Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: The Principle of Nationality - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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1.: The Principle of Nationality - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
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The Principle of Nationality
In the early nineteenth century the political vocabulary of the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland did not differentiate between the concepts state, people, and nation. The conquests which expanded the realm and brought countries and their inhabitants into subjection did not alter the size of the nation and the state. These annexed areas, as well as the overseas settlements of British subjects, remained outside the state and the nation. They were property of the crown under the control of Parliament. The nation and the people were the citizens of the three kingdoms, England, Scotland, and Ireland. England and Scotland had formed a union in 1707; in 1801 Ireland joined this union. There was no intention of incorporating into this body the citizens settled beyond the sea in North America. Every colony had its own parliament and its own local government. When the Parliament of Westminster attempted to include in its jurisdiction the colonies of New England and those south of New England, it kindled the conflict which resulted in American independence. In the Declaration of Independence the thirteen colonies call themselves a people different from the people represented in the Parliament at Westminster. The individual colonies, having proclaimed their right to independence, formed a political union, and thus gave to the new nation, set up by nature and by history, an adequate political organization.
Even at the time of the American conflict British liberals sympathized with the aims of the colonists. In the course of the nineteenth century Great Britain fully recognized the right of the white settlers in overseas possessions to establish autonomous governments. The citizens of the dominions are not members of the British nation. They form nations of their own with all the rights to which civilized peoples are entitled. There has been no effort to expand the territory from which members are returned to the Parliament of Westminster. If autonomy is granted to a part of the Empire, that part becomes a state with its own constitution. The size of the territory whose citizens are represented in the Parliament at London has not expanded since 1801; it was narrowed by the founding of the Irish Free State.1
For the French Revolutionists the terms state, nation, and people were also identical. France was for them the country within the historical frontiers. Foreign enclaves (like papal Avignon and the possessions of German princes) were according to natural law parts of France, and therefore to be reunited. The victorious wars of the Revolution and of Napoleon I temporarily relegated these notions to oblivion. But after 1815 they were restored to their previous meaning. France is the country within the frontiers fixed by the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon III later incorporated into this realm Savoy and Nice, districts with French-speaking inhabitants for whom there was no longer room left in the new Italian kingdom in which the state of Savoy-Piedmont-Sardinia had been merged. The French were not enthusiastic about this expansion of their country; the new districts were slow to be assimilated to the French commonwealth. The plans of Napoleon III to acquire Belgium, Luxembourg, and the left bank of the Rhine were not popular in France. The French do not consider the Walloons or the French-speaking Swiss or Canadians members of their nation or people. They are in their eyes French-speaking foreigners, good old friends, but not Frenchmen.
It was different with the German and Italian liberals. The states which they wanted to reform were products of dynastic warfare and intermarriage; they could not be considered natural entities. It would have been paradoxical indeed to destroy the despotism of the prince of Reuss Junior Branch in order to establish a democratic government in the scattered territories owned by that potentate. The subjects of such princelings did not consider themselves Reussians of the Junior Branch or Saxe-Weimar-Eisenachians, but Germans. They did not aim at a liberal Schaumburg-Lippe. They wanted a liberal Germany. It was the same in Italy. The Italian liberals did not fight for a free state of Parma or of Tuscany but for a free Italy. As soon as liberalism reached Germany and Italy the problem of the extent of the state and its boundaries was raised. Its solution seemed easy. The nation is the community of all people speaking the same language; the state’s frontiers should coincide with the linguistic demarcations. Germany is the country inhabited by German-speaking people; Italy is the land of the people using the Italian idiom. The old border lines drawn by the intrigues of dynasties were doomed to disappear. Thus the right of self-determination and of government by the people, as expounded by Western liberalism, becomes transformed into the principle of nationality as soon as liberalism becomes a political factor in Central Europe. The political terminology begins to differentiate between state and nation (people). The people (the nation) are all men speaking the same idiom; nationality means community of language.
According to these ideas, every nation should form an independent state, including all members of the nation. When this has one day been achieved there will be no more wars. The princes fight each other because they wish to increase their power and wealth by conquest. No such motives are present with nations. The extent of a nation’s territory is determined by nature. The national boundaries are the linguistic boundaries. No conquest can make a nation bigger, richer, or more powerful. The principle of nationality is the golden rule of international law which will bring undisturbed peace to Europe. While kings were still planning wars and conquests the revolutionary movements of Young Germany and of Young Italy were already coöperating for the realization of this happy constitution of a New Europe. The Poles and Hungarians joined the choir. Their aspirations also met with the sympathies of liberal Germany. German poets glorified the Polish and Hungarian struggles for independence.
But the aspirations of the Poles and Magyars differed in a very important way from those of the German and Italian liberals. The former aimed at a reconstruction of Poland and Hungary within their old historical boundaries. They did not look forward to a new liberal Europe but backward to the glorious past of their victorious kings and conquerors, as depicted by their historians and writers. Poland was for the Poles all the countries that their kings and magnates had once subjugated, Hungary was for the Magyars all the countries that had been ruled in the Middle Ages by the successors of Saint Stephen. It did not matter that these realms included many people speaking idioms other than Polish and Hungarian. The Poles and the Magyars paid lip service to the principles of nationality and self-determination; and this attitude made the liberals of the West sympathetic to their programs. Yet what they planned was not the liberation but the oppression of other linguistic groups.
