Death for fatherland (Republican bloodthirst #1)

The end of January, with the anniversaries of the most famous royal executions in Europe (21 of January, 1793: Louis XVI in France, 30 of January, 1649: Charles I in England), provoked me to thinking about the role of death and bloodshed in the history of European republicanism.

Look, for example, at ‘liberty or death’, the motto of the first French republic (la liberté ou la mort), or the famous remark of Thomas Jefferson’s that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Similarly bloody is the story of the assassination of Julius Ceasar, and of his assassins who fought with restoring the old Roman republic in mind; an inspiration for restorers of free countries, acting with more or less of a success, until the age of Enlightenment and later.

A republican, therefore, is swiftly pushed to the territory of ultimate questions of human life. It seems that this is the price to pay for the refusal to be subordinate to other people — and this is, of course, in the context of individual self-determination, and self-determination of the populus, the political people, which is meant as the iron guarantee for the liberty of the individual. These who say: death before slavery, have to confront the fact that the harsh reality can actually ask them this question.

The statue in Paris’ Panthéon, by François-Léon Sicard (1913), commemorating National Convention, the parliament of France in 1792-1795. There is the allegory of Liberty in the center, to the left the representatives to the Convention, to the right the marching army of the Republic. On the pedestal, under the inscription La convention nationale, there is the revolutionary era slogan, Vivre libre ou mourir – live free or die. In 1945 the English version became the motto of the American state New Hampshire. By Marcin Białek, CC BY-SA.

The modern Euratlantic culture tends to shy away from these topics (though during writing of this text the new attack by tyrant of Moscow has changed this situation a little bit), and this is not a novel reflex. Even in the early 17th century, the political debate in Poland-Lithuania during the “Zebrzydowski rebellion” (more properly called the rokosz of Sandomierz) mentioned the noblemen — members of the “knightly”, therefore in some way military, estate — who wouldn’t even bring themselves to kill a chicken in their farm. Next to the human tendency toward cruelty, there exists some inner reluctance to harm others. The republican ideology presents living undisturbed on one’s own homestead as its goal and ideal, in harmony of the rest of free people and with no fear of the king’s henchmen. This is what we find in Cicero, in Machiavelli in the Discourses on Livy, in the writings of the French Revolution that stuck to the sentimentalism of J.J. Rousseau, and obviously in the Sarmatian texts. And yet, imaginations of the same people contain visions of bloody fighting and violent death. In this series, I will retrace three big aspects of republican “bloodthirst”, in the order of rising controversy: death for the fatherland, tyrannicide and terror, or war on the elusive inner enemy.

Deep classical antiquity and Greece of the Persian Wars period (5th century BCE) are responsible for the key notions-ideals of republican politics. Of those, the fundamental one can be defined as ‘liberty, self-determination of the people of the city/state’ (eleutheria – ἐλευθερία). There is also the ideal of equality of all citizens amongst themselves, and particularly in their influence on the state (isonomia – ἰσονομία). The concepts of death for fatherland, tyrannicide and terror make sense primarily in the context of this Hellenic eleutheria (even if they’re called slightly different). It is later that they expand to various conservative and revolutionary ideologies in modified versions.

Latin patria is the ancestor of the concept of ‘fatherland’ in European languages. In Middle Ages it was such an alien and philosophical concept that for some time in Renaissance Poland the word patria was used directly, with no established translation. As the early modern concept of fatherland spread when the common European root of Medieval Latin was already split, there is no simple correspondence of words among the European languages. The Anglophones sometimes say homeland — though generally without the bellicose undertones present in other nations — while fatherland tends to appear in translation. The French patrie is etymologically a simple adaptation of the Latin word, implanted in the Age of Enlightenment. An offshoot of this line from patria is also the patriot. In these times, from the American Mississippi to Lithuania, he is always a revolutionary to some extent, calling upon the European traditions of political liberty. The French Encyclopédie, the book-symbol of the Enlightenment, defines in 1751 (almost forty years before the Revolution):

