Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy

In a celebrated essay written nearly 40 years ago, Isaiah Berlin invoked Schiller’s
image of the ‘bent twig’ to portray the phenomenon of nationalism as a people’s
aggressive response to persecution and humiliation – ‘an inflamed condition of
national consciousness.’ But nationalism, he acknowledged, does have a number
of positive characteristics, crediting another German poet/philosopher, Johann
Gottfried Herder, with helping nationalism emerge in the 18th century as a
coherent doctrine by arguing that every human community has ‘its own unique
shape and pattern.’ Herder’s thinking, according to Berlin, is dominated by a
conviction that ‘among the basic needs of men, as elemental as that for food or
procreation or communication, is the need to belong to a group.’ [1]

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