So too with the Czechs. It is true that in earlier days some champions of Czech independence proposed a partition of Bohemia according to linguistic demarcations. But they were very soon silenced by their fellow citizens, for whom Czech self-determination was synonymous with the oppression of millions of non-Czechs.
The principle of nationality was derived from the liberal principle of self-determination. But the Poles, the Czechs, and the Magyars substituted for this democratic principle an aggressive nationalism aiming at the domination of people speaking other languages. Very soon German and Italian nationalists and many other linguistic groups adopted the same attitude.
It would be a mistake to ascribe the ascendancy of modern nationalism to human wickedness. The nationalists are not innately aggressive men; they become aggressive through their conception of nationalism. They are confronted with conditions which were unknown to the champions of the old principle of self-determination. And their etatist prejudices prevent them from finding a solution for the problems they have to face other than that provided by aggressive nationalism.
What the Western liberals have failed to recognize is that there are large territories inhabited by people of different idioms. This important fact could once be neglected in Western Europe but it could not be overlooked in Eastern Europe. The principle of nationality cannot work in a country where linguistic groups are inextricably mixed. Here you cannot draw boundaries which clearly segregate linguistic groups. Every territorial division necessarily leaves minorities under foreign rule.
The problem becomes especially fateful because of the changeability of linguistic structures. Men do not necessarily stay in the place of their birth. They have always migrated from comparatively overpopulated into comparatively underpopulated areas. In our age of rapid economic change brought about by capitalism, the propensity to migrate has increased to an unprecedented extent. Millions move from the agricultural districts into the centers of mining, trade, and industry. Millions move from countries where the soil is poor to those offering more favorable conditions for agriculture. These migrations transform minorities into majorities and vice versa. They bring alien minorities into countries formerly linguistically homogeneous.
The principle of nationality was based on the assumption that every individual clings throughout his life to the language of his parents, which he has learned in early childhood. This too is an error. Men can change their language in the course of their life; they can daily and habitually speak a language other than that of their parents. Linguistic assimilation is not always the spontaneous outcome of the conditions under which the individual lives. It is caused not only by environment and cultural factors; governments can encourage it or even achieve it by compulsion. It is an illusion to believe that language is a non-arbitrary criterion for an impartial delimitation of boundaries. The state can, under certain conditions, influence the linguistic character of its citizens.
The main tool of compulsory denationalization and assimilation is education. Western Europe developed the system of obligatory public education. It came to Eastern Europe as an achievement of Western civilization. But in the linguistically mixed territories it turned into a dreadful weapon in the hands of governments determined to change the linguistic allegiance of their subjects. The philanthropists and pedagogues of England who advocated public education did not foresee what waves of hatred and resentment would rise out of this institution.
But the school is not the only instrument of linguistic oppression and tyranny. Etatism puts a hundred more weapons in the hands of the state. Every act of the government which can and must be done by administrative discretion with regard to the special merits of each case can be used for the achievement of the government’s political aims. The members of the linguistic minority are treated like foes or like outlaws. They apply in vain for licenses, for foreign exchange under a system of foreign exchange control, or for import licenses under a quota system. Their shops and plants, their clubhouses, school buildings, and assembly halls are closed by the police because they allegedly do not comply with the rules of the building code or with the regulations for preventing fires. Their sons somehow fail to pass the examinations for civil service jobs. Protection is denied to their property, persons, and lives when they are attacked by armed gangs of zealous members of the ruling linguistic group. They cannot even undertake to defend themselves: the licenses required for the possession of arms are denied to them. The tax collectors always find that they owe the treasury much more than the amount shown on the returns they have filed.
All this indicates clearly why the attempts of the Covenant of the League of Nations to protect minorities by international law and international tribunals were doomed to failure. A law cannot protect anybody against measures dictated by alleged considerations of economic expediency. All sorts of government interference in business, in the countries inhabited by different linguistic groups, are used for the purpose of injuring the pariahs. Custom tariffs, taxation, foreign exchange regulations, subsidies, labor legislation, and so on may be utilized for discrimination, even though this cannot be proved in court procedure. The government can always explain these measures as being dictated by purely economic considerations. With the aid of such measures life for the undesirables, without formal violation of legal equality, can be made unbearable. In an age of interventionism and socialism there is no legal protection available against an ill-intentioned government. Every government interference with business becomes an act of national warfare against the members of the persecuted linguistic groups. With the progress of etatism the antagonism between the linguistic groups becomes more bitter and more implacable.
Thus the meaning of the concepts of Western political terminology underwent a radical change in Central and Eastern Europe. The people differentiate between the good state and the bad state. They worship the state as do all other etatists. But they mean only the good state—i.e., the state in which their own linguistic group dominates. For them this state is God. The other states in which their own linguistic group does not dominate are, in their opinion, devils. Their concept of fellow citizens includes all people speaking their own language, all Volksgenossen, as the Germans say, without any regard to the country where they live; it does not include citizens of their own state who happen to speak another language. These are foes and barbarians. The Volksgenossen living under a foreign yoke must be freed. They are the Irredenta, the unredeemed people.
And every means is believed right and fair, if it can accelerate the coming of the day of redemption. Fraud, felonious assault, and murder are noble virtues if they serve the cause of Irredentism. The war for the liberation of the Volksgenossen is a just war. The greatness of the linguistic group and the glory of the right and true state are the supreme criteria of morality. There is but one thing that counts—their own linguistic group, the community of men speaking the same language, the Volksgemeinschaft.
[1. ][Established December 6, 1922.—Ed.]