Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: The Linguistic Group - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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2.: The Linguistic Group - 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 Linguistic Group
Economists, sociologists, and historians have provided us with different definitions of the term nation. But we are not interested here in what meaning social science ought to attach to it. We are inquiring what meaning the European supporters of the principle of nationality attach to the concepts nation and nationality. It is important to establish the way in which these terms are used in the vocabulary of present-day political action and the role they play in actual life and in contemporary conflicts.
The principle of nationality is unknown to American or Australian politics. When the Americans freed themselves from the rule of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal their aim was self-determination, not the establishment of national states in the sense that the principle of nationality gives to the term nation. Linguistically they resembled the old countries overseas from which their ancestors once came to America. The people who now form the United States of America did not want to annex English-speaking Canada. Nor did the French-speaking Canadians who opposed the British system of administration fight for a French-speaking state. Both linguistic groups coöperate in a more or less peaceful way within the Dominion of Canada; there is no Irredenta. Latin America is also free from linguistic problems. What separates Argentina from Chile or Guatemala from Mexico is not the idiom. There are many racial, social, political, and even religious conflicts in the Western Hemisphere too. But in the past no serious linguistic problem has troubled American political life.
Neither are there any grave linguistic antagonisms in present-day Asia. India is linguistically not homogeneous; but the religious discrepancy between Hinduism and Islam is much more important there than the problem of idioms.
Conditions may perhaps soon change. But at the present moment the principle of nationality is more or less a European concept. It is the main political problem of Europe.
According to the principle of nationality, then, every linguistic group must form an independent state, and this state must embrace all people speaking this language. The prestige of this principle is so great that a group of men who for some reason wish to form a state of their own which would otherwise not conform to the principle of nationality are eager to change their language in order to justify their aspirations in the light of this principle.
The Norwegians now speak and write an idiom that is almost identical with that of Denmark. But they are not prepared to renounce their political independence. To provide linguistic support for their political program, eminent Norwegians have wanted to create a language of their own; to form out of their local dialects a new language, something like a return to the old Norse used up to the fifteenth century. The greatest Norwegian writer, Henrik Ibsen, considered these endeavors lunacy and scorned them as such in Peer Gynt.*
The people of Ireland speak and write English. Some of the foremost writers of the English language are Irishmen. But the Irish want to be politically independent. Therefore, they reason, it is necessary to return to the Gaelic idiom once used in their country. They have excavated this language from old books and manuscripts and try to revive it. To some extent they have even succeeded.
The Zionists want to create an independent state composed of those professing the Jewish religion. For them the Jews are a people and a nation. We are not concerned here with whether the historical arguments brought forward for the justification of these claims are correct or not, or whether the plan is politically sound or unsound. But it is a fact that the Jews speak many different languages; from the viewpoint of the principle of nationality the aspirations of Zionism are no less irregular than those of the Irish. Therefore the Zionists try to induce the Jews to speak and write Hebrew. These plans are paradoxical in the face of the fact that in the days of Christ the inhabitants of Palestine did not speak Hebrew; their native tongue was Aramaic. Hebrew was the language of the religious literature only. It was not understood by the people. The second language generally known was Greek.†
These facts demonstrate the meaning and prestige of the principle of nationality. The terms nation and nationality as applied by the advocates of this principle are equivalent to the term “linguistic group.” The terms used in the Habsburg Empire for these conflicts were die nationale Frage (the national question), and synonymously die Sprachenfrage (the linguistic problem), nationale Kämpfe (national struggles), and synonymously Sprachenkämpfe (linguistic struggles). The main subject of conflict has always been which language should be used by the administration, by the tribunals, and by the army, and which language should be taught in the schools?
It is a serious error of English and French books and newspapers to refer to these conflicts as racial. There is no conflict of races in Europe. No distinct bodily features which an anthropologist could establish with the aid of the scientific methods of anatomy separate the people belonging to different groups. If you presented one of them to an anthropologist he would not be able to decide by biological methods whether he was a German, Czech, Pole, or Hungarian.
Neither have the people belonging to any one of these groups a common descent. The right bank of the Elbe River, the whole of northeastern Germany, eight hundred years ago was inhabited only by Slavs and Baltic tribes. It became German-speaking in the course of the processes which the German historians call the colonization of the East. Germans from the west and south migrated into this area; but in the main its present population is descended from the indigenous Slavs and Baltic peoples who, under the influence of church and school, adopted the German language. Prussian chauvinists, of course, assert that the native Slavs and Balts were exterminated and that the whole population today is descended from German colonists. There is not the slightest evidence for this doctrine. The Prussian historians invented it in order to justify in the eyes of German nationalists Prussia’s claim to hegemony in Germany. But even they have never dared to deny that the Slav ancestry of the autochthonous princely dynasties (of Pomerania, Silesia, and Mecklenburg) and of most of the aristocratic families is beyond doubt. Queen Louise of Prussia, whom all German nationalists consider the paragon of German womanhood, was a scion of the ducal house of Mecklenburg, whose originally Slav character has never been contested. Many noble families of the German northeast can be traced back to Slav ancestors. The genealogical trees of the middle classes and the peasantry, of course, cannot be established as far back as those of the nobility; this alone explains why the proof of Slav origin cannot be provided for them. It is indeed paradoxical to assume that the Slavonic princes and knights should have exterminated their Slav serfs in order to settle their villages with imported German serfs.
