Rogers Brubaker (1992): “Civic and Ethnic Nations in France and Germany”




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Camille Neyhouser

AQCI n° 1



European Policy and Practice towards Ethnic Minorities

Laura Laubeova






Rogers Brubaker (1992): “Civic and Ethnic Nations in France and Germany”
1. “The nation-state is not only, or primarily, an ethnodemographic phenomenon, or a set of institutional arrangements. It is also, crucially, a way of thinking about and appraising political and social membership. Because this way of thinking remains widely influential, debates about the citizenship status of immigrants remain in large part debates about nationhood – about what it means, and what it ought to mean, to belong to a nation-state.” (p. 172)
2. Rogers Brubaker analyses the French and German conceptions of nation and nation-state (p. 168). The key-word in the French analysis is assimilation, since the nation is built thanks to the common will of the population, and all that under control of the State, which originally created the nation. That is why jus soli and political unity prevail. On the contrary, the German conception is based on differentialism. The basis is the people (Volk), whose strong national feeling originally contributed to create the nation-state. As a result, this conception is ethnocultural and jus sanguinis prevails. The wide and apparently immutable differences between both national self-understandings partly explain the divergences towards citizenship status and immigration policy in both countries. But many other factors come into the picture (p. 170): inertia towards reform of real citizenship law, strength of tradition and its endurance, consonance of national self-understandings with political and cultural traditions. However, the debate seems to have evolved today into thinking on the disappearance of nation-state and of national citizenship (p. 172). In the fast-expanding postnational Europe, nation-state sovereignty is attacked both by the European Union as well as local authorities. But far from weakening the nation-state, the ever-increasing and diverse immigrant populations lead to nationalist and populist reactions in Western Europe. The debate about citizenship for immigrants is actually deeply linked to the significance of identity, which is the basis of the nation-state. That is why, thanks to its complexity and weight of tradition, the nation-state is certainly far from disappearing soon.
3. Brubaker maintains that "In Germany […] there is no chance that the French system of jus soli will be adopted; the automatic transformation of immigrants into citizens remains unthinkable…" (p. 170) And yet the law of 1913, which based German nationality on jus sanguinis, was completely reformed by the Bundestag in 1999: "German nationality is automatically granted, from the birth, to the children of the second generation of immigration, whose parents are born abroad […]". This clearly demonstrates the introduction of a portion of jus soli in the German legislation. For nonborn foreigners on German soil, the new law provides naturalization (on request) after eight years of usual residence in Germany. Brubaker was certainly too pessimistic and seems to have left out several elements: first, the definitive and stable presence of a population of several million people of foreign origin in the country necessarily raised the question of their integration into German citizenship. Secondly, the tremendous growth of the number of (real or alleged) immigrants "of German stock" coming from Eastern Europe beginning in 1988 posed a serious problem for Germany's political leaders.
4. I think that Brubaker's analysis is somewhat idealistic and theoretical. I'm not too sure whether the French pattern is really assimilationist, as we have observed recently with the riots in the whole of France, which began in the end of October and still continue today. In two weeks, more than 4000 cars were burned, as were schools and stores, and 800 people were arrested. These acts of violence reveal a deep malaise in France–the North African people in the suburbs are not equally treated and they often have the feeling that they are never regarded as really French. No matter the efforts of assimilation they make, the "real" French people still despise them most of the time. The grandparents of those teenagers were sent to France to rebuild the country destroyed after war. Fifty years later they are still not accepted, as the unemployment statistics in the suburbs show the level to be between 25 and 35 %. These young people feel completely lost, as they were not born in the same country as their parents and don't feel at home in France. I could observe it myself when I was helping a schoolgirl of Algerian extraction with her homework. Although her father was born in France, he could neither read nor write French, and he was of course unemployed. Her mother, who was not French, had a job as a cleaning lady but didn't speak French very well. My own experience is that France proudly proclaims an ideal of equality, but coops up the outcasts in ghettos, far from the sight of the majority. Sadly, their only horizons are unemployment, racism, and violence.
5. "One should not confuse the nation and the State, for they are two realities distinct from each other, one depending from the sociological field, the other from the political domain. Sometimes groups have advantage to associate the two terms, either to dominate a weaker group, or to give to the State more prestige."1 This conception clearly contradicts Brubaker's argument, which we quoted at the beginning. It considers the theory of Nation-state to be only a utilitarian notion, inseparable from the interests of one entity (group or State), which wants to gain in authority. It is true that historically in Europe, few States were completely organized politically, geographically and institutionally on the French model; according to this ideal of nation-state each nation should correspond to a State, and reciprocally a State is formed only by one nation, the whole lot in a precisely definite territory. For example, the Kurdish nation's geographical surface extends onto the territory of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. It is a nation without a State. On the contrary, the Basques, the Quebecois, the Flemish and the Catalans are formed or declared nations, though none have their own State. Brubaker, however, shows brilliantly that both conceptions are not conflicting. A Nation is initially a community of individuals, generally living on the same territory and linked by the same language, the same culture, and the same history. Nation is also a community which adheres to a political project and forms a government. The nation is seen as a voluntary construction of a democratic state. When there is symbiosis between cultural and political identity, the nation-state is established.
6. Brubaker asserts that Nation state is based on political and social membership. The Nation was built little by little thanks to the will of the population to live together and to build a future together. He points out that the common will is crucial, at least as important in the French theory as the assimilationist perspective. Unfortunately, this will doesn’t seem to be affirmed so proudly anymore. The republican pact seems to be shattered, maybe because French republicanism identifies with universalism, which generally involves the rejection or the "inferiorisation" of those who are different. Many people in the suburbs don’t feel they belong to the French nation. Brubaker reminds us of the importance of the common will and how desperately it is missing today. For politicians saving the nation-state from disappearing, they must rethink its basis by finding new means of expressing in practical terms the social contract.
Source: Brubaker, Rogers (1992) "Civic and ethnic nations in France and Germany" text 28 in Hutchinson John, Smith Anthony (ed.): Ethnicity, Oxford – New York: Oxford University press, pp. 168-173

1 Linteau-Durocher-Robert, Histoire du Québec contemporain tome I, Boréal Compact, 1989.



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