Propertied communities: the agrarian emergence and industrial transformation of nationalism in the US and Norway - a property rights perspective
Fuglestad, Eirik Magnus
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All western states today define themselves as nation-states, and all of these states have a political and economic structure in which an individual’s right to own private property is an underlying and pervasive feature. Drawing on examples from the historical trajectories of the US and Norway between ca 1760 and 1880, this dissertation explores the development of nation-states and the role of private property rights in this development. I demonstrate the fundamental role both of the idea of private property for the ideology of nationalism, and of the significance of a particular kind of property regime (widespread landowning) for the emergence and development of nationalism as historical phenomena. The evidence on which this dissertation relies has been extracted from historical documents consisting primarily of political pamphlets and speeches. The documents are chosen from what we can call “the national movement” e.g. dominant public debaters, policymakers and agitators. To compliment and contextualize my documentary analysis I have drawn on a range of secondary literature on social, historical and economic developments. The analysis has sought to unravel nationalism as an emerging historical phenomena in each of the cases investigated by focusing on authorial meaning in specific historical contexts. The core concept of nationalism has been arrived at by continuously comparing the developments in the US and Norway. The main points that this dissertation make are that it was the emergence of more widespread smallholding of land that was one of the most decisive preconditions for the emergence of nationalism in the US and Norway. Furthermore, this dissertation suggest that widespread ownership of land resulted in the emergence of a form of nationalism in which ownership of landed property was crucial because it became tied up with the idea of national popular sovereignty. Put in a simplified way: sovereignty was popular because property was popular (widespread). This connection was made mainly on the one hand from the real historical tie between ownership of land, juridical sovereignty and political powers, and on the other hand from the more conceptual similarity between property rights or ownership and sovereignty. I have identified two forms of nationalism based on the way that property was understood in the national ideology. The first form of the nation describes the agrarian phase of nationalism where it was real landed property that was seen to be crucial for the creation of national sovereignty. The second form of the nation describes a form of industrial nationalism. With the coming of industrial property and the expansion of wage labour, landed property lost its significance, and instead the right to the fruits of one’s labour was understood as the most important part of the property right. I have called this a shift from land to labour, or a transvaluation of property. This property rights perspective on nationalism in the US and Norway contributes to a new understanding of nationalism not only in these places but perhaps also in the western world in general. The development in the US and Norway can be seen in the wider context of the decline of feudalism and absolutism and the emergence of democratic, industrial societies in the western world. The landed, agrarian form of nationalism might in effect be a ‘missing link’ between pre- or proto-national forms of society (feudal, religious, absolutist, mercantilist, etc.), and the fully modern industrial form identified for example by Ernest Gellner. It is the connection between property (from land to labour) and sovereignty that unites them.