PATRIE, s. f. (Gouvern. politiq.) le rhéteur peu logicien, le géographe qui ne s’occupe que de la position des lieux, & le léxicographe vulgaire, prennent la patrie pour le lieu de la naissance, quel qu’il soit ; mais le philosophe sait que ce mot vient du latin pater, qui représente un pere & des enfans, & conséquemment qu’il exprime le sens que nous attachons à celui de famille, de société, d’état libre, dont nous sommes membres, & dont les lois assurent nos libertés & notre bonheur. Il n’est point de patrie sous le joug du despotisme. (1)

[Fatherland. The illogical orator, the geographer concerned only with the location of places, and the vulgar lexicographer all take fatherland for the place of birth, wherever it is. But the philosopher knows that this word comes from the Latin pater, which represents a father and children, and consequently, that it expresses the sense we attach to the words family, society, free state of which we are members and in which the laws assure our liberties and our happiness. There is no fatherland under the yoke of despotism.] – from the Collaborative Translation Project, article transl. by Henry C. Clark and Christine Dunn Henderson, with patrie replaced by fatherland by me

The Germans formed their concept of Vaterland in the Age of Romanticism and national excitement, but went to color it with the legacies of Prussian expansion, the Second and Third Reich. The Russians have their fatherland under various names (отчизна – otchizna, ро́дина – rodina). It seems that initially they tended to mean the nostalgic place of one’s origin, but later these words appeared in political messages of Tsarism, the White movement and the Soviets, particularly after the 19th century — along with Mother Russia. It’s interesting that the idea of mother Russia appears early in the correspondence of prince Andrey Kurbsky, who fled from Ivan the Terrible to political emigration in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and described the supporters of the tsar thus:

Прогрызли они чрево у матери своей, святой русской земли,
что породила и воспитала их
поистине на беду свою и запустение! (2)

[They bit through the womb of their own mother, the sacred earth of Rus’, who birthed them and raised them for her own misery and doom!]

The Polish language early takes a liking to ‘fatherland’ (ojczyzna), often in the phrase ‘mother fatherland` (matka ojczyzna), but does so in the framework of taking the models of the Roman republic.

Defeated Cato the Younger (of Utica) on a painting by Josef Abel, from 1806. His son gives a sword to Cato, with which he would stab himself not to become a prisoner of Ceasar and live in Rome under his rule.

What did it mean, then, for a citizen of free Rome to die for the fatherland — pro patria mori? Chevalier de Jaucourt, the author of the aforementioned Encyclopedie article, has a lot to say on that topic. The Roman culture, being at its core parochial and derivative, makes use of copies from Greek thought. Since the Greeks defeated the Persians near Salamis, says de Jaucourt, on one side we have seen an imperial master chasing slaves into combat, and on another the word ‘fatherland’ moving free men. [Lorsque les Grecs vainquirent les Perses à Salamine on entendoit d’un côté la voix d’un maître impérieux qui chassoit des esclaves au combat, & de l’autre le mot de patrie qui animoit des hommes libres]. The heroes of Thermopylae, Marathon and Salamis, fallen in defense of their cities from the Persian “king of kings”, were likely the first in history to die defending fatherland. O stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here, obedient to their words, read reportedly the monuments to Spartans in Thermopylae. Their foes could, at best, give their lives to the distant figure of the king; but more likely their death was just taken as a part of the order of the world, where the small and the nameless are remorselessly sacrificed to the interest of the grand.

Although obviously some of the contemporary scholars are keen to read such a cultural diagnosis as “Orientalism” and prejudice against the eastern neighbors, the difference of political regimes between Greeks and Persians is completely evident; and similar structure can be found, in a purely Italian context, in Livy, the historian of Rome. Among many others, he transmits the stories about the sacrifices of Horatius Cocles (known for his suicidal defense of the bridge on Tiber, which let his comerades destroy it behind him) and Mutius Scaevola (who put his hand into fire to show the fierceness of Romans), in the war of the young republic against the king Porsenna.

