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Journal ArticleDOI

"Naturalizing the Nation": The Rise of Naturalistic Nationalism in the United States and Canada

01 Oct 1998-Comparative Studies in Society and History (Cambridge University Press)-Vol. 40, Iss: 4, pp 666-695
TL;DR: In this article, the relative importance of material and ideal factors for social action in philosophy and social theory has been discussed, and the importance of idealism in both actor-oriented (that is, phenomenologist, ethnomethodologist, symbolic interactionist) and structure-oriented theorists has been examined.
Abstract: Perhaps the most vexing problem in philosophy and social theory concerns the relative importance of material and ideal factors for social action. Karl Marx, for instance, with his notion of base and superstructure and his materialistic interpretation of the dialectic process, made a clean break from the idealism of his Hegelian heritage (McLellan 1977:390; Swingewood 1991:62–63). Nevertheless, idealism proved resilient and later came to inform the thinking of both actor-oriented (that is, phenomenologist, ethnomethodologist, symbolic interactionist) and structure-oriented (that is Functionalist, Structuralist) theorists.

Summary (2 min read)

Introduction

  • Perhaps the most vexing problem in philosophy and social theory concerns the relative importance of material and ideal factors for social action.
  • Inform the thinking of both actor-oriented (ie. phenomenologist, ethnomethodologist, symbolic interactionist) and structure-oriented (ie. Functionalist, Structuralist) theorists.
  • On the one hand, intellectual currents like Romanticism played a vital role in altering perceptions of the landscape.

The Romantic Importance of Wild Landscape

  • The Romantic movement developed in the latter part of the eighteenth century as a reaction to the rational, universalistic thought of the Enlightenment and its material accomplice, modernization.
  • The emphasis upon élan vital that characterized the Romantic movement thereby led nations which possessed large tracts of unsettled or inaccessible wilderness to celebrate these elements of their landscape.
  • In contrast to the 'nationalization of nature' is another form of geographic nationalism, 'the naturalization of the nation', a new phenomenon which owes its existence to later Romantic thought.
  • Spirit has won over matter, the general over the particular, and idea over contingencies' (Claval 1994: 44).
  • In explaining the development of northern Symbolist landscape painting in Scandinavia in the 1890's, for instance, Roald Nasgaard wrote that 'all…except Denmark, could boast of considerable tracts of unexplored wilderness, which, for various reasons, patriotic or spiritual, it became imperative to explore.'.

Naturalizing the Nation: Western Landscape and American National Identity

  • The American experience illustrates best of all the distinction between the historicizing process referred to here as the 'nationalization of nature' and the primitivist focus that underlies the 'naturalization of the nation'.5.
  • Wilderness, once the chosen residence of solitude and savageness, converted into populous cities, smiling villages, beautiful farms and plantations!'.
  • In response to these European challenges, Americans began to utilize the new aesthetic of nature for nationalistic purposes, hence the 'naturalization of the nation'.
  • In the same essay, Cole made explicit his new naturalistic nationalism: 'Though American scenery is destitute of many of those circumstances that give value to the European, still it has features, and glorious ones, unknown to Europe…and the most distinctive, and perhaps the most impressive, characteristic of American scenery is its wildness' (Nash 1967: 67).
  • Yet despite its rising popularity, the tone of the frontier myth had changed: it now took on a more historical, nostalgic tone, a shift clear in the writings of Frederic Remington, Jack London, Frederick Jackson Turner and Owen Wister, among others (Gossett 1953: 215-260; Kaufman 1982: 37).

Naturalizing the Nation: Northern Landscape and Canadian National Identity

  • The Perception of Landscape in Canadian Identity in the Pre-Confederation Period In Canada, the celebration of untamed nature did not occur until the middle decades of the nineteenth century, and even then, took half a century to consummate.
  • Carl Berger sums up this aspect of Canadian distinctiveness as follows: 'Because of the inevitable deterioration that was creeping over the urbanized and industrialized Englishman, cut off from the land, Canada was to be a kind of rejuvenator of the imperial blood' (Berger 1966: 17).
  • More germane to this discussion is the way in which the public statements of Group members reflect the prominence of the northern idea in the new, 'naturalized' Canadian nationalism.

Conclusion

  • This paper has attempted to demonstrate several points.
  • In the first case, the perceived direction of causation flows from culture to nature.
  • This should cause us to reassess the notion that social construction proceeds without the constraint of external referents.
  • On the other hand, the fact that the national identities in both cases underwent great change (against a backdrop of relatively constant geography), from 'nationalization' to 'naturalization' modes, suggests that geography is a highly malleable material for those who seek to shape collective representations.

