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Making Politics National, 1500–1800

There were two principal ways in which the political concept of nation developed. The first was during the Reformation. Protestants invoked the biblical idea of God's chosen people, or elect nation, associating this with sacred territory and promised land. It is difficult to gauge the long-term significance of this. Protestant resistance to authority took mainly sectarian and international forms; salvation was for individuals or small groups. Radical Protestantism was crushed by Catholic and mainstream Protestant regimes before the later emergence of popular national movements. However, by then it was commonplace to combine state, confession, and nation in political arguments.

Second, the growth of state power meant that ever-larger groups were brought into contact with the central government. If government was "national," then groups deployed that term in political conflict. A significant example is eighteenth-century France. As the crown attacked privileged groups, its publicists portrayed these as factional interests undermining national interests. Those opponents in turn conflated nation with privileged institutions, insisting they were defending "national liberty." These ideas of national interest and liberty could be combined and extended. Revolutionaries generalized the concept of the nation to all subjects of the crown.

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