Much later, in the historical times of war of the Caesar’s camp with senatorial factions that were trying to stop him, one can see the tragic images of the dying republic. Cato the Younger (of Utica), Metellus Scipio, and Junius Brutus himself took their own lives with inner peace and self-control, not to fall into the hands of would-be tyrants of Rome: Caesar and later his adopted son Octavius. In some sense, these events close the chapter of European history opened by the Persian Wars. To borrow the words of the Roman historian Tacitus, after the death of Brutus and Cassius there was no army of the public cause (Bruto et Cassio caesis nulla iam publica arma) (3) and the Eternal City could only wither away under the reign of caesars. The Roman Empire could know no death for fatherland, though in very late antiquity it will learn death for the emperor, in a rather Medieval taste. (It’s true that Encyclopedie itself follows the tradition about the existence of “good emperors”, emphasizing the efforts of Trajan, ruling 98-117, apparently towards making the empire function more for the interest of the people.)

The key to understand the specific ancient kind of heroism is the aforementioned eleutheria, self-determination of the city. The Roman patria is built, as pointed to by the word itself, on the efforts of the fathers-ancestors, and the traditions they established; but what is specifically meant is the great deed of overthrowing kings and building, through the generations, a socio-political order preventing kings from ever returning. What follows is that fatherland is not a value set on thin air, axiomatic and without a rationale. There is a direct link between the defense of fatherland and the fact that the fellow citizens of the Roman citizen can enjoy their life in the city with no fear of government or any other power that could act above the Roman people. The Roman people rules itself and goes to war by its own decision, not by an order — le Peuple souverain s’avance, as will later imagine this idea the French revolutionary Song of Departure (Le Chant du départ). The leaders-consuls of Rome, exchanged every year and always being in office in a tandem, had to be beyond any suspicion of moving toward long term power. Similarly, the Spartans (Lacedaemonians) die on the order of their brethren, in the name of preserving the order of the city of equal citizens, established by the legendary Lycurgus. The ancient polis strictly preserves (or cannot go beyond, as some cultural historians think) the equivalency between the polis itself and the community of all citizens.

Today we tend to think of a state as of some structure that exists above the society. In classic city republics (until today — in Swiss cantons), in the Sarmatian imagination, and in the Rousseau’s Social Contract that formed the views of the Jacobins, the republic is the society, and the society is the republic — directly. Any distinction between the governing and the governed can be only a result of corruption, says Rousseau in the preface to his project of constitution for Corsica (4). In his Considerations on the Government of Poland (1771), written for the Bar Confederates, the Sarmatian patrie appears many times (with copious references to Roman and Spartan themes), along with its inseparable companions: les loix, the laws (in the sense of “ancient customs”, as well as “will of the people”) and obviously la liberté (freedom). All these great ministers [of kings] (…), Rousseau writes, are very far from imagining the vigour which love of country and the impulse of virtue can impart to free souls (5). With the same ideological reasoning, though different social substrate, the French republic will fall in two decades on the great coalition of kings.

But how these questions were looked on in the Sarmatian republic itself? I tried to probe this question on the general level in poetry and in the acts of sejmiks (dietines), the organs where the szlachta (noblemen) convened to directly elect the representatives, and write instructions directing their behavior on the sejm (parliament session). The conclusions turn out to be ambiguous, though interesting.

If we were to believe poetry — writers such as Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński, Wacław Potocki or Zbigniew Morsztyn — the Sarmatian outlook on the fatherland matters is essentially explained by the world of chivalric imagination. It is not particularly strange, as this oevre is (ironically?) shaped by the strong cosmopolitan and pan-European examples.

Medieval chivalric romances were an object of strong nostalgia in early modern Europe. It created Renaissance epics such as Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, as well as ironically meant novel by Cervantes, Don Kichot (1605, 1615). Szlachta, at least ideologically and aspirationally, considered itself a knightly estate until the end of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The educated public and authors thus devoured stories of chivalry at least until the age of Enlightenment. The literary image of Sarmatian warriors (while remembering the vivid Eastern European scenery where they appear) is under a strong continental influence.

