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The Unreal America

Courtesy Reuters

A NATION, needless to say, is a very complex reality. But this too obvious fact should not lead us to forget that a nation is also a very simple reality, and that this is the condition of its unity, of its being one country. "Ces grands corps que sont les nations," said Descartes--"Those great bodies which are nations." That is true; they are great, sometimes huge bodies; but they are at the same time, perhaps primarily, "characters" or "persons." Their unity is a personal one, both for themselves and for others. The representative character of societies--of all societies, each in its different way--is essential and cannot be disregarded or obscured by the fact that it often takes an unusual form. Each type of society or country--city, commonwealth, nation, empire--has its own way of being one, and therefore of being personal and representative.

For a long time, the country was identified with the King, its personal symbol, and Goethe was aware that the "Vive la nation!" of the dying soldier at Valmy in 1792 was the beginning of a new era. Diplomacy has been a substitute for this personalization, and its full development was a consequence of the vanishing of kings or at least the fading of their splendor. The personal representative of a nation has been, especially in the nineteenth century, a convenient symbol, and diplomatic meetings and conversations were and still are means of simplifying and personalizing the highly complicated and somewhat abstract relations among nations. The role of Benjamin Franklin in creating the early image of the United States in Europe--as an individual substitute for both national tradition and royalty--was extremely important and had far-reaching consequences. In our own time, the American expression "good-neighbor policy," so influential in political practice, reflects the attitude of a people who are conscious of and sensitive to their relations with the family living next door or across the street; and this awareness is by no means less effective than statistics, polls and other

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