”Herder virtually invented the idea of belonging”

En intervju med Isaiah Berlin i NYRB från 1991, betitlad Two Concepts of Nationalism.

Nonaggressive nationalism is another story entirely. I trace the beginning of that idea to the highly influential eighteenth-century German poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder.

Herder virtually invented the idea of belonging. He believed that just as people need to eat and drink, to have security and freedom of movement, so too they need to belong to a group. Deprived of this, they felt cut off, lonely, diminished, unhappy. Nostalgia, Herder said, was the noblest of all pains. To be human meant to be able to feel at home somewhere, with your own kind.


For Herder, there is nothing about race and nothing about blood. He only spoke about soil, language, common memories, and customs. His central point, as a Montenegrin friend once said to me, is that loneliness is not just the absence of others but far more a matter of living among people who do not understand what you are saying; they can truly understand only if they belong to a community where communication is effortless, almost instinctive.


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