A painting from 1670-1680 depicting an Ossoliński (perhaps Maksymilian Franciszek) with his sons. Collection of the Royal Castle in Warsaw

The fight tends to be with the ‘pagans’ — in practice, the Muslim Tatars and Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, the numerous wars with Christian (although non-Catholic) powers, such as Sweden and Muscovy, are often swept under the rug and their glorification in poetry is rarer. For example, the Jan Kochanowski’s ode about the desolation of Podolia (Odes: book II, ode V) calls, with mostly rational arguments, for resisting the Turks and Tatars kidnapping inhabitants of the Commonwealth to sell them as slaves. Stanisław Orzechowski’s Turcyki (1543-1544) are orations, modeled after great ancients, urging war with Turkey. The Sarmatian-Ottoman conflicts of the late 17th century and the battle of Vienna also provoked a wave of literary responses. But here’s a counterexample from the ode of Sęp-Szarzyński to the king Stephen Bathory:

(…) do zbroje
Potrzebną chęć wzbudzasz, która, legartowem
[= leniwym]
Jadem zdjęta, nie dbała długo być obłowem [= ofiarą]

To zdradliwym Tatarom, to Moskwicinowi
Chciwemu, okrutnemu, półpoganinowi,
Dziś samo imię twoje Pohańce hamuje,
A straszny tyran sam strach, hańbę, szkodę czuje.

(…) to arms

You raise the warlike spirit, which was long lulled by the lazy
Poison, and allowed itself to be the prey

Of treacherous Tatars, or of the Muscovite —
The greedy, cruel, half-pagan.
Now your very name stops the heathen,
And the horrifying tyrant himself suffers fear, humiliation and harm.

You can see how the poet feels the need to call the Orthodox Muscovites ‘half-pagans’ to make them worthy enemies of the Commonwealth. The szlachta’s reluctance toward conflicts in general, but with Christian countries in particular, is known from other sources; Sęp-Szarzyński also alludes to this.

This religious dimension fits well into the literary tradition about knights, which tends to focus on crusades on the Moors in Iberia, the Arabs in the Middle East, and the Balts and Slavs in Central Europe. Despite the frequent mentions of fatherland and loyalty towards the Commonwealth or the king, the poets seem to be strongly interested in the prototypical chivalric motivation — that is, the individual glory and immortal fame of the one dying for the fatherland.

But not to sow false certainty in the reader, here is a fact for which I have no strong explanation. In the Transaction of the Khotyn War (Transakcja wojny chocimskiej, 1670), perhaps the most important Baroque Polish war poem, the word rycerz (‘knight’) is used six times for Ottoman soldiers of the sultan (who is usually referred to not as sułtan but as cesarz, ’emperor’, in line with the then-common Polish practice) and only two times when referring to the Commonwealth soldiers, who tend to be called just żołnierz, ‘soldier’. Whether Wacław Potocki had some particular intent in mind, like amplifying the glory of the triumph over a more powerful enemy, or distancing himself on some level from chivalric tradition, I do not know.

The culture of the Sarmatian state was multifaceted. Generally speaking, its symptoms that had no overt political intentions gravitated toward the mainstream European tendencies. Traditional scholarship on this subject emphasizes the growing isolation of Sarmatians, which isn’t entirely inaccurate, but the trend was greatly exaggerated for posterity by the propaganda of the Enlightenment intellectuals gathered around the king Stanislaus Augustus. But what is important, for the specifically Sarmatian themes (at least, in the Republican sense) we have to look in the overtly political works, in pamphlets, the books of political theorists and in the aforementioned sejmik instructions. From the perspective of a historian, even these sources can provide material for a number of differing visions. Rather luckily for us, the Sarmatian political writing on the level of intellectual speculation, as in the works of Łukasz Górnicki, Andrzej Wolan, Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro etc., tends to avoid the word ojczyzna ‘fatherland’, and leave it for the emotional and rhetorical situations. What interests us here is a glance at the general image of fatherland in the context of death and sacrifice.