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Kaufmann, Eric P. (1998) “Naturalizing the nation”: the rise of naturalistic
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Society and History 40 (4), pp. 666-695. ISSN 0010-4175.
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Kaufmann, E. (1998)
“Naturalizing the nation”: the rise of naturalistic nationalism in the
United States and Canada - Comparative Studies in Society and History
40(4), pp.666-695

'NATURALIZING THE NATION': THE RISE OF NATURALISTIC
NATIONALISM IN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA
1
ERIC KAUFMANN
European Institute, The London School of Economics and Political Science,
Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK
ABSTRACT
This comparative study examines the role played by wilderness landscape in Canadian
and American narratives of national identity. The comparison illustrates that this role
changed during the nineteenth century in both countries. At first, narrators of both
nations' collective identities viewed their land as an obstacle to be overcome, tamed and
economically exploited. Later, under the influence of Romanticism, they adopted a
different posture, ascribing to natural land a primordial, regenerative quality. The
former, civilizing attitude toward the land, traceable to pre-modern ethnic, religious and
classical traditions, is termed the 'nationalization of nature'. The latter pattern, by
contrast, which is an entirely modern phenomenon, is referred to as the 'naturalization of
the nation'. The former perspective attempts to impress national culture onto nature.
Against this 'nationalizing' mood, the latter, 'naturalistic' sensibility reverses the
direction of causation so that nature is seen to determine culture. Finally, the shift from
'nationalization' to 'naturalization' is shown to have been particularly pronounced in
these two cases. This is attributed to the vastness of the North American wilderness. The
lesson that this pattern brings to social theory is that while cognitive shifts in the
subjective sphere greatly influence social representations like the nation, external
referents like physical topography often constrain and shape such representations.
Introduction
Perhaps the most vexing problem in philosophy and social theory concerns the relative
importance of material and ideal factors for social action. Karl Marx, for instance, with
his notion of base and superstructure and his materialistic interpretation of the dialectic
process, made a clean break from the idealism of his Hegelian heritage (McLellan 1977:
390; Swingewood 1991: 62-3). Nevertheless, idealism proved resilient, and later came to
1
I am indebted to Oliver Zimmer of the L.S.E.'s European Institute for the terms 'Naturalization of the
Nation' and 'Nationalization of Nature' and for his translation of the Swiss-German quotations used here.
1

inform the thinking of both actor-oriented (ie. phenomenologist, ethnomethodologist,
symbolic interactionist) and structure-oriented (ie. Functionalist, Structuralist) theorists.
This piece, through an analysis of the role of landscape in the articulation of
national identity, attempts to illustrate that both ideal and material factors are important
and share a dialectical relationship. On the one hand, intellectual currents like
Romanticism played a vital role in altering perceptions of the landscape. Yet such
construction took place within a set of 'external' geographic parameters which
constrained and focused the creative energies of American and Canadian Romantics in
similar ways.
The Romantic Importance of Wild Landscape
The Romantic movement developed in the latter part of the eighteenth century as a
reaction to the rational, universalistic thought of the Enlightenment and its material
accomplice, modernization. One of the hallmarks of Romantic thought was the
privileging of the élan vital (or 'life-force') of the unconscious, or nature, over that of
rational consciousness and civilization (Taylor 1989: 349, 372). The emphasis upon élan
vital that characterized the Romantic movement thereby led nations which possessed
large tracts of unsettled or inaccessible wilderness to celebrate these elements of their
landscape.
For some Romantics, such as the Expressivists and Vitalists (and to some extent
the Transcendentalists), only inner nature and the self was seen to be of importance.
2
Yet
for most, nature, both inner and outer, came to be celebrated. Outer nature, in the form of
particular landscapes and peoples, was especially well-suited to nationalism, and loomed
large in the work of early romantic nationalists like Rousseau, Herder and Fichte (Kohn
1994: 165; Barnard 1969). Romantic nationalist thinkers, the earliest of which were
German, typically subscribed to the notion that nations were primordial, organic
2
The Expressivist focus on inner nature is explained in Taylor 1989: 386-9. Bergsonian vitalism proved
highly important during the modernist 'Renaissance' in Greenwich Village, New York during the inter-
war years (Pittenger 1993: 223). Transcendentalism was an earlier phenomenon that was far less
discriminating in terms of inner/outer nature. A brief discussion of this mid-nineteenth century movement
can be found in Crunden 1994: 86-92.
2

