soil—a romantic and exclusive belief in race and tradition as the wellspring of national belonging. The German legions were fighting for their Volk and against the world.
All societies draw on nationalism of one sort or another to define relations between the state, the citizen and the outside world. Craig Calhoun, an American sociologist, argues that cosmopolitan elites, who sometimes yearn for a post-nationalist order, underestimate “how central nationalist categories are to political and social theory—and to practical reasoning about democracy, political legitimacy and the nature of society itself.”