I’m mentioning other kinds of sacrifice because the sejmik acts, when talking about defending the fatherland, think typically not only of death in battle, but also of purely political activity, taxation and letting go of one’s property for the sake of the Commonwealth. This may make us think of the campaign for ‘modern patriotism’, which is supposed to mean paying taxes (a trend that peaked in Poland some decade ago), but this economic focus makes quite a lot of sense in the sejmik context.

First of all, the ideal nobleman is not only a warrior, but also a landholder, which means he should be useful for the republic in both of these roles. Secondly, sejmik is an institution that continuously enacts and collects taxes. This does not mean that the assembled nobility avoided various subjects of lawgiving, foreign affairs, or especially the matters of distributing titles and offices, but the basic condition of functioning of the commonwealth was always, of course, raising funds. It is a quite realistic, if not overly poetic picture of a free republic in motion. Let us reach somewhat randomly for the calls of the nobles of the Ruskie voivodeship (in 1653) for some breath after the fight with the Cossack insurgents led by Khmelnytsky:

Jako w kożdej porzonnej rz[eczy]p[ospoli]tej wszelkie zapały wojenne aere et sanguine [= pieniądz i krew] ugaszają, też sposoby na ciężkie ojczyzny naszej symptomata [= problemy] wziąwszy przed się, kilkoletnie nieprzestanne na żołnierza wydając podatki, zdrowie swoje za całość ojczyzny już po dwakroć z znaczną stratą i nigdy nadgrodzoną braci naszych [sens tej składni: straciliśmy swoich braci, tzn. innych szlachciców-obywateli] na plac wojenny nosząc, objecowaliśmy sobie po łasce Bożej przy nieustępnej czułości J[ego] kr[ólewskiej] M[oś]ci, że (…) mieliśmy sobie wytchnąć (…) (7).

As in every orderly commonwealth, war is extinguished by money and blood. Therefore, to dispel the grave perils for our fatherland, we were for years constantly spending taxes on the army, and two times yet exposed our health on the field of battle, with the huge and irrecoverable loss of our brethren, and we hoped that the God’s grace, and the care of His Loving Majesty [the king], would permit us to take some rest.

Another fragment, coming from the Wielkopolska region in 1676, mentions freedom as the inseparable companion of fatherland; it says that the honorable knights deserve gratification for their tribulations and sacrifice of property, made to shield the laws and liberties of the fatherland with their own bodies [cnemu rycerstwu gratyfikacyja za ich podjęte fatygi cum fortunarum dispendio około wszystkiej ojczyzny praw i wolności piersiami swoimi zaszczytu (8)]. The noble republic was often returning to the question of ‘reward’ for sacrifices for the fatherland: giving titles, land, nobilitation (for the particularly distinguished plebeian soldiers) to the deserving. In reality, paying compensation to soldiers was an neverending issue; but people were convinced that the relation of a citizen to the political community is one of reciprocal care, not of domination.

I do not wish to dwell, in this more general piece, on the nuances of the Polish-Lithuanian imagination about dying for fatherland. Suffice to say that it was a known concept, though often as a romantic and chivalric theme in fiction. All around, the Sarmatians thought that war wounds and ducats spent should generally be enough for the fatherland, if she must engage in conflicts. Nothing strange in that, since republics are created, fundamentally, for serving the interests and liberty of the living, not for giving Rolands from Medieval poems opportunities to heroically die for some Charlemagne.

At the end of the 18th century, the Enlightened republics of the West happened to face a similar peril as the old Commonwealth — the danger of being crushed by the nearby monarchist powers. American and French revolutionaries, as in Poland-Lithuania, imagined themselves as restorers of the old liberty of Romans, Athenians and Spartans. The revolution was to exile the rulers-usurpers and wash the Europeans and the human race clean from the many centuries of disgrace of obeying the ceasars, sundry Habsburgs, Brunswick-Lüneburgs, Bourbons, and other families, as men of the Great Sejm (1788-1782) like Stanisław Staszic or Adam W. Rzewuski put it. To defend the liberty and republic, it was necessary to raise citizens to fight; the same citizens whom the ideology of new revolutions promised the power of government in the burgeoning new order.