outgrowths of nature, whose self-realization in terms of statehood and cultural expression
was of paramount importance. Moreover, individuality and the nation were inextricably
linked. As Georg Hegel put it, 'it is…through culture that the individual acquires
standing and actuality' and the Spirit of State Power 'is the point of the self into which
the many points or selves, through renouncing their inner certainty, are fused into one'
(Hegel 1977: 298, 311).
Pre-Romantic Traditions
Romantic nationalists did not break with earlier traditions, but rather built upon
them. The classical tradition, for example, praised husbandry and venerated antiquity
(Nash 1967: 9-15). The biblical tradition also lionized the tiller of the soil while pre-
modern ethnic traditions ascribed meaning to certain monuments, architectural forms and
landscapes as sacred sites (Armstrong 1982: 19-21, 293-4). In Anthony Smith's words,
'the passage of generations has wedded [populations] to the land, both in fact and in their
(and others) perceptions. Their modes of production, patterns of settlement and folk
cultures spring from their diurnal round of work and leisure, itself formed out of their
ceaseless encounter with a particular environment' (Smith 1986: 183). In aggregate, these
pre-modern precedents explain why the first romantic tracts glorified human landscapes,
not natural landscapes.
There thus emerges a certain seamlessness, linking pre-modern forms of agrarian
imagery and historicist ethnic identity with early forms of romantic nationalism. This
strain of geographic nationalism, which has pre-modern antecedents, thereby attempts to
generate a sense of 'homeland' and 'sacred' territory among a population. It does so by
associating particular landscapes, whether rural or urban, with a community and its
historical past. The need for familiarized territory therefore leads to an emphasis upon
the imprint of a group's culture upon a particular piece of land. This form of geographic
nationalism will be labeled the 'nationalization of nature', to emphasize the passive role
that nature plays in this 'familiarized' conception of landscape.
In contrast to the 'nationalization of nature' is another form of geographic
nationalism, 'the naturalization of the nation', a new phenomenon which owes its
existence to later Romantic thought. Rather than exalt the civilization/familiarization of
3

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Frequently Asked Questions (16)
Q1. What contributions have the authors mentioned in the paper "“naturalizing the nation”: the rise of naturalistic nationalism in the united states and canada" ?

This comparative study examines the role played by wilderness landscape in Canadian and American narratives of national identity. 

This apparent anachronism is likely due to the power of the frontier myth, which, spurred on by romanticism, had developed unchecked since the early nineteenth century. 

The Romantic movement developed in the latter part of the eighteenth century as a reaction to the rational, universalistic thought of the Enlightenment and its material accomplice, modernization. 

Yet the pride implicit in America's agrarian republicanism (often contrasted with Europe's sinful urbanism) was offset by the low esteem accorded to frontier, as opposed to sedentary societies. 

Perhaps the most vexing problem in philosophy and social theory concerns the relative importance of material and ideal factors for social action. 

Even among public intellectuals of this period, there was a strong current of bombastic futurism, which viewed development as central and the past as a dead weight. 

This piece, through an analysis of the role of landscape in the articulation ofnational identity, attempts to illustrate that both ideal and material factors are important and share a dialectical relationship. 

The influence of nature went on to permeate all spheres of American intellectuallife by the early nineteenth century, and proved influential in most branches of the arts and sciences (Curti 1946: 33). 

Cole went on to influence an entire generation of New York painters, including Asher Durand, Albert Bierstadt and several others, who collectively came to be known as the 'Hudson River School', a much cherished contribution to American cultural nationalism (Curti 1946: 35). 

The closure of the frontier also facilitated the spread of frontier mythology in theform of 'western' motion pictures and periodicals (Smith 1950: 119-20; Lynd & Lynd 1937: 258). 

At first, narrators of both nations' collective identities viewed their land as an obstacle to be overcome, tamed and economically exploited. 

its effect was felt first on the eastern seaboard, whereas along the frontier itself, attitudes toward nature remained traditional, whether in the religious or utilitarian sense. 

In explaining the development of northern Symbolist landscape painting in Scandinavia in the 1890's,for instance, Roald Nasgaard wrote that 'all…except Denmark, could boast of considerable tracts ofunexplored wilderness, which, for various reasons, patriotic or spiritual, it became imperative to explore. 

In the same essay, Cole made explicit his new naturalistic nationalism: 'Though American scenery is destitute of many of those circumstances that give value to the European, still it has features, and glorious ones, unknown to Europe…and the most distinctive, and perhaps the most impressive, characteristic of American scenery is its wildness' (Nash 1967: 67). 

The force of this agrarian ideal emerges strongly in the writings of many eighteenth-century Americans, notably Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. 

The colonial American attitude toward nature took several forms, which wemay categorize as 'traditional' in that they issued from biblical and classical sources.