First post-World War II Austrian President Karl Renner (I remember the stamps issued at the occasion of his passing away) has been a Social Democrat since the 1890s. With a view to the Austrian part of the then double monarchy up to a point catering to various national aspirations, in a pamphlet, Renner proposed for each citizen to have residency rights separately to be member of a cultural community. Kann (1951), Strong (1992) and Bauböck (2004) have taken note but are oblivious of a substantial update of the pamphlet. This was in 1937 when Renner, already a leading Social Democrat in the rump state Austria having fallen prey to a clerical fascist regime was in the wildernis. Given what followed in terms of war, liberation and the occupation of Austria by the World War II allies – of which I have vivid memories – the update was only published long after the author had passed away. (Renner 1964) It had accompanied me – unread, I must confess – on my meanderings until I reconnected with it recently. Separate identities and governance arrangements feature less prominently than the history and theory of the state in ways that complement my present thinking. As a social formation, the nation, Renner says, is being held together by a mystical bond, with its institutional architecture being of secondary importance. But it was only during the 19th century that nations became all-pervasive. With a side-glance to rampant racism at the time, Renner pointed out, however, that from antiquity to the present mixing ethnicities had been the norm. Sorting them as per community was a simple corollary to state formation. Presaging Anderson (1991) on the role of the printed word, Renner emphasises the role of communication until the French Revolution could eventually conceive of the people one and indivisible as the bearer of national sovereignty. ’The nation, and only it, has the right and the power to act in this world of its own volition.’ (1964, 29) Which has led to the quest for democracy, but the identity of the ‘people’ still requires clarification. So each nation needs to name the lands over which the state as its instrument of power should hold sway: its territory, at the same time the ‘…part of the surface of the globe which an organised nation claims for its exclusive use with a view to its assuming public powers for exploiting the area for its own economic and cultural uses.‘ (1964, 30) Renner does not leave it at this. In view of the clouds of war gathering at the time – Italian aggression in Ethiopia and Japan invading China – Renner argues that ‘…the notion of nation-state sovereignty as the absolutely supreme, unconstrained and indivisible power has been nothing more than an auxiliary and transitional construct …. [P]ower must be shared between the alliance of nations as their common organisation and the individual nation states.’ (1964, 44-5; translations by the author) Indeed, a desperate attempt to boost the hapless League of Nations more or less in its death throes, this remains topical.
References: Anderson, B. (1991) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London. Bauböck, R. (2005) ‘Political autonomy or cultural minority rights?’, chapter. 6 in: Nimni, E. (Ed) National-cultural Autonomy and its Contemporary Critics, Routledge, London. Kann, R.A. (1951) ‘Karl Renner (December 14, 1870-December 31, 1950)’, The Journal of Modern History, 23(3) 243-249. Renner, K. (1964) Die Nation: Mythos und Wirklichkeit, Manuskript aus dem Nachlaß. Herausgegeben van Jacques Hannah, Europa Verlag, Wien 1964. Strong, G.V. (1992) ‘Review of: The Habsburg Legacy: National Identity in Historical Perspective, Austrian Studies V, Ritchie Robertson and Edward Timms’, Journal of European Ideas, 21(6) 804-805.
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