The battle of Springfield (1780), where the Continental Army of American colonists stopped the British expedition led by baron von Knyphausen. A painting by J.W. Dunsmore from 1908.

It is striking how the atmosphere of these days is preserved, for example, in La Marseillaise — written in 1792 — which remains to this day the national anthem of France, and so remains in view like the ancient exposed geological formations. (Translation from

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’étendard sanglant est levé !

[Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised]

(…) Que veut cette horde d’esclaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves,
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés ?

[What do they want this horde of slaves
Of traitors and conspiratorial kings?
For whom these vile chains
These long-prepared irons?]

Français, pour nous, ah quel outrage
Quel transport il doit exciter !
C’est nous qu’on ose méditer
De rendre à l’antique esclavage.

[Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
What methods must be taken?
It is us they dare plan
To return to the old slavery!]

(…) Amour sacré de la Patrie
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs.
Liberté, Liberté chérie,
Combats avec tes défenseurs…

[Drive on sacred patriotism [lit. love of fatherland]
Support our avenging arms
Liberty, cherished [lit. sweet] liberty
Join the struggle with your defenders]

La Marseillaise will of course remain, at least to the first decades of the 20th century, an anthem and a point of reference to all kinds of revolutionary and liberation movements. Its poetic themes are still in the realm of imagination of traditional republicanism, though they break off with recognizing the old feudal world and giving to the kings even a potential for legitimacy. The fatherland — free France — is wholly encircled by the tyrants and their “slave” armies; it remains the lonely oasis of freedom, which can be defended only by citizens taking up the arms. There is, though, no early modern republic (even looking at such “patrician” places like the Netherlands or Venice) to which such imagery would be foreign — it is fundamentally classicist, modeling itself after the Romans, Greeks etc.

At the same time, La Marseillaise can easily reveal itself as too bloody and fierce of a song for modern sensibilities. In its chorus it declares that …un sang impur / abreuve nos sillons — the impure blood will water our furrows — the blood of soldiers of the foreign monarchies, the traitors of the cause of the republic etc. But of course, looking at France, we have to be aware that the French commonwealth is, from all the others mentioned here, perhaps the most desperate. It fights for its survival in a culture grown into absolutism for centuries, where the habits and ideologies of huge chunks of populace and elites push the country back under domination of the throne; indeed it would be something ultimately accomplished by the general Bonaparte and later the intervening powers. (More on that in the part devoted to terror.) The French revolutionary has to cherish every coming day; the Jacobin rule in the two terms of Committee of Public Safety would barely last 15 months. Even in Poland-Lithuania the country, encircled by aggressive neighbors, at least did not have to deal with its own territory filled with enemies — it’s mainly a propagandist legend that the peasants could expect benefits from coming from a feudal rule into a foreign feudal-absolutist rule — and the main instigators of treason could only be the narrow elites, the king Stanisław August Poniatowski and the clique of aristocrats that formed the Targowica confederation.

As we’ve already established, the English language doesn’t use the notion of fatherland in the meaning and extent similar to that of other European languages. This does not mean that the American revolution eschews references to the imagery of a republican fortress of liberty, defended with blood. Not to delve here into political writing and orations, let us take a look at some fragments of the (popular at the time) song Liberty’s Call, from 1775.

High on the banks of Delaware,
Fair Liberty she stood;
And waving with her lovely hand,
Cried (…)

(…) “Welcome my friends, from every land
Where freedom doth not reign;
Oh! hither fly from every clime,
Sweet liberty to gain.

(…) “‘Gainst your affronted land behold
Oppression rear its head;
In hydra-form and battle’s din,
Each trembling slave to dread.

“But ye, its sons, will ne’er give up
Your parent fires till death;
Behold ! yon beauteous virgins seek
Laurel your brows to wreathe.