Shifting from one of these linguistic groups to another occurred not only in earlier days. It happened and happens so frequently that nobody remarks upon it. Many outstanding personalities in the Nazi movement in Germany and Austria and in the Slavonic, Hungarian, and Rumanian districts claimed by Nazism were the sons of parents whose language was not German. Similar conditions prevail all over Europe. In many cases the change of loyalties has been accompanied by a change in family name; more often people have retained their foreign-sounding family names. The Belgian poets Maeterlinck and Verhaeren have written in French; their names suggest a Flemish ancestry. The Hungarian poet Alexander Petöfi, who died for the cause of the Hungarian revolution in the battle of Schässburg (1849), was the son of a Slavonic family named Petrovics. Thousands of such cases are known to everyone familiar with European soil and people. Europe too is a melting pot, or rather a collection of melting pots.
Whenever the question is raised whether a group must be considered a distinct nation and therefore entitled to claim political autonomy, the issue is whether the idiom involved is a distinct language or only a dialect. The Russians maintain that the Ukrainian or Ruthenian idiom is a dialect, like Platt-Deutsch in northern Germany or Proven-çal in southern France. The Czechs use the same argument against the political aspirations of the Slovaks, and the Italians against the Rhaeto-Romanic idiom. Only a few years ago the Swiss Government gave to the Romansh the legal status of a national language. Many Nazis declare that Dutch is not a language but a German dialect—a Platt which has arrogated to itself the status of a language.
The principle of nationality has been late in penetrating into the political thought of Switzerland. There are two reasons why Switzerland has up to now successfully resisted its disintegrating power.
The first factor is the quality of the three main languages of Switzerland: German, French, and Italian. For every inhabitant of continental Europe it is a great advantage to learn one of these languages. If a German-Swiss acquires command of French or Italian he not only becomes better equipped for business life but gains access to one of the great literatures of the world. It is the same for the French-Swiss and for the Italian-Swiss when learning Italian or German. The Swiss, therefore, do not object to a bilingual education. They consider it a great help for their children to know one or both of the two other main languages of the country. But what gain can a French-Belgian derive from a knowledge of Flemish, a Slovak from a knowledge of Hungarian, or a Hungarian from a knowledge of Rumanian? It is almost indispensable for an educated Pole or Czech to know German; but for a German it is a waste of time to learn Czech or Polish. This explains why the educational problem is of minor importance under the linguistic conditions of Switzerland.
The second factor is the political structure. The countries of eastern Europe were never liberal. They jumped from monarchical absolutism directly into etatism. Since the 1850’s they have clung to the policy of interventionism which only in the last decades has overwhelmed the West. Their intransigent economic nationalism is a consequence of their etatism. But on the eve of the first World War Switzerland was still a predominantly liberal country. Since then it has turned more and more to interventionism; and as that spread the linguistic problem has become more serious. There is Italian Irredentism in the Ticino; there is a pro-Nazi party in the German-speaking parts, and there are French nationalists in the southwest. A victory of the allied democracies will doubtless stop these movements; but in that case Switzerland’s integrity will be safeguarded by the same factor to which it owed its origin and its maintenance in the past, namely, the political conditions of its neighbor countries.
There is one instance in continental Europe in which the characteristic feature that separates two nations is not language but religion and the alphabetical types used in writing and printing. The Serbs and the Croats speak the same idiom; but while the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet the Croats use the Roman. The Serbs adhere to the orthodox creed of the Oriental Church; the Croats are Roman Catholics.
It must be emphasized again and again that racism and considerations of racial purity and solidarity play no role in these European struggles of linguistic groups. It is true that the nationalists often resort to “race” and “common descent” as catchwords. But that is mere propaganda without any practical effect on policies and political actions. On the contrary, the nationalists consciously and purposely reject racism and racial characteristics of individuals when dealing with political problems and activities. The German racists have provided us with an image of the prototype of the noble German or Aryan hero and with a biologically exact description of his bodily features. Every German is familiar with this archetype and most of them are convinced that this portrait is correct. But no German nationalist has ever ventured to use this pattern to draw the distinction between Germans and non-Germans. The criterion of Germanism is found not in a likeness to this standard but in the German tongue.* Breaking up the German-speaking group according to racial characteristics would result in eliminating at least 80 per cent of the German people from the ranks of the Germans. Neither Hitler nor Goebbels nor most of the other champions of German nationalism fit the Aryan prototype of the racial myth.
The Hungarians are proud to be the descendants of a Mongolian tribe which in the early Middle Ages conquered the country they call Hungary. The Rumanians boast their descent from Roman colonists. The Greeks consider themselves scions of the ancient Greeks. Historians are rather skeptical in regard to these claims. The modern political nationalism of these nations ignores them. It finds the practical criterion of the nation in the language instead of in racial characteristics or in the proof of descent from the alleged ancestry.
[* ]Act IV, scene in the lunatic asylum.
[† ]Kenyon, “The Bible as Christ Knew It,” The History of Christianity in the Light of Modern Knowledge (London, 1929), p. 172. Some Zionists advocated Yiddish as the national language; but they did not succeed in establishing it. Yiddish is a German dialect with some words borrowed from Hebrew and more from the Slavonic languages. It is the dialect spoken by the Jews of German origin in northeastern Europe. The newspapers in Hebrew type printed and distributed in America are not written in Hebrew but in Yiddish.
[* ]We shall consider in chapter VIII the alleged racial factors in nationalist Jew baiting.