What is interesting in this song is that it represents a stage where the American identity is not fully dissociated from the British traditions of Whiggery and radicalism (which brought the revolution one of its main instigators, Thomas Paine). The lyrics mention the siege of Londonderry, which Protestant supporters of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 defended from the king James II Stuart, as well as the sacrifices of worthy Britons through centuries to secure freedom for their children. Let us remember that the whole revolutionary war was perceived as a fight of the Patriots against the “Tories”, or loyalists, so called after the conservative and monarchist faction on the other side of the ocean.

So there we have the outline of the traditional notion of fatherland, deeply associated with political liberty — as it developed in Europe since antiquity. But just like Octavian Augustus was putting on a show of a pretended republic, the fatherland ideology, the moment it became mainstream again, became an object of machinations of monarchic systems. The regime of Napoleon exploited the revolutionary themes practically for purely imperialistic reasons; though it kept, for example, the Jacobin Chant du depart with its mentions of sovereign people (le Peuple souverain) fighting the “slave” armies of hostile tyrants. Under the Napoleonic occupation the German nationalism is born, and it borrows liberally from the ideological mix brought by the French army. Some paths from here lead to German revolutionary liberalism and, for example, the Springtime of Nations of 1848, but others are instantly taken over by the interests of militaristic Prussian monarchy.

To to the Prussian Hohenzollern dynasty, and to Napoleon, the notions of fatherland and civic sacrifice are actually attractive — as a tool of extracting obedience from the masses in the new era — but thinking of the freedom eleutheria/libertas is wholly out of the question, even if it used to be the logical and inseparable justification for sacrifices for the fatherland. According to the older notions, when a free state, a republic, fights with a despotism, it is only the free soldiers who have the fatherland: and their enemies only fight for the tyrant.

The 19th century fatherland, meanwhile, starts to put before the population as the goal not freedom — which everyone can measure individually at any time — but the abstract might of the nation.

This newer concept raises many questions. In any state where the masses of citizens do not form, at the same time, the government, it is difficult to clarify the relation between the “interest of the nation”, the interest of those in power and the interest of the citizen. Unless it’s the ideal commonwealth from the Rousseau’s Social Contract, where these interests can only be one and the same, we are justified in thinking that the “national interest” is the interest of the elite that takes, out of their kindness of heart, the steer of the nation. And what nation do we mean, one can always ask, the Bavarian one, Prussian, German, Silesian, Polish, Lithuanian one? In this way fatherland starts to demand fights for ethnic borders and ethnic domination, throwing away the simple understanding of Encyclopédie that fatherland is the free state of which we are members (état libre, dont nous sommes membres) and that every commonwealth, though usually on its own account, fights despotism in the interest of whole humanity.


(1) PATRIE in the Encyclopédie:

(2) А. Курбский, История о великом князе Московском // Памятники литературы Древней Руси, вторая половина XVI века, Moscow 1986, p. 319. After the article Matushka Rossiya on Russian Wikipedia:

(3) Tacitus, Ab excessu divi Augusti (Annales), chapter II.

(4) J.J. Rousseau, Projet de constitution pour la Corse (Constitutional Project for Corsica), Preface.

(5) J.J. Rousseau, Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne (Considerations on the Government of Poland), chapter XV.

(6) M. Sęp-Szarzyński, Pieśń VII. Stefanowi Batoremu, królowi polskiemu, w: Helikon sarmacki. Wątki i tematy polskiej poezji barokowej, Wrocław 1989, p. 357. Oryginally published in Rytmy albo wiersze polskie in 1601: (p. 24-25).

(7) Akta grodzkie i ziemskie z czasów Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z archiwum tak zwanego bernardyńskiego we Lwowie: tom XXI. Lauda sejmikowe: tom II. Akta wiszeńskie 1648-1673, ed. Antoni Prochaska, Lwów 1911, p. 115. Available online:,OTc2Nzk1OTI/8/

(8) Akta sejmikowe województw poznańskiego i kaliskiego. Lata 1676-1695, ed. M. Zwierzykowski, R. Kołodziej, A. Kamiński, Poznań 2018, o. 66.

(9) Liberty’s Call, in: Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, ed. Frank Moore, New York/London 1851. The fragment in question is avalailable online:

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